What do you believe that most people on this site don't?

I'm especially looking for things that you wouldn't even mention if someone wasn't explicitly asking for them. Stuff you're not even comfortable writing under your own name. Making a one-shot account here is very easy, go ahead and do that if you don't want to tarnish your image.

I think a big problem with a "community" dedicated to being less wrong is that it will make people more concerned about APPEARING less wrong. The biggest part of my intellectual journey so far has been the acquisition of new and startling knowledge, and that knowledge doesn't seem likely to turn up here in the conditions that currently exist.

So please, tell me the crazy things you're otherwise afraid to say. I want to know them, because they might be true.

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I don't know if I actually believe this, but I've heard reports that cause me to assign a non-neglible probability on the chance that sexual relations with between children and adults aren't necessarily as harmful as they may seem. For instance, see the Rind et al. report:

"Child Sexual Abuse does not cause intense harm on a pervasive basis regardless of gender." Simplified, Rind et al. (1998) found that 3 out of every 100 individuals in a CSA population had clinically significant problems (compared to 2 out of every 100 in a general population).

Rind et al. contended that the degree of psychological damage was based on whether the child describes the encounter as consensual or not.

Similarly, I've heard second-hand accounts about people who report that they actually had loving relationships with pedophiles as kids. That didn't traumatize them, but the follow-up "psychological care", where the psychiatrists automatically assumed that the experience must have been horrible, did.

It would seem reasonable, on the face of it. There's no automatic reason for why we should assume sexual relations with children must automatically be harmful and unpleasant to the kids, if not for the cached thought of all sexual relations being abuse. And in the current political climate, just about nobody will have the courage to voice such an opinion in public, so studies such as these should carry extra weight.

A non-neglible probability on the chance that sexual relations with between children and adults aren't necessarily as harmful as they may seem.

That's probably the case. In western societies, it's an orthodoxy, a moral fashion, to say that sex between children/adolescents and adults is bad. This can be clearly seen because people who argue against the orthodoxy are not criticised for being wrong, but condemned for being bad.

I am also "in the closet" on this. Sex is generally pleasurable; postulating a magic age or stage of development before which sex must be traumatic seems implausible on its face, without some other evidence. Coercion and intimidation are well-known to be damaging, but I don't understand how merely convincing a 10-year-old to let you stick something up her vagina (and then doing it) is going to do any more harm than, say, spanking her. Furthermore, looking at the historical record, the ancient Greek custom of pederasty (sexual/romantic relationships between adolescent boys and adult men) doesn't seem to have resulted in widespread trauma.

There are very few places in which it would be safe to propose this hypothesis, though.

Sex is generally pleasurable

Not "generally" over the domain in question. The pleasurability of sex is supported by brain-specific hardware that has no particular evolutionary reason to be active before adolescence.

Without taking a stance on the question of child sexuality - what you say is true, but is there any particular selection pressure for it to be off, either? Evolution goes for the simplest solution, and "always on" seems to me simpler than "off until a specific age, then on".

Of course, that's an oversimplification. The required machinery may simply not be developed yet, in the same way that you need to first grow to be four feet tall before you can grow to be five feet tall. But then, when you reach the size of four feet, you already have four fifths of your five feet-tallness in place, so it stands to reason that that at least part of what makes sex pleasurable will be in place before adolescence. Whether it's active is obviously a separate question, but I don't think "has no particular evolutionary reason to be active" tells us much by itself.

Anecdotal: I don't remember having the slightest concept of sexual interest in anything before puberty.

Anyone got trustworthy better data, go ahead (but we have reason to suspect political interference, which is why I go so far as to cite my own anecdotal memory).

[-]Nebu270

I personally know one girl whom, when she was 8, actively went into sex chat rooms and flirted with older men (anywhere from 16 to 40). I don't think she actually had physical sexual experiences with anyone, though.

I personally know two girls who have had sexual intercourse with adults, one when she was aged 5, the other 8. It was rape in the sense that they were explicitly nonconsentual (they explicitly said didn't want to do it), but it didn't traumatized them. One theory might be that "doing stuff you don't want to do, but adults tell you to do, so you do them anyway" is pretty common at that age (e.g. being forced to clean your room).

I suspect the sex act itself isn't "pleasurable" for them, but having "sexual relationships" with adults may be pleasurable (since the first-mentioned 8 year old sought it out). It may be seen by many of them as a neutral act (like the 5 and second-mentioned 8 year old) and a form of curious exploration.

This is assuming, for lack of a better term, "gentle loving pedophilia". The way pedophilia is often portrayed by mainstream media is violent rape, with screaming, kicking and blood. While I don't personally know of any girl who actually experienced "violent rape pedophilia", I think it's safe to assume that they don't find this pleasurable at all.

Personally, there's a certain fetish that I have, and I remember it causing me erections even before puberty. However, as far as I can recall, the experience didn't feel like anything that I'd call sexual these days. It was something that was pleasant to think about, and it caused physical reactions, but the actual sexual tension wasn't there.

I also recall a friend mentioning a pre-pubescent boy who'd had a habit of masturbating when there was snow outside, because he thought the snow was beautiful. (I'm not sure if she'd known the boy herself or if she'd heard it from someone else, so this may be an unreliable fifth-hand account.) If it was true, then it sounds (like my experience) that part of the hardware was in place, but not the parts that would make it sexual in the adult sense of the word.

Googling for "child sexuality" gives me a report from Linköping University which states on page 17:

The staff caring for 251 children aged two to six of both sexes observed the children’s behaviour and then answered a questionnaire on the behaviours they had observed. ... A total of 6% of the children had at some time been seen to masturbate and this usually occurred during rests

... (read more)
8billswift
I wonder what kind of controls they had (ha, ha) that let them say that it caused the sexualized behavior, rather than just letting the children know about sex. I mean I was entirely ignorant of sex until I was 12. I knew it existed by reading and hearing references to it, and I had seen Playboys and the like, but I didn't have any idea of what sex was.
4MixedNuts
Mostly the same here. I didn't have any arousal-like physical reactions, though. It was mostly like the tension of roller coasters and scary stories, not sexual tension. Then, a couple years after puberty, my sex drive kicked in (in the space of days), the fetish was found impossible to handle and promptly repressed until a few years later when it could merge normally with my general libido.
3Sengachi
From personal experience (which I am unfortunately too nervous about to go into detail about), pre-pubescent sexuality is primarily based on exposure and knowledge of sexuality. Puberty simply forces one to become aware of sex, rather than being a prerequisite for it. Similarly, sexual reactions (erections, orgasm, etc.) are definitely possible pre-pubescence, simply different. This may be an anomaly in my case, I do not have any non-personal data to share. Although I do know that Alfred Kinsey compiled an extensive body of research on child sexuality obtained from the interview of pedophiles, in particular one pedophile who was highly active and documented his explorations extensively. I have never read this body of research myself, but I thought its existence might be worth pointing out.

Maybe no interest in anything in particular, but what of the sexual gratification itself ? Children do masturbate, it's a known fact. Though maybe it's not universal. But the brain-specific hardware seems to be in place already at any rate.

http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/pa/pa_bmasturb_hhg.htm

9JulianMorrison
Anecdotal also, I clearly remember watching the same movie (Star Wars) before and after teenage - the sexual tension passed me by completely as a child but was obvious a few years later. However, I don't have evidence that I'd not have enjoyed sex. The desire instinct was offline, that's all I could swear to.
9rosyatrandom
Also anecdotal: I have liked girls continuously since the age of 4. I do not recommend this....
3Z_M_Davis
This is also my experience.
7Scott Alexander
I could be confusing Freudian stuff with real experimental results, but I seem to remember that children go through a stage up until about 6 where they're somewhat sexual, and then between that age and puberty the sex drive switches off or even into full reverse. This is the reason that young boys tend to think girls have cooties and are gross, and vice versa. It's evolution's way of saying "Not yet".
[-]Nebu140

I can't find the article now, but an evolutionary-psychology noticed that the "cooties" concept seems to exist across all cultures (though obviously not always given the name "cooties"), and furthermore noticed that children often don't consider their siblings to have cooties. I.e. boys will feel that most girls have cooties, but not their sisters.

The psychologist offered this as an explanation: We evolved to find the people we grow up with to be not sexually attractive. This is a mechanism to avoid incest (which can result in genetic problems). However, if you live in a society, you don't want to find people who grow up with you, but who do not share genes with you, to be sexually unattractive (or else you might find no one within your whole society attractive), and thus this "cooties" sensation was placed by evolution so that we can avoid people of the opposite sex during this critical period so that later on, as adults, we may be sexually attracted to them.

That "explanation" sounds awfully just-so-story to me.

It's evolution's way of saying "Not yet".

Why would evolution want to say this? What harm is there in sexual relations before puberty, when pregnancy can't result?

3tenshiko
Anecdotal: Approximately 30% of the material on Quizilla et al. Whether they're writing/reading about it solely because they think it's adult and edgy is a different matter, but there are clearly many children thinking about this kind of thing at the very least.
-2MugaSofer
Considering that, as has been noted elsewhere on this thread, prepubescent children (including infants) self-stimulate their genitals, this seems ... ill-founded. Of course, I suppose it depends how much of the pleasure involves romance, which does seem to be restricted to adults; but I somehow doubt you can claim most of the pleasure from sex is due to romance.
4CAE_Jones
I trust my memory of certain things as far back as a few vaguities before age 2 years, and I've read other people's reports, and I conclude that, while children do self-stimulate, it's typically (but not always) less pleasurable than it is after puberty. I haven't read any neurological studies addressing that hypothesis in particular, but of course they could exist and I could be unaware of them.
1MugaSofer
Hmm, good point - I don't actually know anything about the topic. Sounds like actual orgasm is impossible without puberty (although note it's possible way before adulthood.) Still, pleasure is pleasure. Kids wouldn't enjoy it as much as adults, but some of the adaptations are clearly present - enough for sex to be pleasurable, if not as pleasurable. Mind you, I personally wouldn't want to change that particular norm without a great deal of thought and investigation by actual experts. But this particular claim seems to be flawed.
3CAE_Jones
I've encountered anecdotes claiming that a form of prepubescent orgasm is possible, if difficult to achieve (especially since most wouldn't know to aim for it). I'm less convinced of that, but I remember someone actually providing a citation for "utero orgasms in both sexes" (which I assumed to mean while still in the womb). An aside: I catch myself committing the mind projection fallacy most often when I come across comments that make it very clear people have purged large chunks of childhood from their memory/identity. It takes me a second or so to remember that this makes sense for most people. This has had a weird effect regarding the subject at hand: I'm surprised when I run into adult males talking like they don't believe boys can get erections, then I'm skeptical when someone else reports that prepubescent males can have orgasms. Noticing the pattern there has me updating in favor of prepubescent orgasm being possible, if difficult.

I find it ironic that 'notmyrealnick' got 34 points for this comment. But I suppose there are repercussions other than bad karma for posting unpopular views...

6Vladimir_Nesov
Even if the children themselves after the fact don't consider the sexual abuse harmful, it may be considered wrong by the humanity as a whole. The babyeaters prefer eating their children, but humans would like them to stop doing that. Drugs addict continues to take drugs even if they lead to decay of his personality and health, but other people consider it a wrong thing to do. Even if it turns out that with (consensually) abused children the moral line is closer to acceptance, I still expect it to be way below the acceptance level.

The babyeater question would be substantially changed if the children didn't mind being eaten and didn't take harm by it - more or less from a moral crusade into parochial squeamishness. Eliezer went a long way out of his way to avoid that in the story, but here we can't dodge it with a rhetorical flourish.

If as it turns out, kids enjoy consensual sex and take no harm by it, on what basis can society consider it wrong? There has to be a reason. Societies can't just create moral crimes by their say-so.

Edit in Feb 2013: I've come to the conclusion that the problem with the above is that children are in an extremely steep power relationship - an artefact of this society, and it's avoidable, but it can't be wished away without a huge job of dismantling. Meaning, that right now children can't even express a preference. "Yes" is meaningless with the ability of an adult to apply pressure that would count as felony kidnapping and torture if done to another adult, with complete impunity and even acclaim. "No" is meaningless when adults have imposed their schemas of asexual innocence willy-nilly over children's experience, and when they have such huge control of that expe... (read more)

7MrHen
(Edit) During this entire thread I was misusing the word "coerce." I meant something more like "entice." Thanks Alicorn. I always assumed that part of the problem is that it is easier to coerce children. If I kidnap a child and do nothing but feed them ice-cream and take them on a tour of the zoo it is still wrong, even if they liked it and no harm was done. If I seduce a child and do nothing but feed them ice-cream and have sex with them... is it still wrong? Even if they liked it and no harm was done? There are certainly risks involved and assuming things will be okay is naive. But is assuming things will be bad/evil/gross just as naive? Suppressing the moral gag reflex is hard to do. I do not know if I can answer the question objectively. I know if I had kids I do not want anyone coercing them into having sex.
9JulianMorrison
Well yes, because kidnapping involves taking a child from their parents unannounced, possibly against the child's will too, possibly also asking for ransom, etc. Those are separate harms that happen even if the child enjoyed the ice-cream and the trip to the zoo. But what are the separate harms of sex? There are health risks, but they don't hugely exceed the risks in other common childhood activities such as tree climbing.
5MrHen
No ransom and not against the child's will. If the reason kidnapping is wrong deals with parental consent, does the same thing apply to sex? This is actually irrelevant for the point I was trying to make. Kidnapping, with no harm done, is still very much illegal. Should it be?

Removing a child from a parent is a harm (as witness the panicked parent). It's not so much a matter of consent, as of making people worry and separating them from their family. The parents have a protective interest in the child, which is harmed by their non-consent to the zoo trip. This is the very thing that makes it "kidnapping" and not "visiting with friends". It is a separate harm, which is why the distinction I drew is relevant.

BTW, this line of argument doesn't get you to "no sex", it gets you to "no sex without parental consent". Fair enough, now what if they say "yes"?

2MrHen
If the child is returned before the parent knows they are missing? I am not understanding why the correlation is so hard to see. It is an analogy, not a mirrored situation. Kidnapping is not seducing. There are differences. The original point was that seduction involves coercing children. Kidnapping can do the same thing. So can brainwashing. All three of these (kidnapping, brainwashing, seducing) can produce harm but may not and arguing about exactly when "harm" happens is not really useful. The relevant question is exactly this: I am not arguing for any particular stance. I just saw an interesting correlation between seduction and kidnapping that involved coercion. If I remember correctly, the laws in some states get remarkably relaxed when minors have their parents' consent. I could not tell you specifics, however. If you find this sort of thing interesting I am sure it is relatively easy to find information about sex with parental consent. The bottom line: A child will do an awful lot to please someone. Is it okay to coerce them into doing something? Does it matter if they enjoy it? Does it matter if there is harm? Does it matter if they want to do it? All of this also assumes "seduction" instead of a real, true romance. I would assume that a real, true romance has less coercion. (Or, at the very least, thinks it has less coercion.)
4JulianMorrison
Perhaps we're being confused by your use of the verb "seduce", since to me that doesn't include non-consensual means - it usually implies cunning trickery at worst and goal-directed charm at best. Can you restate without using it?
2MrHen
You can replace the word "seduce" with "get them to have consensual sex with you." "Get" in the context I am using basically implies "coerce." The point does rely on the possibility of convincing someone they want the same thing you want. The catch is that such a sexual encounter satisfies the term "consensual sex." They completely, and of their own volition, consented to having sex. The original point asks if there is validity in condemning sex with children because they are easy to coerce. In other words, is the criterion of "consensual" too easy to manipulate?
5Alicorn
I don't think the word "coerce" has the right implications here. It sounds like what you're going for is more along the lines of "entice". Coercion arguably invalidates consent even with adults.
2MrHen
Ooh, yes, you are very right. Apologies.
3JulianMorrison
OK, so, we'll go with entice. Enticing would usually mean suggesting the activity is intrinsically desirable, offering a trade, asking pretty please, making a dare, or etc. We'll assume the child's mind is changed by the enticement. Why would that change not simply be valid?
0MrHen
Is it valid when considering kidnapping?
2JulianMorrison
Didn't we already beat that one to death? The child's volition isn't all that's involved with kidnapping. It isn't directly comparable.
1MrHen
I keep coming back to kidnapping because the I think the example fits. I have been trying to avoid getting into super picky details because I consider the details to be obvious. I apologize for being obtuse. If I stop by the local pool and convince a kid to take a trip with me and feed it ice-cream, take it to the zoo, and then return the kid to the pool before anyone else notices, was the kidnapping wrong? Would you even call it kidnapping? If someone found out after the fact and charged me with kidnapping, could I use the defense, "But the kid liked it! It was fun and no harm was done!"? This is from an above comment you made: You say that the reason kidnapping is wrong is because the parents will worry. Parents worry about all sorts of things and most of them were not made illegal. Many parents would worry if their child was having sex with an adult. If you really don't like the example we can just skip to the abstract view. If I consciously manipulate someone into wanting a particular something, can I use their desire as a justification for my actions? Or, if I brainwash them into having sex with me, is it considered consent? What are the current laws about consent under the influence of alcohol? That also seems relevant. What about people with mental handicaps? The basic point is that "consent" is not a cut and dry excuse. Consent can be manipulated and it is much easier to manipulate consent out of a child than an adult. This is not an argument one way or the other, but merely asking if consent from children should mean the same thing as consent from adults.
-1byrnema
The American Psychiatric Association explicitly states that children cannot give consent. The problem is that children are completely dependent upon adults, and they see any friendly adult as a caretaker, especially if the parent gives permission to be with that adult or there is any physical affection. Individual kids vary in their sophistication, and it depends on the age of the child, but most kids cannot tell the difference between "do this please so I will be happy" and "do this please so I will take care of you / love you / keep you safe". It just activates the same "I-need-to-listen-for-survival" pathway either way. It is a relevant observation that when a child feels less safe with an adult, they will usually be more agreeable. A first sign of abuse is often lack of agreeability or hostility in response to requests noticed in school.
5Alicorn
Is there a special reason the American Psychiatric Association should be considered an authority on ethics? They can inform us of the empirical facts, of which "children who feel unsafe are agreeable" is one, but "children cannot give morally relevant consent to sexual activity" does not follow instantly and obviously from that statement.
1byrnema
I was citing them as an authority on child psychology.
4Alicorn
But knowledge about the psychology of a creature does not instantly and obviously lead to knowledge about the ethical boundaries around treatment of the creature. I could have encyclopedic knowledge of the empirically observable facts about, say, pigs, without being able to derive from that whether it's okay to kill them for food. Similarly, the APA is undoubtedly an authority on child psychology. It is not at all clear that they are an authority on the implications that child psychology has for ethics, so while most of your comment was quite interesting, the first sentence was noise.
0byrnema
My entire comment was about whether children can consent or not. I didn't say anything about ethical implications. However, this paper makes the connection: http://www.itp-arcados.net/wissen/Finkelhor1979_EN.pdf
3Alicorn
While simply giving the appearance of consent is a plain empirical fact which might or might not have ethical features, it's obvious that children can utter consent-like words, so I assumed you were talking about consent in an ethically relevant sense. Should I not have assumed that? If you're not talking about consent as a thing that changes what it is ethically okay to do to somebody, then I don't know what you're talking about at all.
1byrnema
Whether children can consent or not to sex is a psychological fact. Just as whether a pig can consent or not to being eaten is a biological fact. Facts may have ethical implications (and thus ethical relevance which is why your question above is confused). The ability to give consent is not obviously and immediately connected with an specific ethical conclusion, because you can argue that it is ethical to eat a pig even though they cannot give consent. To argue that sex with children is wrong, because they cannot give consent, you need to add the ethical argument that sex without consent is unethical.
2Paul Crowley
I'm really surprised you'd claim that. Even if you could propose an experiment that you think would settle this question of fact, it's far from clear that everyone would agree that your experiment settled it. To me it's obvious that whether or not we consider that a given act from a given person counts as consent to something is in large part a question of values, not of fact.
-2byrnema
Yes, we do seem to disagree. I think that "ability to do X" is factual. However, I suspect there is ambiguity in what "consent" means, and there is room for inserting values there. But I hold my position, because I think that if you define consent in a meaningful way, kids cannot do that. (For example, if you say consent means to just articulate a set of words, I will gladly abandon the word "consent" for what I do mean.) I would define consent as (a) understanding what you are agreeing to and (b) freely agreeing. Psychology is a soft science, surely. Which is why I felt more comfortable quoting an authority in psychology than asserting my own beliefs: I hardly know what counts as evidence or good epistemology in psychology. However, I could think of some experiments to demonstrate that children don't understand and are not freely agreeing. For example, for the latter experiment, first ascertain what the children's real preferences are, say, for a specific type of cookie. Then demonstrate that if an adult indicates which cookie choice will make them happy, the kid will choose the adult's choice at a rate proportional to the perceived power imbalance and inversely proportional to their perceived environmental safety. To be clear, I think that adult-child sex is extremely unethical. I am motivated to contribute to this discussion, because I hope I may be able to encourage rational people to adopt a similar view on adult-child sex. However, I am not sure it is emotionally safe or that it would be effective to participate. Certain attitudes and comments on this thread make me wonder if any argument for a position that is not counter conventional wisdom will be summarily dismissed. In other words, there seems to be evidence that "you guys" are not unbiased about this.
4Alicorn
I don't agree. I think empathy is to ethics as tastiness is to nutritional content - it's a reaction that makes us feel good under circumstances conducive to a valuable end and feel aversion to circumstances conducive to deplorable ends, but it's easily fooled (just as our tastebuds can be fooled by cinnamon buns). We need intuitions and empathy to have a starting point when we talk ethics, but a purely intuitionist morality is inevitably going to be inconsistent and have poor motivations in extreme cases. It's obvious that you feel very strongly that adults having sex with children is unethical; you've made that abundantly clear. It doesn't have to follow from that that you are correct, and it definitely doesn't follow that we can't consider the question, and I'm sorry to say that you seem to be under the impression that you can't civilly discuss it with people who don't share your opinion. I don't think anyone is going to read this thread and then find that, because a few people gave some thought to the issue, their qualms about raping children have evaporated. Deep-seated ethical misgivings, legal repercussions, practical concerns, and the simple fact that most people aren't pedophiles would see to that; anyone who'd be convinced by this thread in favor of actually having sex with children was just looking for an excuse and would have found NAMBLA's website eventually. If you cannot stick to solid argumentation in favor of your view (which I suspect is the dominant one - it's just fashionable in this thread to signal open-mindedness by being cryptic and oblique about the matter) and instead resort to what amounts to shrill, repetitive whining about how unethical we all are, you aren't "contributing to the discussion" and you certainly are unlikely to make any progress in convincing this particular audience. All of that having been said, the experiment you describe wouldn't prove that the children aren't "freely" agreeing to take the cookie that the adult want
2pjeby
My personal pet peeve in this discussion is that nobody is defining precisely what "adult" and "child" mean. Teenagers these days are getting thrown in jail (and given lifetime "sex offender" labels) for having consensual sex on the wrong side of arbitrary age lines that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. So, my empathy on this subject is much more solidly with them, and that's the ethics I'm personally concerned with in this discussion. We may not be able to prevent all the harm that takes place from manipulation and abuse, but I'd like to see some improvement for the innocents who get caught in the crossfire.
1thomblake
agreed. A consequentialist, however, would not necessarily buy this - weighing the harm to innocents on the border versus harm to children nowhere near the border might well favor keeping things as they are. Not that I buy that justification.
-1[anonymous]
Whether children can consent or not to sex is a psychological fact. Just as whether a pig can consent or not to being eaten or not is a biological fact. Facts may have ethical implications (and thus ethical relevance which is why your question above is confused). The ability to give consent is not obviously and immediately connected with an specific ethical conclusion, because you can argue that it is ethical to eat a pig even though they cannot give consent. To argue that sex with children is wrong, because they cannot give consent, you need to add the ethical argument that sex without consent is unethical. I don't think it this type of quibbling on semantics (for example, a perfectly good meaning of coerce is to compel) is useful to the discourse. When words have variable meanings, you need to use the context to determine the meaning, and request clarification if it isn't clear.
4Sengachi
This is the crux of every modern dissent to old-age prejudices: If it harms no one, it's not a moral wrong.
3[anonymous]
Elsewhere, there is a discussion regarding using karma to measure the value of individual comments or commentators themselves. I think this entire thread needs adjustment. It is confused and immoral. Addressing The Confusion There's plenty of evidence that sexual relationships between adults and children is harmful. I think the best evidence is first person: painful, emotional, sincere. There is also plenty of scientific/objective/peer-reviewed evidence (see Wikipedia for references). Reading through the comments in this thread, there appears to be significant confusion regarding why sexual abuse is harmful. Whether adult sex with children is harmful (and wrong) has nothing to do with whether children are interested in sex or not, or whether the behavior is consentual or not. It has to do with facts specific to children: they are completely dependent upon adults, have incompletely formed ideas about character differences among adults (they can naively give an abusive adult the same continued trust as a loving one), incompletely formed ideas about sexuality (they may not care what is done now, but they will develop an opinion later) and the fact that sexual autonomy becomes an important identity issue in their late teens and early twenties, and so it is painful if that has been usurped. It doesn’t matter if it is the experience of some abused children that the sexual abuse was not harmful. As victims, they themselves are allowed to feel however they like about it. Also, using the examples of the ancient Greeks is a common but untenable argument for moral relativism on this issue. Addressing Immorality This entire thread is immoral, and some of you are using karma to bond over being assholes. To defend the full strength of this moral position, it was not immoral to consider the original question. In fact, such questions and nearby questions do need to be considered. Why is the incidence of child sexual abuse so high, given society’s unanimous position on it? As
-6byrnema

Here's something else I can't normally say in public:

Infants are not people because they do not have significant mental capacities. They should be given the same moral status as, say, dogs. It's acceptable to euthanize one's pet dog for many reasons, so it should be okay to kill a newborn for similar reasons.

In other words, the right to an abortion shouldn't end after the baby is born. Infants probably become more like people than like dogs some time around two years of age, so it should be acceptable to euthanize any infant less than two years old under any circumstances in which it would be acceptable to euthanize a dog.

In America, infants have a special privileged moral status, as evidenced by the "Baby On Board" signs people put on their autos. "Oh, there's a baby in that car! I'll plow into this car full of old people instead."

Do you really deny that there are probably benefits, given limits to average human condition, to at least some hard legal lines corresponding to continuous realities?

/me shrugs... I suppose it is useful to have a line, and once you decide to have a line, you do have to draw it somewhere, but I don't see why viability is a particularly meaningful place to draw it.

Similar arguments are often used to argue in favor of animal rights; some humans don't have brains that work better than animals' brains, so if humans with defective or otherwise underdeveloped brains (the profoundly mentally retarded, infants, etc.) have moral status, then so do animals such as chimpanzees and dogs.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_marginal_cases

[-]dclayh150

I would put the cutoff at ~1 week after birth rather than 2 years, simply for a comfortable margin of safety, but yes.

However, as I've written about before elsewhere, this kind of thinking does lead to the amusing conclusion that cutting off a baby's limb is more wrong than killing it (because in the former case there's a full-human who's directly harmed, which is not true in the latter case).

This suggests the following argument: if it's wrong to cut off a baby's limb, surely (the possibility of negative quality of life aside) it's wrong to give the baby a permanent affliction that prevents it from ever thinking, having fun, etc? That's exactly the kind of affliction that death is.

I think many philosophical questions would be clearer, or at least more interesting, if we reconceptualized death as "Persistent Mineral Syndrome".

[-]dclayh120

No, because the baby (by assumption) has no moral weight. The entity with moral weight is the adult which that baby will become. Preventing that adult from existing at all is not immoral (if it were, we'd essentially have to accept the repugnant conclusion), whereas causing harm to that adult, by harming the baby nonfatally, is.

3steven0461
Well, on this view the baby does grow into an adult, it's just that the adult is a death patient (and, apparently, discriminated against for this reason). Too pseudo-clever?
-9Strange7
3Vladimir_Nesov
This isn't an argument for death being the worst of the possible outcomes. For example, you may be turned into a serial killer zombie, which is arguably worse than being dead.

There should be an option to downvote your own comments.

To achieve the same effect with current technology, upvote everyone else.

1Normal_Anomaly
Do you mean that you no longer believe that being a serial killer zombie is arguably worse than being dead? I believe that.
3wedrifid
Who do I get to kill as said zombie?

Being turned into a serial killer zombie actually sounds pretty awesome, assuming an appropriate soundtrack.

1steven0461
I didn't present it as one. I agree death isn't the worst of the possible outcomes.

However, as I've written about before elsewhere, this kind of thinking does lead to the amusing conclusion that cutting off a baby's limb is more wrong than killing it (because in the former case there's a full-human who's directly harmed, which is not true in the latter case).

You say that like it's an unexpected conclusion. Which is more wrong: cutting off one of a dog's legs, or euthanizing it? Most people, I suspect, would say the former.

What happens is that we apply different standards to thinking, feeling life forms of limited intelligence based on whether or not the organism happens to be human.

3dclayh
Personally, I would say that neither of those is wrong (per se, anyway), and I don't think the situations are very analogous. But I certainly agree with your last sentence (both that we apply different standards, and that we shouldn't).
8rosyatrandom
Here's why this is distasteful: That infant has either experienced enough to affect their development, or has shown individuality of some kind that will be developed further as they mature. An infant is always in the stage of 'becoming,' and as such their future selves are to some degree already in evidence. Lose the infant, lose the future -- and that is the loss that most people find tragic.
6David_Gerard
My daughter was showing personality and preferences in the womb. Kicking in time with music she liked (which she continued to like after birth), kicking out of time with music she didn't like (which she continued to dislike after birth). I was amazed. I'd had this vague notion that babies were sort of uninteresting blobs and didn't manifest a personality until maybe a year old. I have no idea why I thought that, but I was utterly wrong. Of course, I am strongly predisposed to think highly of my offspring in all regards, and I do try to allow for this. But from birth on, she was manifesting sufficient personality for us to regard her as an individual human with her own preferences. Waiting until age two years to accept such a thing is simply incorrect.

I was amazed. I'd had this vague notion that babies were sort of uninteresting blobs and didn't manifest a personality until maybe a year old. I have no idea why I thought that, but I was utterly wrong. [...] But from birth on, she was manifesting sufficient personality for us to regard her as an individual human with her own preferences.

"Responds to musical stimuli", assuming it's true, is hardly an argument about being a person. A parrot could have similar ability to discriminate between types of music, for all I know.

Edit in response to downvoting: Seriously. There could be correct arguments for your statement, but this is clearly not one of them. This is a point of simple fact: ability to discriminate types of music is not strong (let alone decisive) evidence for the property of being a person. Non-person things can easily have that ability. That this fact argues for a conclusion that offends someone's sensibilities (or even a conclusion that is clearly wrong, for other reasons!) is not a point against the fact.

2David_Gerard
It was in response to the assertion that babies could reasonably not be regarded as individual humans until age two. That assertion is ridiculous for all sorts of reasons. It was also noting that until I had actual experience of a baby, my assumptions had also been ridiculous, and that really doesn't need me putting "and by the way, it's possible that you're just saying something simply incorrect due to lack of experience" on the front. I am finding your response difficult to distinguish from choosing to miss the point.
1Viktor Riabtsev
Reading these comment chains somehow strongly reminds of listening to Louis CK.
-1Vaniver
This still entirely misses the point: "responds to musical stimuli in the same way" is an argument about continuity of identity. If someone at 3 years old is a person, and they're the same just smaller (both physically and mentally) at 1 year old and at -6 months old, then arguments about their personhood at 3 years old apply (though in a limited sense) at 1 year old or -6 months old. I can't think of a situation where I would be willing to accept the death/murder of a fetus or infant where I wouldn't be willing to accept the death/murder of an adult. How low does your discount rate have to be where you would be willing to kill a one year old but not willing to kill a three year old?
1shokwave
Counterpoint that it does in fact address the point: write half a dozen different programs that can analyse recordings of music and output a beat that is in time. Run these programs on half a dozen different computers and try to claim that responding the same way is decisive evidence of continuity of identity across all computers and programs. You are opposed to abortion? It seems to me the majority of abortion cases do not constitute moral grounds for the death of an adult. Not a judgement of your possible views, just interested to see if the reasoning is consistent.
3Vaniver
Emphasis mine. Illustrative examples are generally not decisive evidence. I have yet to come across someone with significant experience around infants who believes they don't have personalities until ~2 years old (or whenever infanticide proponents think they develop them), and so until I come across someone with that opinion I feel justified in attributing that opinion to ignorance rather than insight. I am (and should be) skeptical of someone who says "that doesn't convince me" instead of "my experience is different." The first response, which is generally accompanied by hypotheticals instead of examples, does not require any knowledge to create. Generally, experience cannot be conveyed by a few illustrative examples; one should not expect to be convinced by evidence when that evidence is hard to transfer. How, exactly, should one compress memories of interactions with another person over the course of years to transmit to others? I also find it interesting you have moved the issue from "demonstrates persistent preferences for particular kinds of music" to "detects a beat"- was that intentional? Because if you wrote a program that could classify music into types it didn't like and types it did, and the classification was predictable/sensible, I wouldn't have a problem saying that your program preferred one kind of music to another, and that the program is the same even if you run it on a succession of computers with improving hardware. I consider abortions of both the spontaneous and intentional varieties to be tragic. "Accept" was probably a poor word to use because I am not currently in favor of criminalizing abortion and I feel the best response to a great many tragedies is coping. When asked for advice, I advise against abortion but do not rule it out and do not seek to coerce others into avoiding it. My feelings (and advice) on suicide are broadly similar, and so perhaps it would be most illuminating to say I compare it to suicide rather than to homicide.
6shokwave
Yes. David_Gerard said: Kicking out of time doesn't suggest she doesn't like it as much as it suggests she is failing to kick in time. Which is weak evidence that all she is doing is finding a beat in time with the music. And all the people I have met who have had significant experience around animals believe they have personalities from birth - I am inclined not to trust experience in this matter because of the almost-certain anthropomorphizing that is going on.
6Desrtopa
Why shouldn't animals have distinct personalities from each other? It doesn't take that much brainpower before you can start introducing differences in behavior between specimens without causing their methods of interaction to collapse.
2shokwave
See my response to Vaniver, but in a nutshell: animals do have distinct personalities, but not in the same sense of the word we have when we talk about embryos and babies having the right to live because they have personality.
4thomblake
Not the first time on this site that someone has been accused of anthropomorphizing humans. ETA: remarking upon the absurdity of the phrase, not the absurdity of the notion.
9shokwave
Sure, it looks odd. But as I think you discerned, I think babies don't have much complex agenthood - on the order of domestic animals - and people saying they've experienced babies having complex agenthood are not to be trusted because people also say that the weather has complex agenthood. Have you heard my new band, Complex Agenthood?
7lessdazed
You're opening Saturday night for Emergent Intelligence at the Rationalist's Rationally Rational Rationality of Rationalness, right?

We don't actually tell people when or where we're playing; we just provide enough evidence for a perfect Bayesian reasoner to figure it out.

0dlthomas
I don't think they were.
0thomblake
I think the analogy only holds if "anthropomorphizing" is the problem in both cases.
0dlthomas
I understand what you are getting at, but am not convinced. I think a more charitable reading would be something along the lines of:
0thomblake
Similar in what way? Presented with your "more charitable" reading, I would still think the writer was suggesting anthropomorphism is still the problem in this instance. Also, it might be relevant to my reading that I often caution against anthropomorphizing humans.
0dlthomas
There are perhaps a few things going on here. There rings a certain absurdity to the phrase "anthropomorphizing humans": of course it's not a problem, they're already anthropomorphic. My understanding, at this point, is that you are well aware of this, and are enjoying it, but do not consider it an actual argument in the context of the broader discussion. That is, you are remarking on the absurdity of the phrase, not the absurdity of the notion. Is that correct? I suppose I worry that people will see the absurdity, but misattribute it. When the question is whether a model of a complex thinking, feeling, goal oriented agent is appropriate to some entities we label human in other respects, and someone says "I have interacted with such entities, and the complex model seems to fit", it is not at all absurd to point out that we're overeager to apply the model in cases it clearly doesn't actually fit.
0thomblake
Correct.
2Vaniver
Do you have a problem with the idea that animals have continuous "characters" since birth? Because that gets rid of the troublesome word "personality." The issue of anthropomorphisation is a tricky one. Even when dealing with other humans, there's a massive amount of projection that goes on- but it seems to me we can characterize relationships by how much of the other thing's character you have to generate mentally. For a person you know well, it's probably low, for an animal you know well, it's probably moderate, for a machine you know well, it's probably high. But even your impression of the machine's character isn't 100% your mental invention- if a copier jams when placed in a certain situation due to the placing of mechanical parts inside it, it's practical to describe it as the copier "not liking" that situation despite the copier not being sophisticated enough to "like" or "dislike" things on a level more than "not jamming" or "jamming." Under such a model, what would matter is not that you've invented 95% of your perception of your relationship with the copier, but whether or not the other 5% that's actually due to the copier is consistent over time.
-1shokwave
The word 'personality' is troublesome when applied to animals. I feel like a lot of the opposition to abortion and early infanticide can be sourced from the phrase "unique personality". If you say a baby has personality, you are pre-supposing they are a person, which triggers the ingrained right-to-live reflex. Not questioning the right-to-live reflex at all; I think it's a marvelous thing. Whatever people mean when they say an animal has personality other than personality - I will use your term character, it seems to capture the essence of the non-anthropomorphic ideas people have about animals and photocopiers. The unique character of a pet animal isn't a strong argument for its right to live, because pets with ailments regularly get put down when the cost for treatment gets into four digits. Also, an animal's character is not a good argument against eating it, because >95% of the world is not vegetarian or vegan. So I feel like there is some meaning-smuggling going on. The assertion is we shouldn't kill babies because they have personality like us, and the argument holding it up is that they have personality like animals do.
4Vaniver
I agree with you that character isn't what gives an entity a right to life. But I don't think that's my argument. To turn a dog into a person you have to do a lot of work. Turning a copier into a person is similarly difficult. But to turn a baby into a person, you just have to wait a few years. It's automatic, so long as you provide it with sufficient fuel. If we say "We care deeply about protecting butterflies because they are beautiful, but don't care at all about protecting caterpillars because they are ugly" then others have a strong reason to question how much we actually care about protecting butterflies (or know about the world), because there are no butterflies that weren't caterpillars. And so even though the caterpillar has none of the outward qualities that make us care about butterflies, our feelings about butterflies should extend to them, because they are butterflies, just not yet. But note that we don't extend those feelings to nectar and leaves and air, even though butterflies are composed of the things that they eat and breathe and cannot exist without them, because nectar and leaves and air are fungible and caterpillars are not. Your primary argument is "caterpillars are ugly," and I agree with that. My claim is that argument is insufficient to reach the conclusion that we should not protect caterpillars: you have to show that caterpillars are not butterflies, and that must be done in such a way that is consistent with the statement "I care about protecting butterflies." Similarly, we care about persons, and because we do that we should care about babies that turn into persons, even if they aren't persons yet, because those babies are not fungible. When I ask the question "when did I awaken as a person with a mind?" I might point to my earliest memories or when I began thinking independently or some other milestone- but when I ask the question "when did I begin as a continuous being?" there seems to be one obvious answer, and it's when my DNA
7wnoise
It takes a hell of lot more than sufficient food to get a person out of a baby. If you do that, at best you end up with a feral child. Human certainly, but only questionably a person. More likely you end up with dead baby from any of a number of untreated diseases. We are social animals. Without company, even those of us that are fully formed often go mad.
3Vaniver
I am willing to call interaction with people 'fuel'; I chose that delightfully stretchy word on purpose.
5topynate
Your argument suggests that the existence of an 'uplift box' that turns dogs into people would give people-rights to dogs, as the process would have been automated. To the extent that turning a baby into a person is automated, it doesn't mean that any less work is done - it just means that the work has been done by natural selection rather than human ingenuity. So I think the 'work needed' measure of how beings of potential value inherit value is somewhat flawed, the flaw coming from thinking about one particular dog and the work needed to raise it to human status, while neglecting the next billion dogs. As to the caterpillar/butterfly analogy: if we agree that we value butterflies for their beauty, it's not at all obvious that we shouldn't breed them for their beauty. Analogously, with limited parental resources, why should humans not produce an excess of babies (or heterogenous fetuses, for that matter) and select based on the predicted characteristics of the adult? Note that in this case we raise our expected utility, whereas in the case of killing a sleeping human we most definitely lower it. EDIT: I should make my own position clear on this. I vigorously oppose infanticide based in large part on the great psychological and social harm it inflicts. I have basically no problem with zygote selection.
4Vaniver
I'm not terribly concerned about that case, and I think my framework handles it pretty gracefully. If dogs have unique characters and can become people in a non-fungible way just like babies have unique characters and can become people in a non-fungible way, then dogs deserve baby rights. But there's an underlying issue that highlights: whether our ethics are focused on conservation or, for lack of a better word, quality. A conservation-centered ethic sees people as irreplaceable and expensive; a quality-centered ethic sees people as replaceable. If you can make a million unique sapient simulated people at the push of a button, then the conservationalist ethic simply doesn't seem appropriate- they're eminently replacable, and so they've become fungible in the way I suggest sperm are, even though they're cognizant enough to be people. Likewise, by the time the ability exists to turn a dog into a person, it's not clear that personhood will be sufficient to grant the rights that it does now. Note that while butterflies are valuable because of their beauty, people have rights because of their uniqueness/irreplaceability. I don't see anything wrong with designer babies or human genetic engineering; I just have a moderate preference for gamete selection over zygote selection, and think that if we have reached a point where we are willing to kill undesirable babies we will probably also have reached a point where we are willing to kill undesirable adults, as eroding one protection appears like it will erode the other.
4wnoise
Is your answer any different for identical twins, who of course only separate after fertilization? Conjoined twins that don't fully separate? How about chimeras? (Yes, there have been documented human examples.)
3Vaniver
Yes; if I had a twin, my obvious answer would be when I separated from my brother. Were I a chimera, I suspect I would have researched the issue more extensively than I have now, but at my present level of understanding it still seems like there's a discontinuous event- when the cells fuse together to form one organism. It seems to me that you can find a discontinuous event for most person precursors, and the discontinuity is important for that question (because the components were continuous beforehand, and the composite is continuous afterwards). The main counterexample I can think of is clones- if I create a thousand copies of my DNA and implant them in embryos scrubbed of DNA, then they seem fungible in a way that a thousand unique fertilized embryos are not. And then, because they are fungible, I would ascribe to the group of them the specialness of a single fertilized embryo, and would only have qualms about destroying the last one (or perhaps last few). Note that as soon as they begin to develop, they begin to lose their fungibility (and we could even quantify that level of fungibility/uniqueness), and could eventually become unique people (that share the same genes). Likewise, the position "every sperm is sacred" seems mistaken because sperm are by nature fungible (and beyond that, we can complain about the word sacred).
0wnoise
In what way are sperm fungible? There is usually a wide variety of difference between two random ones from the same person. After all, half the genetic variability of two siblings is due to the difference in sperm. It's true that differences are such that we can't easily tell much difference between any two sperm (of the same sex and chromosome number) -- but the same is true of a just fertilized zygote or just divided embryo, which you appear to count as non-fungible when you say that "I can't think of a situation where I would be willing to accept the death/murder of a fetus or infant where I wouldn't be willing to accept the death/murder of an adult." It seems that "fungibility" needs to be treated as a continuum. I think that just about all reasonable criteria for deciding this turn out on closer inspection to be fairly continuous.
2Vaniver
Agreed. It mostly seems that way because they're massively overproduced, but you are right to question that. I think I'm going to turn to my claim about future development as important in identifying sperm as more fungible and fertilized eggs and beyond as less fungible, but I agree that claim is weaker than I thought it was when I made it.
3Alicorn
I have a friend who's a chimera. I used her as an example for this sort of question when I TA'ed intro ethics and my students found her fascinating.
0wnoise
Awesome. Having "near" examples can be quite handy in helping people take hypotheticals seriously.
3shokwave
Excellent point. I can even see in where I went wrong; I had an opaque concept in mind that "human lives are valuable" and was treating the baby as fungible in the sense that it doesn't appear to be a human now, so it isn't instrinsically valuable and can be replaced with another baby, later, at no loss the potential futures.
7Desrtopa
Even accepting the premise that this is an indication of having a distinct personality, I don't think that's an adequate basis to afford infants personhood. Cats have distinct personalities as well, although this fact suggests that we could really use a better word than "personality." In fact, while there might be counterexamples that are not coming to mind, I'm inclined to suspect that every properly functioning vertebrate organism, as well as many invertebrates, has a distinct personality, albeit not necessarily one recognizable to humans.
1AspiringKnitter
Which is a really good argument for granting other vertebrates personhood.
0wedrifid
Babies can do that? Is it (or something related) something that has been studied? There seem like possible confounding factors regarding this kind of observation but ability to respond overtly like that to stimulus has implications.
4gwern
IIRC, Pinker in The Blank Slate discusses how babies come out of the womb predisposed for their language's particular set of sounds based on what they could hear of speech in the womb. That's learning based on sounds in the womb, so if they can develop preferences about verbal sounds, not too implausible they could develop preferences about other sounds too.
3Sengachi
There have been several studies indicating that the neocortex is the part of the brain responsible for self-awareness. People with a lesion on the Visual 1 section of their cortex are "blind" but if you toss a ball at them they'll catch it. And if you have them walk through an obstacle-laden hallway, they'll avoid all obstacles, but be completely unaware of having done so. They can see, but are unaware of their own sight. So I would say the point at which a baby cannot be euthanized is dependent on the state of their neocortex. Further study needs to be done to determine that point, but I would say by two years old the neocortex is highly developed.
0CronoDAS
I guess what would also matter is the relative level of development of the human neocortex at that age as compared to chimpanzees or dogs.
3[anonymous]
Meh, this is why I tend to endorse speciesism. I mean I can pretend that I actually value humans over X in a situation because of silly reasons like "intelligence" or ability to suffer or "having a soul" or just mine one excuse after the other, but at the end of the day I'm human so other stuff that I recognize as human gets an instant boost in its moral relevance.
0TheOtherDave
That said, I can further observe that I seem to differentially value various nonhuman species. Simple speciesism is a step in the direction of capturing that, but it ends up with a list of (species, value) ordered pairs, which is a very clunky way of capturing the information and not very useful for predictive purposes. OTOH, if I analyze that list for attributes that correlate with high value, I may end up with a list of attributes that I seem to value in isolation (then again, I might not). For example, it might turn out that I value fluffy animals, and social ones, and ones with hands, and ones with faces, and various other things. If I do this analysis well enough, I might be able to predict how much I would value a novel species based on nothing but an evaluation of this species on those terms ("oh, scale-backed lemoriffs are spiny, asocial, lack hands and faces? I probably won't value a scale-backed lemosaur very much."). Then again, I might discover that there were parameters I hadn't taken into consideration in my analysis, and that when faced with the actual species my value judgment might be completely different because of that. ("wait, you didn't tell me that scale-backed lemoriffs are also about as smart as humans and that 10% of Internet users I enjoy interacting with were in fact scale-backed lemoriffs... crap. Now I wish we hadn't eradicated them. I'll add 'intelligent' to the list next time.")
2Psychohistorian
Given that substantial variance may exist between individuals, isn't birth (or within a day of birth) a rather efficient bright line? I fail to see the gain to permitting more widespread infanticide, even taking your argument as generally correct.
0blacktrance
Substantial variance exists between individuals, but it's not such that month-old babies are different enough from fetuses to merit legal protection. Medical research, perhaps?
  • I don't like libertarianism. It makes some really good points, and clearly there are lots of things government should stay out of, but the whole narrative of government as the evil villain that can never do anything right strikes me as more of a heroic myth than a useful way to shape policy. This only applies to libertarians who go overboard, though. I like Will Wilkinson, but I hate Lew Rockwell.

  • I think the better class of mystics probably know some things about the mind the rest of us don't. I tend to trust yogis who say they've achieved perfect bliss after years of meditation, although I think there's a neurological explanation (and would like to know what it is). I think Crowley's project to systematize and scientifically explain mysticism had some good results even though he did go utterly off the deep end.

  • I am not sure I will sign up for cryonics, although I am still seriously considering it. The probability of ending up immortal and stuck in a dystopia where I couldn't commit suicide scares me too much.

  • I have a very hard time going under 2-3% belief in anything that lots of other people believe. This includes religion, UFOs, and ESP. Not astrology though, oddly enough

... (read more)
[-]dclayh140

Personally I'd prefer an eternity of being tortured by an unFriendly AI to simple death. Is that controversial?

I'm curious about your personal experiences with physical pain. What is the most painful thing you've experienced and what was the duration?

I'm sympathetic to your preference in the abstract, I just think you might be surprised at how little pain you're actually willing to endure once it's happening (not a slight against you, I think people in general overestimate what degree of physical pain they can handle as a function of the stakes involved, based largely on anecdotal and second hand experience from my time in the military).

At the risk of being overly morbid, I have high confidence (>95%) that I could have you begging for death inside of an hour if that were my goal (don't worry, it's certainly not). An unfriendly AI capable of keeping you alive for eternity just to torture you would be capable of making you experience worse pain than anyone ever has in the history of our species so far. I believe you that you might sign a piece of paper to pre-commit to an eternity of torture vice simple death. I just think you'd be very very upset about that decision. Probably less than 5 minutes into it.

5MugaSofer
I agree with everything you said, but I think it's worth noting: IIRC, there's an Australian jellyfish with venom so painful that one of the symptoms is begging for death After it wears off, though, preferences regarding death revert to normal. I would argue torture is equivalent to wireheading with regards to preferences, only inverted. So "tortured!me would accept death if offered" need not contradict "current!me should not accept death over torture".
0MugaSofer
The jellyfish I had in mind is Carukia barnesi, which causes irukandji syndrome. Wikipedia seems to imply the "begging for death" aspect may actually be a separate biochemical phenomenon, but the source provided doesn't actually claim this - just that sufferers feel "anxious" and a "sense of impending doom".
0Mati_Roy
I would definitely pre-commit to immortality.
0[anonymous]
As soon as you stop torturing him though - and it's clear that the torture will not resume - I have high confidence (>95%) that he would go back to wanting to live.
1Wes_W
The relevant question, I think, is not whether an individual would cease wanting to die after the torture had ended. If then offered a choice between death and more torture (for a very long time, and with no afterward to look forward to), would dclayh (or some other person in the same situation) change their mind?
8Strange7
Apparently it is. I agree with you, and when I brought the subject up elsewhere on this site I was met with incredulity and hypotheticals which seemed calculated to prove I didn't actually feel that way.
7soreff
I'm not sure I'd call it controversial, but I have the opposite preference myself. Come to think of it, from my point of view, the fairly commonly-pushed myth of control-freak gods (insert &hellfire_preacher) looks rather similar to being tortured by an uFAI, and makes simple nonexistence look like an attractive alternative.
-3MugaSofer
Are you claiming you would rather die than be bossed around? Or are you comparing hell to torture by an uFAI?
6MixedNuts
If I have surgery, I want anesthesia; if I have a pain flare at 6 or above, I take sleeping pills and try to sleep. So I prefer losing a few hours of conscious life to experiencing moderate to severe pain for a few hours. I would not want to be anesthetized for six months I'd otherwise spend at a 6, but I would if it was a 7. I think the criterion is "Yeah, screaming in pain, but can I watch Sherlock?". If I can do moderately interesting things then I can just get used to the pain, but if the pain is severe enough to take over my whole mind then no dice. Transhuman torture is definitely the latter.
0MugaSofer
I'm not sure it's fair to compare "anesthetized for six months" to "dead, permanently".
0MixedNuts
Well I don't have much experience with death and eternal life. What goes wrong in extrapolating from hours or months to eternity?
-2MugaSofer
Well, you wake up after the six months. Unless you expect to wake up from death (in which case it's a perfectly logical argument, I think) then there does seem to be a difference. As I said, I'm not sure if this difference is relevant, but it seems like it might be.
1jsalvatier
Plenty of libertarians agree with you on #1.

I sometimes suspect that mass institutionalized schooling is net harmful because it kills off personal curiosity and fosters the mindset that education necessarily consists of being enrolled in a school and obeying commands issued by an authority (as opposed to learners directly seeking out knowledge and insight from self-chosen books and activities). I say sometimes suspect rather than believe because my intense emotional involvement with this issue causes me to doubt my rationality: therefore I heavily discount my personal impressions on majoritarian grounds.

I don't actually believe it as such, but I think J. Michael Bailey et al. are onto something.

OK, you're the second person in this thread I've seen advocating this view, so maybe my pro-school view is the minority one here.

The idea of curiosity is very compelling, but how often does productive curiosity actually occur in people who don't go to school? Modern society has lots of things to be curious about: television, video games, fan fiction, skateboarding, model rockets, etc. The level of interesting-ness doesn't correlate with the level of importance (examples of fields with potential large improvements for humanity: theoretical physics, chemistry, computer science, artificial intelligence, biology, etc.) If you believe model rockets are a sure lead-in to theoretical physics or chemistry, I think you're being overly optimistic.

The most important effect of school is providing an external force that gets people to study these (relatively) boring but important fields. Also, you get benefits like learning to speak in public, being able to use expensive school facilities, having lots of other people to converse with on the topics you're learning, etc. To do boring things on your own, you need self-discipline, which is hard to come by. School does a great job of augmenting self-discipline.

By the way, I thought about school much the same way you did until I left high school (two years early) and went to community college. I can't explain why, but for some reason it's a million times better.

[-]wnoise100

Well, in community college, you're now the "customer", and determine what you want to study, and how to study. It still provides a framework, but you're much freer in that framework. The question is to what extent can we get similar benefits in earlier schooling. AFAICT, the best way to do so would be to make more of it optional. (Another pet project of mine would be to separate grading/certification and teaching. They're very different things, and having the same entity do both of them seems like a recipe for altering one to make the other look good.)

[-]hwc120

"...separate grading/certification and teaching...."

John Stuart Mill advocates that in the last chapter of On Liberty. He wanted the state to be in charge of testing and certification, but get out of the teaching business altogether (except for providing funding for educating the poor). I like the idea.

1wnoise
I should really get around to reading On Liberty one of these days.
4John_Maxwell
I really think this is the domino that could trigger reform throughout the entire system. The problem is that there are only a few professions that require a specific, critical skill-set which can be easily tested and which completion of a degree does not guarantee.
5Roko
"I sometimes suspect that mass institutionalized schooling is net harmful because it kills off personal curiosity and fosters the mindset that education necessarily consists of being enrolled in a school and obeying commands issued by an authority" Yes, I agree. Look at the success EY has had as an autodidact. His scientific career is ~10 years ahead of mine (and the gap would be more like 50 years if I hadn't found OB + his other writings). I spent soooooooooo much time studying theoretical physics... because that is what is socially acceptable for a mathematically talented young scientist to study in the top universities. [edit: most autodidacts probably end up not doing as well. Selection Bias, etc. But it is a tantalizing piece of evidence See the wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autodidact ]
1John_Maxwell
So you found OB and his other writings 40 years ago? Also, kudos for spending a lot of time studying theoretical physics.
1[anonymous]
That isn't implied. It merely suggests that OB and his other writings facilitated learning which would have taken 40 years without these resources.
4clumma
I agree in principle. The problem is kids in the workplace. When you're gardening and making necklaces, the children can float around among the adults, learn by observation, and from one another. When both parents are sitting in front of a computer all day...
-6Kratoklastes

I think people should be allowed to sell their organs if they want to. We don’t consider it immoral to pay a surgeon to transplant a kidney, or to pay the nurse who helps him, so I don’t see why it’s immoral to pay the person who provides that kidney. I also think we should pay people in medical experiments. Pharmaceutical companies could hire private rating agencies to judge proposed Human experiments much as Standard and Poor rates bonds; that way people would know what they’re getting into. The pain \ danger index would range from slightly uncomfortable \ probably harmless to agony \ probably fatal and payment would be tied to that index. A market would develop open to anybody who was interested. It would be in the financial interest of the drug companies to make the tests as safe and comfortable as possible. All parties would benefit, medical research would get a huge boost and everybody would have a new way to make money if they chose to do it.

I also think that if you believe in capital punishment it is foolish to kill the condemned before performing some medical experiments on him first.

I think we do pay people in medical experiments.

4jsalvatier
Maybe I'm just projecting, but I doubt the first thing is a controversial position here.

Killing people, and locking them in prison for 20 years, are both worse than torturing them.

Killing enemy soldiers is not much better than killing enemy civilians.

It is immoral not to put a dollar value on life.

The rate of technological change has been slowing since 1970.

It can't be true that both universal higher education and immigration are social goods, since it is cheaper to just not educate some percentage your own people.

Increasing the population density makes the cost of land rise; and this is a major factor in the cost and quality of life.

Men and women think differently.

Ditto that modern Western women hold very wrong beliefs about what will make them happy.

War is not good for your economy (unless you aren't fighting in it).

It can't be true that both universal higher education and immigration are social goods, since it is cheaper to just not educate some percentage your own people.

This comment perplexed me until I realized you were assuming that the average education level of immigrants is lower than that of "natives" (that is, the pre-existing population of the country). But that need not be the case. To borrow from personal experience — many immigrants from the former Soviet Union are quite a bit more educated than the national average in the U.S. Surely immigrants who bring an above-average education with them are good for the society (assuming that they intend to become productive members of society)? Doesn't it follow that both of the things you mention can, in fact, be true, conditional on certain contingent properties of immigration?*

*And of higher education, presumably. I mean, we could say "higher education can't be a social good if we do it wrong in ways X, Y, Z", to which the obvious response is "we shouldn't do it like that, then."

9MichaelGR
"War is not good for your economy (unless you aren't fighting in it)." That's pretty well accepted in some economics circles. See the broken window fallacy by Frédéric Bastiat.
0[anonymous]
With notable, perhaps exceptional counter-points (see: the U.S. and WW2).
0blacktrance
Perhaps this is nitpicking, but it's possible for both to be social goods, but one is more of a good than the other.
[-]anonym340

I think that most people, including rationalists, have significant psychological problems that interfere with their happiness in life and impair their rationality and their pursuit of rationality. What we think of as normal is very dysfunctional, and it is dysfunctional in many more ways than just being irrational and subject to cognitive biases.

I think furthermore that before devoting yourself to rationality at the near exclusion of other types of self-improvement, you should devote some serious effort to overcoming the more mundane psychological problems such as being overly attached to material trinkets and measuring your self-worth in material terms, being unaware of your emotions and unable to express your emotions clearly and honestly, having persistent family and relationship problems, having chronic psychosomatic ailments, etc. Without attending to these sorts of issues first (or at the same time), trying to become a rationalist jedi is like trying to get a bodybuilder physique before you've fixed your diet and lost the 200 extra pounds you have.

I fear this may be wishful thinking; you can get much further than I would have thought a priori in a sub-art of rationality without developing a strong kick as well as a strong punch.

It would be interesting to try to diagram the "forced skill development" - for example, how far can you get in cognitive science before your ability to believe in a supernatural collapses - and of course the diagram would be very different for skills you studied from others versus skills you were able to invent yourself.

2anonym
I'm not sure how much you mean by the doing without a kick analogy. If you mean, for example, that a rationalist should overcome something like social anxiety that impedes his research career by developing techniques from scratch rather than engaging in something like cognitive behavioral therapy, then I disagree. Ditto for the other sorts of psychological problems I mentioned. The reason is not that I think you couldn't address anything from first principles, building up techniques as you go, but that this would be hugely inefficient, like developing calculus from first principles rather than studying a textbook.
5Nick_Tarleton
Would you consider a top-level post about this? (FWIW, I, at least, see emotional self-awareness as a core rationality skill.)
7Paul Crowley
If you're interested in this, we should be talking about CBT and related techniques, which are essentially a form of rationalism training directed at those biases which feed eg depression and anxiety disorders. If rationalism training were brought into schools, some CBT techniques should be part of that.
5anonym
Yes, CBT and related techniques are exactly the sort of thing I had in mind. I don't think most rationalists are aware of them though, and it's not because rationalists suffer from none of the problems for which they are especially effective or because they have already addressed the problems via other means.
1Roko
I might do one, actually
1anonym
I would hold myself to much higher standards for a top-level post than for a comment, and I'm extremely busy at the moment, so I won't be able to do a top-level post for at least the next couple of weeks. If anybody else has thought about this issue as well and wants to write a top-level post, feel free to do so. If I don't see such a post, then I'll write one up when I have time in a couple of weeks.
2Cosmin
I'm inclined to believe that rationality is more an instrument rather than a goal, as you try to describe it. Being attached to material trinkets, (or not) will be a rational choice for the one who developed his rationality and was able to think his choice through, while irrationally dismissing the utility of mundane gadgetry as well as wholeheartedly embracing it, most likely as a result of an induced bias, exposes the undertaker to unconsidered, not-yet-evaluated risks - hence the label "irrationally". There is some seed of truth in what you're saying - the balance between the effort of developing a rational art and the likely impact of that development on one's goal has to receive the necessary attention. To go with the example provided (the body-builder [the rationalist jedi]) - going straight towards his final goal (obtaining an Adonis physique [being a rational jedi]) will help him develop more muscle mass [more powerful rational skills] which would mean more fat-burning cells in his body [more chances to make the right decisions when various day-to-day challenges arise] to deal with the extra 200 pounds [whatever skewed perception or behavioural pattern one has], which, in my opinion is more close to optimal than a simple diet [blunt choice of "what is right" based on commonly-accepted opinion].
0anonym
I think of rationality in instrumental terms too. The point is achieving your ends most reliably and most efficiently, and rationality broadly construed is the way to accomplish those ends. I gave the example of being overly attached to material trinkets, not just being attached. Being overly attached by definition could never be a rational choice. With regard to the bodybuilder analogy, I think the optimal solution will include some study of diet and nutrition and modification of your diet (it's likely to be extremely unhealthy if you're morbidly obese). Working out will be much more efficient given a strong foundation of diet and other aspects of health. Likewise with rationality, progress will be quicker if it builds upon a strong foundation of psychological health. If there isn't such a foundation already, it deserves serious attention as a high-priority sub-art.
-1Torben
I think the notion the 'most people suffer from significant problem X' is very often plain misunderstood. If everybody 'suffers' X, X is the norm, not an affliction (with exceptions such as, say, lower back pain). You're projecting your normative values onto factual matters. Also, the notion that we have deficient moral/mental capacities seems to me unsupported and basically quasi-religious. "What we think of as normal is very dysfunctional..." Red pill or blue pill. Please. Our attachment to material trinkets, material self-worth, emotion expression abilities, family problems etc. all stem from our evolutionary background and the conflicting selection pressures our species was subjected to. Why would one even think that an conflict-free perfect Bayesian could, would or should result from evolution? Yes, it sucks loving your spouse and wanting to cheat at the same time. I just don't see how this translates into "significant psychological problems." Especially not some that need be overcome before moving on towards rationality Nirvana. I suggest bullet-biting as the cure for this ailment.
2anonym
It is possible for X to be the norm and simultaneously cause suffering, contra your first paragraph. How common the characteristic is and how much suffering it causes are only loosely related. I'm not talking about normative values at all. OF COURSE attachment to material trinkets, etc., come from our evolutionary background. Where else would they come from? That has no bearing at all on whether we would benefit from overcoming some of evolved tendencies. I have no idea how you could possibly have misinterpreted me to be arguing that a "conflict-free perfect Bayesian could, would or should result from evolution". Please enlighten me as to how anything I said implies that. You're arguing against a position that nobody here has put forward. Notice how I said "overly attached" (overly implying that some amount is healthy but that there is commonly too much, where too much means "contributes to losing, not winning") and you misrepresented me as saying "attached", how I said "having persistent family and relationship problems" (indicating losing not winning over an extended period of time) and you misrepresented that as "loving your spouse and wanting to cheat" (which most of us probably agree is extremely common and not necessarily a problem at all). Please try to read more carefully and not immediately pigeonhole me into "the most likely cliche".
2Paul Crowley
* Lower back pain is exactly the model you should have in mind * That's exactly what normative values are for * The notion that we have deficient mental capabilities is borne out in countless experimental studies. * Of course we haven't evolved to be perfect Bayesians - that's the whole point. * Pick a better example - many relationship problems demand a more thoughtful take than "suck it up". EDIT: Re-reading, this seems unnecessarily hostile. Don't have time to reword properly, please accept my apologies...

That both women and men are far happier living with traditional gender roles. That modern Western women often hold very wrong beliefs about what will make them happy, and have been taught to cling to these false beliefs even in the face of overwhelming personal evidence that they are false.

How traditional? 1600s Japan? Hopi? Dravidian? Surely it would be quite a coincidence if precisely the norms prevalent in the youth and culture of the poster or his or her parents were optimal for human flourishing.

If anything, I have the convert's bias in this regard, Michael, not the true-born believer's. I'm fairly young and was raised in quite a progressive household. I'd suspect myself more of overstating my case because it has come to me as such a revelatory shock. But that's neither here nor there, as I'm not advocating for any specific "tradition."

I'll posit that gender roles and dynamics since the feminist movement began in earnest in the 60s and 70s have proven to be a sizable and essentially unprecedented break from the previous continuum in Western societies going back at least a couple thousand years. I don't know enough about 1600s Japan or Hopi or Dravidian societies to speculate as to whether they fit into that pattern too. I understand there are arguments that feminist regimes are actually more original to the human species and that patriarchy only appears with the advent of agriculture and monarchy/despotism. My understanding is that this is an open question, and again beyond my expertise. So I should readily concede that "traditional" is a highly suspect term.

So I'll be even more blunt, since this is our comment thread to not worry about whether or not t... (read more)

[-]pjeby300

What I personally have observed is that there are plenty of men and women who have a need or desire to be dominated. And that a minority of these people can't deal with the idea that it's "just" a sexual fetish or personal quirk, but must convince themselves instead that the entire world would be happier or much better off if only our entire society were male supremacist or female supremacist, accordingly.

I've also observed that there are plenty of people who have a leadership or followership preference in a relationship... but the desire to be the follower is both more widespread and more gender-balanced than the desire to be the leader.

So I guess what I'm saying is, the fact that there's a large unsatisfied market of females wishing to be dominated (sexually or otherwise) should NOT be mistaken for an indicator that this is somehow "the way the world should be".

That market is unsatisfied for the same reason its male counterpart is: there simply aren't enough people of either gender with the inclination, experience, self-awareness, etc. to meet the demand.

8Eliezer Yudkowsky
It's my impersonal understanding that the ratio of male submissives to female dominants is way worse than the ratio of female submissives to male dominants - both kinds of submissives will have trouble finding a dominant counterpart, but the heterosexual males have it way worse.
[-]pjeby140

That's why I said the desire to be a follower is more gender-balanced than the desire to be a leader. I also used "leader" and "follower" because "dominant" and "submissive" carry more sexual overtone than is actually relevant to my point... but also because it's way easier for men to find socially "leading" partners than sexually leading ones.

Also, to make things more complex... there are plenty of people who like to go both ways... and there are people who want to be sexually dominant but socially submissive or vice versa... if you've actually met and spoken with enough real people (without the self-selection bias that occurs when people with identical kinks get together), it quickly cures you of any idea that you can just say, "This Is The One True Way Relationships Should Be."

(My wife owns a lingerie and adult toy/video store, and we've socialized with a lot of kinky and swinger folk, including gay, transgendered, etc. -- for a fairly broad definition of "etc.")

9Paul Crowley
This is very much my impression also - as a switch, I'm topping a lot more than would be my natural inclination because that's where the demand is.
3juliawise
This makes a lot of sense. I'm thinking of the dilemma my husband and I had when I wanted him to learn to swing dance, but neither of us wanted to learn to lead. Or my 6'4" male friend who told me sadly that sometimes, he just wants someone who's bigger than him, whose shoulder he can lean on.
0Multiheaded
Totally agreed. The thread starter has made a rash and morally suspect assertion - morally suspect because talking about people's happiness as exclusively a simple thing to be manipulated through cultural dogma, and the only grade on which a life can be rated as pleasant or not is whether a dogma brings the sensation of pleasure to certain individuals in certain circumstances or not - well, it goes against seeing people as an end in itself, and it's just icky.
2A1987dM
You might be Generalizing From One Example -- just because you like that doesn't mean all women do, and in fact I strongly believe that some women do and some don't, where by "some" I mean "more than 5% and less than 95%".
8[anonymous]
I'm curious - is your personal evidence anecdotal, qualitative, quantitative...? Michael Vassar also makes a good point - the values and implications of "traditional roles" vary a great deal across time, and especially across socioeconomic status. There are certainly career women in the West who perceive taking time off to care for children as a relief from the rat race and a chance to contribute to society in another positive way. They might feel differently had they been, say, a 12-year old Zimbabwean girl who never attended school, was married to an older man to help her family's finances, developed an obstetric fistula in childbirth, and never left her husband's compound again. That isn't just traditional, it's an active reality for millions of poor women around the world. There are also many happy, healthy, educated African career women and stay-at-home-moms, of course. The context of "tradition" is very important.
7clumma
I agree. But even though feminists (and other women exposed to the rhetoric) may say they want gender "equality" to increase their happiness, it is not necessarily the real reason. Once it becomes possible for women to enter the workplace (for any reason), competition will force other women to follow suit. Elizabeth Warren's research shows, for instance, that positional goods (housing, education) have experienced tremendous inflation since the '70s. The quality of these goods hasn't improved commensurately.
4Z_M_Davis
I believe that many if not most people value some things more than happiness.
4Broggly
"Man does not seek happiness, only the Englishman." -Nietzsche, on Utilitarians.
2olimay
I think most people would agree with that statement, if you ask them to think about it a little more. Happiness, or "expected happiness" is just one term in the utility function. There is also "expected unhappiness" which might encompass things like suffering, pain, negative emotions. The concept of utility tries generalize enough to add these things together, but at an everyday conceptual level these seem to be different things (nevermind about how emotions manifest physically.) For instance, we can be happy about one thing and yet about another e.g. "my infant daughter is beautiful, but I'm sad that my parents did not live long to share this joy with us." People seem to understand this: in English we have the word "bittersweet", and the juxtaposition of joy and melancholy seems to be present in many other languages and cultures. Back to the question of value: are people more eager to avoid loss than to pursue potential gains (of the same order of magnitude?) Experience points to most people putting more effort into keeping what they have, even if they are relatively unhappy with their situation. Part of this is probably evolved defaults of the brain influencing even what you might call conscious decision making. And don't forget about morality. Although we might try to reconcile the two, there is often some tension between doing what is "right" and doing what we expect may make us happier.
1kdirrim
I know for a fact that I value truth over happiness . I tend to do things that other people often point out to me would have "gone better" if I did it some other way or if I did something else entirely .
0Nick_Tarleton
I find it interesting that this comment is (currently) the highest-scoring, with 7 more points than the second highest. (Oh, wrong, it's second among top-level comments. Still interesting.)
1tut
Vague promotion of "traditional" values or ways combined with equally vague bashing of egalitarian movements that apparently are a threat to the relevant traditions is one of the most reliable applause lights that there are.
1Eliezer Yudkowsky
You're looking at "Popular" instead of "Top".

I think it's important to not downvote contributors to this survey if they sound honest, but voice silly-sounding or offending opinions. It's better to reward honesty, even if what you hear hurts or irritates (but not endless repetition of misguided opinion, that cumulatively will bore other readers too much). Upvoting interesting comments should be fine.

P.S. This advice is not one of these "crazy things" the poll is about. ;-)

8Nebu
In this particular post, I'm upvoting all the comments which make me think. So if I agree with someone's post, but it's pretty much a cached-thought for me, I won't bother upvoting it. And if I strongly disagree with someone, but they've forced me to think about why I disagree with them, I upvote it. (This isn't the metric I normally use for deciding when to upvote in other LW posts.)
8MichaelHoward
I agree. But I do think it's worth replying pointing out perceived holes in those beliefs, and seeing if the believer is able to defend them.
  1. I do not believe in utilitarianism of any sort, as an account of how people should behave, how they do behave, or how artificial people might be designed to behave. People do not have utility functions and cannot use utility functions, and they will never prove useful in AGI.

  2. Bayesian reasoning is no more a method for discovering truth than predicate calculus is. In particular, it will never be the basis for constructing an AGI.

  3. Almost all writings on how to build an AGI are nothing more than word salad.

  4. In common with most people here, I expect AGI to be possible. However, I may be unlike most people here in that I have no idea how to build one.

  5. The bar to take seriously any proposed way of building an AGI is at least this high: a real demo that scares Eliezer with what could be done with it right now, never mind if and when it might foom.

  6. All discussion of gender relations on LessWrong, OvercomingBias, or any similar forum, will converge on GenderFail. (Google "RaceFail" to see what I'm comparing this to. The current GenderFail isn't as bad as LiveJournal's great RaceFail 2009, but it's the same process in miniature.)

  7. Some things are right, some things are wrong, and it is possible to tell the difference.

3marchdown
In your opinion, what might be some methods for discovering truth?

In your opinion, what might be some methods for discovering truth?

Observing, thinking, having ideas, and communicating with other people doing these things. Nothing surprising there. No-one has yet come up with a general algorithm for discovering new and interesting truths; if they did it would be an AGI.

Taking a wider view of this, it has been observed that every time some advance is made in the mathematics or technology of information processing, the new development is seized on as a model for how minds work, and since the invention of computers, a model for how minds might be made. The ancient Greeks compared it to a steam-driven machine. The Victorians compared it to a telephone exchange. Freud and his contemporaries drew on physics for their metaphors of psychic energies and forces. When computers were invented, it was a computer. Then holograms were invented and it was a hologram. Perceptrons fizzled because they couldn't even compute an XOR, neural networks achieved Turing-completeness but no-one ever made a brain out of them, and logic programming is now just another programming style.

Bayesian inference is just the latest in that long line. It may be the one true way to reason about uncertainty, as predicate calculus is the one true way to reason about truth and falsity, but that does not make of it a universal algorithm for thinking.

7shokwave
I didn't get the impression that Bayesian inference itself was going to produce intelligence; the impression I have is that Bayesian inference is the best possible interface with reality. Attach a hypothesis-generating module to one end and a sensor module to the other and that thing will develop the correctest-possible hypotheses. We just don't have any feasible hypothesis-generators.

I didn't get the impression that Bayesian inference itself was going to produce intelligence

I do get that impression from people who blithely talk of "Bayesian superintelligences". Example. What work is the word "Bayesian" doing there?

In this example, a Bayesian superintelligence is conceived as having a prior distribution over all possible hypotheses (for example, a complexity-based prior) and using its observations to optimally converge on the right one. You can even make a theoretically optimal learning algorithm that provably converges on the best hypothesis. (I forget the reference for this.) Where this falls down is the exponential explosion of hypothesis space with complexity. There no use in a perfect optimiser that takes longer than the age of the universe to do anything useful.

5wedrifid
It would be a significant part of an AGI. Even the hardest part. But not enough to be considered an AGI itself.
3marchdown
Thank you, that was very enlightening. I see now where you were coming from. I still think that some breakthroughs are more -equal- fundamental and some methods are more correct, that is, efficient in seeking the truth. Perhaps attempts to first point out some specific interesting features of human consciousness (or intelligence, or brain) and only then try to analyse and replicate them would meet more success. In that sense logic and neural networks are successful, while bayesian inference is not. I wonder if you are familiar with TRIZ? It strikes me as positively loony, but it is a not-outright-unsuccessful attempt at a general algorithm for discovering new, uh, counterintuitive implications of known natural laws. Not truths per se, but pretty close.
0[anonymous]
double tildas mean strike-through
0Richard_Kennaway
I've read a book on it, as it happens. It seemed quite a useful set of schemas for generating new ideas in industrial design, but of course not a complete algorithm.
0marchdown
I've peeked at your profile and the linked page. See, I'm currently enrolled into linguistics program, and I was considering dedicating some time to The Art of Prolog, so I've researched what Prolog software there is and wasn't especially impressed. Could I maybe ask you for advice as to what kind of side project Prolog is suited for? I'm familiar with Lisp and C and I've dabbled with Haskell and Coq, and I would really really like to write something at least marginally useful.
0Richard_Kennaway
I think Prolog, like Lisp, is mainly useful for being a different way of thinking about computation. The only practical industrial uses of Prolog I've ever heard of are some niche expert systems, a tool for exploring Unix systems for security vulnerabilities, and an implementation of part of the Universal Plug and Play protocol.

I've read some responses touching on the same issue, but my point is different enough that I thought I'd do my own.

I believe that posession of child, or any other kind of pornography should be legal. I don't have enough information to decide whether the actual making of child pornography is harmful in the long term to the children, but I believe that having easy access to it would allow would-be child molesters to limit themselves to viewing things that have already happened and can't be undone.

I would say that the prominence of hentai and lolicon in Japan is a smaller step in the same direction, and seems to have worked well there.

6JulianMorrison
In context it's interesting that Japanese children's manga routinely has bawdy jokes, sexualized slapstick and "fan service". This may be an outsider's mistaken view but there doesn't seem to be any serious attempt to fence children into a contrived asexual sandpit.

I agree that's interesting, but remember these manga are not actually written by children, nor bought or read exclusively by children.

I don't know how many people here would agree with the following, but my position on it is extreme relative to the mainstream, so I think it deserves a mention:

As a matter of individual rights as well as for a well working society, all information should be absolutely free; there should be no laws on the collection, distribution or use of information.

Copyright, Patent and Trademark law are forms of censorship and should be completely abolished. The same applies to laws on libel, slander and exchange of child pornography.

Information privacy is massively overrated; the right to remember, use and distribute valuable information available to a specific entity should always override the right of other entites not to be embarassed or disadvantaged by these acts.

People and companies exposing buggy software to untrusted parties deserve to have it exploited to their disadvantage. Maliciously attacking software systems by submitting data crafted to trigger security-critical bugs should not be illegal in any way.

Limits: The last paragraph assumes that there are no langford basilisks; if such things do in fact exist, preventing basilisk deaths may justify censorship - based on the purely pract... (read more)

Agreed.

Also, if you pile on technological improvements but still try to keep patents etc, you end up in the crazy situation where government intrusiveness has to grow without bounds and make hegemonic war on the universe to stop anyone, anywhere from popping a Rolex out of their Drexlerian assembler.

I very strongly agree, except for the matter of trademarks. Trademarks make brand recognition easier and reduce transaction costs. Also enforcing trademarks is more along the lines of preventing fraud, since trademarks are limited only in identifying items in specific classes of items (rather clumsily worded, but I'm trying to be concise and legalities don't exactly lend themselves to concision.)

[-]greim120

Isn't yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater a kind of langford basilisk?

[-]Nebu110

I don't know how many people here would agree with the following, but my position on it is extreme relative to the mainstream, so I think it deserves a mention:

As a matter of individual rights as well as for a well working society, all information should be absolutely free; there should be no laws on the collection, distribution or use of information.

Normally, when people say they believe "all information should be free", I suspect they don't really mean this, but since you claim your position is very "extreme", perhaps you really do mean it?

I think information, such as what is the PIN to my bank account, or the password to my LessWrong.com account, should not be freely accessible.

Information privacy is massively overrated; the right to remember, use and distribute valuable information available to a specific entity should always override the right of other entites not to be embarassed or disadvantaged by these acts.

You don't believe there is value in anonymity? E.g. being able to criticize an oppressive government, without fear of retribution from said government?

I think information, such as what is the PIN to my bank account, or the password to my LessWrong.com account, should not be freely accessible.

You make a good point; I didn't phrase my original statement as well as I should have. What I meant was that there shouldn't be any laws (within the limits mentioned in my original post) preventing people or companies from using, storing and passing on information. I didn't mean to imply keeping secrets should be illegal. If a person or company wants to keep something secret, and can manage to do so in practice, that should be perfectly legal as well.

As a special case, using encryption and keeping the keys to yourself should be a fundamental right, and doing so shouldn't lead to e.g. a presumption of guilt in a legal case.

You don't believe there is value in anonymity? E.g. being able to criticize an oppressive government, without fear of retribution from said government?

I believe there can be value in anonymity, but the way to achieve it is by effectively keeping a secret either through technological means or by communicating through trusted associates. If doing so is infeasible without laws on use of information, I don't think laws would help, either.

I think governments that would like to be oppressive have significantly more to fear from free information use than their citizens do.

When you use the PIN to your bank account you expect both the bank and ATM technicians and programmers to respect your secret. There are laws that either force them not to remember the PIN or impose punishment for misusing their position of trust. I don't see how such situations or cases of blackmail would be resolved without assuming one person's right to have their secrets not made public by others.

I'm not just nitpicking. I would love to see a watertight argument against communication perversions. Have you written anything on the topic?

2dclayh
Agreed.
2infinite_asshole
I don't agree with it. You can't believe everything you read in Wired. The "information should be free" movement is just modern techno-geek Marxism, and it's only sillier the second time around. All software is buggy. All parties are untrusted.
8Sebastian_Hagen
That may be so now, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to change it. That the current default state for software is "likely insecure" reflects the fact that the market price for software security is lower than the cost of providing it. Laws against software attacks raise the cost of performing such attacks, and therefore lower the incentives for people to ensure the software they use is secure. I think it would be worth a try to take that illegality away, and see if the market responds by coming up with ways to make software secure. You can't get really good physical security without expending huge amounts of resources: physical security doesn't scale well. Software security is different in principle: If you get it right, it doesn't matter how many resources an attacker can get to try and subvert your system over a data channel - they won't succeed.

Cryonics membership is a rational choice.

My chances of surviving death through resuscitation are good (as such things as chances to beat death go), but would be better if I convinced more people that cryonics is a rational choice.

In my day to day I am more concerned with my job than convincing others on the subject of cryonics, even though the latter is probably more valuable to my long term happiness. Am I not aware of what I value? Why do I not structure my behavior to match what I believe I value? If I believed that cryonics would buy me an additional 1000 years of life wouldn't 10 years of total dedication to its cause be worthwhile? Does this mean that I do not actually believe in cryonics, but only profess to believe in cryonics?


  • Americans no longer significantly value liberty and this will be to the detriment of our society.

  • A large number of Americans accept the torture of religious enemies as necessary and just.

  • Male circumcision is more harmful than we realize and one cause (among many) of sexual dysfunction among couples.

  • Most humans would be happier if polyamory was socially acceptable and encouraged.

I think school, as conventionally operated, is a scandalous waste of brain plasticity and really amounts mostly to a combination of "signaling" and a corral.

I'm not sure what should replace it. There are things kids need to know - math, general knowledge, epistemology, reasoning, literacy as communication, and the skills of unsupervised study and research. (School doesn't overtly teach most of the above - it puts you under impossible pressure and assumes that like a tomato pip you will be squeezed into moving in the right direction.)

There are also a ton of things they might like to learn, out of interest.

I am not sure those two categories of learning ought to be bundled up. Especially, while I can understand forcing a study of the first category, it seems obviously counterproductive to force the second.