Edit :Excellent suggestions in the comments. Two of them stood out for me:

  1. "Untaught" may be better.  It is less connoted (if at all), conveys about the right meaning, and can be understood by about anyone (thanks, shminux).
  2. Using a word to name a category can raise walls around it. In this case, we must be extra careful not to stigmatize the very people we'd like to join us (thanks, daenerys).

We often use "insane" to describe people whose behaviour or beliefs are below the sanity waterline. But as most must would agree here, you cannot call someone insane with a straight face just because he happens to believe in magic.

I'm currently watching Future by Design, a documentary featuring Jacque Fresco and the Venus Project. Jacque came up with this word, "unsane", to describe people who basically, aren't rational because they haven't been exposed to the right ideas yet.  Which would be different from "insane", which is more about irrevocably irrational people.

I like this word, because there isn't the tone of accusation we find in "insane". This neutrality makes it easier to say that we can do something about it. Insanity should be eradicated like vermin. Unsanty on the other hand can be fixed.

So, do you think this word, "Unsanity" might be worth using?

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Nonsane would be better, I think. Whereas unsane suggests a strongly opposite to sane, nonsane suggests a mere lack of sanity. It also looks like it might be related to nonsense, which is a common product of nonsanity.

I also like nonsane better, for those reasons and because I would predict that using unsane in conversations with persons considered to be so, is more likely to provoke Logical Rudeness and dismissal in the form of "it's pronounced 'insane', idiot", than nonsane is likely to.

Nonsane is a clearly-separate term. Unsane pattern-matches to Ralph Wiggum.

Nonsane would be better, I think. Whereas unsane suggests a strongly opposite to sane, nonsane suggests a mere lack of sanity.

I'm shocked that this ended up in an extreme upward spiral. "Strongly opposite" doesn't seem to be the suggestion at all. We have an actual word (insane) that means that and the fact that someone has clearly gone out of their way to use insane is an overwhelmingly strong indication that they are not trying to say "strongly opposite to sane!"

The difference between "non-X" and "unX" tends to be that 'unX' is closer to being consolidated into a single word than 'non-X' which is closer to a word with an external operator applied. Kind of like 'atheist' vs 'non-theist'. Real words that are actually words tend to be 'unX' and not 'nonX' (typing nonchristian into google just gives you a suggestion to try 'non christian' which in turn returns results consisting 'non-christian') so creating a fake word of the type 'nonX' is just totally unnatural.

The above is not to say that 'unsane' should be used as alternative to using 'sane' with a 'non' operator. Just that having my tribe adopt a 'nonsane' as a jargon word would be outright embarassing. It's nerdy while not even having the saving grace of doing nerdy right!

I downvoted everyone who suggested that we call people who have not yet been exposed to rationality: "ignoramuses", "stupid", "ignorant", or the like.

I would like to grow the LessWrong community, and calling everyone who isn't already one of us names, is not the way to do it. Also, I find it offensive, and would like to see less comments like these.

"Ignorant" derives from the Latin ignorantia, from the verb ignorare, to not know. (The Dutch translation is "onwetend", literally, "un-knowing"). If I had not been informed of the negative connotations it carries in English, I would have thought it a perfectly polite word to use.

People like to be able to dismiss any criticism as "calling names", "ad hominem". It is therefore unlikely that you'll be able to find a term that captures the original meaning of (wilful) ignorance without the insulting connotations. If an alternative term were to find widespread use, people would just start taking offence at the new term - being offended allows them to ignore your criticism.

In French "ignorant" just means "not knowing", and though it has a connotation of being generally uneducated and possibly stupid telling someone they're ignorant in the context of a particular topic usually goes over well. The connotations in English are much more negative, and I got seriously bitten in the ass over that.

Point taken. I may even have to say "oops". I have forgotten that naming categories tend to raise walls around them. (Here, using a word such as "unsane" or "non-sane" would tend to stigmatize even If I don't want to).

"Unsane" was Korzybski's word a long time ago. One blogger in the general-semantics tradition writes: "The difference between unsane and insane is that unsane doesn't necessarily get you into trouble." G.s. uses "unsanity" to mean something like "having a map that doesn't describe the territory accurately."

That said, I think we should recognize that "sanity" is the name of a social, behavioral concept, too. We should be cautious using it, since it may drag in those connotations. A person who can't cope with the world due to psychological difficulties may be labeled "insane" by society even if their map of the world is not any more inaccurate than anyone else's. Once upon a time, being sexually attracted to people of the same sex was considered a matter of insanity; today, being an impulsive child who won't sit still in classrooms is considered a matter of insanity.

I think it sounds to blatantly like a euphemism.

"differently oriented" makes for a better euphemism.

But it's not different, that's the problem; it's mainstream!

"Acolyte of the sanity-normative hegemony"?

Irrational has about the right meaning and has less unfortunate connotations than insane. Though admittedly they might still be worse than what you're looking for.

You want a word that means "these person's ideas are so wrong that they shouldn't even be discussed in polite company".

Look at this from the outside view, you want a word that's essentially a rationalist equivalent to "infidel" without the connotations "infidel" has of making its user seem scarily dogmatic.

There are three relevant sanity levels to compare against: the minimum required to function, the level where most people are, and where we wish most people were. Call these clinical (C), normal (N) and extra-rational (X). If a person's sanity level is R, then

insane: R<C
irrational: R<N
rational: R>=N

It'd be nice to have a good word for N<=R<X, but unfortunately, my intuition says that

unsane: R<<C  

Which would make it an insult; so even if we redefine it as N<=R<W, people who hadn't heard that definition would be likely to react negatively.

It's a band. And a horror film.

Though this may not be the word for it, it's clear what you're getting at, and a word for it may be helpful.

So, do you think this word, "Unsanity" might be worth using?

I expect it is one that I will adopt. Most likely with the 'unsane' word consisting of a link to this post. I always appreciate posts that I can link to in order to minimise how verbose I have to make a comment when trying to cross inferential differences.

So, do you think this word, "Unsanity" might be worth using?

Νο, that looks and sounds like "unsanitary".

If you don't want to use the word "insanity", I'd suggest you use the words "non-sanity" or "irrationality" instead.

EDIT: After a more careful reading of your post, I agree with the "ignorant" and "untaught" suggestions instead.

I tend to support the use of "insane" and "crazy" to mean "severely and systematically irrational", because there are some common points with actual mental illness that makes the analogy reasonable, and the connotations can be desirable. But if you're trying to create a neutral word so that you can put more connotations of badness, irrationality, and irreversibility into "insane", you're going to seriously distort your view of literal insanity. Literal-insane people have lots of experience at basic skepticism, so that's a strong protection against ending up colloquial-insane if you don't fail right at the start. And when you say insanity should be eradicated and use comparisons to vermin, you're saying that you want to take away my pretty hallucinations, and you're begging a reader who doesn't understand the horns effect very well to replace "insanity" with "insane people".

If you want a cutesy word for little problems that aren't so bad, maybe start using "insane" and pick something like "stupid" for the more severe version. Or at least pick something unrelated enough that "insane" will keep sounding like "having reasoning flaws that impair rationality" rather than "so fucked up, man, don't even try".

downvoted for karma begging


Negative karma work for you?

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Perfectly good word: "ignorant".

I thought he wanted something without a negative connotation.



Many would consider 'naive' to be more negative than 'insane'. For many social roles 'naive' is a weakness and far worse than the right kind of insane.

Not knowing things is bad. I don't think there should be a non-negative word that excuses insanity by lack of knowledge.

Yeah, but if people actually start using the word "unsane", then I expect it to acquire a negative connotation quite rapidly.

Hence my suggestion of "untaught".


If someone's ignorant in regards to the history of Mesoamerican history, or nuclear physics, or hydromechanics, that doesn't mean they're irrational/insane towards it.

Ignorance has nothing to do with how the word "insane" has been typically used in Less Wrong. It's been typically used to refer to people whose minds don't properly handle information about reality and/or make counterproductive decisions even though they have the information they require to not do so.

Indeed if someone's merely ignorant, and that's why they don't make the optimal decisions, that's a vastly smaller problem than when they have all the required information and still make insane decisions.

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How 'bout "people with corrupted mindware"? It is a bit long, though. You could say they're cruftwared.

"People with mindware gaps" is more exact, if we're talking about people who simply haven't been exposed to rationality knowledge.

How 'bout "people with corrupted mindware"?

Yet it isn't a corruption. The hardware is operating just as (metaphorically) intended. Becoming sane requires corrupting that hardware.

Becoming sane requires corrupting that hardware.

Wait... What?

Becoming sane requires corrupting that hardware.

Wait... What?

Many (most?) of the human biases that we can correct for through rigorous training in an attempt to increase 'sanity' are the result of the brain acting just how it is intended. Those who become significantly more sane end up with brains that have been stretched well out of what is natural for the brains of the homo sapiens sapiens animal. See also things like 'environment of evolutionary adaption' and related considerations.

Yeah, it's just that (whereas the distinction between hardware and software is not as clear-cut for a human brain as for a computer -- neuroplasticity and all that) the phrase “corrupting that hardware” sounds more like “lobotomies, drugs etc.” than “learning and practising stuff” to me.

I am coming from a background where I am used to looking at ECGs and investigation into the rather drastic changes in volume and activation patterns in the brain when humans are pushed to extreme levels by training. I'm also coming from a perspective where I would claim that the most 'sanity' you will get out of a brain will involve the careful use of 'drugs'.

I'm also coming from a perspective where I would claim that the most 'sanity' you will get out of a brain will involve the careful use of 'drugs'.

Could you elaborate on that? Are there any useful drugs that are not included in Gwern's Nootropics Guide ?

Could you elaborate on that? Are there any useful drugs that are not included in Gwern's Nootropics Guide ?

Those are the most obvious examples. There are also other drugs that improve sanity that are either/or more focused on improving the sanity of individuals with specific traits or are more drastic in nature.

More drastic example: I've found injecting myself with cerebrolysin to give significant benefits to sanity and that is a substance that would give improvements to most people.

An example that is both drastic and dependent on the individual: There is a counterfactual wedrifid* that attests that the drug that has given the most powerful improvement is testosterone cypionate. While the primary effect of the drug is massive muscle growth the psychological side effects actually improved his sanity by an absurd degree. He went from barely functional to highly productive. When one observes that the decision to not attempt to fulfill one's CEV at a given moment is a bad decision it follows that all else being equal improved motivation is improved sanity.

Elaborating on why the psychological side effects of testosterone injection are individual dependent: Not everyone get the same amount of motivation and increased goal seeking from the steroid and most people do not experience periods of chronic avolition. Another psychological effect is a potentially drastic increase in aggression which in turn can have negative social consequences. In the case of counterfactual wedrifid he gets a net improvement in social consequences. He has observed that aggression and anger are a prompt for increased ruthless self-interested goal seeking. Ruthless self-interested goal seeking involves actually bothering to pay attention to social politics. People like people who do social politics well. Most particularly it prevents acting on contempt which is what wedrifid finds prompts the most hostility and resentment in others. Point is, what is a sanity promoting change in one person may not be in another.


  • Possessing unprescribed anabolic steroids is illegal where wedrifid lives.
  • Therefore, it is logically impossible for wedrifid to possess or use testosterone cypionate.
  • Therefore, if any wedrifid is someone who uses steroids that wedrifid must be counterfactual.
  • Therefore, counterfactual wedrifid is the person who attests to the psychological benefits he gains from testosterone cypionate.

Since I wrote it a total of 7 links have been made to the parent, as attempts to do status damage either out of general hostility or opposition in a specific context. In each of those 7 cases wedrifid was, in fact, off cycle. That is, he was not benefiting from any injectable performance enhancers in any sense real or counterfactual. (Moderation is healthy!)

While I reflectively endorse my contributions in those contexts it does seems potentially significant that all such attacks occurred when the proposed influence was absent. Pure coincidence isn't out of the question. That and when I am busy being productive I don't waste nearly as much time on lesswrong so I'm less likely to provoke replies - obnoxious or otherwise.

The footnote reminds me of my nuclear physics textbook's description of how nukes ‘might’ ‘possibly’ ‘perhaps’ (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) be made.

How 'bout "people with corrupted mindware"?

That would falsely imply there existed some "pristine" uncorrupted form of their mindware, at some point in time, at some Eden or Arda Unmarred or pre-Xenu galaxy or whatever.

Nah, just something like a recursively self-improving AI. Or at least a rational agent. You've heard the phrase before, right? I believe it originates from cognitive psychology.

But still, every person alive fits the description "person with corrupted mindware," so it isn't really a useful descriptive term.

Finally, someone got my point. Insane/nonsane/sane are false dichotomies and there's a continuum of irrationality. It makes more sense to say X person is missing Y (e.g., probability theory), than to say they're unsane, nonsane, and so on. You're just creating meaningless tribes.

The word in-sane is one of many words that is related to the spell of Leviathan. If I am in-sane then I am in sound mind. Period

I like normal-crazy. Crazy has nowhere near the negative connotations of insane and "we're all a little bit crazy (in our own special way)" is something of a meme. "This bit of crazy (you can call it a heuristic if you want) is miscalibrated" has gone down decently for me. The brackets are an alternative, not an aside to say.

BTW, what are your thoughts about Jacque Fresco and his Venus Project after watching this documentary?

He doesn't seem to grok microeconomics. It is very unlikely that he has never been exposed to it, so "unsane" might be too charitable.


Let me see if I have this right: If Fresco had simply never been exposed to standard microeconomics and persisted with his Venus Project plan, then he would be unsane, but if he had been so exposed and simply didn't update based on it, then he would be insane?

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What's wrong with "untaught"?

If I'm untaught in regards to neurosurgery, that hardly means I'm behaving irrationally/insanely towards it.

And lots insane people are vastly taught in the subject they're insane in, e.g. religion, politics, whatever.

So, in short, what's wrong with it is that it has nothing to do with what we're talking about which is about the rational processing of information.

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I suspect that you missed his point:

to describe people who basically, aren't rational because they haven't been exposed to the right ideas yet

Ah, yes, I somehow missed that sentence. Retracting my previous comment, with apologies.


Lot of the time the appropriate word is 'stupid', to be honest. H. Sapiens, even the smartest ones, are pretty stupid; barely intelligent enough to have technological progress. Barely intelligent enough to come up with things that make sense, too.

People are either charming or tedious.

People are either charming or tedious.

No they aren't. Sometimes they are scary, or obnoxious or otherwise worse than tedious. (False dichotomy!)

I believe Wilde's context was socialites. Others wouldn't really be considered 'people'.