What's the worst argument you can think of?

One of my favorites is from a Theodore Sturgeon science fiction story in which it's claimed that faster than light communication must be possible because even though stars are light years apart, a person can look from one to another in a moment.

I don't know about you, but bad logic makes my stomach hurt, especially on first exposure.

This seems rather odd-- what sort of physical connection might that be?

Also, I'm not sure how common the experience is, though a philosophy professor did confirm it for himself and (by observation) his classes. He mentioned one of the Socratic dialogues (sorry, I can't remember which one) which is a compendium of bad arguments and which seemed to have that effect on his classes.

So, how did you feel when you read that bit of sf hand-waving? If your stomach hurt, what sort of stomach pain was it? Like nausea? Like being hit? Something else? If you had some other sensory reaction, can you describe it?

For me, the sensation is some sort of internal twinge which isn't like nausea.

Anyway, both for examination and for the fun of it, please supply more bad arguments.

I think there are sensory correlates for what is perceived to be good logic (unfortunately, they don't tell you whether an argument is really sound)-- kinesthesia which has to do with solidity, certainty, and at least in my case, a feeling that all the corners are pinned down.

Addendum: It looks as though I was generalizing from one example. If you have a fast reaction to bad arguments and it isn't kinesthetic, what is it?

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We're built to play games. Until we hit the formal operational stage (at puberty), we basically have a bunch of individual, contextual constraint solvers operating mostly independently in our minds, one for each "game" we understand how to play—these can be real games, or things like status interactions or hunting. Basically, each one is a separately-trained decision-theoretical agent.

The formal operational psychological stage signals a shift where these agents become unified under a single, more general constraint-solving mechanism. We begin to see the meta-rules that apply across all games: things like mathematical laws, logical principles, etc. This generalized solver is expensive to build, and expensive to run (minds are almost never inside it if they can help it, rather staying inside the constraint-solving modes relevant to particular games), but rewards use, as anyone here can attest.

When we are operating using this general solver, and we process an assertion that would suggest that we must restructure the general solver itself, we react in two ways:

Initially, we dread the idea. This is a shade of the same feeling you'd get if your significant other said, very much... (read more)

Well-described. And spot-on, based on my experience. I guess I would add that if mental restructurings are regular, frequent or numerous in one's life, then restructuring can become a game in itself, and flexibility can be written into the rules. I really enjoyed internalizing and restructuring my mind around physical materialism (sort of, there were some uncomfortable moments and some chaff that needed to be separated). Now, I'm kind of mildly disappointed that it is apparently so stable. Competing ideas can't get any traction and I seem to be done now for a while. I still skim through Less Wrong, analyze church signs and listen closely to people for any new leads. But I've wondered several times over the past year if there can be any new ideas that would be so disorienting again and yet also possible. Quantum mechanics seems promising, but for now I can't distinguish any truly disorientating ideas from just not knowing the details. Now, since there appears to be a lull in mental reconstruction, I am redirecting my mental energy to tackling 'soft', complex problems like understanding social interactions better, especially in the context of generational age and demographic details. (Not as in 'reading social science books', but figuring out ways of interacting with people that are most pleasant for me.) It's the kind of thing where I can expect to make only incremental progress for mental hours dedicated. Although I'm open to reading the right book. Now that I've (just now) explicitly acknowledged this goal to myself, I can apply let-me-look-up-the-post-where-you-apply-rationality-to-meet-goals-more-efficiently-probably-by-Anna [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2p5/humans_are_not_automatically_strategic/].

You know those puzzles you get on the back of cereal packets, where there's a big spaghetti-mess of lines, and you have to help the monkey by finding which line leads to the banana?

Up to a certain level of complexity I can usually look at one of those once, and immediately identify the appropriate line. Bad logic feels like being presented with one of those puzzles, only there is somehow no route to the banana. I can tell, on sight, that there's no route to the banana. There's some sort of holistic wrongness about the puzzle, and it really distresses me that the monkey can't get to the banana!

no route to the banana

I submit that this should be the new code phrase for broken logic.

I often want to shout something to that effect at people.

I tend to find bad reasoning painful when I feel it's likely to be accepted by many, and I can't do anything about it. When it's not likely to be accepted, I just find it funny. I don't remember where I read it, but I like the advice of treating crazy (and otherwise bad or annoying) people as unique objects of art in a mental collection.

Thank you for your spot on description of your emotions as it relates to this topic as I can truthfully say that I am in complete agreement with all of your statements and I deduce that this argument is correct in my perspective, and also I'll bear on mind that final notion... They are unique pieces indeed... Hahaha!
Unfortunately, most actual museum pieces have relatively little input into the political process. :-\

People might feel better about this entry if it were in the discussion section rather than in the main section. Also note that one needs to be careful about focusing on such arguments. Reversed stupidity is not intelligence. Moreover, the argument you mention about faster than light travel has non-trivial forms. A classic puzzle given to beginning physics students is very close to this, where one has a laser beam that is focused on a very far away object. If you move the laser pointer a little bit the dot will move much faster than the speed of light. The problem is to explain why this doesn't violate special relativity.

My point wasn't to propose Sturgeon's argument, it was to encourage people to observe how they react to obviously bad arguments, and to get some thoughts about how cognition is connected to the body as well as the brain.
Right. You might answer that the dot is not actually reaching the stars, and so is not traveling faster than the speed of light. A similar problem, though, is a thought-experiment with a rigid rod which is one light-year long. If you rotate it with yourself as the axis, at even a small angular velocity, explain why the tip doesn't go faster than the speed of light.
I'm guessing that "rigidity" is actually a complicated engineering sort of thing when you really look at it, so that the motion takes time to propagate down the rod.
Yep. If you tried to rotate a giant rod, it would look like a spiral [http://www.google.com/images?q=spiral+galaxy&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=yTUITanWAcP-8AarmPGDAQ&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CCkQsAQwAA&biw=1680&bih=884] .
Galaxies have much looser internal connections than a rod has. However, this suggests that light speed puts an upper limit on the rigidity of materials.
The galaxies were just there as a visualization- I don't think they started out as rods (but I Am Not An Astronomer). Yep- the fundamental mechanism underlying rigidity is the electromagnetic potentials between atoms, and those can't propagate faster than the speed of light. Typical speeds of actual propagation are significantly slower- vibrations travel at the speed of sound in that material, and so on.

When I was younger I used to go fishing as well as hunting for game birds with my dad. Several relatives and others along the way, found this very disturbing. I remember the gist of one conversation well, from when I was about 12: they ask me, rather petulantly, how I can be so horrible as to shoot birds. Immediate sick feeling in stomach: this conversation will not go well for you.

I point out that they are not vegetarians, whose critique I do take seriously. Do they think that their steaks grow on special shrink-wrapped trees?

But the ducks are so beautiful!

So only pretty things deserve to live?

But they were living such a peaceful life in the wild, and then you shot them! Cows never have good lives to start with, so it isn't as bad.


But you're killing them!

And you're letting someone else kill for you.

Cue moral dumbfounding, followed by "But still!" type interjections.

(Aside: I am now switched to a basically vegetarian diet, with meat allowed occasionally if it is ethically farmed.)

More broadly, I often find conversations with muggles on anything vaguely controversial, to be very frustrating. Once they choose a position on some issue, they seem to... (read more)

[-][anonymous]12y 13

My response varies.

If somebody just flat-out makes a false inference (I see this most often in journalism) my thought is "Ha, ha! I could do your job better than you!" It's outrage, but it's kind of a pleasant outrage. Yes, it's uncharitable of me to say so, but I'm sure I'm not alone.

What makes me literally uncomfortable is when I see pages and pages that pretend to be an argument but don't seem to be moving towards any point. Teilhard de Chardin, for example. Or a really crappy school essay where the student didn't bother to make and defend an argument, but just sort of rambles. That's disorienting and unpleasant to read -- maybe like having a fever or dizziness.

The first kind of "bad logic" is something I could step in and fix; it attracts my eager editor's impulse. The second kind of "bad logic" gives me a kind of sick, "oh, shit, this is unsalvageable" feeling.

To me, a bad argument for something I disagree with feels like frustrating rudeness or obstruction, even if I have no reason to believe the misargumentation is intentional. I suppose, in a way, it is: the perpetrator has an intention to persuade someone of their (wrong) view, and they are at least negligent in their poor reasoning if not actively dishonest. Physically, it's like the symptoms of mild anxiety with a hint of anger.

A bad argument for something I do agree with feels similar, like unhelpful interference, but with a dash of embarrassment thrown in. I suppose it's likely I don't notice as many bad arguments for things I believe as for things I don't.

Hence the phrase "logical rudeness" [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1p1/logical_rudeness/].
I'd vote this up 10 times if I could. :)

Hrm... I tend to get more a feeling of irritation/"GAH! SHADUPSHADUPDHADUP" (depending on mood/how bad it is)

The problem is, I'm not sure I can properly separate the "bad logic" reaction from the "how dare you argue against a position I support and thus implicitly challenge my status?" thing. (Actually detecting explicitly the bad logic is one thing, but the "feel" of it might just be that other feeling. ie, I might simply be noticing or remembering as more egregious the instances of bad logic that were against my position. Although I do find bad logic that supports my positions to be annoying too.)

Upvoted mostly for the self-honesty. I wonder sometimes if I'm more 'forgiving' of bad arguments for positions I already agree with. (Answer: probably, but unless I know how much it'll be hard to correct for.) I do find it pretty unpleasant when people hold my opinion for reasons that are... lacking, but I think this may be more of an allergy to cliché than to bad logic. I get the same sensation when I hear people intone individualist or liberal catch-phrases in full sincerity, regardless of how much I might agree with the sentiment.
From what I understand it is virtually impossible even if you do know how much to correct for. :) I cringe with embarrassment, sometimes literally. It bothers me far more than when the mistake is made by someone with a contrary opinion.

"What's the worst argument you can think of?"

Since you asked... Some people told me I shouldn't be vegetarian because I kill plants.

And my reaction to such arguments is the surprise of learning that the human mind really is that broken. I used to be under the impression that as intelligence rises, the ability to spot certain fallacies should be reached before the ability to ride the long bus.

I don't feel any pain, but sometimes I feel like I'm SUPPOSED to get an ice cream headache from the overwhelming stupidity.

Unless they were fruitarians, I'd be quite surprised if they took that argument seriously rather than using it as an attempt to make you look inconsistent.
Then be surprised.
If they themselves eat rabbits but not dogs, they are themselves inconsistent, as rabbits are more closely related to humans than dogs are. (I am inconsistent myself, but who said that my choice of what to eat had to be consistent in the first place?)
This is only tangentially related, but still: When I was still at college, many ages ago, one of my lab partners lived in an all-female, mostly-vegan co-op, because it was cheap. I came to visit her one day to work on our project, and was informed by one of the vegans that their co-op had no TV, because TVs emit dangerous freon gases, which (as everyone knows) are bad for the environment. It took me a while to recover from that one.
I've always wanted to ask a vegetarian this. Do you reject eating meat for humanitarian reasons? If so, would you eat oysters? They have no brain. They're still alive, but so is corn.
There's an article arguing in favour of that position, from a vegan perspective: http://www.slate.com/id/2248998/ [http://www.slate.com/id/2248998/] (I'm a vegetarian and I agree with that, though I personally do not eat oysters mainly because I find it icky. But I don't have any ethical objection to it.)
I frickin love oysters. Try them some time.
I describe myself as a vegetarian for humanitarian reasons, and have no ethical problem with eating oysters for exactly the reason you describe. Though, I guess that means I'm not technically a vegetarian. My policy is to choose my food so as to avoid causing unnecessary suffering to animals. Is there a good word for that?
I reject eating meat for humanitarian reasons. I don't eat oysters because 1) I've taken "the animal kingdom" as a Schelling point to avoid a slippery slope into eating shellfish and fish, and 2) even when I did eat meat I thought oysters were gross.
Considering this subject was an early part [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RC1bUwm0-KQ] of my rationalist education.
I know that meme from certain Facebook pages, but I had always supposed it was intended as a joke -- or at least as HHOS [http://catb.org/jargon/html/H/ha-ha-only-serious.html]. (There are a few people who appear to take it seriously, but there are a few people who appear to take anything at all seriously.)

So, how did you feel when you read that bit of sf hand-waving?

It makes me go like this: ಠ_ಠ

Aside from that, when the person making the bad argument is someone I can empathize with, it often makes me feel embarrassed on their behalf; like, if it's someone I identify with enough that I can generally imagine myself in their position, I often imagine myself making the bad argument, and, being that I-as-myself can see why the argument is bad, I immediately feel embarrassed, including the associated physical sensations.

That's the same reason why I don't like movies about awkward people.

I really enjoy poor arguments that are along the lines of your example. I think it's funny (I mean literally funny, like a joke) to come up with an argument that is almost right except for some single glaring flaw, and present it seriously; can you spot the flaw? I come up with such things on purpose frequently in casual conversation with friends, if I can think fast enough. I don't think we would get along very well!

I also enjoy debugging software a lot more than most people, which I think is conceptually similar; you have a big mental model that yourself or someone else has constructed, but it doesn't work as implemented, because there's a trick somewhere. Where's the trick?

I haven't read all the comments yet, but I do feel like I can have a good idea that an argument doesn't follow without knowing the exact point at which it becomes fallacious. Kinesthetically , it feels like the first instant of trying to open a locked car door. Your arm is working, the latch is working, but something isn't "catching" and you can feel the weight of the door isn't falling the right way.

I am not sure if this counts as an argument per se, but several works of fiction have had instances where a time machine moves a small amount into the future, (say 1 second), and always travels to 1 second ahead of the protagonist, and thus is invisible. Wouldn't this just give the protagonist a 1 second head start against the villain?

At a time of t=5, both would be visible and present, but the protagonist would have 5 seconds of action time, but the "clever" villain would only have had 4 seconds.

The author is conflating space and time, so they think "at t=5, the villain is at t=6, which is not t=5, so they are not here".

For bad arguments in that class, the feeling I get is the same sense of emptiness that I get when I think about a closed, opaque box that I know is empty. There's just nothing useful there, the sentence is a shell with no logic inside. (I get a similar sense of a disorganized but full box when I contemplate a possibly-correct but currently not understood train of logic, and a related sense of a complex but working potentially-visible machine when contemplating a train of logic that I understand but am considering as a whole rather than as its constituent p... (read more)

For bad arguments in that class, the feeling I get is the same sense of emptiness that I get when I think about a closed, opaque box that I know is empty. There's just nothing useful there, the sentence is a shell with no logic inside.

That's a very lucky response. I visualise something like a broken, mashed-up machine made of human belief and longing, flailing and bleeding as it tries to keep running. It's really very horrible. That's what determined stupidity looks like.

(wow, that's icky. It's also true. I slightly wish I hadn't realised that's what I've been picturing. Mostly in a dim sodium-yellow light rather than full colour, thankfully.)

*chuckles* You just induced me to notice another response: Your metaphor registers as 'made of smoke', aka 'that map doesn't match the territory'. Logic based on nonexistent or incorrect assumptions doesn't 'run painfully', it just doesn't run at all. (Logic, like software, doesn't try.) People can run on beliefs that are incorrect, but in such cases there are true things that are relevant, like 'this person doesn't understand photons' or 'this person has fallen for the Dunning–Kruger effect' or 'this person doesn't care enough about being correct to actually form logical arguments'. The difference seems to be that I find the latter situation to be much more emotionally neutral than most people here do. I can only speculate on possible reasons for that. (I'm more used to it? I don't see the contents of other peoples' heads as my problem? I sympathize with people who don't have the capacity or the background to grasp (the importance of) science, because there are things that I have similar levels of difficulty with? Possibly some combination of these and other issues?)
I'm seeing them flail about as they try to do what others think of as "thinking". Dunning-Kruger sufferers give this image particularly badly. "Like a monkey trying to fuck a football."
That image resonates. And, yeah, icky.

So, how did you feel when you read that bit of sf hand-waving?

Interestingly, my reaction wasn't negative. Instead, my curiosity was stimulated, and I immediately set myself the task of figuring out what was wrong with it. (Turned out to be easy, of course.)

On a larger scale, I've found the exercise of going through a certain 427 pages of wrongness, and coming to precise understandings of the mistakes, to be strangely satisfying (and informative). Perhaps it could be compared to the feeling of satisfaction a repairman might get from fixing a broken machi... (read more)

Perhaps oddly, I find myself far more often infuriated by invalid arguments used to persuade people of something I believe to be correct, than incorrect.
The feeling I get from that tends to be one of cringing discomfort rather than agitated anger.
Huh. That's interesting. Introspecting on that now, I conclude that the same is true of me, but that I then experience anger in response to that discomfort. Of course, this sort of introspection isn't terribly reliable, but I'll try to pay closer attention the next time it comes up.
Sturgeon (the book is The Cosmic Rape) wanted a galactic scale group mind which could think quickly. I don't know if the book would have been better without the argument. IIRC, it was written in omniscient third person, and that argument was merely stated rather than given to a character.
I haven't read the book, but there's nothing wrong with the FTL communication and FTL travel tropes in science fiction, IMO. Yes, it makes no physical sense, but then, neither do fairies, and they can still be fun to read about.
I don't have anything against ftl in sf, either, but that seemed like an astonishingly bad argument for making it plausible. Now that I think about it, the book may be of interest to LWers because it's about telepathy making utilitarianism easier. And it's a reasonably good sf novel.
Is there any decent moral theory that wouldn't be easier to implement with reliable telepathy?
It's hard to say, which moral theories you had in mind, and what do you mean by "decent" ? For example, a strictly rule-based deontological system, such as the one outlined in certain holy books, may not benefit from telepathy, since its rules focus solely on prescribing certain specific actions.
Since this is LessWrong and there's a strong leaning towards a certain view of normative ethics, I had better ask this before I go any further. Would you consider any form of deontology or virtue ethics to be a "decent moral theory"? It feels like I should check this before commenting any further. I know, for example, that at least one person here (not naming names) has openly said that all non-consequentialist approaches to ethics are "insane".
I am not one of those who thinks non-consequentialist ethics are inherently nonsense. Reflecting on my position slightly, I was saying: 1) A "decent" moral system will very likely have the property that misleading others about one's preferences will be advantageous to the individual, but bad for the group. 2) Telepathy makes misleading others about one's preferences more difficult. That assumes telepathy is essentially involuntary mind-reading. If it is more like reliable cell phone service, then I'm not sure telepathy would make any moral system easier to implement.
Telepathy that's more like reliable cellphone service would make a lot of general societal things, including any widely-agreed-upon moral system, easier to implement because transaction cost reductions benefit everyone involved.
I expect that if telepathy of this sort were common, self-deception would be even more common than it already is.
Tentative: telepathy would be useful for consequentialism, but it would take more time and thought to gain the advantages from telepathy than it would for (preference?) utilitarianism.
See, this sort of thing is entirely justifiable as characterisation. (The reader may be forgiven for hoping for a whacking dose of morality play where said character wins a Darwin award in the next chapter.) The hard part would be coming up with a convincingly awful string of logic. Bonus points if real-life bad thinkers defend the character's logic.

I don't know about science fiction, but when I'm working on a RationalWiki article about stupid or crazy things, I really do feel like I'm getting dumber doing the research - finding the original sources of stupidity, going through the bad thinking and trying to understand it enough to describe it and mentally shouting "WHAT. WHAT." all the way through. The pseudoscience equivalent of being boxed in the head repeatedly. There's a reason why skeptics who write about pseudoscience have a tendency to get snarky. Of course, I keep going back to it.

Wow. I think we need another word than "stupid" to describe baraminology. Normal stupidity is a sort of dull-wittedness-- it doesn't include the complex invention of bad theories. I admit it's stupid to not just give up on all creatures fitting in Noah's ark, but baraminology goes rather beyond normal thick-headedness.
What about "anti-inteligence?" Like antimatter, it's similar to the real thing at a glance, but touch it and the resulting explosion damages both.
The inside of Todd Charles Wood [http://toddcwood.blogspot.com/]'s head seems a frightening place - he's responsible for huge chunks of baraminology; but he's seen the evidence, he thinks evolution is a successful scientific theory, he attends mainstream conferences on evolution, but he feels he must assume it false because his faith says to [http://toddcwood.blogspot.com/2009/09/truth-about-evolution.html]. One stuck bad idea and you may be done. There's no stupidity as exquisite as that really smart people fall prey to - longer to fall, maybe. I mean, at least Serge Monast [http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Serge_Monast] was actually crazy, so has an excuse.
I get the same kind of reaction from reading really bad reasoning; it registers as a strong desire to facepalm and an increasing sense of revulsion/anger in direct correspondence to the stupidity ot their reasoning.
I must have a slight addiction to facepalming. I actively seek out topics like this [http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Biofield_flower_therapy] to write about.
Not just an addiction to facepalming, an addiction to making others do so. I hereby label you a sadist :) Here [http://www.ets.org/gre/general/prepare/sample_questions/analytical/argument/] is my own current source of bad reasoning. Some of the arguments there are less silly than others, but the first 10-20 are pretty good as sources of bad logic. EDIT: You're right, that was even dumber than homeopathy
I heartily endorse step 4. Vial of water optional. Steps 1-3 and 5 also optional.

The stomach pain from mental distress is quite a common phenomenon, due to the enteric nervous system (also referred to as "the brain in the gut"). We have an amazing number of neurons in our digestive system-- roughly the size of a cat's brain. Strong emotional responses (like fear, anger, or disgust) are transmitted from the brain in the head to the brain in the gut, often resulting in pain or other discomfort.

Now that is fascinating. Do you have a reference I can look at further?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enteric_nervous_system [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enteric_nervous_system] It's about 100 million neurons. (Compare 1000x that in the brain.)
The more interesting question is whether the strong emotions do indeed cause discomfort in the gut.
I've also been told that trauma for the stomach can effect the emotional state, and I can personally attest to feeling distressed, then eating a good sized meal and feeling better afterwords; Also connecting with fast food and eating disorders. But this could also be an old wives tale, and I'm suffering from a placebo effect.
I was under the impression (I don't recall from where) that this was due to the effect of blood sugar levels on mood. No evidence for this other than that I become irritable when hungry, but it's an alternative explanation.
One interesting source is Heribert Watzke's Ted Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/heribert_watzke_the_brain_in_your_gut.html [http://www.ted.com/talks/heribert_watzke_the_brain_in_your_gut.html] You could also look at http://www.psyking.net/id36.htm [http://www.psyking.net/id36.htm]
See also the Second Brain [http://www.amazon.com/Second-Brain-Groundbreaking-Understanding-Disorders/dp/0060930721] -- a fairly detailed book about the elaborate nervous system which runs digestion. Unfortunately, I lost my copy when I was about halfway through, but I treasure knowing something about the complexity needed to manage storing stomach acid-- stuff which is there to break up proteins-- in the middle of a body built out of protein. First, the acid isn't made inside cells. There's some chemistry that I didn't understand which makes it possible for the components of stomach acid to combine with each other outside of cells. And there's a system for adding appropriate amounts of a base to neutralize the acid as the stomach contents head out into the intestines, not to mention a not perfectly reliable valve(?) system for keeping the acid from moving higher in the digestive tract than it should. Anyway, the book has a history of the development of an understanding that the nerves which run the digestive tract are fairly independent of the brain-- as is commonly the case, it was a hard fight to get the idea across. I'm not sure how much there is about the connection between the digestive nervous system and emotions, but I gather from the amazon description that there's a conclusion that a lot of digestive problems are from poor regulation of the organs rather than in the organs themselves.
You know, I'd never even considered that. An impressive feat. :)

When I hear a bad argument, it feels like listening to music and hearing a wrong note.
In one case it is the logical causality that is broken, in the other the interval between notes.
Actually it is worse because a pianist usually goes back on track.

Now that is a point!
Hey, that's a really good analogy; upvoted. Reminds me of the Reaper roar that overlays the beginning of the Mass Effect 3 track named Leaving Earth.

I feel disoriented for a brief period until I realize that what I'd just heard does not have to make sense.

By the way, I think you would have evoked more authentic reactions if you hadn't begun your post by revealing the badness of the arguments. At least in my own case, knowing an argument is bad before hearing it lets me brace myself and put on my flaw-hunting vest. (The vest is made of flawnel, of course.)

Maybe others differ from me in always being alert to flaws.

Profound sadness, would be my answer.

On some primitive gut level you’d expect to be oddly satisfied by your own superiority, and amusedly angry at bad logic. But here’s what made me change my thinking pattern.

In college, I came across this (self-reportedly) highly-acclaimed web site of creationist science. On the front page, complete with pictures, were abstracts of young kids from a creationist science fair. There was this one girl, 6-8 year old, whose project was essentially this: She poured clean water into jars, prayed to God for six days not to creat... (read more)

Uh, Objective Ministries appears to have Poed you. You can relax a bit.

Their review of Portal is great.

Their review of Red Dead Redemption is better: Left 4 Dead:
Thanks for the Poe concept. Just to show that this isn't just a problem with fundamentalism.... The Worm Runners Digest [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worm_Runner%27s_Digest]:
I remember spending days trying to decide, when it first came out, whether their kidz [http://objectiveministries.org/kidz/] page was parody or not. I ultimately decided that it probably was, but I was not at all confident, and changed my mind several times along the way. They are kind of brilliant.

For ages the guy behind Objective Ministries contributed to Conservapedia as "Dr Richard Paley". Thus: not even actual fundamentalists can tell what's real fundamentalism and what's a parody.

The "Creation Science Fun Facts" game seems to be fairly conclusive... Or is it? Got that right!
The 'match the husbands and wives' game breaks suspension of disbelief for me.. as I have no doubt it is supposed to
Yeah, basically what kept happening was something would tip me over the threshold of suspension of disbelief, and I would conclude it was parody, then time would pass and I would think about it and feel less certain of that conclusion, and I'd look at it again and some different thing would tip me over the threshold, lather, rinse, repeat. There was no question of its absurdity, merely of whether it was deliberate absurdity. I'm not sure what finally convinced me stably.
I'd have been particularly impressed if she gave a ballpark evaluation of exactly how much evidence it is against evolution. Saying that at a science fair would take balls - pick the right number and the creationists and third rate scientists will be fighting each other over who gets to lynch you.

A relative once told me they believed in god because;

"If god exists and I believe I go to heaven, If god exists and I don't believe I suffer for eternity in hell, if god does not exist then It does not matter if I believe. The logical and sensible thing to do therefore is to believe in god."

This is truly someones logic. When confronted with what happens to a person who has not been told to believe the reply was "I'm sure god will take that into account". When asked what happens to people of different faiths and beliefs "all thats i... (read more)

Next time ask your relative "What if God only saves atheists, and sends believers to hell?"

Secular Heaven [http://dresdencodak.com/2005/11/29/secular-heaven/]
They would probably reply "Thats not what athiests say".

Well, of course, but is your relative trying to please atheists or to please God? What if he can only please God by disbelieving in Him?

After all, if an all-powerful God wanted to be believed in, he could easily make his existence self-evident. We could ask the heavens "Are you there, God?" and a booming voice from the skies could reply "Yes, I AM".

But if there exists a God that wants to be disbelieved in, the reply to "Are you there, God?" is silence -- and that's indeed confirmed by testing. This God's existence seems therefore, going by the rational evidence, more probable than the existence of a God that wants to be believed in.

Your relative is pissing off God by believing in him, despite all of God's best efforts to promote atheism in the universe.

Somehow, this discussion is beginning to remind me of this fascinating book [http://www.amazon.com/Superior-Beings-Exist-Would-Incomprehensibility/dp/038748065X] .
That book looks like an intro to Vernor Vinge's "Applied Theology [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Fire_Upon_the_Deep]".
Then why would He make people who feel inclined to write Bibles?

Probably something parallel to the reason that, if there is a god who does want to be believed in, he apparently created people who feel inclined to write things like "The God Delusion".

(One possibility: Satan planted the Bible, the Qur'an, etc. in rebellion against God's desire to not be believed in. Ever since then, God's been doing desperate damage control by watching over torture, rape, and genocide, and not doing anything, but to little avail — people go right on believing in him, because Satan's memes are just too infectious and powerful.)

If someone removes all the fingerprints from a commonly used room that normally should have had fingerprints, that's by itself evidence that someone was there who wanted to remove the fingerprints. Likewise if God didn't permit the existence of Bible-writers, as such conmen and fools normally should exist, that would itself be evidence that there's an entity out there with the power to so disallow them.
Wait, really [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ih/absence_of_evidence_is_evidence_of_absence/]? If there was no evidence of God (in the form of Bibles or fingerprints), that would be evidence that there's a God out there hiding?

Wait, really? If there was no evidence of God (in the form of Bibles or fingerprints), that would be evidence that there's a God out there hiding?

Yes. If the nature of humans is such that if physics operates in a natural way then they do a certain thing with high probability and said thing is not done then it raises the probability that physics is not operating as thought.

The absence of expected evidence is evidence of interference.

You wouldn't have enough evidence to even find the hypothesis "God exists" much less "God exists and is hiding" - even people who have no concept of privileging the hypothesis would be able to point that out to you. A person in that world would look like someone in our world telling us that there's no evidence of mind-controlling reptilian shapeshifters, and there really should be.
The original point of this scenario was as a rebuttal to Pascal's Wager, specifically that the hypothesis "god exists and will send you to hell for atheism" isn't significantly more likely than "god exists and will send you to hell for believing." Even if this scenario is unlikely, it's plausible enough to illustrate that the massive utility difference implied by the believer's scenario has no logical reason to dominate over other unlikely massive utility differences.
Allowing a general concept of God ('creator' rather than the details of a religion's particular deity), I don't think the hypothesis is privileged. We see cause and effect relationships everywhere, and it is natural to wonder about the first cause. God-beliefs can be very complex and explain a lot more than that, but all God-beliefs seem to serve at least that purpose. I would wonder about an intelligent species with no curiosity or speculations about their origins (and fate), especially if in other contexts they tended to have a spattering of not-fully-empirically-justified-beliefs if such were useful to explain things.
The question of first cause is probably a natural one for a species to ask. However, our concept of causality seems closely connected to our ability to intervene on the world and as you start talking about variables farther and farther away from plausible human intervention the concept gets strained. For example, I'm not sure it makes sense to say things like "The fine structure constant caused complex life." Causality may be a rather parochial concept in the scheme of things and therefore we get rather confused about it when trying to extend it's application away from the domain of potential human intervention. Hell, this might be a reason why humans have a tendency to invoke such and anthropomorphic conception of a first cause: causality may not make a lot of sense without the human-like mind element to it!
That may be true for final cause and formal cause, but efficient causality is obvious even when there is no evidence of rational minds [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qybUFnY7Y8w].
Loved how the paint was explained at the end.
Your comment is interesting, and I agree with you that our concept of causality gets strained as we push it away from agency, and as humans we have difficulty not projecting agency onto causes. Would you mind summarizing whether your comment is a reply to something I said in particular or a general comment? I've been triangulating around two problems while discussing 'God' concepts on Less Wrong: one of language (needing to clarify what I mean by 'cause', 'God', etc) and one of concept (can 'God' mean something without agency?). I'm beginning to lose confidence that these words have the abstract meanings I'm assigning them, in which case I would be happy to use different words.
I was trying to make a neutral, insightful reply to what I thought was your real point and not get distracted by the semantics of the whole 'God' thing. Though I suppose I was also trying to indicate a plausible reason for why typical humans might end up ascribing agency to a first cause: a reason to avoid words with connotations of agency in discussions of first cause. If agency is somehow entangled in our concept of causation thats a limitation of the concept. It is not evidence there is an actual agent with causal control over the universe or even that such an agent is possible. And even if it was evidence for that, the complexity penalty associated with invoking agency is so great we'd have to conclude by modus tollens that there was no first cause. "God" has enough baggage that it's probably a good idea to avoid--at least in premises of arguments. If you conclude that some entity or event exists that you want to label "God" for personal ritual I don't think there is necessarily anything wrong with that.
An understandable point of view, but see here [http://books.google.com/books?id=wnGU_TsW3BQC&printsec=frontcover&dq=judea+pearl+causality&hl=en&src=bmrr&ei=UP8ITf-dFoPmsQPrq43qDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false] .
I actually intended to comment in a manipulationist/Pearlian spirit so I'm not sure what we disagree about. You may have to be more particular than linking to his entire book. To be clear, I'm not saying causality requires a human intervention or advocating any kind of agency theory of causality. I'm saying, like Pearl, that causal explanations tell us what would happen given intervention on a variable. Anthropologically, our conception of causality likely arose as we learned to make things happen, i.e. intervene. But it's difficult to know what 'intervention' means in domains far from human manipulation. Inventing a human-like mind that can do that kind of intervention feels like a kind of invention that would let people feel more comfortable talking about first causes.
Ah, okay, thanks for the clarification. I did in fact interpret you as proposing an agency theory of causality; I think the following helped to mislead me in that direction: I think I actually wanted to refer to the preface of Pearl's book, in particular this part: My implication would have been that causality is not a merely human folk-concept that makes sense only in the context of "agents"; but if you weren't saying otherwise, this is of course moot.
So I should clarify a bit more. We can understand causality as the following: A causes B iff an intervention on A alters the value of B. The concept of 'intervention' is doing the work here. Agency theories reduce 'intervention' to possible actions of free agents. I prefer Pearl's approach which fails to reduce the concept of intervention to non-causal concepts but a) doesn't obviously fail to actually describe our concept of cause the way the agency approach does and b) is a lot more illuminating. However, that doesn't mean our concept of intervention doesn't have any element of agency to it or that the two are entirely distinct. At the least, it seems plausible our evolved understanding of causality is interconnected with our evolved concept of agency, even if causality can be discussed mathematically in isolation. An intervention on the fine structure constant is more mysterious to me than an intervention on the velocity of a pool ball- and it isn't necessarily just one being within my current capabilities and the other not. And for obvious reasons understanding a first cause under a manipulationist approach is really sketchy.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
It is. It's not natural to wonder if the first cause is a complex structured intelligent being, because such complicated and internally correlated structures demand simpler preceding causes of which to be the effects, for if we try to model the structure as uncaused we have unexplained internal correlations, which is a no-no in causal graphs. If you then start making special pleading excuses about an intelligence that you predict using a complex structured internally correlated model but which you claim to have no structure so that you can pretend it's simple even though you can't exhibit any simple computer program that does the same thing, it's really unnatural - not just physically unnatural, but epistemically unnatural.
I'd like to taboo [http://lesswrong.com/lw/nu/taboo_your_words/] the word "natural" here. Do you guys mean 'good and reasonable'? Or do we mean 'typically occuring in human societies'? Or something else entirely?
My reduction-proposal: A "natural" hypothesis is one with high probability. A "natural" question is a query regarding the cause(s) of a low-probability observation. So, in this exchange, byrnema pointed to a particular low-probability observation (the abundance of causal structure in the world around us), and Eliezer responded by noting that the proposed explanation (a complex first cause) has low probability, even conditioning on the observation. To put it in even simpler terms: Bayes's theorem says P(H|E) = P(E|H)P(H)/P(E); byrnema said: "P(E) is small!"; and Eliezer said "Oh yeah, well P(H) is tiny!"
I agree. I realize that I've been confused about distinguishing what may be natural for humans to believe about God verses what is 'natural' (probable and reasonable) to believe about God. If I go back and reconsider different things I've read about privileging-the-hypothesis-brand-arguments, they may sound different now. What mislead me from the beginning was an argument you made [http://lesswrong.com/lw/11m/atheism_untheism_antitheism/] that if there was no theism, humans wouldn't reinvent it (agreed now, as long as the science paradigm handles the edges of knowledge well enough) and a perception that atheists believe that the main motivation for religion is authoritarian control rather than explanation. As I replied to shockwave below, I agree that particular religious hypotheses are privileged due to human psychology, and this may be angling different than my position at the beginning where I was ambiguously trying to defend them as natural for humans to have.
"God as first cause" is just the latest god of the gaps. If the concept of first cause / creator is general enough to be legitimately supported by not knowing enough about the beginnings of existence then it's isomorphic to ignorance. If it's specific enough to include concepts of believers and non-believers and the punishments and rewards due to them - as the grandparent does [http://lesswrong.com/lw/39p/a_sense_of_logic/353r?c=1] - then it is privileging the hypothesis to consider it.
The God of the gaps idea is that since there could be no possible natural explanation, God must have done it. God-as-first-cause is a different argument, because God is the first cause whatever it is, even a natural one. The fallacy is more one of anthropomorphism: when we think of creation of the universe, we think of a creator deciding to do so (mind), being invested in his creation (loving) and setting up the outcome. It seems clear we have projected our ideas of a parent (our notion of a creator) onto God. Different religions (especially early ones) are the hypotheses that came up in the absence of science, and reflect human biases. In this sense the hypotheses are certainly skewed (I agree the hypotheses are privileged) but not the God-concept itself. This is why I had added the words ('and fate') up above. It is very, very easy to see design in random events over a lifetime. Over the weekend, a friend told me about how they decided to name their child after a saint whose 'saint day' was a couple weeks before her scheduled C-section. I shared the warm flush of surprise and happiness that her water broke and her son was born on that day after all. (Imagine, God had overseen the naming and birth of that child. What a blessing.) I understand that this fact is the one treasured from hundreds of mundane occurrences -- statistically, this is going to happen sometimes.
I will reserve judgement, but I don't expect many people accept whatever explanation scientists eventually produce for the beginning of existence. What I expect is that when scientists explain first cause, the "God-as-first-cause" argument will fade away, and, say, "God-as-abiogenesis [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis]" will become more popular. Supporters of that will attempt to distinguish it from a typical god-of-the-gaps argument by claiming that whatever process caused life to spring into existence is God.
The relative in question already only considers the issues of belief vs disbelief, existence vs non-existence, as motivated by reward and punishment. If God doesn't exist, the issue is moot (for the relative) If belief doesn't matter either way, obviously the issue is moot (for the relative). If reward and punishment isn't related to it, obviously the issue is moot (for the relative). What I asked was therefore contingent to the following givens: 1) God exists 2) Belief in god matters 3) Reward and punishment is connected to belief. And I mentioned the hypothesis that seemed to be missing from the whole above reasoning: "Why does the relative assume that belief will be rewarded and disbelief punished? Why can't it be the other way around?"
I think you might find that the reason that hypothesis is missing is because "belief is rewarded, disbelief punished" is taken as given #4. This relative appears to simply take whatever they want as a given, if we are starting at "1) God exists 2) Belief in god matters 3) Reward and punishment is connected to belief."
Have I been voted down on these comments because a concept of God is a privileged hypothesis? I would like to verify that this was the reason for the downvotes, rather than something else, and see if I couldn't persuade, or find my error. First, all that I am packing into this concept of God is "creator". We don't know how (or if) the universe was 'caused' -- if the universe was caused by anything, wouldn't that thing be our creator? For example, theists would be disappointed if it turned out that the universe and everything created was the result of 'possibility [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1zt/the_map_that_is_the_territory/]', but wouldn't they agree, semantically, that 'possibility' was God? An impersonal, mindless God, but the source of our existence.
I didn't downvote, but I think it's because you're calling something "God" which has no resemblance to a god, and thus trying to sneak in with all the connotations of that word.
I think that's exactly it. Even after people have given up all belief in agents resembling what a majority of people in the world call gods, they often remain attached to the word "God" and the associated connotations. What good does it do to refer to a postulated first cause (particularly an impersonal, non-intentional, amoral, non-agent-like one) as "God" rather than "the first cause"? As far as I can tell, none; it just confuses things. (A general rule is that if you replace the word "God" with some made-up word [http://lesswrong.com/lw/26y/rationality_quotes_may_2010/1zlr?c=1] and you can no longer say what you'd normally say about "God" and have it make as much sense, then something is amiss. If Yahweh really existed, and strong evidence of his existence and properties were available, then it wouldn't matter what word people used — they could call him "God" or "Yahweh" or "Spruckel" but still describe him just fine. But attempts at secular spirituality always seem to depend on redefining the word God to refer to something other than an actual god, like "love" or "the universe" or "the first cause", but then saying things about "God" that wouldn't make any sense if you just said it about the thing you claim to be defining "God" as. It's even sillier than worshipping an actual alleged god — it's worshipping a word.)
Two things. == I don't much care for discussions about points, but I think using the "God" label to refer to whatever it was that caused (assuming, as you say, that there actually was any causal factor) there to be something rather than nothing unavoidably introduces, via implicit associations, certain assumptions and constraints to the ensuing discussion. If this is unintended, it's a sloppy use of language; if it's intended, it's a sneaky one. This might account for people thinking poorly of your comment. == Many theists of my acquaintance, if somehow convinced of the existence of an impersonal mindless process that caused everything to come into being, would not conclude "Ah! God is this particular impersonal mindless process. Now we know," and continue more or less as before, but would instead either stop identifying as theists, or continue to believe that "God" refers to some mindful entity that is in some as-yet-not-understood way really responsible. Similarly, of the many theists who identified "God" as the entity responsible for the origin of life before an impersonal mindless process was shown to be responsible for that, some rejected the evidence, some gave up theism, and some concluded that "God" properly refers to some other entity. (And, yes, some generalized their understanding of God to include that process, and some had an understanding of God that was already sufficiently general to include that process. My point is merely that they are the minority.)
Thanks for the reply. I don't think I was being sloppy or sneaky, since the specific assumptions going into the word God were mainly what my comment was about. On the one hand, you can package a lot of very specific/extreme things into "God" and have a straw man that is easy to knock down. What should be packed into belief in "God'?? I think it should be some combination of what is generally meant and what is most charitable for the argument (that is, if something is asserted about God in general, it should be true for the narrowest meaning, or qualifiers should be added). Consider the statement in question of whether the concept of God is a privileged hypothesis. In evaluating that, you wouldn't consider a specific God -- someone doesn't sit down and hypothesize all the details of the trinity. Rather, they begin with something basic (like there seems to be a first cause, or agency in events) and then they proceed from there (these latter things would be deductions, faulty or not). My image is that of a primitive man wondering why it rains when it does and then deciding that the rain-maker must like bugs because they swarm after the rains. There's definitely a distinction to be made between God-in-the-abstract and a specific God with all details sketched in. The answer to his question is naturalistic (clouds, weather patterns) but with a little philosophy the man can decide that what he still doesn't know why there is rain at all, and that this deeper question was some component of his original question. When people consider whether God is a privileged hypothesis, I think they really ask this for a very minimalist concept of God. Because if a specific God is meant, with all the particulars that different religions argue over, then it would not be a very interesting statement.
Any definition of God that's remotely connected to what people throughout history have meant by the concept must include (I believe) some characteristics that we would recognize as personhood, intelligence, purpose. Also atleast one of the following : superior power, superior wisdom, superior level of existence (to be superior to humans in atleast some way*). "first cause" however is far, far, from being a universal characteristic of imagined Gods -- many ancient pantheons had their various Gods (even their supreme Gods) being born, growing up, occasionally overthrowing previous gods, etc. So a minimalist concept of God wouldn't be limited to "first cause", and I don't think it should even include it as one of its elements. If you want to describe a non-necessarily intelligent, non-necessarily purposeful "first cause", I would very strongly advise you not to use the word "God".
OK ... there's been sufficient unanimity in responses, I will update my understanding of the question 'is the concept of God a privileged hypothesis?' to mean a God that is again personal and mindful. A God that is like a human being (but superior) is clearly a privileged hypothesis, reflecting the limitations of human psychology and imagination, and I have no reason to challenge that. There really appears to be nothing to argue about regarding atheism/theism. I'll keep on the lookout though.
The key word there is enough. ;)
0Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
I... I just realized... there's no evidence whatsoever of the Glowing Purple Space Cannibals, nobody's ever even postulated their existence...
I hope people do realize that I was just comparing the probabilities of "God exists and wants to be believed in" and "God exists and doesn't want to be believed in" -- obviously God's silence is even better evidence in favour of God not existing at all, it's just I wasn't comparing that possibility with anything.
In the interests of deconverting someone, right? Convincing someone to be an atheist because God wants them to ... that gives me bad logic feelings in my gut.
"In the interests of deconverting someone, right?" Not really. I'm not particularly interested in deconverting people, same way that I don't tend to go to little children and tell them there's no Santa. But if a person wants to argue his faith is logical, then he's trespassing on my turf -- so it was more in the interests of defending logical thinking that I pointed out an obvious unwarranted assumption in the logical argument.
What do you think of the argument "If God wanted me to believe in him, he would have made it easier to do so"? If this circumvents the bad logic feeling, it might be quite effective. Especially if you buttress it with the argument that a loving God would want us to embrance a scientific worldview that provides us with medical advances and a way to solve our problems. While it may be based on a false counterfactual, which seems dodgy, I think it is quite useful to displace a paradigm by finding footholds from within it, and this argument also provides a safe line of retreat (if God wants me to believe in him, he can find a way to convince me). (Off-topic: Why is it you don't have a user page?)
I don't actually know what to think. I can't see any problems with it extrapolating out to real life actions, but I spent some time in classes on logic, so the danger of "*if [false premise] then [anything]" is well-known to me. (From falsehood, anything is permitted and so on). I think as long as you presented the argument to someone who held their beliefs truly it would be effective and safe, but if you presented it to a believer-in-belief it probably would fail. Still safe, though. (I actually don't know how to make one. Is the user page at all related to overviews of my comments? I have been wondering for a while why everyone seems to have overviews, but I don't.)
You are considering a different counterfactual to the one Aris intended [http://lesswrong.com/lw/39p/a_sense_of_logic/35fo?c=1].
Ah, but it's stronger evidence that your expectation is wrong; and self-reflective priors would have 'expectation is wrong' starting more likely than 'interference from an outside agency'.
Keyword [http://lesswrong.com/lw/39p/a_sense_of_logic/35gu?c=1] stronger. The claim you were questioning was whether there was evidence at all. I do nothing more than support the claim that it is evidence. Probably, given roughly human-like intelligence with information roughly like what we have now. The counterfactual wasn't specific in that regard but did suggest an assumption of a particularly strong understanding of human nature.
New Testament is evidence in favour of the Christian God, but at the same time it's also evidence against Vishnu or Zeus -- indeed it may be stronger evidence against Zeus that it's good evidence for the Christian God. I'm not therefore sure at all if it would have a positive correlation with (be evidence for) the existence of a God in general. Does that answer the contradiction you perceived?
I'm pretty sure it's completely uncorrelated. My previous comments were to point out the flaws in your rhetoric. Deconverting people is a noble goal, but is not the way to go about it.
Sorry, but I still don't see any flaws in my logic. As a point of fact, some people atleast can conceive superior beings as pieces of fiction; and indeed they constantly seem to do so, every culture ever imagining some being more powerful than they currently are, from Zeus to Superman. Also, as a point of fact, some people try to pass off fictions as truths (conmen and fools, as i said). Therefore if, given the above, and without knowing why, nobody ever in the history of civilization considered combining the above two (passing the idea of a superior being as truth) -- this is evidence in favour of something, an unknown law of nature or biology or an unknown agent, stopping this from happening. Where is the logical flaw here? If you tried to simulate the whole of human history, using the most accurate biology possible, and religion (alone of all human charactestics) arose nowhere in your simulation, wouldn't you consider it evidence in favour of some programmer tinkering with the program in order to purposefully eliminate it?
Yeah, really, but only if it's possible to ascertain that humans are naturally religious independently of, well, watching us be naturally religious. Which seems difficult - we can look at fingerprints in other rooms, but we can't look at humans in other universes. This problem may relegate the idea to interesting-but-unprovable-land.
I read Bibles as a synecdoche for Holy Books in all their mutually contradictory multiplicity. The way that the Holy Books of competing traditions deny each other pushes many people to atheism. If He has made people who feel inclined to write Bibles and New Testaments and Korans and Books of Mormon etcetera, that is good evidence that God wants to be disbelieved in.
That's all Satan's doing.
7Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
Except for religionites so young or so isolated as to actually believe that stuff, people are not believers because they fear hell. Rather, they fear hell in order to go on believing.
How can you know that? It seems like a very broad generalization about a lot of people you don't know.
I'm pretty sure this isn't universally true. The first counterexample to come to mind is a believer you also know; Raw Power has stated on numerous occasions that he still feared and was at least in part motivated in his religious disciplines by the idea of hell, until he gave up being a Muslim entirely. However, he never provided the risk of hell as an excuse to maintain his belief when he participated in religious debates prior to giving up his religion. I think that it depends in part on how literally inclined one is; all the people I can think of who I understand to have been motivated by a genuine fear of hell have either been fairly strict literalists of their religions, or atheists who used to be religious literalists.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
Hence "so young or so isolated as to actually believe that stuff". People who genuinely believe out of fear of hell will not long survive exposure to Reddit.
I've known adult biblical literalists who seemed to have a genuine fear of hell who were no more isolated from viewpoints than the average theist. I can't think of any adult biblical literalists who appear to genuinely fear hell and not believe for any other reason, who are also not exceptionally isolated in their viewpoints, but that would be a prohibitively small set anyway, so if they exist I would not have a strong expectation of having met any and knowing about it.
This particular person was raised by an absolute nutter. From a very early age they were told there were demonic forces at work everywhere and the end of the world and the second coming were about to occur. This kind of upbringing probably necessitates a literalistic approach to life. If is not against the law to teach children such things, then it should be.
Who are you referring to by "this particular person?" In circumstances like that, I think there's another way you can also go, which is to eventually learn to start interpreting it all figuratively as a defense mechanism for your own mental health.
I am not sure these two things are mutually exclusive. The self is not very unitary.
I'm wondering whether your relative believes that God is good. Because if so, combined with zhir other beliefs, zhir morality would seem very scary.
Good, yes, but only to those who believe.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal's_Wager [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal's_Wager]
I constructed Pascal's Wager when I was 4 and stopped accepting it as as an effective arguement when I was 8. I came up with other reasons to believe for a long time, but I still have problems accepting that there are adults who take Pascal's Wager seriously. I mean, every time you say, "I don't believe in faeries," a faerie drops dead!
If you aren't familiar with Pascal's Wager [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal%27s_Wager], you might find it salient.

I think the most extreme reaction I've had to stupidity was while reading Kent Hovind's "dissertation" and similar creationist work. That level of failure made me dig my fingernails into my arm like I was trying to cut myself.

This may be a similar phenomenon: really bad grammar, especially spoken, gives me a mild version of that sensation you get when you bring your teeth together wrong.

I get that feeling with bad grammar as well, but only if it's really bad. I get a feeling not unlike watching an extremely embarrassing situation play out on a TV show when I hear purported explanations of Creationism, crystal energy, homeopathy, Team Blue economic theory, Team Red social preferences...

Oh! When I read the Allais Paradox, I had an actual physical reaction to most people selecting 1A>1B and 2B>2A. For about thirty seconds my eyes bulged, I shook my head, I made incoherent "buh. buh." noises. It was certainly highly refined stupidity. So yeah, I became aware that I was confused.

I'm not generally one to get over-excited about peoples' bad reasons for being creationists, but the leap from "Evolution due to natural selection doesn't provide obvious explanations for every single thing that every living thing ever does or has" to "The King James Version of the Bible as generally remembered and interpreted by Protestants is exactly right" is always staggering when I can tease it out of people explicitly.

As far as non-kinesthetic responses to awful arguments go, I guess I would call it a general feeling of discomfort... (read more)

The closest equivalent to that kind of synesthesia I can think of in my own head is the disorientation I sometimes experience when trying hard to communicate with someone whose expressed beliefs are absurdly disjoint from mine.

That is, not when they disagree, but when I haven't (yet) understood them well enough to disagree, where what they say doesn't seem to connect to reality enough to even be false.

That can be a delightful feeling when it's a single absurd thought in the context of an otherwise coherent relationship, admittedly, much like how roller ... (read more)

It's even more interesting to see how people react when faced with arguments that are either very bad or very good, but they can't tell which. I have described the doomsday argument to many random people. The typical reaction is a kind of nervous laugh, followed by quick dismissal. Not a single one became genuinely curious and tried to work it out. It's awful.

I don't think the doomsday argument is a bad argument mathematically. It's just completely useless, like predicting whether the sun will rise tomorrow using laplace's rule of succession. We have vast amounts of information that has some bearing one way or another on the likelyhood of the end of the world happening at any particular time. It's absurd to throw all that away. As such, dismissal seems completely reasonable to me. I really don't think there is anything to be learned by calculating the expected number of total people ever to exist using nothing but a uniform prior.

It's quite clearly a very bad argument. It's an argument where formalising why it's bad takes a noticeable amount of effort, but noticing that it is bad is almost instant. To explain why it instantly shows as bad, think about doomsday predictions: they always move back when they don't happen, right? This is a doomsday prediction designed to move back continuously. Every year the projected future population increases by: ~2,750,000,000 I might give a nervous laugh at being presented with that argument, due to being unsure whether or not you were joking. I would then have quickly dismissed it. Had you asked me to explain why it was wrong, I would have, but unless I was bored I would have been unlikely to bother debating you on something I find so silly.
Even if it's really a bad argument, the badness is far from obvious - just look at the Wikipedia page. Robin Hanson doesn't find it silly, for example. Neither do I: in my opinion, anthropic reasoning is an important mystery because we have no algorithm for determining whether a given anthropic argument is valid. See Eliezer's posts "Outlawing Anthropics" and "Forcing Anthropics". Also consider that thinking hard about when anthropic reasoning works and when it doesn't has led Wei Dai to the central insight of UDT. I don't believe you have examined the object level as deeply as it deserves. Snap judgments only get us so far. A snap judgment cannot lead you from Zeno's paradox to discovering calculus.
The fact that people are willing to believe something doesn't make it not obviously wrong. It just means they are, for whatever reason, blind to it's obvious wrongness. For an example of why it fails in real-world terms consider the problem of coming up with the reference class. Humans? Great Apes? Apes? Mammals? Verterbrates? Earth-origin Living Organisms? Each produce a different prediction for the doomsday scenario, but a lot of plausible extinction paths for humans would at least take the rest of the apes with us. For an example of why it fails the moment we have other evidence, consider Bob. Bob is 40 years old. He believes the doomsday argument. Someone points a gun at Bob, and threatens to kill him if he doesn't give up his wallet. Bob reasons "There's only a 0.001% chance that I'm in the last 0.001% of my life; so the danger of me dying in the next two hours is miniscule!". Is Bob right? Now suppose that Sean has just turned 21, 3 months ago. Just become an adult. He concludes, from the doomsday argument, that as he's been an adult for 3 months, he has a 95% of stopping being an adult within 60 months, 5 years. So, he's going to die within 5 years? No, but a snap judgement can lead you to correctly conclude that if each time you halve the distance you halve the time you're going to have a finite amount of time to cross the line, even if you have an infinite amount of instants.
One nice formulation of the reference class for the DA is "observer-moments that think about the DA". Maybe there are even better formulations. About Bob: the question is whether the DA constitutes valid evidence, not whether it's complete evidence. Of course the gun is stronger. But if you were in a state of near-total ignorance, would the DA not sway you even a little bit? About Sean: most adults who consider Sean's "adult doomsday" variation will turn out to be right. You have simply cherry-picked a counterexample. If such tactics were valid for breaking the DA, they would also break all probabilistic reasoning, which isn't what we want. It looks to me like you're trying to fight your way to a preordained conclusion ("see! it was wrong all along!"), this is almost always a bad sign.
And that might even concievably be a good formulation. That is NOT obviously a bad argument. It may or may not be a good argument, but it's not obviously bad. I can't just plug in a word-substitution and get the same argument to say something different without breaking the argument. It's also not the argument you presented me with. You presented me with the argument formulated over humans. Which is obviously a bad argument. No, because reference classes that are identical with regard to the present, ie. Humans and Cyborgs. Humans. Humans who live their entire life on Earth. Can be very different. And hypothetical ignorant me would be able to come up with such reference classes, unless hypothetical ignorant me lives in a very very simplified world. In an extremely simplified world, with my only knowledge being that I am Mr. 989,954,292,132, I might buy into the doomsday argument as regards Mr.s True, my apologies, that was an obviously bad argument, and I missed it.
[comment deleted]
Really? I'm not a Truther but I could come up with a just so story at the drop of a hat.
As could I. However the average truther has been convinced that it was done as an excuse to go to war. But I deleted that part of the post for a reason. Politics is the mindkiller and all.
... Lost me. That sounds like a concept as to why to me. (Which is not to say that it is a likely possibility.)
There's no need to bomb the towers, risking discovery, when simply having the smouldering towers standing there will be sufficient excuse. The planes, on their own, accomplish the "give the politicians an excuse" goal. Bombing the towers as well can't be explained by a goal that's already achieved.
The evidence and predictions surrounding our ability to extend our lifespans and solve life- and existence-threatening problems is enough to suppose that the human history is not closed at the far end, or not modeled on the same function that pre-actuarial-escape-velocity human history is. That is, we have good reason to believe we are in the earliest of all humans, because "human" is two sets appended together, and the doomsday argument is based on the statistics of the first set alone. That is my response to the doomsday argument - I don't know if it's rigorous.
I think from a utilitarian point of view it's very proper to dismiss arguments that have no relevance to real life and no actual predictive capacity -- the doomsday argument, just as quantum immortality, seems to me the modern equivalent of Zeno's Achilles and the Turtle in irrelevant philosophical silliness.

For me it feels like when I've heard a bad pun. I literally get a significant desire to facepalm.

If you need more examples to test your reaction, I suggest browsing here, but be warned, this can be a TVTropes style time waster.


Also:http://clientsfromhell.net/ [http://clientsfromhell.net/]

I don't get this when I hear bad reasoning, but I do hear it when I hear about people making what seem to me really bad decisions. My girlfriend told me about a fellow who regularly patronized phone psychics (spending $100's) and used their advice in his life. I find this kind of story terrible upsetting; an assault on my empathy.

I'm late to the party, but the given example reminded me... if I may combine a few conversations from my childhood and convert to a syllogism:

A) Humans can do anything they set their mind to. (Proof: god was afraid of what humans could accomplish and scrambled their language in genesis.) (me, excited: What about time machines? Hmmmm... ok:) A') Humans can probably do anything they set their mind to. B) Thought is faster than light. (Proof: I can think about being on Mars instantaneously, even though it takes light 30+ minutes to get there). C) Therefore, f... (read more)

[-][anonymous]12y 3

Noticing myself making bottom lines is kind of kinesthetic; it feels as though my thoughts are diving too rapidly to the privileged conclusion.

Aside: The Bottom Line has waaay too little karma IMO. But this is generally true of Eliezer's older posts.

Fun Fact you may already know: the early posts were written on Overcoming Bias, which had no karma system. That's why they're undervoted relative to the number of people who liked them.
It would help if there was some way (hopefully one obvious to newcomers) to easily start reading the blog from the start. Unless I'm missing something, there is no easy and intuitive way to do it. For instance, this [http://lesswrong.com/recentposts] post listing has no "first" button; one needs to click on the "next" button a bunch of times.

I feel a little disoriented, like the ground is shifting under my feet. Then I feel like I do the mental equivalent of making a box: I put the argument inside the box and try to evaluate it with detachment. Often, if the topic is 'soft', there is indeed a sudden drop in empathy that causes me to act enraged and indignant but which actually feels on the inside like being ostracized and persecuted. I feel like if people around me aren't logical that this is an attack on logic itself, and, somehow, therefore, an attack of my inner person. I don't feel confide... (read more)

I can't find a direct link to a strip, just an indirect mention, but there was a running joke in a few weeks' worth of Peanuts comics where Lucy would give Linus an absurd explanation for a natural phenomenon, and Charlie Brown's stomach would start to hurt. So you're generalizing from at least a considerable subset, not just one example.

For me, it's a feeling like I'm about to be hit in the stomach. If you've ever observed your internal reactions while doing full-contact sparring, you've probably noticed the patterns of tension that arise from hits and ... (read more)

The scary possibility is that my reaction may have been influenced by the comic strips. I had collections of them in books when I was a kid, and I read them again and again.

Is it possible that what you're actually feeling is an abrupt drop in empathy? "I would never reason this way; this person is less like me than I had assumed."

A good resource for distilled bad arguments is Hundreds of Proofs of the Existence of God.

A drop in empathy may well be part of it.
Empathy turns to anger. This is, of course, an emotion one tends to feel physically. "STOP BEING SO STUPID AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA"
Does the anger lead to hate and suffering [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFnFr-DOPf8] ?
Huh, for some reason I feel like it's the opposite, a rise in empathy because it feels like you should be able to help very easily, but you can't.

This seems rather odd-- what sort of physical connection might that be?

Hmm. It almost sounds like you have a physical reaction to confusion - a biological 'noticing you are confused'. That is, well, cool.

No, confusion is different., though the distinction is interesting. I think confusion may have a mouth-based component, a little bit of "what is that flavor?". I'll have to check more carefully the next time I'm confused. While we're vaguely on the subject, I'll note that I'm much better at noticing when I'm surprised than when I'm confused, and that I'm much more strongly motivated to update when I'm surprised. With bad arguments of the magnitude of that Sturgeon reference, I'm sure it's outrageous. I'm not sure whether I have more physical sensations than most people, or just that I pay more attention to them.

This is one argument I find particularly irksome...

All laws are constructed by some intelligence

Natural laws are laws

Therefore, natural laws are constructed by some intelligence.

The annoying part is that it is deductively valid if the definition of law is actually the same in both premises. The person making this argument thinks their argument is watertight because of its structure, and will likely not listen to any suggestion that natural laws are not a component of the laws described in the first premise. I can't understand how anyone can fail to s... (read more)

If people think the structure is watertight and that the is argument valid because of that, maybe pointing out the structural flaw in clear terms would get through to them. Specifically, this one's called a fallacy of four terms [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_four_terms], though it's in disguise; the word law is used to mean human-designed law in the major premise and any kind of law in the minor premise. The fact that the word also occurs in the phrase natural laws adds to the fun, too. If going into even deeper detail might help, linguistics has a name for this sort of phenomenon: autohyponymy. It's when a word has a kind of "default general sense" in addition to one or more specific meanings, which occasionally leads to mix-ups. In this case, we have the hypernonym law (=all kinds of laws) and its hyponym law (=piece of human legislation). Another set of examples of the concept of autohyponymy would be the hyperonym dog (=dog of either gender) and its hyponyms dog (=male dog) and bitch (=female dog).
Do you find stating it like that rather than saying "fallacy of equivocation" is more effective in getting your objection across? Edit: Because my experience is that pointing out the fallacy (by whatever name) is seldom effective.
[-][anonymous]10y 10

Tell that person that feathers are light, what is light cannot be dark, therefore feathers cannot be dark.

This is my favorite response so far.
I've no idea, really; I have little experience trying to explain fallacies to anyone as part of addressing their points. If by "stating it like that" you mean the second paragraph, it was an attempt to cover more bases in case simply naming the fallacy didn't work. I guess it depends on the audience - if we're explaining this to the archetypal Man Taken Off The Street, the simplest thing would be to just point out the differences in what law (in this case) is used to mean and forget any and all mentions of theory, fallacies and categorical syllogisms. I proposed giving a name to the error and adding detail because of this part of the OP: My idea was that if someone thinks to cite structural soundness as support for their argument, it might imply they're sufficiently well-versed in the field that name-dropping the fallacy actually has a chance of working.
Thanks. I will have to remember that term in future.
What happens if you simply reject the premise that all laws are constructed by some intelligence?
You are quite free to do so, unless you pick the definition of law which is exclusively legal, which is the abuse of language that this argument depends on. If you choose a definition of law under which natural laws or mathematical laws can be counted, then the first premise is indeed false (in a materialist framework anyway). When you change the definition of law to the legal one, the second premise becomes nonsense. Regardless of which you pick, any reasoned inference which respects the language involved will generally lead to one premise being true and the other false. Essentially, a materialist can arbitrarily decide which is the true premise and which is the false premise (provided a particular definition has not been made clear beforehand). I don't know if there is a common definition of law which could make both premises false. Besides, I didn't mention this because it was a good argument. I mentioned it because it is a shockingly bad argument that I have seen people take seriously.
Sorry I was unclear... I meant my comment literally. I've never heard anyone making this argument, and I'm curious as to what happens if, in response, one says "Not all laws are constructed by some intelligence." That is, how do the people making this argument respond? Edit: yeah, what danfly said [http://lesswrong.com/lw/39p/a_sense_of_logic/6gup] .
Well, the only time I responded to one such argument, I rejected the second rather than the first premise. Your way might have been easier. I don't think it would have changed the response though. He wrote the "socrates is man" syllogism right beside it and challenged me to find an example of someone who is immortal (kind of ignoring the fact that it would only prove a premise in that argument false, and not change the logical validity of that particular argument). You know, maybe the initial argument isn't the worst I've ever seen. Now that I think about it, the response is probably the worst argument I've ever seen.
Was this on an anonymous internet forum by any chance? My subjective priors for it being a troll or small child just went way up (probably more than they should have to be honest).
I got the impression that Dave was asking what is the response that you get if you simply say "I reject the premise that all laws are constructed by some intelligence?". Was that not the case?
Damn, I should remember to read comments before replying [http://lesswrong.com/lw/39p/a_sense_of_logic/6gup].
Given the timeframe involved, I think it's likely we were typing at the same time...

"All men are created equal"

"God's love is unconditional"

I feel the pain in my head. I think its because I genuinely want to understand why they truly believe what they are saying while not seeing the clear contradictions, but try as I might I just cannot. I have found that I feel the same way when a contradiction betweeen a belief and action within myself occurs. For example I believe nothing really matters, but every decision and action I take obviously contradicts this belief.

The pain has a name. Confusion. With awareness that such id... (read more)

I don’t understand the problem with “all men are created equal.” Leaving aside the Creator/God implications of the original, this boils down to a claim about certain “rights” that all people should have and how the government should treat people, i.e., by leaving them free to pursue the same rights. Obviously the idea was implemented very imperfectly at the beginning, and continues to be implemented imperfectly today, but the idea itself – that all people have a right to live, to be free, and to own property, and that the government should set up a society in which those rights are protected and should not play favorites – doesn’t seem that crazy to me. edited to add: I see that you're a relatively new poster. Welcome to LessWrong! [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2ku/welcome_to_less_wrong_2010/]
Well, yes, if you boil the original quote down to "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are [irrelevant stuff] endowed [somehow or other] with certain unalienable Rights, and [details about rights]" then whatever problems there are with the pieces you cut out (including "all men are created equal") will be difficult to see. As a general rule, if you want to explore the implications of a particular phrase, it really helps to attend to that phrase, not elide over it. Anyway, for my own part, if your understanding of "created equal" here is compatible with some people being born smart, some dumb, some sociopathic, some epileptic, some congenitally ill, and so on and so forth, then there's no problem. But I have a problem with folks, and there are many, who quote that line when their understanding of equality is incompatible with readily observed discrepancies in initial conditions and capabilities among people.
Given a quote like this, I think the best/most obvious interpretation is to read the quote in its famous historical and political context. Divorced from that context and read literally, it is obviously false. To the extent people are parroting those words to invoke a literal interpretation, that is obviously wrong. That being said, I think that in most cases where the term is used with even the slightest thought and consideration, it is steeped in at least a bit of the political flavor of the original and is used as a statement about how people interact with each other, government, and/or society.
Fair enough. My answer to your original question ("I don’t understand the problem with “all men are created equal.”) boils down to the fact that it is often quoted outside of its original context, causing it to be (as you say) obviously wrong. When it is instead quoted with due consideration for its original context, properly steeped in the proper political flavor, and as a statement about how people interact, I agree with you that it stops being obviously wrong, and becomes much less problematic. I think the majority of real-world uses are in the former category. I could be wrong.
I don't think I've ever heard it used the former way, though perhaps we run in different circles.
Huh. It seems unlikely that different circles accounts for all of the difference; more likely one or both of us is suffering from selective data neglect. I'll have to pay more attention to this as it comes up in the future.
Blank slateists [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabula_rasa]?
Well, I was thinking more of the folks who just quote it without thinking about what they're actually saying at all, but sure, insofar as there exist universal blank-slatists, them too. (I mean, I think there's room for legitimate uncertainty about what differences are determined at "creation" and what differences are imposed later, but it seems clear that some very important things really are different at "creation.")
The problem is that it's wrong. All men are not created / did not come into existence equal. Intelligence, genetic risk factors for disease, appearance, etc are all examples of inequalities in the creation or existence of man. It is clear from the text that 'equal' means more than 'equally endowed with unalienable rights'. There are interpretations that are more correct, sure, but these interpretations aren't the natural interpretation of that piece of text, and it's perfectly reasonable to kinesthetically react to that natural interpretation.
As it's a political document, and not a medical text that it should discuss genetics, I think it's supposed to mean "equal in deserved political importance" -- thus differentiating itself from the monarchies that make some people be born in places of greater political status than others.
But then should it not say "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created politically equal ..."?

I don't know, rhetorical flare? He was trying to rally people around a cause not precisely define a PhD thesis. You have to be densely literal-minded to not realize Jefferson was talking about political and moral equality-- not any other kind of equality.

But they weren't. People had to fight damn hard to gain political equality, such as it is! How about "I say people deserve political equality!"? :P

I think the right way to interpret most 'declarations' is as illocutionary acts. Jefferson is basically saying "If you try to deny us political equality, these enumerated rights and the freedom to start our own nation we're going to shoot you with these here muskets."

Or... "Look at me! Look at me! I'm saying catchy slogans that elicit positive political sentiment. Let me be the boss! Me!"
To be fair, it's not an entirely empty political slogan. He's offering to set up a system where he'll have a chance at being in charge, but there will be some limits on how much in charge he will be.
What about access to resource / opportunity. Also family circumstance / environment / status. All men are not born / created equal.
You're basically saying that kings and aristocrats exist. Everybody knew that (I don't think anyone doubted the physical existence of George III), so it obviously can't have been what the Declaration of Independence meant. Why are we even discussing this? What the Declaration of Independence seems to mean (to me atleast) is that these dynasties of kings and aristocrats don't exist deservedly or "naturally".
I'm sorry if I didn't make myself clear. The topic asked for examples of bad logic. The use of the idea "all men are created equal" by people absolving themselves any responsibility for the destitute and failures in societies today is the use of bad logic I was trying to refer too. This particular idea itself (not the entire declaration of independence), however, is poorly phased and open to ridicule because of its obvious falseness. Political ideas are routinely used and interpreted in ways that demonstate poor or bad lagic. All I was trying to point out was the pained feeling I get when I here someone using and idea like this one to argue an inconsistent and ridiculous position. I have not been posting long and am beginning to learn very quickly that I need to make my ideas as clear as absolutely possible. (as I would argue the authors of this idea probably should have)
I don't think people are generally using the phrase to mean that for the very reasons that it is so obviously and trivially false if used in that way. The phrase is part of a very famous historical document, and I think the most natural reading is in that original context.
The most natural reading of "all men are created equal" is that it predicates the quality of 'equal' on all men: formally, for all men, 'man' implies 'created equal'. That's what the sentence actually means. Keep in mind that this sentence was brought up as a case of instinctual reaction to bad logic; you may have managed to replace the obvious interpretation with the intended and reasonable one in your instinctual reactions, but for someone without that training it may be entirely accurate for them to respond with "urgh" even if that's not what people actually mean.
You make a good point. This isn't an instance of bad logic exactly; it's an instance of something entirely different to logic that also happens to contain nonsense.
It clearly means that plus "equal in class, without any having an inherent right to rule others."
Thank you, my thoughts exactly.
edited to add: I see that you're a relatively new poster. Welcome to LessWrong! [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2ku/welcome_to_less_wrong_2010/]
What is wrong with your example sentences? They are not arguments, there is no logic to be flawed. Sure, they can be interpreted to refer to factually wrong conjectures, namely that all men at some early point in their live are literally identical and that there is a god with associated bunch of problematic properties. But this is not necessarily or even often so. For one, these sentences easily lend themselves to non-problematic interpretations: (1) says that all men are similar in significant ways, or that the commonalities are more important than differences, or that they start with the same machinery and may or may not develop it in different ways; while (2) simply means that life and human condition is good and death and non-existence is bad. Finally, you've got to look at how these are actually used in speech. I'm beginning to see your point here, these sentences are often used as universal rebuttals, or refer to some vague moral maxims which are hard to argue against, they fulfill several patterns, trapping thought and leaving impression of closure where there is none. Is this why you react to them so badly? Do they simply trigger facepalm response without you actually struggling against bad logic?
It is in the use of an idea that the facepalm response occurs. Argueing for the concept of meritocracy for example by using the idea all men are created equal. I believe many feel people fail or succeed based on their efforts without consideration for other factors such as those outlined above and probably the most impotant factor LUCK.
I think the first one is politically useful if it's interpreted as something like "no one is automatically dispensable".
"Interpretation" creates/is rationality or logic.
How does that square with interpretations being right or wrong? Is that not possible?
Questions of right and wrong are an entirely different arguement. In this case it is not a question of the idea being right or wrong. Its the beleif in the idea while ommiting the obvious flaws. I wouldn't try to argue that anyone writing on this site would use this idea in this way. What do you think of "gods love is unconditional". No-one seems to have commented on this.

I think "god's love is unconditional" is wrong in exactly the same way, but LessWrong doesn't have as many theists as it does Americans.

[-][anonymous]12y 10

LessWrong doesn't have as many theists as it does Americans.

I found that hysterical for some reason.

I giggled quite a bit at that statement too.

I don't know if I agree with his assessment, but I immediately thought back to David Stove's "worst argument in the world" aka "The Gem".

Is it the worst argument in the world because it cannot be refuted or argued against? Maybe the one-sided argument is the way we define a bad argument.

I think it feels a bit like hearing an especially awful pun or horrible joke.

Car insurance ads that advertise how much people save by switching to _ Company. If people weren't going to save money, there's no way they would be switching to the company. They probably also wouldn't go through the hassle of switching if the savings were unclear or trivial. Therefore, knowing that the people who looked into it and then switched are completely, totally useless and misleading for the typical viewer who has not looked into it; and if they had looked into it, then they'd already have information rendering that statistic useless.

Though I suppose this vexes me only because it's so obviously stupid once you hear it dozens of times.

Ditto for car insurance commercials that boast that they don't penalize people for having accidents--they just reward people for not having accidents.
That one might actually make sense. Instead of a cumulative per-wreck penalty, which nearly negates the point of buying insurance at all, a 'safe driving award' system means that there are only two tiers of pricing (based on #accidents, at least - other factors are still open for discrimination), which caps the potential adverse selection without forcing the company to ignore a valuable piece of data about the client's skill and driving habits. Also, it could be taken as a signal that quoted prices don't reflect an unrealistically idealized customer.
It does make sense as an argument that you should look into it not as an argument itself to switch.
Good point, but I disagree on a detail: just knowing that there's some threshold of savings that some people have achieved when switching to X Brand Insurance tells us that at least one person passed that threshold... but it doesn't tell us how likely we are to pass that threshold. For that I think you'd need something like "10% of the people who got a quote from X Brand insurance later switched, saving on average Y dollars!" Except, no insurance company would run that ad, because 10% is an unimpressive "sounding" number even though in this context it would actually be really high.
[-][anonymous]12y 2

Certain statements definitely make me cringe, or at least flinch. For me, I suspect it's about the person's stubbornness of thought, and the importance of the matter. I've only had reactions like yours when I'm talking to someone and realize that rational conversation with the person on something important to both of us seems impossible.

This sounds like a it's worth a few studies, if they aren't already out there! Find out if the effect really exists, and how it varies across demographics. If it's a real effect (and this really should be more motivated by ... (read more)

I am disgusted and confused when an individual gives an argument and refuses to give basis or evidence that proves that their statement is true or false. A statement can either be true or false, never both, so how is it that some people come with a philosophy that dictates that it is possible for a statement to somehow be 'border line' or just in between right or wrong. No matter the appearance a statement can only be one of the two coexisting forces, positive or negative, black or white, right or wrong, bad or good, no grey, no kind ofs, no sort ofs, no i... (read more)

Not all statements are precise enough to be nailed down as definitely true or false. If there's any leeway or ambiguity in exactly what is being stated, there might also be ambiguity in whether it's true or false. As a trivial example, consider this statement: "If a tree falls in the forest, and there's nobody around to hear it, it doesn't make a sound". Is the statement true or false? Well, it depends on what you mean by "sound": if you mean acoustic vibrations in the air, the tree does make a sound and the statement is false; if you mean auditory experiences induced in a brain, the tree does not make a sound and the statement is true. Much more complicated cases are possible, and come up pretty regularly. Politics and the sciences very frequently have debates where nobody has quite nailed down precisely what proposition is being debated. For example, Slate Star Codex has an ongoing series of posts [http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/05/07/growth-mindset-4-growth-of-office/] about disagreements over what "growth mindset" even is, which is very relevant to whether or not claims about growth mindset are true. You might enjoy the sequence on 37 Ways That Words Can Be Wrong [http://lesswrong.com/lw/od/37_ways_that_words_can_be_wrong/], from which I have shamelessly stolen the above example.
I like your reasoning but my stance still remains. In the above explained situations I would say that in that case simply put their are multiple answers each of which can in the eyes of a different person he true or false. It is evident that each person is entitled to their own opinion so it is up to your own reasoning capabilities to tell whether you view it as true or false. but what I am stating is sometime they literally say it is both good and bad. Like he killed a man so its bad BUT that man who was killed had also killed a man so it was good. Choose one it cant be both and the judge of any court knows that.
Yes, except often it really is important to nail down which question we're asking, rather than just accepting that different interpretations yield different answers. In logic, we have the law of excluded middle [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_excluded_middle], which states that truth and falsehood are the only possibilities, and they are mutually exclusive. There is no such law for "good" and "bad". There is no reason whatsoever that a single action can't have two (or more) consequences which, in isolation, would be unmitigated good or bad. I once took a medication which successfully treated a medical problem (good), but gave me constant nausea (bad), which incidentally made me lose weight (good), but caused me to develop dysregulated eating habits (bad), which eventually prompted me to eat healthier (good), which sometimes causes me stress in social situations (bad), which... Now you can, in principle, sum up and compare the goodness and the badness and reach an overall verdict (assuming you subscribe to something like utilitarianism), and then you can say that on balance a certain thing was good or bad. But in practice, this is very often prohibitively difficult. Sometimes, the best answer is to just admit that you don't know, that there are points in both columns but you can't be sure which outweighs the other. There are also lots of ways to get this wrong, and I certainly agree that dealing with sloppy reasoning is frustrating.

Just to throw my own data point on the pile:

I don't experience any specific physical sensation, such as my stomach hurting or whatever, when confronted with terrible logic. However, I do experience a sort of mental pain, which feels like the bad arguments are stabbing me directly into my mind. Nothing else triggers this experience, as far as I can tell.

[-][anonymous]12y 0

I never really thought about it before, but my reaction is always more or less the same: my eyes roll, I and then I laugh/sigh humorlessly a single time. Sometimes, if it's especially bad (like the example in the OP) I shake my head a couple times as well.

I agree with Crono's comment that it's like hearing a really bad pun.

Bad arguments also make me feel slightly mad, even if the argument maker is obviously sincere.

[-][anonymous]12y 0

I feel disoriented for a brief period until I realize that what I'd just heard does not have to make sense.

By the way, I think you would have evoked more authentic reactions if you hadn't begun your post by revealing the badness of the arguments. At least in my own case, knowing an argument is bad before hearing it lets me brace myself and put on my flaw-hunting vest. (The vest is made of flawnel, of course.)

Maybe others differ from me in always being alert to flaws.

It looks as though I was generalizing from one example. If you have a fast reaction to bad arguments and it isn't kinesthetic, what is it?

My experience is similar to what you describe.

It sounds like nausea; like you get when you're intoxicated and the room starts swimming--your faculties try to make sense of what's happening, and fail.

Which one sounds like nausea? I've never had that strong a reaction to a bad argument.
Does the phrase, "The stupid; it hurts" feel appropriate? It's as if to understand someone's line of thought you have to mutilate your own thought processes, and it's like hearing a truly terrible joke tenfold.
What this post is doing is starting on applying reductionism [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/39u/if_reductionism_is_the_hammer_what_nails_are_out/] to "The stupid, it hurts." That's way cool.
It's too unspecific. I'm exploring how recognizing good and bad logic interacts with people's sensory experience, and no one's reporting a burning sensation so far. Your quote is a joke about the intensity of the experience, not the specific quality.
[-][anonymous]10y -1

I have to violate the "politics is the mindkiller" heuristic to present the worst argument I've heard recently. Actually, it's two separate arguments from the same person.

First of all he met the proposition "if you can have censorship without fascism, censorship is not fascism (essentially an expression of the law of the excluded middle)" with the reply "then nothing is fascism"

He then further stated

"Socialism is a key part of fascism, therefore socialism is a fascist idea".

That is actually a verbatim transcription of what he said (I took the screenshot). The fact that the man is an engineer exacerbated my despair.

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"I think therefore I am"

Would it be more accurate to say I think therefore I think I am. What if I think I am not am I not. If I think I am a goldfish or a black hole is this what I am. If you were to show me a thought it would be by an action, so perhaps it should be I act therfore I am.

The question of what constitutes an "I" is the question that needs first to be answered in order to be able to demonstrate "I am".

(probably gone a little to far with this one, just interested in the nature of the self and what others think about this kind of idea. Maybe point me to a different more relevent post)

Whatever I am, I am necessarily something that thinks. Cogito ergo sum is, in my view, an example of how language can produce analytic, a priori truths, without using synonyms.

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