B.A. in Philosophy by University of Sao Paulo (USP), Brazil, and technical analyst at a Brazilian railway lab.


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When this person goes to post the answer to the alignment problem to LessWrong, they will have low enough accumulated karma that the post will be poorly received.


I don't think this is accurate, it depends more on how it's presented.

In my experience, if someone posts something that's controversial to the general LW consensus, but argues carefully and in details, addressing the likely conflicts and recognizing where their position differs from the consensus, how, why, etc., in short, if they do the hard work of properly presenting it, it's well received. It may earn an agreement downvote, which is natural and expected, but it also earns a karma upvote for the effort put into exposing the point, plus those who disagreed engaging with the person explaining their points of disagreement.

Your point would be valid on most online forums, as people who aren't as careful about arguments as LWers tend to conflate disliking with disagreeing, which results in a downvote is a downvote is a downvote. Most LWers, in contrast, tend to be well skilled at treating the two axes as orthogonal, and it shows.

The answer is threefold.

a) First, religious and spiritual perspectives are a primarily a perceptual experience, not a set of beliefs. For those who have this perception, the object of which is technically named "the numinous", it is self-evident. The numinous stuff clearly "is there", for anyone to see/feel/notice/perceive/experience/etc., and they cannot quite grasp the concept of someone saying they notice nothing.

Here are two analogies of how this works.

For people with numinal perception, hearing "it's pretty, but that's all" is somewhat similar to someone with perfect vision hearing from a born blind person they don't see anything. The person with vision can only imagine "not seeing" as "seeing a black background", similar to what they perceive when they close their eyes or are in a perfectly dark room. Not seeing isn't seeing black, it's not seeing.

Consider, for another analogy, that a dove with normally functioning magnetic field sensing were able to talk, and it asked you: "So, if you don't feel North, which direction do you feel?" You'd reply "none", and the dove would at most be able to imagine you feel something like up or down, because they cannot grasp what it is like not to physically feel cardinal directions.

The opposite also applies. People with no numinous perception at all are baffled by those with it describing they perceive something that quite evidently isn't there. Their immediate take is that the person is self-deluded, or maybe suffering from some perceptual issue, maybe even schizophrenic, if not outright lying. At their most charitable, they'll attribute this perceptual error to a form of synesthesia.

Unsurprisingly, it's much more likely to be a Theist or similar if one has numinous perception, and much easier to be an Atheist if one doesn't have it, though there are exceptions. I don't remember if it was Carl Sagan or Isaac Asimov, but I recall one of them explaining in an interview they did have this perception of a "something" there (I don't think they referred to it by its name), and were thus constantly tempted towards becoming religious, but kept fighting against that impulse due to knowing it as a mental trick.

b) Thus, if we establish numinal perception is a thing, it becomes easy to understand what religions and spiritual beliefs are. Supernatural belief system are attempts, some tentative and in broad strokes, others quite systematic, to account for these perceptions, starting from the premise they're perceptions of objective phenomena, not of merely subjective, mental constructs.

Interestingly, in my experience talking with people with this perception, what's perceived as numinal varies from one to the other, which likely account for religious preferences when one has a choice.

For example, for some the navy of a Catholic cathedral is shock full of the numinal, while a crystal clear waterfall in a forest is just pretty but not numinal at all. Those with this kind of numinal perception are more likely to be Christian.

For others, it's the reverse. Those are more likely to go for some religion more focused on nature things, some form of native religiosity, unstructured spirituality, animism or the like.

For others yet, they feel the numinal in both contexts. These will be all in with syncretisms, complex ontological takes, and the like.

c) Finally, on whether perceived numinous thingies are objectively real or not depends on one's philosophical assumptions.

If one's on the side of reductionism, then they're clearly some kind of mental epiphenomena either advantageous or at least not-disadvantegeous for survival, so it keeps being expressed.

If one's an antireductionist, they can say numinous thingies are quite real, but made of pure qualia, without any measurable counterpart to make it numerically apprehensible, so either one has the sensory apparatus to perceive them, or they don't, external devices won't help.

And the main issue here is the choice for either reductionism or antireductionism is axiomatic. One either prefers one, and goes with it, or prefers the other, and goes with it. There's no extrinsic way to decide, only opposite arguments that tend to cancel out.

In conclusion:

To more directly answer the question then, when someone says they believe in God, what they mean is they perceive a certain numinal thing-y, and that the most accurate way to describe that numinal thing-y is with the word "God", plus the entire set of concepts that come with it in the belief system they're attuned with.

If they abandoned this specific explanatory system, that wouldn't affect their numinal perception qua perception, so they'd likely either go with another explanation they felt covered their perception even better, or more rarely actively force themselves to resist accepting the reality of that perception. The perception itself would remain there, calling for their attention.

I mean sure if you take self-reports as the absolute truth (...)

Absolute truth doesn't exist, the range is always ]0;1[. 0 and 1 require infinitely strong evidence. What imprecisions in self-reporting do generate is higher variance, skewing, bias etc., and these can be solved by better causal hypotheses. However, those causal hypotheses must be predictive and falsifiable.

why go with the convoluted point about aro-ace trans women (...)

Because that's central to the falsifiability requirement. Consider: if transgender individuals explicitly telling researchers they never experienced autogynephilic impulses, nor any sexual impulse or attraction at all, is dismissed by the autogynephilic hypothesis proponents and considered invalid, with proponents suggesting they actually did experience it but {ad hoc rationalization follows}, then what is the autogynephilic hypothesis' falsifiability criteria? Is there any?

More studies != better integration of the information from those studies into a coherent explanation.

There are several moments in research.

The initial hypothesis is simple: there are identifiable physiological differences between human male and female brains, and transgender individuals' brains show distinctive traits typical of the brains of the other sex, while cisgender individuals don't.

This is testable, with clear falsifiability criteria, and provides a pathway for the development of a taxonomy of such differences, including typical values, typical variances, normal distributions for each sex, a full binomial distribution to cover both sexes, and the ability to position an individual's brain somewhere along that binomial distribution.

Following that taxonomic mapping, if it pans out, there come questions of causality, such as what causes some individual brains to fall so distantly from the average for their birth sex. But that's a further development way down the line. Right now what matters is the first stage is falsifiable and has been experiencing constant corroboration, not constant falsification.

So now it's a matter of contrasting this theory's falsifiability track record with the autogynephilic hypothesis's falsifiability track record -- supposing there's one.

Feels like an example of bad discourse that you dismiss it on the basis of ace trans women without responding to what Blanchardians have to say about ace trans women.

Thanks for the link, but I'd say the text actually confirms my point rather than contradicting it. The numbers referred to:

"In this study, Blanchard (...) found that 75% of his asexual group answered yes. Similarly, Nuttbrock found that 67% of his asexual group had experienced transvestic arousal at some point in their lives. (...) 45.2% of the asexuals feel that it applies at least a little bit to them (...)"

Can all be reversed to show that, respectively, 25% / 33% / 54.8% of aro-ace trans individuals answer in the negative, and the rebuttal of the universality of the hypothesis needs only these numbers to be non-zero. That they're this high comes as an added bonus, so to speak.

I would enjoy if someone could lay it out in a more comprehensible manner.

This is being constantly done. Over the last 20+ years, as neuroimaging and autopsy techniques advance, and new studies are done using those more advanced techniques, we mostly get corroborations with more precision, not falsifications. There are occasional null results, so that isn't strictly always the case, but those come as outliers, not forming a new, contrary body of evidence, and not significantly affecting the trend identified as meta-analyses keep being done.

I'm not aware of someone having done a formal Bayesian calculation on this, but my impression is it'd show the scale constantly sliding toward the physiological hypothesis, and away from the autogynephilic one, as time advances, with only small backslides along the way.

Yep, the idea autogynephilia explains transgender identities can be shown to be false by referring a single piece of direct evidence: it isn't difficult to find aro-ace trans people. That right there shows autogynephilia isn't a universal explanation. It may apply to some cases, maybe, but transgender identities definitely go way beyond that.

Besides, but also mainly, we have evidence for physiological causes:

  • Frigerio, Alberto, Lucia Ballerini, and Maria Valdés Hernández. “Structural, Functional, and Metabolic Brain Differences as a Function of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation: A Systematic Review of the Human Neuroimaging Literature.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 50, no. 8 (November 2021): 3329–52.

And it takes lots of handwaving, or deliberately ignoring the data, to stick with the autogynephilic hypothesis as the most general explanation.

Which texts is Hegel responding too? Is it ultimately rooted in Aristotle/Plato/Socretes? How much work does one have to do to get up to speed?

I'm not well versed in Hegel's philosophy, but I know he does three things (and probably more).

First, he builds upon Kant, who himself is moving against all philosophy that came before him and refunding the entire thing so as to be compatible with modern scientific inquiry.

Second, he changes the concept of truth, from static to dynamic, not in the sense that what we think is true may be wrong and so we fix our knowledge until it becomes actually true, but in the sense that the very notion of "truth" itself changes over time, and hence a knowledge that was true once becomes false not because it was incorrect, but because it's aligned with a notion of truth that isn't valid anymore. This comes on the heels of a new analysis methodology he invented for this purpose, and that you need to master before seeing it in use.

Third, he tries to integrate notions of justice, rights etc. that are still grounded on pre-Kantian notion with all the above.

That paragraph quoted touches on all of the above, so it takes a knowledge of classic metaphysics, plus Kantian anti-metaphysics, plus classic political philosophy, plus Hegel's own take on words such as "truth", "rights" etc. actually refer to.

It's an extremely ambitious project, and on top of that he has to deal with the potential censorship of rulers and church, so even in parts in which he could be clearer he has to deliberately obfuscate things so that censors don't catch up with what he's actually trying to say (this was a usual procedure for many philosophers, and continues being among some).

(...) when I read Bostrom, Parfait, or Focault or listen to Amanda Askill or Agnes Callard or Amia Srinivasan I don't get the sense that they're necessarily trying to bring fundamentally new objects into our ontology or metaphysics, but rather that they're trying to clarify and tease apart distinctions and think through implications;

I don't know the last three, but the first two basically go in the opposite direction. They take all these complex novel notions of the genius philosophers and distillate them down into useable bits by applying them to specific problems, with some small insights of theirs sprinkled here and there. Foucault in particular also did some of the "big insight" thing, but on a more limited fashion and with a narrower focus, so it isn't as earth-shattering as what the major philosophers did.

Besides, there are movements among professional academic philosophers that propose developing philosophy in small bits, one tiny problem at a time worked to exhaustion. Much of what they do is in fact this. But how that's seen varies. When I was majoring in Philosophy in the 2000's, for example, there was an opinion shared by all professors and teachers in the Philosophy Department that from all of them who worked there since it was founded in the 1930's until that date, only one single professor has been seen as a real philosopher. Everyone else were historians of philosophy, which indeed was how they described what we were learning how to do. :-)

is that a project that tends to lend itself to a really different, "clearer" way of using language?

Yes, undoubtedly. On the flip side, it doesn't lend itself to noticing large scale structural issues. For instance, from working tiny problem by tiny problem, one after the other, one would never do as Hegel did, stop, look at things from a distance, and perceive the very concept of truth everyone was using is itself full of assumptions that need unpacking and criticizing, in particular the assumption of the atemporality of truth. Rather, they will all tend to keep working from within that very concept of truth, assumed wholesale, doing their 9-to-5 job, accumulating their quotations so as to get a higher pay, and not really looking outside any of it.

A rule of thumb is that major philosophers make you feel ill. They destroy your certainties by showing what you used to consider solid ground were mirages. Minor philosophers and professional philosophers, in contrast, feel safe. At most a little inconvenient here and there, but still safe, since with them the ground is still the same, and still mostly as firm as before.

... this quote ... was used by Scott Alexander in his Nonfiction Writing Advice as an example of entirely unreadable abstract paragraph.

It isn't unreadable. Hegel is arguing with concepts from previous philosophies which he presumes the reader already knows and understands well. If one begins reading him possessing the prerequisite knowledge one can understand him just fine. Besides, this is a point in the middle of a long discussion, so he already presumes the reader understood the previous points and is connecting the dots.

Great philosophers are great because they notice something no one has noticed before and are thus the very first person in History to try and express that. They have no tool for doing so other than everything that was said before, which, by definition, doesn't include what they're trying to say. So, on top of trying to say something utterly, absolutely novel, they must invent the language and semantics with which to say it by repurposing words and concepts that aren't appropriate for the task. Eventually (measured in decades to centuries) students of that philosopher figure out better ways to express the same novel notions he pioneered, and cause the learning curve to become less and less steep. In the extreme this is so well done, and that philosopher's ideas and terminology gain such widespread adoption, that language itself adapts to the way the philosopher used it. And then everyone is talking from within that philosopher's terminology, and wondering, when they read the original work, what was the big deal with someone who was all about stating, and badly at that, mere truisms.

If philosophers wrote presuming their readers have no philosophical knowledge at all, and under the requirement that all words they use must retain their current, commonsensical meaning, every sentence of theirs would balloon into an entire book. The philosopher would die of old age before having presented 1% of what they wanted to say.

Either that, or instead this happens. I guess by this point we're in Schrödinger's Cat territory:

Multitrack drifting

Humans also bottleneck the maritime side of cargo shipments via artificial scarcity in the form of cartels and monopolies. The referred $2k shipments could have costed even less, but there's rent capture in it driving final transportation prices higher than they could be, and payments to on the ground operators lower than those, too, could be, the resulting spread going into the hands of the monopolists who successfully work around legal impositions from as many jurisdictions as possible.

I wouldn't say it's a matter of validity, exactly, but of suitability to different circumstances.

In my own personal ethics I mix a majority of Western virtues with a few Eastern ones, filter them through my own brand of consequentialism in which I give preference to actions that preserve information to actions that destroy it, ignore deontology almost entirely, take into consideration the distribution of moral reasoning stages as well as which of the 20 natural desires may be at play, and leave utilitarian reasoning proper to solve edge cases and gray areas.

The Moriori massacre is precisely one of the references I keep in mind when balancing all of these influences into taking a concrete action.

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