All of brainoil's Comments + Replies

Jim Crowe laws were there up until 1965, two decades after the war. If there really was such an over-sensitization, this wouldn't be the case. Clearly, they weren't sensitized enough. You'd have a hard time linking this to WWII.

What are the examples you can give of such excessive tolerances and aversion to distinguish groups of people based on factual differences without resorting to generalizing, and instead judging each individual separately? In my opinion, it's very hard to be over tolerant. It's clear as day that George Zimmerman wouldn't have shot tha... (read more)

So there's that arrow that connects the 60s counterculture to distrust of authority. I'm reminded of something David Brin said about distrust of authority. Every generation thinks it invented it.

Anyway, I think the 60s counterculture had more to do with rejection of authority than distrust of authority. They totally trusted Eugene McCarthy, didn't they?

This is a false analogy. You can be a believer in God when you're five years old and haven't read any relevant arguments due to childhood indoctrination that happens in every home. You might even believe in income redistribution when you're five years old if your parents tell you that it's the right thing to do. I'm pretty sure nobody teaches their children about UFAI that way. You'd have to know the arguments for or against UFAI to even know what that means.

You just have to watch the Terminator movies, or the Matrix, or read almost any science fiction with robots in it. The UFness of AI is a default assumption in popular culture.

"Nothing exists in contradiction to nature, only in contradiction to what we know of it." - Dana Scully, The X-Files

Funny, this quote is almost exactly similar to one in "The Praise of Folly" by Erasmus. That whole book is an argument against rationality.
Voted down because its connection to rationality is so obscure I have to take it at face value, and at face value it appears to be factually incorrect in several ways. IOW, BS.

David Icke thinks Barack Obama and many other prominent politicians are reptiles and that there's a reptilian conspiracy going on. He has written many books about this, and seems to take all of that pretty seriously. Should I be reading his books, instead of something that is more likely to be true?

Didn't think about that. But this actually makes a lot of sense. This is the only way you can believe in those things. You completely ignore reason and take it all on faith.

For me, though, it was worse than that - how do you "take on faith" a concept that isn't even rationally coherent? That was always my question - what exactly is it that I'm supposed to be believing? Because if something doesn't make sense, then I don't understand it; and if I don't understand it, how am I supposed to really "believe" it? And when people respond with "well you just have to have faith", my response was always "yes, but faith in WHAT?" / "Faith in God." / "Yes, but what do you mean by God?" "You don't have to understand to believe" never, ever, ever made coherent sense to me.

I don't know what actual Christians believe, but how could this be when god cursed that the snake would have to crawl on its belly for the rest of its days ("on your belly you shall go"), and yet later in the New Testament Satan walks with Jesus on earth to tempt him to idolatry with the offer of the kingdoms?

Besides, if it's Satan, why punish snakes instead?

I haven't talked about this with an actual Christian, but it seems to me that an erudite Christian won't hold this view that the snake was Satan, especially when you can get rid of the contradiction by saying the snake was not Satan.

My highschool theologist said that "a demon" (not necessarily Lucifer or any demon whose name is known) spoke through the snake. So I imagine there are a lot of open ways to resolve the contradiction: * Perhaps the snake is punished for allowing the demon to control it in some manner. * Perhaps only the particular demon is punished in this manner, not the whole of demonkind including the one that later tempted Jesus. * Perhaps the description of the curse/prediction is metaphorical, so "on your belly you shall go" is a metaphor of the demon living a filthy existence or something. After all "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" is supposed to be metaphorical of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. etc, etc.
Actual response I got as a child in Sunday school, when I pointed out this and various other weirdnesses: "God is more powerful than human logic. Just because something seems like a contradiction to you, doesn't mean it's a contradiction if God does it."

I'm not American, so I could be wrong about this. But at first glance it seems to me that Republicans have to run two vastly different campaigns, one in the primaries and the other in the general election, while Democrats could run pretty much the same campaign in the primaries as well as the general election. It seems to me that people like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz would have to get called flip-flops if they were to run for presidency in 2016 while Hillary Clinton would be able to run just one campaign.

Am I wrong, or is the Democratic party just larger than the Republican party and therefore more mainstream?

I'm not sure that's supported by the evidence. Gallup polls show Republican party as smaller than the Democratic party (23% v 28% in 2013), but that difference is made almost entirely of 'leaners'. Other polls that track solely identification rather than lean don't show this disparity, and the Gallup numbers have little predictive power over primary turnout trends. Is it that Hillary Clinton is less likely to be considered a 'flip-flop' than Ted Cruz, or that voters likely to vote for Hillary Clinton are less likely to care if someone calls her a 'flip-flop'? Conservatives are not likely to wait before pointing out her positions on the gas tax, on gay marriage, on several health care related matters, on several foreign policy matters, et all. Progressives are unlikely to do so, but progressives also have historically found it useful to portray Republican Presidential candidates as far-right stalwarts as possible. The specific complaints and criticisms are going to reflect the values of the folk professing them, and different political affiliations often have different values. To some extent, weathervaning is just a natural result of any system that includes primary elections. You've got more tools to excuse it when it's your side, but that's doesn't mean it doesn't happen.
Depends what you mean by "mainstream". The Democrats are "mainstream" in that the institutions that tend to define mainstream, e.g., most newspaper, the universities, Hollywood, etc., are heavily Democratic. On the other hand polls consistently show more people willing to define themselves as "conservative" than "liberal".
Democrats in fact differ between the primary and the general election. Off the top of my head, consider Obama's shift on FISA from 2007 (voted against) to post-primary 2008 (voted for telecom immunity).
Generalizing over the whole nation, the higher the voter turnout, the better the Democrats do. This is part of why the two parties like to accuse each other of tolerating voter fraud or illegal voting (Republicans accuse Democrats of this) and of suppressing voter turnout through tricks such as voter caging [] and inconveniences such as short polling hours (Democrats accuse Republicans of this). Equivalently, Republican affiliation is more common in sectors of the population that are more likely to vote — e.g. the retired elderly.

It's probably true for academic film theory. I mean how hard could it really be?

I was instructed long ago by a wise editor, "If you understand something you can explain it so that almost anyone can understand it. If you don't, you won't be able to understand your own explanation." That is why 90% of academic film theory is bullshit. Jargon is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Roger Ebert

Would be nice if this were true.

Completely agree. For example, if you're feeling suicidal, please don't kill yourself at least until you have moved to another country.

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounding yourself with assholes.

William Gibson

I'm actually doing this. I don't feel suicidal (never would) but I do feel that people around me were so different that if I stay here, my Self will implode socially.

A suggestion for people who are at the point where moving seems like a decent alternative: In OKCupid, the match-making website, there is a long set of questions you can respond about yourself. If you fill those up (say 90 out of hundreds) you can ask the algorithm to find people who are high matches to you as Friend, and high matches to your romantically (correlated but distinct measurements... (read more)

Well, curing cancer might be more important than finding a cure for common cold, but that doesn't necessarily mean you should be trying to cure cancer instead of trying to get rid of common cold, unless of course you have some inner quality that makes you uniquely capable of curing cancer. There are other considerations.

Reducing existential risks is important. But suppose it is not as important as ending world poverty. There's also lot of uncertainty. It may be that no matter how hard we try, something will come out of the blue and kill us all (three hours... (read more)

1Peter Wildeford10y
I don't think that everyone working on x-risk should quit x-risk. I also don't think that no one should go into x-risk. Obviously, we need some people working on x-risk, even if it's only for value of information considerations. ~ How would you know if you're capable of reducing it a tiny bit?

If this happens, then some of the robots will start to look and behave exactly like humans. Robot prostitutes would look like human supermodels. This'll cause more unemployment.

Don't underestimate humans' desire for authenticity. As an example, note that even nowadays, some people do pay extra for handcrafted knickknacks and such like. You can say its a silly desire, but it's what they want. If you said to them "Hey, want to buy this factory made knickknack? It looks just like a handmade one." they would for the most part, just turn you down. For better or worse, the desire for authenticity seems to be a deep part of humanity's utility function. Or look at the well known thought experiment of the transporter device. You step in, it scans your body, disintegrates your body, sends the message of what your body was like to the destination transporter, which then reconstructs you, exactly like you were before. Most humans express serious misgivings about going through one of those. They feel it wouldn't be "the real them" anymore. Is that silly? Yes. But it reflects our human desire for "authenticity".

From Abhijit V. Benerjee and Esther Duflo's Poor Economics,

Researchers gave students $5 to fill out a short survey. They then showed them a flyer and asked them to make a donation to Save the Children, one of the world’s leading charities. There were two different flyers. Some (randomly selected) students were shown this:Food shortages in Malawi are affecting more than 3 million children; In Zambia, severe rainfall deficits have resulted in a 42% drop in maize production from 2000. As a result, an estimated 3 million Zambians face hunger; Four million An

... (read more)
 Interesting study. What was the reason given for the warned students not giving more money to everyone in Mali?

Oftentimes, when I'm not in a good mood, I simply decide to be in a good mood, and soon I am in a good mood. It's surprisingly effective. You just have to consciously tell yourself that you decide to be in a good mood and try to be in a good mood. Of course this doesn't work all the time. I'm generally a happy person, so it's perhaps easier for me.

Of note: doing this does expend willpower, but I've found the more often I do it, the more "in a good mood" feels like my default state, and the less willpower it takes on average to get there.
I was once in a horrible mood... I felt really guilty/regretful about something I'd done earlier, and felt terrible. Then I was distracted for about half an hour by math homework, and when I was walking outside a few minutes later I caught myself whistling. I was like "Whoa, self! You're supposed to be upset right now!" and almost descended back into the pit of despair, but then I stopped midstride and said "Wait a sec. Why would I want to be upset?" and so I didn't. I kept whistling and had a great day.
Seconded; all the above statements are true for me too.

I'm not really sure that I care about duplicates that much.

Didn't you feel sad when Yoona-939 was terminated, or wish all happiness for Sonmi-451?

Clones aren't duplicates. They may have started out as duplicates but they were not by the time the reader is introduced to them.
All the other Yoona-939s were fine, right? And that Yoona-939 was terminated quickly enough to prevent divergence, wasn't she? (my point is, you're making it seem like you're breaking the degeneracy by labeling them. But their being identical is deep)

"Take a step back. Look at the bigger picture. That's how you devour a whale. One bite at a time."

-Congressman Frank Underwood in the TV series House of Cards

How is observing this pattern in someone else's brain any different, as a way of knowing, from observing your own brain doing the same thing? When "pure thought" tells you that 1 + 1 = 2, "independently of any experience or observation", you are, in effect, observing your own brain as evidence.

No no no. The difference between a priori and a posteriori is where the justification lies. You may be counting your fingers when you count 1 + 1. It may be that you won't be able to figure out the answer if someone cut off your fingers. In fa... (read more)

If you define evience as a system getting information from outside, then observing your own brain is not evidence. Inferential Apriori truth is what you can (but don't have to) get in a closed system. Aposteriori truth is what can only be obtained in an open system, one with sensors. And non-inferential, innate knowlege remains a problem.

The intent was to show that asking whether I don't have anything more valuable to do than voting was an unfair question because even those who profess utilitarianism don't always do the things that are most valuable in utilitarian terms. But it seems this strategy won't work with you.

Is this really how you think it works? Do you honestly watch Game of Thrones because it helps to better other people's lives? I'd be surprised. More likely, you start with "I like Game of Thrones" and end up with "it helps me to save the world." I can't read your mind. But that'd be my guess.

The problem is, you can justify too many things with this excuse. You already justified your iPhone when you could have bought a cheap android phone that has pretty much the same features. Paying the Apple tax is perhaps not the most effective way to save the world.

P.S. Is there any research done that suggests smartphones make people more productive?

That's a reasonable guess, and it's certainly something I have to watch out for. (I don't watch Game of Thrones, but I'm mentally substituting with a show I do watch.) If I genuinely didn't think that watching Game of Thrones was better as measured by my utility function than the alternative upon reflection, I hope I would be able to stop. I've stopped doing various other things this way recently (most recently browsing Tumblr). This wasn't clear to me at the time of my purchase. My impression from several people I talked to (that I trusted to be reasonably knowledgeable) was that Android is ultimately more powerful but requires more effort and tinkering to be put to use whereas an iPhone can be used out of the box. I'm not much of a power user and I wanted something that just worked. I also had the sense that there were more apps available for the latter than the former. And, again, the perfect is the enemy of the good. It takes too much time to make optimal decisions, but I can at least try to make better decisions. Who needs research? It's pretty clear to me that my smartphone has made me more productive, and that's the question that actually needed answering. (I expect most people get distracted by games, but I adopted a general policy of not downloading games which I have only rarely broken, and the games I do download I don't play very much.) I'm still not sure I understand what you're getting at with this line of questioning. You seem to think there's something wrong with the way I try to make decisions, which is to attempt to maximize expected utility while recognizing that I have limited time to search the space of possible things to do. What would you suggest as a superior alternative? (The alternative you've presented so far is justifying that you should think about political questions because of voting even though you don't vote.)

I would push the fat man in front of the trolley too in the thought experiment, and so would many rights based libertarians. They just don't do it in real life. I don't think they think rights are any more real than utilities are. They think it is a better form of government, to hold that people have inviolable rights even when there are compelling arguments in favor of violating those rights.

But more importantly, why are you being smug about this? Some people value being able to own firearms even at a steep cost to others. Some people, like communists, va... (read more)

0Rob Bensinger10y
Brainoil, I'm pleased to hear your argument is more nuanced than MugaSofer suggested. It helps redeem the practice of steelmanning, which is not just about making discussions more civil and nuanced but also about becoming more accurate at predicting others' views. Utilitarians can accept 'rights' views, if they either reify rights and assign high value to consequences in which they are satisfied, or treat 'rights' as a heuristic that usefully approximates the true moral theory. So perhaps instead of talking about which abstract moral theory is the Right One, we should focus on more object-level questions like 'Which human preferences are more satisfied by debating gay marriage than by ignoring it, and how strong are those preferences relative to their competitor-values?' Sure. (Though many values people have are probably a causal product of which questions they privilege.)

that I intended to use my iPhone that way (and have, by and large),

That seems like an awfully contrived reason to buy an iPhone, especially when you could do all the work you do with an iPhone using a cheaper android phone too. But suppose there is a certain unique feature that the iPhone has that others don't that makes you more productive (I'm not asking what that feature is). You are still deliberately dodging the spirit of the question. It wasn't about an iPhone. I didn't even know you had one.

So, am I justified in asking why you spend four hours pe... (read more)

So, am I justified in asking why you spend four hours per month watching Game of Thrones when you could have used that time to earn more money and use that to save a child in Africa? Do you think spending time on a couch, watching Game of Thrones, eating potatoes, is more valuable than saving a dying child in Africa?

Yes, and it depends. Whatever your values are, you need to be in a position to satisfy those values. That means you need to take care of yourself so you won't go crazy or otherwise become incapable of satisfying your values in the future, an... (read more)

Am I justified in asking why you bought an iPhone when you could have saved a starving child with that money, and whether you think getting an iPhone for yourself is more valuable than saving a dying kid? If not, you're a hypocrite. If yes, that too tells something about you.

I accept utilitarianism. But I also think we're not born with a utility function. When I vote, I value it being an informed decision. If you ask me whether I couldn't think of anything more valuable than that, I'd ask whether you couldn't think of anything more valuable to do with your money than buying a smartphone.

To be honest, I don't vote. But many do and value their right to vote.

While you are required to judge others using all of the information available to you, you are not required to inform them of that fact prior to gathering some information. For example, one can privilege themselves without being evil, even when that means that one or more babies starve that didn't strictly need to, or a section of space that could contain an asteroid that will destroy humanity remains unchecked.
I think maybe an easier way to think about this is to avoid comparing selfish and altruistic things you do (because that comparison is hard) but at least try to be effective in each category separately. Then it's fair to ask why one would buy an iPhone over an Android or why one would vote as opposed to donate a malaria net (assuming time is roughly equivalent to money). It's not that comparing across the two categories is invalid; it's just that the honest answer may be "I don't care enough about other people to go without my iPhone" and that's not an honest answer anyone wants to give. More generally, this comparison runs up against utility functions much more than the other.
Yes. This is a question I thought about before buying an iPhone and I think it deserves a serious answer, which in short is that iPhones can be used as incredible productivity tools, that I intended to use my iPhone that way (and have, by and large), and that I would pass on those productivity gains eventually (e.g. in increased earning potential which eventually finds its way to effective charities, or in being more effectively able to do work for MIRI or some other organization). Remember that consequentialism need not be nearsighted [].

What made utilitarianism the privileged value system? All I said was that if you try to make a utilitarian argument for gun control being an important issue, you'd probably fail. Someone would make a better argument for controlling diabetes being more important by comparing the number of people getting killed by illegal firearms and the number of people who die because of diabetes. (Note that the point here isn't whether controlling guns is a good thing to do, but whether it's more important than controlling diabetes).

I never said that utilitarianism is th... (read more)

Utilitarianism/consequentialism is a metaethic, so it's a way of deciding what to do with a value system rather than a value system in itself - the paperclipper is a utilitarian even though it values paperclips rather than people. You're correct that the original post makes assumptions about what the reader values. I think that's often worth it for efficient communication, though - the only alternatives I can think of are speaking in general or abstract terms ("a really bad thing happens", without being able to give an example like "a person dies"), or stating the assumptions. I think gun control probably is privileging the hypothesis, according to most peoples' stated goals - they think gun control matters because it's related to safety, and they value safety, even though there are dangers more common and easier to control than guns. (I don't know off the top of my head what the low hanging fruit is for safety in first world countries, but transportation and preventative healthcare seem like possible candidates.) How close their stated goals are to their actual goals is a different question.
Ah, sorry. I read "value system" as referring to the utility assigned to various things, because that's the default around here. Sorry for any confusion. As for whether utilitarianism is, in fact, the correct value system, by human ethical standards, most LWers seem to ascribe to one form or another; this probably isn't the comment section for that discussion, though.
Most people around here (myself included) believe that utilitarianism is the correct value system and regard it as a settled question. There are debates about the correct type of utilitarianism, of course, but still.

Doesn't the role of government also affect, e.g., death rates?

Of course, but the reason that rights based libertarians oppose gun control is not utilitarianism. A rights based libertarian would oppose gun control even if the utilitarian argument for it was obviously true. Such a person would not consider this question a privileged question.

You can quote by putting a ">" in front of the paragraph you're quoting, it'll make your comments more readable.

I think "what should the role of government be?" is another privileged question. What do you intend to do with an answer to this question?

Decide for whom to vote, for one thing. Of course my one vote isn't important. But the vote of ten million people who watch news is significant.

I think the role of government is an important question because governments of nation states are some of the most powerful entities there are. No other entity can coerce people virtually without consequence.

Why do you think voting is valuable relative to the other things you could be doing? (Not a rhetorical question.)

Gay marriage and gun control are privileged questions? I disagree. They're not important if you're thinking about them in purely utilitarian terms, as in how many people get killed per year by illegal firearms. But they are important if you are concerned about the role of government.

Why has the media privileged these questions? I'd guess that the media is incentivized to ask whatever questions will get them the most views.

I think the more relevant question here is why do such questions get more views in the first place. I'd say the reason is they div... (read more)

But ... you just admitted they're unimportant "in purely utilitarian terms"!
2Rob Bensinger10y
I don't understand this dichotomy. What do you mean by 'purely utilitarian'? Doesn't the role of government also affect, e.g., death rates? Perhaps your point is that they're still important, but for more complicated and indirect reasons? E.g., as schelling points or points of precedent. (You could also give, I think, a compelling argument that they're important precisely because people think they're important.) There are certainly privileged value systems: the value systems people actually have. Short-term entertainment may be important, but virtuous (or at least non-destructive) conduct can be made entertaining as well. It's more likely that they're watching them for entertaining news, or for news-enriched entertainment.
To get most views, a question must divide people along some party lines and be simple enough, so even people with zero knowledge can jump into the discussion and express their opinions. In other words, stupid people are customers too, and they are probably the largest and most easily manipulated segment of customers, therefore most important. Most of the media content is optimized to be accessible for stupid people. So even if the privileged question is important, the question and the proposed solutions are probably expressed in a way that is not helpful to solving them. Optimizing for a flamewar is more profitable.
How big of a concern should this be relative to other possible concerns? (I think "what should the role of government be?" is another privileged question. What do you intend to do with an answer to this question? (I am not convinced of the value of voting.)) I picked the first three things that came to my head.

Yes, but omniscience added with omnipotence implies predestination.

Would this be moral or not?

Of course it is, if you live in this hypothetical world. The fact that in real life things are rarely this clear, or the fact that in real life you will be jailed for doing this, or the fact that you'd feel guilty if you do this, or the fact that in real life you won't have the courage to do this, doesn't mean that it's wrong.

But in real life I'd hardly ever violate the libertarian rights because of all the reasons mentioned above.