All of Demosthenes's Comments + Replies

You don't need Kant

There's a proverb I failed to Google, which runs something like, "Once someone is known to be a liar, you might as well listen to the whistling of the wind." You wouldn't want others to expect you to lie, if you have something important to say to them; and this issue cannot be wholly decoupled from the issue of whether you actually tell the truth. If you'll lie when the fate of the world is at stake, and others can guess that fact about you, then, at the moment when the fate of the world is at stake, that's the moment when your words become th

... (read more)
0Matt_Simpson12yWith regard to whether Kant was relevant, I quote the article we are commenting on: In other words, I agree with Andrew's criticism of you (among others) for bring up Kant in the first place. He simply didn't belong. First, I should be clear, I was only talking about Kant's ethics. My fault for not making that more clear to begin with. However, I don't think this counts much in Kant's favor because there is plenty of contemporary philosophy still using ideas from Plato or Aquinas, even when they are pretty clearly wrong (metaphysical realism, anyone? How about agent causation?). There may be something worthwhile in Kant, but I'm rather skeptical. Given what Kant I've already read, I think my efforts are better spent elsewhere. If you think there is something worthwhile in Kant, then by all means, tell us about it. It may make a good post here.
0Paul Crowley12yIt's not Kant everyone's chucking out - it's deontological ethics, in favour of consequentialism. If I could only get the world to pick up one rationalist lesson, I would like them to shut up and multiply.
You don't need Kant

In the Robin Hanson tradition, whenever I think that I have figured out a flaw in Kant's reasoning, I halt, recognize that he lived until he was 79 and spent everyday of his life thinking about these sorts of things and taking long walks. It is good to question him, but also to be humble and research any extant rebuttals to one's own argument.

There is a good overview of Kant here:

and more at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Kant had a peculiar obsession with what rational and reasoning actors wou... (read more)

2Matt_Simpson12yFor one, Kant wasn't relevant to the original topic of discussion - no one was arguing from Kant's position. Also, I think most people on here agree that Kant was wrong. In more ways than one. Thus debating Kant is pretty much a dead end.
You don't need Kant

I was just a little put off that you used me as an example of pulling Kant in when he doesn't apply: I took some care to keep Kant within Kant's domain and ask for specifics about how EY's OB position differed.

Most of your post is dedicated to refuting Kant's assumptions... that would have answer part of my questions in the other post ... but does it necessarily follow that he is pulled in to make one's opponents into straw men?

The discussion could have used some Kant and I am really do not agree that he does not apply.

In regard to why one shouldn't bring ... (read more)

You don't need Kant

Did anyone say that they believed in Kant?

Actual comment thread (with context intact!): (

We were talking about never lying; I copied a quotation from Constant's critique of Kant (they were explicitly discussing a version of the "Tell-the-Murderer" thought experiment) and then summarized Kant's negative response to Constant.

I'm not really sure why one wouldn't bring it up? We had two different conceptions of why you shouldn't lie in the main post. Eliezer's sounded a lot like... (read more)

2[anonymous]12yI didn't intend to imply that you yourself believe in Kant. Sorry. As for why one shouldn't bring him up, it's because it might prime others in the argument to treat the original variants as similar or equivalent to Kant's position. I think this could be a common problem, and I felt others should be more aware of it. I don't discount Kant completely. The Kant-Laplace hypothesis [] is probably correct.
The Benefits of Rationality?

Mysticism and random decision making are both acceptable and highly successful methods of making decisions; most of human history has relied on those two... we still rely on them. If you are a consequentialist, you can ignore the process and just rate the outcome; who cares why nice hair is correlated with success -it just is! Why does democracy work?

What makes rationalism worth the time is probably your regard for the process itself or for its outcomes. If its the outcomes then you might want to consider other options; following your biases and desires almost blindly works out pretty well for most people.

The Benefits of Rationality?


That's possible and probably partially accurate; if there were more posts taking the form "I believe X because..." on Less Wrong, I might be more open to the idea that people are doing that.


Also, this would be a terrible community to signal truth-seeking in, considering how entrenched the "rationality as win" metaphor is. As I mentioned in the hair example, I think a lot more people here are signaling a burning interest in real-world application than really have one.

I just wanted to get Yvain's opinion about how mu... (read more)

Degrees of Radical Honesty

"To tell the truth is a duty, but is a duty only with regard to the man who has a right to the truth."

Kant disagrees and seems to warn that the principle of truth telling is universal; you can't go around deciding who has a right to truth and who does not. Furthermore, he suggests that your lie could have terrible unforeseen consequences.

Lie to the Nazis who you feel "don't deserve the truth" and then they end up treating everyone on the rest of the block like liars and sending all sorts of people to the concentration camps or outright ... (read more)

Degrees of Radical Honesty

If you'll lie when the fate of the world is at stake, and others can guess that fact about you, then, at the moment when the fate of the world is at stake, that's the moment when your words become the whistling of the wind.

Is it correct to interpret this as similar to Pascal's Wager? The possibility of a fate-of-the-world moment is very low but the payout for being an honest fellow in this case is huge?

5Eliezer Yudkowsky12yNo, it's a similar dilemma at all scales - the point is that it doesn't change just because the stakes are large.
Most Rationalists Are Elsewhere

I would like to see more people who practice rationality and assumption questioning in other disciplices: women's studies, public policy, art and literature. I took a lot of literary philosophy classes back in the day and read quite a few post-modern critiques that mirror what I see on Less Wrong.

Almost every post-modern analysis depends on questioning how someone framed their subject and proceeds to recommend different assumptions; surely people with these backgrounds have examples to offer outside of game theory and psychology.

It would also be good to s... (read more)

The Benefits of Rationality?

And you must enjoy the signal value you a little bit! You aren't keeping your Less Wrong postings in your diary under lock and key!

1Demosthenes12ylogi: That's possible and probably partially accurate; if there were more posts taking the form "I believe X because..." on Less Wrong, I might be more open to the idea that people are doing that. Ciphergoth: I just wanted to get Yvain's opinion about how much value from posting on Less Wrong was coming from signaling. Yvain suggested that this was not his or her main goal and that LW would be a uniquely poor place to attempt it. I personally doubt both of those points, but I was hoping to get some clarification since the comments about signaling and the nature of truth-seeking don't seem to be part of a system of beliefs. Are you worried that signaling truth-seeking is legitimate enough?
1Paul Crowley12ySure, but it's pretty clear that a lot of people are enjoying the WIN! signal too. Let's try not to get too caught up in who is signalling what.
1loqi12yEven if he did not value the signal, surely you can conjecture a rational strategy of publishing beliefs in order to refine them.
The Benefits of Rationality?


Do you really believe that you engage in Truth-Seeking for utilitarian reasons? I get the impression that you don't really believe that.

Would you be willing to to enter a computer simulation where you got to investigate higher math puzzles (or metaphysics) with no applications? Spend your days in a fantastic and never-ending Truth-Seeking project (we'll throw great sex, food and housing into the holodeck for you as well)?

I liked this better at the beginning when you were prodding people who say that they see rationalism as a means to an end! You seem to be going back to consequentialism!

I don't believe that rationalists WIN because I don't believe that winning WINS

4Nebu12yMaybe a few videogames (or other forms of entertainment in addition to sex) and this sounds like a very sweet deal.
1Demosthenes12yAnd you must enjoy the signal value you a little bit! You aren't keeping your Less Wrong postings in your diary under lock and key!
The Benefits of Rationality?

This debate has already played out in attacking and defending Pragmatism.

A lot of the rubrics by which to judge whether or not rationalism wins or whether or not rationalism is an end in itself involve assigning meaning and value on a very abstract level. Eliezer's posts outline a reductionist, materialist standpoint with some strong beliefs about following the links of causality. Rationalism follows, but rationalism isn't going to prove itself true.

Deciding that rationalism is the best answer for your axiomatic belief system requires taking a metaphysical... (read more)

1AlexU12y"Rationalism" as compared to what? Mysticism? Random decision-making? Of course rational behavior is going to be by far the best choice for achieving one's particular ends. I wasn't questioning the entire concept of rationalism, which clearly has been the driving force behind human progress for all of history. I was questioning how much making "tweaks" -- the kind discussed here and on OCB -- can do for us. Or have done for us. Put differently, is perseverating on rationality per se worth my time? Can anyone show that paying special attention to rationality has measurable results, controlling for IQ?
Church vs. Taskforce

That was my point; I was making a dig on the goals of argumentative atheists looking for a support group vs people who might want to advance rationalist goals

Rationality: Common Interest of Many Causes

In a nutshell, it might be cool to make a website and organization that promotes data collections and debate.

Rationalism requires access to high quality empirical evidence. Holding your hypotheses up to constantly changing data is a major theme of this site.

We can only rationally discuss our hypotheses and beliefs when we have something to test and the quality of datasets floating around on the internet is often low or inaccessible.

A good rationalist project might be to highlight resources for empirical evidence, run "data debates" where experts ... (read more)

6Nebu12yI like most of your ideas, but I wonder how many journalists are willing to sacrifice readability or sensationalism for truth and accuracy.
Church vs. Taskforce

Yvain is spot on; secular service organization already exist and function. I have occasionally attended some meetings at a Rotary club and it usually involves eating, a list of ongoing activities, community highlights and recognition of visiting members.

What is special about the way a rationalist helps people? Maybe starting a program to fund probability and philosophy of science classes in the community?

Law school sounds like the best option for finding fellow argumentative atheists.

5Paul Crowley12yA lawyer's expertise is in rationalization, not rationality. Of course, many lawyers may also be excellent rationalists, but my experience is that they're not generally very sciency people.
Defense Against The Dark Arts: Case Study #1

In his youth, Steve Jobs went to India to be enlightened. After seeing that the nation claiming to be the source of this great spiritual knowledge was full of hunger, ignorance, squalor, poverty, prejudice, and disease, he came back and said that the East should look to the West for enlightenment.

....or maybe the quotation and by extension the entire comment were meant to suggest that traditionally materialist concerns like sanitation, wealth and longevity are more deserving of the title enlightenment and than our categorizing of enlightenment to only m... (read more)

4William12yAs a sidenote, it's a very good sign that this discussion has followed the path of
Bogus Pipeline, Bona Fide Pipeline

If anyone wants to do some background reading on the test before commenting, this paper addresses some of the common criticisms:

"How do indirect measures of evaluation work? Evaluating the inference of prejudice in the IAT"

Playing Video Games In Shuffle Mode

Yes! something like a table of contents?

The Tag Cloud is a good way to start, but once you generate 10 posts a day for too long, the tag cloud is no longer a useful navigation tool

Something like this maybe:

Drupal can also automatically generate "related content" based on whatever criteria you define as important or manually entered links. Adding more and more blocks to the page might not be good for efficiency, but providing more diverse paths to explore the content on these sites would be great.

In the long ru... (read more)

3talisman12yThat link doesn't work due to the angle brackets.
Cached Selves

Has anyone brought up this study by Bruner and Potter (1964) before? I think it would relate to intertemporal beliefs and how we sometimes perceive them to be more sound than they really are:

In this demonstration, you will see nine different pictures. The pictures will get clearer and clearer. Make a guess as to what is being shown for each of the pictures, and write down your guess. Note the number of the picture where you were first able to recognize what was being shown. Then go backwards - press the "

... (read more)
Cached Selves

It may be time for a good Style vs Content Debate; first commenter to scream false dilemma gets a prize

When Truth Isn't Enough

Speaking of themes; I guess one thing that bothered me about this post (many of your other posts are very good) is that this post doesn't seem to serve a point; questioning assumptions is often brought up on OB and LW and asking others to be more precise in describing their assumptions is also very common. Any connection to positivism here seems very tenuous; criticizing positivism has little or no impact on soft-positivism.

I feel that there are many other OB and LW posts that would address this issue more effectively and it might be better to just make th... (read more)

2Scott Alexander12yYeah, see my response to ciphergoth []
Cached Selves

This is the first post I've seen that seems to really fit Less Wrong's mission of "refining the art of human rationality"

This post clearly spells out some issues, links them to research and presents possible solutions. I hope that more posts in the future take this form.

This post also nicely outlines the problem of one's ability to really doubt themselves constantly at the appropriate level. I think these two points present a big challenge to the mission of leading a rational life:

3c. Reframe your past behavior as having occurred in a differen

... (read more)
2topynate12yThe motive behind these prescriptions is to make the decision we want to make for our current selves, so there's another way which non-rationalists use all the time. Suppose you make a New Year's Resolution to exercise more; you genuinely do want to exercise more. But when the equipment is installed in your living room, you don't feel like it any more. In fact, you'll end up convincing yourself that you were never really serious about your resolution in the first place, if you allow yourself to. I think that a person's past-self-concept does exert quite an influence on behaviour, but that current preferences can also alter the past-self-concept to fit. Consistency between past-self-concept and current self seems to be the overriding preference. Of course this is a form of willing self-deception, so our overriding preference should be to actually do 3c and 3d, which are not self-deceptions, even if it does feel like compartmentalizing. I think one has to really convince oneself that such a perspective is not "compartmentalization"; that to disregard one's past preferences is not a betrayal of one's current self.
When Truth Isn't Enough

This post just appeared at Language log and has this to say:

Language Log could devote a thousand posts to the project of underlining and elaborating the ways in which grammar does not protect us against misunderstanding the sound of an uttered name, and logic does not protect us against what we say having double meaning. Come to think of it, the thousand posts may already have been written: there are over 5,500 old posts searchable here and already over 1,200 new ones on the present server searchable here.

As... (read more)

5Scott Alexander12yOne theme of OB and LW has been to take the fuzzy complexity of the real world and show that in principle at some level it's related to something precise. We can't actually do Bayesian math in our heads for real-world calculations, but just knowing how to work the ideal case protects us against certain real-world errors. Likewise, Eliezer's meta-ethics reduces morality down to some horrendously complex thing that we can never calculate, but it's nice to know that morality does reduce to something when we're wondering whether it exists at all, whether it's all relative, or so on. The real positivists thought they could reduce all language to their positivism and spent thirty years trying. I don't think I'm going to do that in a few days of posting about stuff on a blog. But if I can sketch a few really-large-scale things and then let people's common sense fill in the blanks, that'll still be better than nothing.
Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate

I think your caution is warranted, the fact that you can see the other people in the synagogue who don't stand up could be very hurtful to the nonparticipants. Highlighting individual donors or small groups is a good way to show public support without giving away to much information about your membership's participation as a whole.

If you are interested in more rigorous studies (we did ours in excel), you might want to try Dean Karlan's "Does Price Matter in Charitable Giving? Evidence from a Large-Scale Natural Field Experiment "

I will try to dig up some other papers online

0TheOtherDrJones11yAmongst a group of people who know and interact with each other regularly such as a synagogue those who have the means to donate money and those who do not would be an extremely obvious piece of information to the members of that group. There are actually two actions taken here by members, they either do not donate or they donate a certain amount. To the members of the group the amount donated is as much of an information channel as the choice to donate or not to donate. Those who donate a lot and are rich may cause offence by donating less than expected, those who donate a little when there is no expectation may gain esteem. You are proposing a situation in which an individual donates less than expected by such a magnitude that it seriously affects people's esteem for them. This is possible, although given social pressures unlikely. It can occur at all because the magnitude of the donation combined with the wealth of the individual and the support for the cause are all easily calculable. Magnitude of donation is known, wealth is implied by clothes, status symbols or frank discussions about income, and support for the place of worship is expected to be high. In a group of rational people donating to support a cause they have the option of donating, not donating and voicing support or criticism. You have established a reasonable grounds for why people do not arbitrarily voice support, and for why people voice criticism. But let's look at the amount donated and imagine it were being done publicly, is there a state where people can be hurt by donation or non-donation? Even if the amount donated and a reasonable guess at the wealth of the individual are available, the amount donated can still vary by the level of support the person feels for the cause. There is no level of donation that is 'incorrect' just as there is no arbitrary 'correct' level of support. Therefore the situation is most unlikely to cause social harm to the individual donating, or those who do not
Rationalist Poetry Fans, Unite!

Putting a double space after each line should break it; I had the same problem with poetry.


1gwern12yHm, that seems to work, thanks. It's still one giant quote, visually, but at least there's a full blank line between each quote which helps to break them up.
Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate

I've worked for a number of non profits and in analysis of our direct mailings, we would get a better response from a mailing that included one of two things

  1. A single testimonial mentioning the amount that some person gave
  2. Some sort of comment about the group average (listeners are making pledges of $150 this season)

This is one of the reasons that some types of nonprofits choose to create levels of giving; my guess is that it is gaming these common level of giving ideas by creating artificial norms of participation. Note You can base your levels on actu... (read more)

3SoullessAutomaton12yThe reason I specified anonymity was to reduce the likelihood of a social stigma attached to not donating. The idea of pressuring people into an otherwise voluntary gesture of support makes me very uncomfortable. However, I may be overcautious on that aspect, and I defer to your greater experience with fundraising. Do you have any other empirical observations about response to fundraising efforts? You could consider submitting an article on the subject, either as it relates to instrumental rationality, or for the benefit of anyone else who might want to organize a rationality-related non-profit.
Issues, Bugs, and Requested Features

I think other people have said it, but Slashdot has one of the best commenting structures around.

Different values for different categories (funny, insightful etc....), anonymous posting, reputation, very clear thread structure. All sorts of fun stuff

How to Not Lose an Argument

American Rhetoric is an incredible site and there are some real gems that aspire to rational persuasion with some flair.

Malcolm X's "Ballot or the Bullet" navigates the fact that he is black, widely regarded as dangerous and Muslim all at once while urging people to put these things aside and think about his plans and their outcomes. He does a first rate job of tailoring his rhetoric to increase your emotional desire to think and not react.

Milton Friedman is another person to watch live. He ge... (read more)

Rationalist Fiction

"If You Give a Mouse a Cookie"

A good primer on chaos theory for youth?

"Rendezvous with Rama"

Why have a plot when gradual discovery with expository dialogue will do.

"Contact" -Sagan

More scientific method

"The Diamond Age" -Stephenson

This book even has long discussions of computing

"Sideways Stories from Wayside School"

Anything with jokes is going to be about logic at some point.

"Of Human Bondage" -Maugham

This book has a famous scene where the Phillip goes to Paris to study art; you get the impressio... (read more)

6MBlume12yI can't believe i forgot Wayside School -- those stories were brilliant. I wouldn't say they taught me any particular technique of rationality, more a general lightness of thought. And they were, of course, a joy to read.
The "Spot the Fakes" Test

Setting up this sort of experiment, especially in regard to poetry or other humanities topics, seems to be the overwhelming barrier.

We can take at face value that "Malley's" poems were created from phrases of a limited length selected at random (whatever that really means in this case) and then arranged in a random manner.

This setup would allow us to say that some modernist critics cannot distinguish a modernist poem written by a single person (although with possible allusions and cribbings) from one constructed with phrases less than a specifie... (read more)