All of Jeff_Rubinoff's Comments + Replies

"Science" as Curiosity-Stopper

Also, you can sell magic to a modern audience by dressing it up in "science." From an 'autopathy' (homeopathy using patient's own bodily secretions) site that I recently found: "Today, isopathy is used to treat, among other things, people whose health has suffered as a result of a certain type of vaccination. They are given the same vaccine, but this time homeopathically diluted. The potentised poison of a viper can be used isopathically to treat a viper’s bite. Nevertheless, this understanding of isopathy has some drawbacks – it ignores cer... (read more)

0MarsColony_in10years6yI found this comment particularly useful, since Yudkowsky's description seemed a little broad for my taste. If he is only referring to cases like those you describe, than I agree. (Not just because they look unscientific, but because they are unscientific.) If he did intend his statements more generally, I might take fault. To illustrate my point, here are some examples along a spectrum: 1. If I come across some claim I have reason to be suspicious of, I shouldn't pay the claim any more heed if it starts with "scientists say" than if it starts with "Simon says". After all, "scientists say" that we only use 10% of our brain, but that meme and hundreds just like it has been proven false many times. 2. If I don't have any reason to suspect the information, however, my actions will depend on the circumstances. If I question the source, and the answer I get is "it was this scientific study", I will take that to mean that the person read it in a headline or a short article on a real study. That will have the same effect as a curiosity stopper on me, since I won't exactly get any more information out of that person. If I'm curious enough about it, I will of course google it later. If not, I’ll effectively mentally mark it with a [citation needed] tag. (For some reason, I tend to be better at remembering where I heard something than remembering the things themselves, so I don’t think I have too many untagged false facts rattling around between my ears.) 3. If I'm reading a reputable publication, and I see them cite one or more source on a surprising fact, that generally will act as a curiosity stopsign for me. I would have to be especially suspicious or especially curious to ask "wait, but why" and track down an answer. If I'm trying to learn a new discipline, I will generally scribble out a note in the margins of the book, so that I can google it later if the author doesn't
Semantic Stopsigns

What if you are trying to explain evolution to someone and he states "Evolution is just another religion." Is that a stop sign? To me it is, in the sense that the only reason to continue at that point would be to enjoy the sound of your own voice. The person has just signalled his membership in a tribe; you recognize that you are not in that tribe; and you recognize that he will not consider anything further you have to say on the subject, because that would be disloyal to the tribe. Global warming is a religion, taxation is theft, property is ... (read more)

4Perplexed11yOh, I agree that it is a tribal slogan, signaling tribal membership. But before interpreting it as a stop sign, I'd want to ask myself just why he had come up with that particular slogan at that point in our conversation. Did he somehow perceive that I wasn't really explaining evolution, I was preaching it? That I wasn't just trying to correct misconceptions regarding a set of ideas, that I was trying to convert him? That I wasn't really interested in his opinions, but that I wanted him to enjoy the sound of my voice? Well, yes, if that seems to be the reason that slogan just happened to pop into his head, then stopping is probably the best option. But if it seems that he said that simply because it was his turn to speak and that is one learned slogan he hadn't used yet, then I would treat the statement as a question, "Evolution is just another religion, isn't it?" And I would answer, "No not like a religion at all. Evolution only deals with the subject matter of two chapters of Genesis; it doesn't even attempt to answer the questions that the rest of the Bible deals with. Some evolutionists are Catholics, some are Jews, some are Protestants, some are atheists. What kind of crazy religion is that?" Who knows? Maybe that will make him think a bit. But yes, beyond trying to clarify what evolution is and is not, I wouldn't try to get him to leave his tribe. I would feel rather silly if I had been trying to do that in the first place. Evangelizing, rather than simply explaining, about science is pointless. You cannot succeed unless the person is open to learning. And if they are open, then explaining should be all that is needed.
7Mass_Driver11yI'd be careful before writing off otherwise polite and thoughtful people as irrational loyalists simply on the basis of a single semantic stop sign. For one thing, you might be getting a false positive -- sometimes I say things like "there is no peace without justice," but I don't mean to cut off debate about political science; I'm just trying to call people's attention to the possibility that the people they see as violent troublemakers may simply be responding to a perceived injustice. For another, even an intentional semantic stop sign might not indicate unthinking loyalty; it may simply indicate that your listener has erroneously concluded that there is nothing more to say about a particular topic. Some libertarians might think that taxation is theft, not because they refuse to listen to your counterarguments, but because they can't imagine a morally legitimate real-world government. Finally, attempting to identify semantic stop signs with the motive of screening out those who are unworthy of further conversation will inevitably lead to improper rationalization; you will feel subjectively that someone is unworthy of conversation and then concoct a story for yourself about why the other person has been using stop signs. Thus, it is better to ask people what kind of argument might convince them than to assume that people are irrational.
2PaulAlmond11yNot necessarily. Maybe you should persist and try to persuade onlookers?