All of mantis's Comments + Replies

"3 Reasons It’s Irrational to Demand ‘Rationalism’ in Social Justice Activism"

In case you're still looking, I think you might find Chris Brecheen's "Social Justice Bard" blog edifying, though he doesn't connect social justice ideas to Christianity that I've seen. For that, some of the blogs on the Progressive Christian Channel at might help (Slacktivist is particularly social-justice-oriented), as well as some of the ones on the Atheist Channel whose authors are ex-Christians and still draw inspiration from what they see as Christianity's good points (e.g. Love Joy Feminism, Roll to Disbelieve and An Atheist i... (read more)

Looking at this blog I'm having trouble not coming to the conclusion that he's an idiot. Could you cite some of his posts you found particularly edifying? Original thread here [] .
On a quick glance he seems enthusiastic and voluble (smartness TBD) and I don't really want to dig through his piles of content in the hope of finding a pearl or two. I'm looking not for a blog, but for a piece of text, a thoughtful write-up of reasonable size. An single essay, if you wish.
Meetup : Tempe, AZ (ASU)

Ah, shoot. Finally a meet up at a time I could ordinarily attend, and it happens to be the night I have dinner reservations at SCC Culinary Arts Department dining room. They're not so easy to get, so it's not something I could easily reschedule.

Meetup : Tempe, AZ: How to Measure Anything I

I work Monday through Friday, and am generally off between 5:30 and 6:00 PM. I work up in North Scottsdale, so it tends to take half an hour or so to get down to Tempe during rush hour. There are other social events I attend after work most Wednesdays and every other Thursday, but I'm usually free on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday evenings.

I'll run those times by the others and see if we can make one of them work.
Meetup : Tempe, AZ: How to Measure Anything I

Does your group ever meet later in the evening? I'd be interested in attending a Less Wrong meetup here in the valley, but I work full-time, so Friday afternoon is no good for me. Would I be right in inferring from the location and time that most of your members are ASU students?

Most are ASU students, but some are not. What day/time would work better for you?
A Voting Puzzle, Some Political Science, and a Nerd Failure Mode

Let's leave "intelligent" aside and focus on the "rational" necessary condition for being "intelligent and rational." Also, let's dig down past the label "conservative Christian" (or "conservative Catholic," as Chris actually said) to some of the beliefs that constitute conservative Christianity and conservative Catholicism. For example, in the American context, a conservative Christian who isn't Catholic is probably some variety of creationist, and quite likely a young-earth creationist. Finding out tha... (read more)

Torture vs. Dust Specks

I think that's probably more practical than trying to make it continuous, considering that our nervous systems are incapable of perceiving infinitesimal changes.

Yes, we are running on corrupted hardware [] at about100 Hz [], and I agree that defining broad categories to make first-cut decisions is necessary. But if we were designing a morality program for a super-intelligent AI, we would want to be as mathematically consistent as possible. As shminux implies, we can construct pathological situations that exploit the particular choice of discontinuities to yield unwanted or inconsistent results.
September 2012 Media Thread

Thanks! I'll have to get hold of the first book and see how I like it -- unless there's a better place to begin reading the series? Does the publication order match the internal chronology?

Yeah, the order is the same. The novels typically include enough background, so you can start at something other than the first one if you particularly want to, but there's no good reason to do that.
September 2012 Media Thread

I have not yet read any of the novels in that series, but I did see Peter Weir's film of The Far Side of the World during its theatrical run. If you've seen it, would you say it was a good adaptation of the novel?

It was a good movie, but it wasn't really an adaptation of the novel. It combined several scenes from two different novels in the series, and out of necessity imposed by the format, it wove them into a very straightforward plot with far less complex characters than in the books. I enjoyed the movie, but I enjoyed the books far far more.
The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world?

I'll think about that -- from the upvotes, it appears you're not the only Less Wronger interested (at least, I assume an upvote to a one-liner request like that means "I'd like to see it, too"). I wouldn't post an unedited copy, as there are some details in it that I consider very private, as, I think, would my former girlfriend. But I'll take a look at it later and see what would need to be redacted. I would also have to ask her permission before posting any of it, of course, and I'm reluctant to bother her just now -- she has a newborn daughter (as in, born last week), so I expect she's rather preoccupied at the moment.

The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world?

The problem was that writing a huge essay on why you're breaking up with someone, including detailed analysis of why there is insufficient attraction is a horrible thing to do to someone without even giving any benefit to yourself.

I don't know that that's necessarily the case. My first serious girlfriend wrote me a very long e-mail before our break-up, laying out her rational analysis of why she believed our relationship was untenable in the long term; she actually succeeded in persuading me to see it her way, which I'd been resisting for emotional reasons. That allowed us to have an amicable parting of ways, and we remain good friends to this day.

That's amazing. Can we see a copy of the email?

The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world?

That's the second misunderstanding of what evolutionary psychology means that leads people to reject it on moral rather than factual grounds: if they're not indulging in the naturalistic fallacy, they're indulging in biological determinism, or think the evolutionary psychologists are. "X is a natural part of human behavior that exists because it was favored by natural selection in the past" does not mean "X is good," nor does it mean "X is inevitable" -- evo. psych. is about identifying tendencies, not certainties.

Evolution c... (read more)

The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world?

people are terrible at separating normative and empirical claims

That's a much broader problem than the misunderstanding and misuse of evo. psych. I think one of the major aims of humanism/transhumanism should be getting more people to understand the difference between descriptive and prescriptive statements -- between is and ought. And, given how pervasive that confusion is across human cultures, the roots of it might be a fruitful area of investigation for evo. psych., along with other branches of cognitive science.

I can't help but notice that at lea... (read more)

The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world?

I could point to cases like Bradwell v. Illinois for examples of tainted scientific processes,

I don't see evidence of anything resembling a scientific process, tainted or otherwise, behind Justice Bradley's patronizing pontification about "the proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex," especially when the pompous old bastard specifically attributed his view of proper gender roles to "the law of the Creator.”

The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world?

I find it interesting that both you and MixedNuts have found it necessary to invoke Nazis in order to construct a marginally convincing case for your interpretations of eridu's position. Your thought experiment boils down to an equation of "the patriarchy" as it exists in present-day Western society with Nazi Germany (which would put eridu in pretty clear violation of Godwin's Law*), and MixedNuts' counterexample to my proposed Generalized Anti-Creationist Principle is a variant on the classic example of when it's not only morally acceptable but... (read more)

The non-Eridu argument against evo-psych is that many such researchers are abusing/ignorant of the halo effect that leads to biased results/unjustified moral assertions about sex roles in society. Somewhere in the archive is an article by lukeprog where he decided to break up with his girlfriend and wanted to let her down easy. In deciding how to do that, he debated with himself about telling her that his desire for a woman with larger breasts was an evolution-caused preference, not a comment on the woman specifically. That's nonsense, and uncritical acceptance of evo-psych runs the serious risk of exacerbating the problem.
The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world?

No, but all that requires is adding the qualifier "academic" to the noun "subject" in my principle, so it can't get misapplied to very unusual and extreme situations where knowledge of the specific situation could be more dangerous than the lack of that knowledge.

The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world?

If true, that does seem like a very good reason not to trust eridu or take anything he has to say seriously. As an evolutionary biologist, most familiar with this kind of anti-thought from the creationist quarter, I might state it as a Generalized Anti-Creationist Principle: "Any person who advocates ignorance or false beliefs about a subject as morally superior to true and accurate knowledge of that subject is not to be trusted or taken seriously on any subject." (See here for a good example of a creationist who goes every last angstrom of the... (read more)

It follows directly that you stop trusting people who tell you "Don't tell me if you hide any Jews, I don't want to let anything slip in front of the SS". Is that actually a conclusion you wish to endorse? Edit: mantis is correct, see eir reply below.
The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world?

radical feminists believe that the very act of gathering evidence harms their cause

That's an awfully damning assessment. If true, it implies that radical feminists believe that their cause can be destroyed by the truth, and don't think that it should be. I'm not convinced that this indictment, as stated here, is true of any actual radical feminist, though.

Not quite. I disagree with Eridu's position, but it doesn't come down to a Moore's paradox situation. Eridu's position is that there are truths that cause harm within certain social contexts, and that in those social contexts (but not otherwise) those truths ought to be suppressed. This is pretty plausible if you think of some thought experiments involving vulnerable groups. Suppose that you are a rationalist/consequentialist cop in 1930's Germany, and you are investigating a case in which a banker, who was Jewish, embezzled some money from the Society for the Protection of Cute Puppies. Although ceteris paribus, your job is to expose the truth and bring criminals to justice, in this case it might be a very good idea to keep this out of the papers at all costs, because due to anti-semitic narratives society lacks the ability to process this information sanely. Eridu claims that because of sexist narratives, society lacks the ability to process the claims of evo-psych sanely.
Well, maybe not just any feminist, but eridu specifically did claim that, since the findings of evolutionary psychology are frequently misused to advance the patriarchy, no one should study evolutionary psychology. As far as I can tell, he feels that way about all research that deals with sex and/or gender, not just evolutionary psychology specifically.
The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world?

I think it's pretty obvious that evand mean "abortion opponents," not "abortion proponents." Make that correction and the rest of the comment is accurate.

Torture vs. Dust Specks

I might have to bring it up to a minute or two before I'd give you that -- I perceive the exponential growth in disutility for extreme pain over time during the first few minutes/hours/days as very, very steep. Now, if we posit that the people involved are immortal, that would change the equation quite a bit, because fifty years isn't proportionally that much more than fifty seconds in a life that lasts for billions of years; but assuming the present human lifespan, fifty years is the bulk of a person's life. What duration of torture qualifies as a liter... (read more)

Torture vs. Dust Specks

Nope, that doesn't follow; multiplication isn't the only possible operation that can be applied to this scale.

Beautiful Probability

Old School statisticians thought in terms of tools, tricks to throw at particular problems.

This reminds me of a joke posted on a bulletin board in the stats department at UC Riverside. It was part of a list of humorous definitions of statistical terms. For "confidence interval," it said that the phrase uses a particular, euphemistic meaning of the word "interval;" that meaning could be used to construct similar phrases such as "hat interval," "card interval," or "interval or treat."

Torture vs. Dust Specks

True. On reflection, it's patently obvious that the Less Wrong way to deal with Omelas is not to accept that the child's suffering is necessary to the city's welfare, and dedicate oneself to finding the third alternative. "Some of them understand why," so it's obviously possible to know what the connection is between the child and the city; knowing that, one can seek some other way of providing whatever factor the tormented child provides. That does mean allowing the suffering to go on until you find the solution, though -- if you free the child and ruin Omelas, it's likely too late at that point to achieve the goal of saving both.

Torture vs. Dust Specks

If dust specks have a value of 0, then what's the smallest amount of discomfort that has a nonzero value instead?

I don't know exactly where I'd make the qualitative jump from the "discomfort" scale to the "pain" scale. There are so many different kinds of unpleasant stimuli, and it's difficult to compare them. For electric shock, say, there's probably a particular curve of voltage, amperage and duration below which the shock would qualify as discomfort, with a zero value on the pain scale, and above which it becomes pain (I'll even go... (read more)

The idea that the utility should be continuous is mathematically equivalent to the idea that an infinitesimal change on the discomfort/pain scale should give an infinitesimal change in utility. If you don't use that axiom to derive your utility funciton, you can have sharp jumps at arbitrary pain thresholds. That's perfectly OK - but then you have to choose where the jumps are.
In other words, it follows that 1 person being tortured for 50 years is better than 3^^^3 people being tortured for a millisecond. You're well on your way to the dark side.
Torture vs. Dust Specks

Incidentally, I think that if you pick "dust specks," you're asserting that you would walk away from Omelas; if you pick torture, you're asserting that you wouldn't.

The kind of person who chooses an individual suffering torture in order to spare a large enough number of other people lesser discomfort endorses Omelas. The kind of individual who doesn't not only walks away from Omelas, but wants it not to exist at all.
Torture vs. Dust Specks

I don't see that it's necessary -- or possible, for that matter -- for me to assign dust specks and torture to a single, continuous utility function. On a scale of disutility that includes such events as "being horribly tortured," the disutility of a momentary irritation such as a dust speck in the eye has a value of precisely zero -- not 0.000...0001, but just plain 0, and of course, 0 x 3^^^3 = 0.

Furthermore, I think the "minor irritations" scale on which dust specks fall might increase linearly with the time of exposure, and would c... (read more)

If getting hit by a dust speck has u = 0, then air pressure great enough to crush you has u = 0.
If dust specks have a value of 0, then what's the smallest amount of discomfort that has a nonzero value instead? Use that as your replacement dust speck. And of course, the disutility of torture certainly increases in nonlinear ways with time. The 3^^^3 is there to make up for that. 50 years of torture for one person is probably not as bad as 25 years of torture for a trillion people. This in turn is probably not as bad as 12.5 years of torture for a trillion trillion people (sorry my large number vocabulary is lacking). If we keep doing this (halving the torture length, multiplying the number of people by a trillion) then are we always going from bad to worse? And do we ever get to the point where each individual person tortured experiences about as much discomfort as our replacement dust speck?
The Third Alternative

Here's another Noble Lie: protectionism--that there's somehow a morally and practically important difference between trading inside your borders and trading outside them.

That would depend on whether there are any morally and practically important differences between the environmental, labor, etc. practices found inside your borders vs. those found elsewhere. Protecting the income of free, paid laborers from competition by slaveowners whose victims can produce the same goods less expensively seems pretty morally and practically important to me.

Dark Side Epistemology

Probably silly to reply almost four years later, but what the heck. I think that in a lot of cases "I feel that X" is a statement of belief in belief. That is, what the person really means is "I believe that X should be true," or "I have an emotional need to believe that X is true regardless of whether it is or not." Since you're very unlikely to get someone who think "I feel that X" is a valid statement in support of X to admit what they really mean, it is indeed an excellent example of Dark epistemology.


Huh. My first thought on comprehending Keysar et. al.'s experiment was that it would make a good test for detecting telepaths trying to conceal their abilities (as, for example, in Babylon 5</>). Not something we're ever likely to need in real life, of course, but it could serve the purpose of a Voight-Kampff test in somebody's B-5 fan-fic.

Psychic Powers

Probably silly replying at this late date, but I'm going to do it anyway: Texas Holdem against strangers would be a much more compelling demonstration than RPS with your wife, and lucrative, too, if your powers are real. Surface thoughts should be sufficient to tell you when people are bluffing and when they genuinely have a strong hand, even if they don't tell you exactly what cards they hold. Better yet, they should tell you when your opponents are confident enough to call your bluff, and when they're not. That would give you a devastating advantage in... (read more)

Psychic Powers

The SF writer Catherine Asaro came up with a workable explanation of empathy/telepathy that doesn't require non-reductionism, though I don't think it's all that plausible; it's based around quantum entanglement between microstructures in the brains of psions in close proximity to one another (and a lot of hand-waving, of course). In her books, psi powers didn't evolve naturally, but were the result of extensive genetic tinkering by aliens with a far more advanced knowledge of genetics, neurology, and quantum physics than humans presently possess, enabling ... (read more)

When Truth Isn't Enough

The first one of these I can remember reading was "I'm erotically open-minded; you're kind of kinky; he's a disgusting pervert."