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Welcome to Less Wrong!

I think I understand your point about overconfidence. I had thought of the post for a day or two but I wrote it in one go, so I probably didn't end up expressing myself as well as I could have. I had originally intended to include a disclaimer in my post, but for reasons that now seem obscure I left it out. When making as strong, generalizing statements as I did, the ambiguity of statements should be minimized a lot more thoroughly than I did.

So, to explain myself a little bit better: I don't hold the opinion that what I called "bullshit" is common enough here to make it, in itself, a "failing of this community". The "bullshit" was, after all, limited only to certain threads and to certain individuals. What I'm lamenting and attributing to the whole community is a failure to react to the "bullshit" properly. Of course, that's a sweeping generalization in itself - certainly not everyone here failed to react in what I consider a proper way. But the widest consensus in the multitude of opinions seemed to be that the reaction might be hypersensitivity, and that the "bullshit" should be discouraged only because it offends and excludes people (and not because it offends and excludes people for irrational reasons).

And as for overconfidence about my assessment of the "bullshit" itself, I don't really want to argue about that. Any more than I'd want to argue with people who think atheists should be excluded from public office. (Can you imagine an alternate LW in which the general consensus was that's a reasonable, though extreme, position to take? That might give an only slightly exaggerated example of how bizarrely out of place I considered the gender debate to be.) If pressed, I will naturally agree to defend my statements. But I wouldn't really want to have to, and restarting the debate isn't probably in anyone else's best interests either. So, I'll just have to leave the matter as something that, in my perspective, lessens appreciation for the level of discourse here in quite a disturbing way. Still, that doesn't mean that LW wouldn't get the best marks from me as far as the rationality of internet communities I know is considered, or that a lowered single value for "the level of discourse" lessened my perception of the value of other contributions here.

Now the latest top-level post about critiquing Bayesianism look quite interesting, I think I'd like to take a closer look at that...

Welcome to Less Wrong!


I've been reading Less Wrong from its beginning. I stumbled upon Overcoming Bias just as LW was being launched. I'm a young mathematician (an analyst, to be more specific) currently working towards a PhD and I'm very interested in epistemic rationality and the theory of altruist instrumental rationality. I've been very impressed with the general quality of discussion about the theory and general practice of truth-seeking here, even though I can think of places where I disagree with the ideas that I gather are widely accepted here. The most interesting discussions seem to be quite old, though, so reviving those discussions out of the blue hasn't felt like - for lack of a better word - a proper thing to do.

There are many discussions here of which I don't care about. A large proportion of people here are programmers or otherwise from a CS background, and that colors the discussions a lot. Or maybe it's just that the prospect of an AGI in recent future doesn't seem at all likely to me. Anyway, the AI/singularity stuff, the tangentially related topics that I bunch together with them, and approaching rationality topics from a programmer's point of view I just don't care about. Not very much, at least.

The self-help stuff, "winning is everything" and related stuff I'd rather not read. Well, I do my best not to. The apparent lack of concern for altruism in those discussions makes me even wish they wouldn't take place here in the first place.

And then there are the true failings of this community. I had been thinking of registering and posting in some threads about the more abstract sides of rationality, but I must admit I eventually got around to registering and posting because of the gender threads. But there's just so much bullshit going on! Evolutionary psychology is grossly misapplied (1). The obvious existence of oppressive cultural constructs (2) is flatly denied. The validity of anecdotes and speculation as evidence is hardly even questioned. The topics that started the flaming have no reason of even being here in the first place. This post pretty well sums up the failures of rationality here at Less Wrong; and that post has been upvoted to 25! Now, the failings and attitudes that surfaced in the gender debate have, of course, been visible for quite some time. But that the failures of thought seem so common has made me wonder if this community as a whole is actually worth wasting my time for.

So, in case you're still wondering, what has generously been termed "exclusionary speech" really drives people away (3). I'm still hoping that the professed rationality is enough to overcome the failure modes that are currently so common here (4). But unfortunately I think my possible contributions won't be missed if I rid myself of wishful thinking and see it's not going to happen.

It's quite a shame that a community with such good original intentions is failing after a good start. Maybe humans simply won't overcome their biases (5) yet in this day and age.

So. I'd really like to participate in thoughtful discussions with rationalists I can respect. For quite a long time, Less Wrong seemed like the place, but I just couldn't find a proper place to start (I dislike introductions). But now as I'm losing my respect for this community and thus the will to participate here, I started posting. I hope I can regain the confidence in a high level of sanity waterline here.

(Now a proper rationalist would, in my position, naturally reconsider his own attitudes and beliefs. It might not be surprising that I didn't find all too much to correct. So I might just as well assume that I haven't been mind-killed quite yet, and just make the post I wanted to.)

EDIT: In case you felt I was generalizing with too much confidence - and as I wrote here, I agree I was - see my reply to Vladimir Nesov's reply.

(1) I think failing to control for cultural influences in evolutionary psychology should be considered at least as much of a fail as postulating group selection. Probably more so.

(2) Somehow I think phrases like "cultural construct", especially when combined with qualifiers like "oppressive", trigger immediate bullshit alarms for some. To a certain extent, it's forgivable, as they certainly have been used in conjunction with some of the most well-known anti-epistemologies of our age. But remember: reversing stupidity doesn't make you any better off.

(3) This might be a good place to remind the reader that (our kind can't cooperate)[]. (This is actually referring to many aspects of the recent debate, not just one.)

(4) Yes, I know, I can't cooperate either.

(5) Overcoming Bias is quite an ironic name for that blog. EDIT: This refers exclusively to many of Robin Hanson's posts about gender differences I have read. I think I saw a post linking to some of these recently, but I couldn't find a link to that just now. Anyway, this footnote probably went a bit too far.

Of Exclusionary Speech and Gender Politics

I'm not assuming that the hypothetical original denigrator of evolutionary psychology would react better to a feminine rebuke. I think this hypothetical person is lost to us anyway.

I think that someone who calls evolutionary psychology unfeminine, is insulting the honor of feminity...

I agree that calling evolutionary psychology "unfeminine" because it "denigrates women" is bullshit. The truth about the human brain is not determined by our preferences. But failing to control for cultural influences in ev-psych-speculation is bullshit too. In fact, it's reversed stupidity.

Evolutionary psychology is about human universals and therefore should, in the ideal case, apply to all human cultures at all times. Exceptional cultures that deviate from the biologically determined base should be actively sought for and if found, explained. The pick-up-related speculation here (and on many other forums I've read; I'm not familiar with the PUA literature though) has considered only modern Western women (and to a lesser extent, modern Western men) and tried to explain their behavior by fitness arguments. Cultural explanations of behavior haven't even been considered, even though the proper application of evolutionary psychology should start from identifying human universals, that is, controlling for culture.

As the debate has dragged on, it has seemed to me that some have even hinted that offering cultural explanations of behavior instead of fitness arguments is evidence of a mental stop-sign or a refusal to accept the "hard facts". I invite them to consider the historically widespread practice of pederasty. Does pederasty confer a fitness advantage to either partner or maybe both? If it indeed does confer a fitness advantage, how can it be determined if this has actually been adapted for? How does the explanation take into account the revulsion towards pederasty felt in our modern culture? Or alternatively, if pederasty is to be considered a cultural deviation from the evolutionarily determined base culture, how can it be assumed that the modern Western culture is free of such deviations?

So, in my opinion, a very relevant issue for this whole debate is that the pick-up-related ev-psych-speculation has failed at actively seeking for contradicting evidence. Combined with the "objectifying" nature of the speculation - women considered as little more than sex-providers - it shouldn't be in the least bit surprising that offense has been taken.

That was something of a rant, I guess. What did it have to do with the possible limiting of discussion anyway? Well... A theory that sounds offensive but is (according to overwhelming evidence) correct shouldn't offend anyone. A theory that sounds offensive and is obviously wrong can just be ignored and downvoted into oblivion. Speculation that sounds offensive, is taken seriously by some but actually fails to consider simple, less offending alternative possibilities is something that communities should seriously be wary of.

Sayeth the Girl

What evolutionary reason could a woman have for wanting to signal being rich and cultured to other women?

Evolutionary reason? Sounds like you're automatically discounting the possibility that the specific status games of a specific group of people in our specific society are a result of cultural development that has no particular basis in evolutionary psychology.