Potentially relevant new paper:
The logic of universalization guides moral judgment
To explain why an action is wrong, we sometimes say: “What if everybody did that?” In other words, even if a single person’s behavior is harmless, that behavior may be wrong if it would be harmful once universalized. We formalize the process of universalization in a computational model, test its quantitative predictions in studies of human moral judgment, and distinguish it from alternative models. We show that adults spontaneously make moral judgments consistent with the logic of universalization, and report comparable patterns of judgment in children. We conclude that alongside other well-characterized mechanisms of moral judgment, such as outcome-based and rule-based thinking, the logic of universalizing holds an important place in our moral minds.
A new paper may give some support to arguments in this post:
The smart intuitor: Cognitive capacity predicts intuitive rather than deliberate thinking
Cognitive capacity is commonly assumed to predict performance in classic reasoning tasks because people higher in cognitive capacity are believed to be better at deliberately correcting biasing erroneous intuitions. However, recent findings suggest that there can also be a positive correlation between cognitive capacity and correct intuitive thinking. Here we present results from 2 studies that directly contrasted whether cognitive capacity is more predictive of having correct intuitions or successful deliberate correction of an incorrect intuition. We used a two-response paradigm in which people were required to give a fast intuitive response under time pressure and cognitive load and afterwards were given the time to deliberate. We used a direction-of-change analysis to check whether correct responses were generated intuitively or whether they resulted from deliberate correction (i.e., an initial incorrect-to-correct final response change). Results showed that although cognitive capacity was associated with the correction tendency (overall r = .13) it primarily predicted correct intuitive responding (overall r = .42). These findings force us to rethink the nature of sound reasoning and the role of cognitive capacity in reasoning. Rather than being good at deliberately correcting erroneous intuitions, smart reasoners simply seem to have more accurate intuitions.
An economist friend said in a discussion about sleepwalk bias 9 March:
In the case of COVID, this led me to think that there will not be that much mortality in most rich countries, but only due to drastic measures.
The rest of the discussion may also be of interest; e.g. note his comment that "in economics, I think we often err on the other side -- people fully incorporate the future in many models."
I agree people often underestimate policy and behavioural responses to disaster. I called this "sleepwalk bias" - the tacit assumption that people will sleepwalk into disaster to a greater extent than is plausible.
Jon Elster talks about "the younger sibling syndrome":
A French philosopher, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, said that our spontaneous tendency is to view other people as ‘‘younger siblings.’’ We do not easily impute to others the same capacity for deliberation and reflection that introspection tells us that we possess ourselves, nor for that matter our inner turmoil, doubts, and anguishes. The idea of viewing others as being just as strategic and calculating as we are ourselves does not seem to come naturally.
Thanks, Lukas. I only saw this now. I made a more substantive comment elsewhere in this thread. Lodi is not a village, it's a province with 230K inhabitants, as are Cremona (360K) and Bergamo (1.11M). (Though note that all these names are also names of the central town in these provinces.)
In the province of Lodi (part of Lombardy), 388 people were reported to have died of Covid-19 on 27 March. Lodi has a population of 230,000, meaning that 0.17% of _the population_ of Lodi has died. Given that everyone hardly has been infected, IFR must be higher.
The same source reports that in the province of Cremona (also part of Lombardy), 455 people had died of Covid-19 on 27 March. Cremona has a population of 360,000, meaning that 0.126% of the population of Cremona has died, according to official data.
Note also that there are reports of substantial under-reports of deaths in the Bergamo province. Some reports estimate that the true death rates in some areas may be as much as 1%. However, those reports are highly uncertain. And they may be outliers.
Here is a new empirical paper on folk conceptions of rationality and reasonableness:
Normative theories of judgment either focus on rationality (decontextualized preference maximization) or reasonableness (pragmatic balance of preferences and socially conscious norms). Despite centuries of work on these concepts, a critical question appears overlooked: How do people’s intuitions and behavior align with the concepts of rationality from game theory and reasonableness from legal scholarship? We show that laypeople view rationality as abstract and preference maximizing, simultaneously viewing reasonableness as sensitive to social context, as evidenced in spontaneous descriptions, social perceptions, and linguistic analyses of cultural products (news, soap operas, legal opinions, and Google books). Further, experiments among North Americans and Pakistani bankers, street merchants, and samples engaging in exchange (versus market) economy show that rationality and reasonableness lead people to different conclusions about what constitutes good judgment in Dictator Games, Commons Dilemma, and Prisoner’s Dilemma: Lay rationality is reductionist and instrumental, whereas reasonableness integrates preferences with particulars and moral concerns.
Thanks, this is interesting. I'm trying to understand your ideas. Please let me know if I represent them correctly.
It seems to me that at the start, you're saying:
1. People often have strong selfish preferences and weak altruistic preferences.
2. There are many situations where people could gain more utility through engaging in moral agreements or moral trade - where everyone promises to take some altruistic action conditional on everyone else doing the same. That is because the altruistic utility they gain more than makes up for the selfish utility they lose.
These claims in themselves seem compatible with "altruism being about consequentialism".
To conclude that that's not the case, it seems that one has to add something like the following point. I'm not sure whether that's actually what you mean, but in any case, it seems like a reasonable idea.
3. Fairness considerations loom large in our intuitive moral psychology: we feel very strongly about the principle that everyone should do and have their fair share, hate being suckers, are willing to altruistically punish free-riders, etc.
It's known from dictator game studies, prisoner's dilemma studies, tragedies of the common, and similar research that people have such fairness-oriented dispositions (though there may be disagreements about details). They help us solve collective action problems, and make us provide for public goods.
So in those experiments, people aren't always choosing the action that would maximise their selfish interests in a one-off game. Instead they choose, e.g. to punish free-riders, even at a selfish cost.
Similarly, when people are trying to satisfy their altruistic interests (which is what you discuss), they aren't choosing the actions that, at least on the face of it (setting indirect effects of norm-setting, etc, aside), maximally satisfy their altruistic interests. Instead they take considerations of fairness and norms into account - e.g. they may contribute in contexts where others are contributing, but not in contexts where others aren't. In that sense, they aren't (act)-consequentialists, but rather do their fair share of worthwhile projects/slot into norms they find appropriate, etc.
I think this is a kind of question where our intuitions are quite weak and we need empirical studies to know. It is very easy to get annoyed with poor epistemics and to conclude, in exasperation, that things must have got worse. But since people normally don't remember or know well what things were like 30 years ago or so, we can't really trust those conclusions.
One way to test this would be to fact-check and argument-check (cf. https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/k54agm83CLt3Sb85t/clearerthinking-s-fact-checking-2-0 ) opinion pieces and election debates from different eras, and compare their relative quality. That doesn't seem insurmountably difficult. But of course it doesn't capture all aspects of our epistemic culture.
One could also look at features that one may suspect are correlated with poor epistemics, like political polarisation. On that, a recent paper gives evidence that the US has indeed become more polarised, but five out of the other nine studied OECD countries rather had become less polarised.
How about a book that has a whole bunch of other scenarios, one of which is AI risk which takes one chapter out of 20, and 19 other chapters on other scenarios?
It would be interesting if you went into more detail on how long-termists should allocate their resources at some point; what proportion of resources should go into which scenarios, etc. (I know that you've written a bit on such themes.)
Unrelatedly, it would be interesting to see some research on the supposed "crying wolf effect"; maybe with regards to other risks. I'm not sure that effect is as strong as one might think at first glance.