Possible Cockatrice in written form

post by Aurini · 2011-01-05T09:54:21.271Z · score: -5 (22 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 53 comments

My various interweb browsings stumbled me upon a potential Cockatrice in written, philisophical form.  I've thus far read through the first chapter, and it is less anti-rational than most philosophical writings.

I'm reading through it right now, and will provide my feedback when I'm done, likely as a front-page post.

Personally, I'm a Fatalist, with some sort of Weird Soldier Ethic, who plans to go out the same way that Hunter did (if the cops don't get me first), but I've got a bunch of nonsense to Write first.  I figure that'll make me somewhat immune.  That aside, I doubt it's a real cockatrice - or we would've heard about it before.

It is a strong exercise in Nihilism.  So, with those cautions given, I offer it to you:  an extensive suicide letter.

Tip of the hat to this guy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

53 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Document · 2011-01-05T11:53:37.576Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For reference if you make a post: prior threads are here and here, and a quote was posted here. (Found by googling "suicide note" site:lesswrong.com.)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-01-05T14:20:46.492Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really, really bad idea. I am not (N-O-T) in favour of the kind of censorship that happened when the Post Of Which We May Not Speak was posted, for all sorts of reasons, but if you think you've found a piece of writing which may cause severe mental harm to others, the correct thing to do is to keep quiet about it, except for maybe warning others who don't see the risk and try to spread the link.

I don't share your assessment of the risk of this, but assuming you are right, any periods of depression and/or deaths that result are your personal fault.

comment by jimrandomh · 2011-01-05T15:15:57.556Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Strongly agree with this. If you truly believe that a piece of text is harmful to those who read it, then you should also believe that it is immoral (under utilitarianism) to spread it to people who might be vulnerable.

My position is that nihilism is dangerous, but only to those who are stuck on the idea of a universal utility function, and don't have a personal utility function (or the idea of a personal utility function) to fill in the void when that idea is shown to be unworkable. So it certainly can be read safely, but there are non-optional prerequisites for safe handling. You should be careful about posting anything more about this until you're confident that you understand what those prerequisites are, and have written introductory text that fulfills them.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-01-05T15:31:07.300Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The trouble is that a rationalism that fails to deal with possible basilisks ... fails.

We don't all have an impregnable mental fortress. (And anyone claiming they do is speaking foolishly - they might do, but they can't possibly be certain.) But a failure to be able to deal with such is, nevertheless, a failure of rationality.

So let's do something useful. How do we train a rationalist to safely outstare a basilisk and turn Medusa to stone?

comment by jimrandomh · 2011-01-05T15:57:13.689Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So let's do something useful. How do we train a rationalist to safely outstare a basilisk and turn Medusa to stone?

In general, if you want to outstare a basilisk, you need to reason about it from a distance first - gather abstract information about severity, defenses and prerequisites first, before reading it, then perform an explicit risk-benefit calculation to decide whether to read it or not. And if people who've encountered it say that you shouldn't read it, then accept that. There is no such thing as a reliable, fully general defense. There exist classes of information, such as communication from malignant superintelligences able to fully simulate the receiver, for which defense is believed to be impossible, even in principle, and refusing to read or listen is the best answer.

Note that someone who believes an information hazard is genuinely dangerous will refuse to provide details about its contents, and this can severely bias discussions about whether it's dangerous or not. Don't analyze debates about information hazards the way you'd analyze normal debates. If one side says it's safe, and gives reasons, and the other side says it's dangerous but refuses to give their reasons, then you should assume it's dangerous. (You can still judge the is-dangerous side based on their qualifications and on how accurate they are when speaking on other subjects, though.)

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-01-05T16:20:56.796Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The following is thinking further on the issue, not necessarily disagreement with your points:

Your comment is close to advocating compartmentalisation for mental health: the deliberate choice to have a known bad map. Compartmentalisation is an intellectual sin, because reality is all of a piece.

We can't go to absolutes. Historically, "someone warned me off this information" has been badly counterproductive. Lying to oneself about the world is bad; a society lying to itself about the world has historically been disastrous.

How much science has exploded people's heads as if they'd seen a very small basilisk? Quite a lot.

That said, decompartmentalising too quickly can lead to decompartmentalising toxic waste, which can lead to problems. Humans are apes with all manner of evolved holes in their thinking.

What I'm saying is that even though dangerous stuff is dangerous, a programme for learning to handle it strikes me as really not optional.

(And this is not to say anything about my opinion of Suicide Note, the fat rambling book-length PDF this post is about, which I dipped into at random and rapidly consigned to the mental circular file. I'd think anyone susceptible to this one is already on the edge and could be pushed over by anything whatsoever. I realise I'm typical-minding there, of course.)

comment by jimrandomh · 2011-01-05T17:05:35.331Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We can't go to absolutes. Historically, "someone warned me off this information" has been badly counterproductive.

There are lots of warnings about information that's supposedly wrong, or confusing, but these are relatively easy information hazards to defend against. If the only danger of a text is that it's wrong, then being told why it's wrong is sufficient protection to read it. Highly confused/confusing text is a little more dangerous - reading lots of postmodernism would be bad for you - but the danger there is only in trying to make sense of it where there is no sense to be made, so, again, a warning should be sufficient defense.

I think warnings about information being actively harmful have been pretty rare, though. I can think of a few major categories, and some one-offs.

There's information that would destroy faith in a religion, and information that would alter political allegiance. These seem like obvious false alarms (since speakers have a motivation for warning falsely). In fact, the presence of a warning like that is usually evidence that you should read it.

I wouldn't call any of these classes basilisks. Information hazards, maybe, but weak ones. But then there're rare one-offs, the ones that people have called basilisks, and with confirmed deaths or psychological injuries to their credit. These are clearly not in the same league. They genuinely do require careful handling. And because they're rare one-offs, handling them carefully won't consume inordinate resources; and as long as you're making an explicit risk-benefit calculation, you can factor in the expected value of whatever it is you're blinding yourself to, so they won't blind you to very much.

Compartmentalization is bad in general, but expected utility trumps all. Every heuristic has its exceptions, and information-is-good is only a heuristic.

What I'm saying is that even though dangerous stuff is dangerous, a programme for learning to handle it strikes me as really not optional.

It seems to me that starting with analysis at a distance is a necessary (but not necessarily sufficient) precaution in that handling.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-01-05T17:14:31.743Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think warnings about information being actively harmful have been pretty rare, though.

There are very few, if any, societies without censorship.

But then there're rare one-offs, the ones that people have called basilisks, and with confirmed deaths or psychological injuries to their credit. These are clearly not in the same league.

I need examples, more than the present post ("hey, here's a rambling crackpot 2000-page suicide note") or, in the case of the LessWrong forbidden post, individuals with known mental disabilities (OCD) getting extremely upset. (I don't deny that they were upset, or that this is something to consider; I do deny it's enough reason for complete suppression.)

Would your criteria ban the song "Gloomy Sunday"?

It seems to me that starting with analysis at a distance is a necessary (but not necessarily sufficient) precaution in that handling.

It's catalogue of citable examples time, then.

Claims of real-life examples of the motif of harmful sensation are not rare at all. Substantiated ones are rather less common.

comment by jimrandomh · 2011-01-05T17:51:59.824Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would your criteria ban the song "Gloomy Sunday"?

No. Mainly because enforcing a ban on any song requires arranging society in a bad way. Also because I don't consider the mood shift from a depressing song to be much of a harm, and the title is sufficient warning for anyone who wouldn't want to listen to something gloomy. However, my criteria would imply that you should think twice before adding it to your playlist, though, thrice if people subscribe to that playlist who don't want to or ought not to want to listen to it.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-01-05T18:05:11.733Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry, I should have given a link. I speak of the claims of it inducing suicide.

What I'm saying is that you need actual evidence before invoking claims of harmful sensation.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-01-06T00:08:32.373Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

jimrandomh had other very apposite comments in private message which I've responded to. I don't think we deeply disagree on anything much to do with the issue of the necessity of learning to stare back at basilisks.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-01-05T12:59:21.971Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could you please not leave 15 newlines at the end of the post?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-01-06T08:53:25.160Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I'll hold this paper to its own standards. Since it starts with linking the truth of the hypothesis with its supression, I'll wait and see if it's being supressed. Otherwise I'll just assume it's false.

comment by knb · 2011-01-06T03:13:18.800Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How is this writing dangerous? I've only perused it, but it doesn't seem dangerous or even terribly interesting. Because what I've read isn't interesting, I'm inclined not to read further. Ironically, the claim that it is somehow dangerous is the only thing that would likely get someone to look at a silly-sounding overwrought work like this.

Also, I think it's great that the guy starts off with a big grandiose prediction that his work will be repressed. It's a genuinely nice thing to be able to start calibrating the accuracy of someone's claims so early. : )

comment by katydee · 2011-01-10T01:14:49.124Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For someone who claims to have uncovered ultimate hidden truths about the nature of mankind, he seems to have missed the obvious non-hidden truth that people aren't going to bother to read a 2,000 page web document written by a crazy person.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-01-06T03:45:31.457Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've only perused it

AIEEEEEEE

*bursts into flames*

comment by knb · 2011-01-06T04:05:46.120Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't bow to your elitist "authorities on usage". Our forces have already gained a foothold in wiktionary. How long can your precious Oxford English Dictionary last?

BWAHAHAHA!

comment by ata · 2011-01-06T18:28:02.741Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know I'm responding seriously to a joke, but as a huge OED fanboy, I feel I must point out that they are exceptionally broad and non-elitist in deciding what words and usages to include, and, although they point out what usages are considered nonstandard or neologistic, they never pretend to be legislators of language.

(And yes, it includes that sense of "peruse"!)

comment by Jack · 2011-01-06T04:22:17.705Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually like this (mis)use of peruse on anti-synonym grounds. There isn't really another word that means peruse in the way knb uses it here.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-01-06T05:01:17.892Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually like this (mis)use of peruse on anti-synonym grounds. There isn't really another word that means peruse in the way knb uses it here.

Skim?

comment by Jack · 2011-01-06T05:17:24.633Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So to me, skim means to start at the beginning and go through pages looking for words or phrases that are noteworthy in order to glean the general meaning of the text. Peruse, to me, connotes something more exploratory, more open-ended. You can start anywhere and if you see something interesting you may read it closely. You're not looking to get the general thesis but just sort of seeing what is there. Skimming is the equivalent of an artist looking at a scene and trying to sketch the general outlines and shapes she sees. Perusing is the equivalent of an artist looking at a scene, maybe finding something she likes and drawing that, and then maybe move on to another part of the scene and sketch that instead; she moves around in no particular order- just noticing things about the scene.

But maybe that connotation isn't universal.

comment by arundelo · 2011-01-06T04:57:01.012Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Skim?

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-01-05T20:45:44.898Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You call that a basilisk? This is a basilisk!

comment by Alicorn · 2011-01-05T21:13:41.101Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know the guy who made that video. He was president of my anime club in college.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-01-05T21:19:31.666Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Amusingly, I have historically enjoyed that song. Perhaps because I am unusually vulnerable to earworms, especially where one or two lines of song repeats itself in my head over and over. So it doesn't seem any worse than any other song, and takes up less of my mental space while it's going because it's so short and simple.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-01-05T21:44:10.741Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I couldn't find a good video of "It's A Small World"...

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-01-05T22:00:05.315Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, now that I hate because of the high-pitched voice it gets sung in. I can't stand loud high pitched noises.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-01-07T00:58:48.791Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just be grateful I didn't link to Goatse. That one's too awful, even for me.

comment by David_Allen · 2011-01-06T17:17:21.140Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm reading through it right now, and will provide my feedback when I'm done, likely as a front-page post.

Please don't bother to post on this. As a whole work, it is a cosmic waste of time to read or discuss. The parts I skimmed rate high on the Crackpot Index and the subjects are better examined by other authors.

If you dig through this mess and find something specific that is interesting, then a discussion area post would probably be appropriate.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-01-06T00:06:28.796Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this post deserves the downvotes it's getting. The comments are better than the post, but I think that's productive for the discussion section.

As I've said in the comments, I consider how to deal with possible basilisks a real issue that rationalists really seriously need an approach to. A rationalism that fails to deal with possible basilisks ... fails.

(I don't consider the linked PDF worthy of being called a basilisk. But YMMV, of course.)

Edit: Actually, I agree with AndrewHickey - even if it's not a basilisk it deserves downvotes for dickishness, or close enough resemblance not to make effective difference.

comment by David_Allen · 2011-01-06T17:40:32.913Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this post deserves the downvotes it's getting.

I downvoted it because I would like to see fewer links to crackpot rants.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-01-08T15:27:55.029Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your reason is also convincing. Though this crackpot rant does actually mention Eliezer, so might be considered slightly on-topic, or at least of interest.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-01-06T08:34:46.055Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my case I downvoted because the author of the post considers it a basilisk. I'm not entirely convinced that basilisks exist in any real sense, and definitely agree with you that rationalists need an approach to them; but unless and until there is an approach, if you think some piece of information will cause illness or death (without positive results), it's morally wrong to share it. Thus, even though I think this 'basilisk' utterly harmless, I am not convinced all 'basilisks' are, and don't want people to keep posting things they consider harmful until there's a way of dealing with them. So on the basis of 'downvote if you want to see fewer posts like this' I downvoted.

comment by Jack · 2011-01-05T13:56:26.411Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For people who are confused: A cockatrice is a basilisk.

comment by NihilCredo · 2011-01-05T16:53:51.571Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not quite. A Cockatrice flies, whereas a basilisk can't (which paradoxically makes him better).

comment by Jack · 2011-01-05T21:46:35.518Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Nods). Does the flying make a difference in our metaphorical usage?

comment by NihilCredo · 2011-01-05T23:54:00.605Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nah, I was just making an in-quip for the benefit of the MTG-players which I knew to be in the audience.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-01-05T17:08:15.072Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why is the basilisk better? Wouldn't the basilisk be unable to kill nasty big flying attackers while the cockatrice can? Perhaps some other card that forces people to block if they are able to?

comment by NihilCredo · 2011-01-05T17:24:07.183Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps some other card that forces people to block if they are able to?

Bingo. It was perhaps the earliest example of how a blatantly all-upside ability could actually become a drawback.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-01-06T02:53:10.198Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does that card combo allow you to kill basically every creature the opponent has in one stare?

comment by shokwave · 2011-01-06T07:33:06.345Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. Some kind of basilisk-grenade.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2011-01-10T07:52:19.762Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anyone who has the monumental willpower required to make it through an 1800 page suicide note that reads like a freshman philosophy paper seems rather unlikely to be inclined to commit suicide.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-01-10T15:30:27.292Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does willpower correlate negatively with suicidal tendencies?

I would be surprised if that were true and would welcome citations.

comment by NihilCredo · 2011-01-05T17:21:16.998Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not the first time I've seen this. Unbearably posturing, dishorientatingly unfocused, and offering a wholly uninteresting take on the ill-defined word "nihilism". Also a really annoying case of tunnel vision in pretending to pen a magnus opus on liberal democracy, then writing exclusively about America and its history (ignoring even Britain after it begat the American colonies).

Incidentally, how exactly is it supposed to be a cockatrice to anyone?

comment by wedrifid · 2011-01-05T10:30:54.479Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That aside, I doubt it's a real cockatrice - or we would've heard about it before.

Why? Cockatrices being dangerous and all I would expect some of them haven't filtered down to me in reports. Is there a list of known cockatrices out there somewhere? Now I'm curious.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-01-05T15:45:35.861Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

All++ existential risk to humanity is because we are stupid monkeys who don't know not to press the button marked "DO NOT PRESS THIS BUTTON".

++ exaggeration for literary effect

comment by wedrifid · 2011-01-05T16:45:50.484Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

All++ existential risk to humanity is because we are stupid monkeys who don't know not to press the button marked "DO NOT PRESS THIS BUTTON".

For some reason I'm not in the mood to find some wet paint and start touching it. Because you don't really know till you test it.

++ exaggeration for literary effect

Like it.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-01-06T00:10:49.903Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I still haven't gone looking for 2 Girls 1 Cup ;-) That said, I can't think of a decompartmentalisation I wouldn't personally dive head first into. And that's knowing everything I know about the serious danger of poison memes.

comment by shokwave · 2011-01-06T07:35:27.670Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you experimented with signalling your ability to not press the button marked "DO NOT PRESS THIS BUTTON" in other social contexts? It's par for the course (sort of) on LessWrong, but you get some bizarre results in more normal places. I quite enjoyed the responses I got!

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-01-06T10:21:09.757Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, I haven't :-) What sort of responses do you get? Could you please list some?

(I find myself in the position of being the only guy who has root and cares to do site admin on the server hosting Lemonparty (Wikipedia explanation). I found a few other shock sites hosted there too when I did a cleanout of dead accounts. It's slightly disquieting to find myself responsible for maintaining this species of cultural icon.)

comment by shokwave · 2011-01-06T11:42:52.682Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that some of these responses are from people who derive pleasure from subverting expectations.

  • "Oh, it's not like, really creepy. It's just a little bit creepy. Go on, look!" (and variations on making the button pressable enough to make me press it)
  • "But, this is definitely the most disgusting joke ever. Not just at the top of the list, man, this is like Bill Gates in Africa top of the list." (Bizarrely, trying to make the button more pressable by making it more banned)
  • Blank incomprehension, the sort you'd get if you answered "mu" to a normal question. (Possibly they hadn't realised "I guarantee you will feel sick" isn't another way of saying "Check it out!")
  • One specific comment was unusually clear: she said "No, do it, I want to say I told you so."

It is surreal watching people try to argue you out of taking their warning seriously.