Absolute denial for atheists

post by taw · 2009-07-16T15:41:02.412Z · score: 44 (53 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 605 comments

This article is a deliberate meta-troll. To be successful I need your trolling cooperation. Now hear me out.

In The Strangest Thing An AI Could Tell You Eliezer talks about asognostics, who have one of their arm paralyzed, and what's most interesting are in absolute denial of this - in spite of overwhelming evidence that their arm is paralyzed they will just come with new and new rationalizations proving it's not.

Doesn't it sound like someone else we know? Yes, religious people! In spite of heaps of empirical evidence against existence of their particular flavour of the supernatural, internal inconsistency of their beliefs, and perfectly plausible alternative explanations being well known, something between 90% and 98% of humans believe in the supernatural world, and is in a state of absolute denial not too dissimilar to one of asognostics. Perhaps as many as billions of people in history have even been willing to die for their absurd beliefs.

We are mostly atheists here - we happen not to share this particular delusion. But please consider an outside view for a moment - how likely is it that unlike almost everyone else we don't have any other such delusions, for which we're in absolute denial of truth in spite of mounting heaps of evidence?

If the delusion is of the kind that all of us share it, we won't be able to find it without building an AI. We might have some of those - it's not too unlikely as we're a small and self-selected group.

What I want you to do is try to trigger absolute denial macro in your fellow rationalists! Is there anything that you consider proven beyond any possibility of doubt by both empirical evidence and pure logic, and yet saying it triggers automatic stream of rationalizations in other people? Yes, I pretty much ask you to troll, but it's a good kind of trolling, and I cannot think of any other way to find our delusions.

605 comments

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comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-16T19:48:39.698Z · score: 34 (47 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, now for my attempt to actually answer the prompt:

Your supposed "taste" for alcoholic beverages is a lie.

Summary: I've never enjoyed the actual process of drinking alcohol in the way that I e.g. enjoy ice cream. (The effects on my mind are a different story, of course.)

So for a long time I thought that, hey, I just have weird taste buds. Other people really like beer/wine/etc., I don't. No biggie.

But then as time went by I saw all the data about how wine-tasting "experts" can't even agree on which is the best, the moment you start using scientific controls. And then I started asking people about the particulars of why they like alcohol. It turns out that when it comes any implications of "I like alcohol", I have the exact same characterstics as those who claim to like alcohol.

For example, there are people who insist that, yes, I must like alcohol, because, well, what about Drink X which has low alcohol content and is heavily loaded with flavoring I'd like anyway? And wine experts would tell me that, on taste alone, ice cream wins. And defenses of drinking one's favorite beverage always morph into "well, it helps to relax..."

So, I came to the conclusion that people have the very same taste for alcohol that I do, it's just that they need to cook up a rationlizations for getting high. Still trying to find counterevidence...

Your turn: convince me that you really, really like the taste of [alcoholic beverage that happens to also signal your social status].

comment by InfinitelyThirsting · 2009-07-17T16:56:52.856Z · score: 15 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I will agree with you that a lot of alcohol is like that, in particular beer. But you can't say that acquiring a taste means forcing yourself to like something; we have to acquire almost all tastes. A kid who isn't fed a variety of foods will never like a variety of foods. There are people out there who don't like FRUIT, I mean, really. Not just like there's a fruit they don't particularly enjoy, they don't like any fruit.

But there are some alcoholic drinks that ARE delicious. I don't mean anything regular. My favourite drink has no substitute: mead. Honey wine. It's a beverage made from honey, and delectable (well, unless it's a dry wine). I don't like any dry wines, just sweet ones. Fuki plum wine is another favourite of mine, and again, there is no similar substitute. I would be careful of saying you don't like alcohol at all, because it's possible you've just had bad stuff (and each kind of alcohol is different, too). I've never liked eggplant, bleach--until someone actually cooked it properly for me, using the right gender pod. (For the record of anecdotal proof, my sister hates alcohol, but even she likes Fuki.)

And the "other" effects of alcohol have no bearing on me. I wish those drinks weren't alcoholic actually, because I'm pretty much straight edge. If I drink something, I make sure it's with food, and only a glass, and drunk slowly, so that I'm not mentally affected at all, not even a "buzz". Trust me, if I could get nonalcoholic versions, I would, but it isn't just the lack of a market that stops that. For example, St Germaine is a fantastic liquor created from elderflowers hand harvested from mountains in Europe. And it damned well tastes like FLOWERS, or like how flowers smell anyways. I've eaten flowers, they don't taste like flowersmell. And there are syrups available made from elderflowers, but none of them are any good. Alcohol can catch and preserve flavours that are lost in any other processing.

(Somewhat unfortunately, I also really enjoy the tastes of harder alcohols, like spiced rum and aged whiskey, but you can't really drink much of that before effects start happening, so I don't.)

But if you don't like alcohol, you may never acknowledge that there are some good things out there, amidst the muck. I have a nearly perfect analogy: I don't like mushrooms. To me, all those fancy dishes that toss in truffle oil or other mushroom-derived products are ruining good food, and just being pretentious. Sure, a part of my brain knows that people who like mushrooms enjoy the extra savoury flavour, but to me it's gross, and inexplicable why so many gourmet dishes have mushrooms in them--much like your confusion as to why someone would pay more for wine than a milkshake, I have no idea why someone would pay hundreds of dollars for a truffle. If it isn't savoury enough, add beefstock, or something. But that's just my irrational, self-centered brain. The rest of me knows people out there really do like mushrooms, and that to them, it makes the food better, just like I believe bananas make every baked good better, but my friend who hates bananas would disagree.

comment by asparisi · 2012-04-18T08:49:51.898Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I find the idea that people don't like being intoxicated suspicious. Experiencing euphoria from intoxication has a lot do with with brain chemistry, and it would be very odd if some humans recieved this effect and others did not.

Now, I can understand the intellectual response of "I don't like being intoxicated" as "I don't like the (loss of control/mental sluggishness/depressive effects) that accompanies intoxication." After all, those could easily go against your personal values.

But in terms of enjoying something, I don't think that those concerns are paramount. I enjoy the taste of foods that I consciously know are bad for me: eating them goes against my personal values (live a long life, have energy for the next task, etc.) but I still experience pleasure upon eating them. And it strikes me that it is quite possible to consciously find something distasteful while non-consciously finding it enjoyable. In other words, your conscious brain might say "I don't enjoy the other effects of alcohol, only the taste" while your tongue tells your subconscious "Hey! This is the stuff that gives us the happy feeling!"

The only real test, I suppose, would be to find two drinks that were, taste-wise, indistinguishable with one producing the "other" effects of alcohol while the other doesn't. Then, see if there was a stronger "liking" associated with the prior substance over time, particularly with people who self-report not enjoying those effects in alcohol while otherwise enjoying its flavor. I have a strong suspicion that the test would show that even if little enough of it was served that neither group felt outward signs of intoxication that the group that got the alcoholic batch would show stronger liking over time. (In fact, the less the "I don't enjoy intoxication" batch consciously know that they are being given alcohol, the better for their self-reporting.)

comment by gwern · 2012-04-18T23:36:48.653Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Drug effects can be heavily culturally mediated; Hanson has posted some material on alcohol in particular.

(Another n=1: I was surprised and dismayed the first time I had enough alcohol to qualify as even partially drunk, and realized that I felt incredibly depressed. This happened twice more, and I eventually gave up alcohol as a bad job. This is annoying because it limits my mead consumption, even though it also means I never need to worry about alcoholism.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-04-18T16:31:32.009Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I know a number of people who frequently become extremely sad while drunk. Back when I drank, that wasn't an uncommon condition for me as well. Also, there were a number of enjoyable activities I found myself less able to successfully engage in while drunk... sex, in particular, was significantly less satisfying that way. In general I found several other intoxicants far superior if what I wanted was to be intoxicated.

comment by asparisi · 2012-04-18T16:40:53.574Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, that makes some amount of sense. Alcohol is a seratonin inhibitor, so it would block some of the natural rush you would expect to get from sexual activity. That, and it inhibits testosterone, which is critical for sexual activity in men.

comment by RobinZ · 2012-04-18T15:38:28.916Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I find the idea that people don't like being intoxicated suspicious. Experiencing euphoria from intoxication has a lot do with with brain chemistry, and it would be very odd if some humans recieved [sic] this effect and others did not.

By what mechanism does alcohol - a central nervous system depressant - cause euphoria? And how intense is this euphoria?

I ask because I've been to board game nights with my friends both with and without drinking involved, and I can recall no significant difference in pleasure between the two.

comment by asparisi · 2012-04-18T16:23:29.933Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Admittedly, reporting on the euphoria from alcohol largely comes from anecdotal experiences from myself and my friends and family, however, the wikipedia entry on intoxication is a good starting point for answering this question. However, asking the question did prompt me to investigate.

The short answer is that alcohol intoxication often produces euphoria at about 20-99 mg/dL and that this state may continue at higher concentrations. The mechanism appears to be due to the fact that, in addition to being a central nervous system depressant, alcohol is also a seratonin inhibitor and that it interferes with seratonin binding and seratonin transporters in a manner which causes excessive stimulation in serotonergic neurons.

That said, the specifics are unclear. It seems that we don't have direct ways of checking seratonin in human or animal brains yet. That said, indirect tests, self-report, and observed euphoric effects of alcohol intoxication all contribute to the current theory on the effects of alcohol on the seratonin receptors.

comment by RobinZ · 2012-04-18T16:39:01.831Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Gotcha! I had asked because the absence of a known pharmacological mechanism would have suggested that the primary factor was an association effect - people drink at parties with their friends, and therefore associate intoxication with their enjoyment of the party.

comment by TeMPOraL · 2015-10-09T07:55:42.530Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I drink to make parties with friends tolerable because after an hour there is usually an infinite amount of things I'd rather be doing...

comment by TeMPOraL · 2015-10-09T07:59:58.503Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I find the idea that people don't like being intoxicated suspicious. Experiencing euphoria from intoxication has a lot do with with brain chemistry, and it would be very odd if some humans recieved this effect and others did not.

Another n=1: I like the way intoxication feels when I'm intoxicated, but over last couple of months I've gone from wanting to enter that state often to avoiding all alcohol on purpose. What changed was realizing on an emotional level that I have tons of interesting (or necessary) things to do and alcohol limits that by taking away evening (to drink) and the next day (I feel cognitively worse 'till next afternoon, even if I didn't have a hangover). At some point the prospect of drinking became anxiety-inducing for me.

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-19T04:28:04.204Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think the wealth-signaling effects of some product are mostly due to awkwardness in mass production. Once ice cream became easier to create in bulk, rich people stopped eating it. Same with chocolate. It doesn't seem to correlate with taste.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-07-19T10:18:32.393Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Rich people stopped eating ice cream and chocolate? Hmm...

comment by wedrifid · 2010-01-29T02:47:30.733Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

So, I came to the conclusion that people have the very same taste for alcohol that I do, it's just that they need to cook up a rationlizations for getting high. Still trying to find counterevidence...

In my observation the 'lie' operates to a significant extent on the other side of that 'taste' line. Sure rationalizations play a part too but to some extent 'acquired taste' is literally accurate. The 'taste - status reward' pairing actually does change what tastes good.

comment by shaesays · 2009-07-17T04:01:04.143Z · score: 7 (6 votes) · LW · GW

How about this:

When I was a little kid, too young to know about or process the idea that alcohol gets you high, my mom and dad drank beer. Cheap beer no less. I asked for a taste and they gave me one, thinking I wouldn't like it. I liked it.

I remember it tasted interesting, and dazzling, like soda.

comment by pwno · 2009-07-17T16:34:48.884Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Rationalizing is still a big possibility - you wanted to drink what your parents drink.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-06-03T12:51:40.796Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I completely agree with your assertion. As an avid drinker, I find that I don't like drinks that taste nice nearly as much as ones that don't. The taste seems to me to be a signal of alcoholic effect; alcopops (sweet and alcoholic) get it wrong one way, and <1% alcohol beer gets it wrong the other way.

That said, I do like some beers better than others. Hoppy rather than fruity is good, for instance.

I recall reading somewhere on LessWrong that a highly effective way to stop eating chocolate is to get a pound of M&Ms and put them in your mouth and chew them up and taste them, then spit them out, and after a while chocolate will taste awful. This would suggest there's a lot more to liking foods than just what your taste buds (and sense of smell) say.

Edit: And how could I forget coffee. Tastes terrible in itself - decaf is utterly missing the point - but taste+buzz is something one can have strong and even discussable personal preferences on, and I just had my morning cup of something awful and went "mmmm, coffee."

comment by Kutta · 2011-06-03T20:27:32.868Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't ever wanna stop eating chocolate, at least delicious 80+ percent cocoa chocolate. It has little sugar but plenty of quality fats and cardioprotective and anti-inflammatory polyphenols. It's still a bit addictive for some reason (flavor? phenylethylamine? theobromine? ) but if you eat quality chocolate daily, well, if you don't go really overboard I imagine it'd do you no harm.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-06-03T20:39:54.910Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's a YMMV, sure. But I can see people who need to give the stuff up - though my internal model of other humans tells me they'd be horrified at the idea of doing something that would actually work to cut them off from chocolate.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-06-03T14:00:46.600Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. Btw, why did my old comment suddenly get two replies?

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-06-03T14:18:47.113Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I've been systematically (if desultorily) reading all of LW from the beginning. So I got to your comment and, given the local norm that it's just fine to respond to a comment or post from years ago, responded to it. I presume bcoburn saw my comment in "Recent Comments", went to your original and felt like responding too.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2011-06-03T16:39:59.516Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I've been systematically (if desultorily) reading all of LW from the beginning. So I got to your comment and . . .

Is that part of what you have referred to as "internet as television", David?

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-06-03T20:17:39.940Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yep! Things to read while waiting for Tomcat to finish restarting ... if I'm going to use the Internet as a television, I want at least to be watching something good.

I got through the Sequences, and it occurred to me that I didn't really understand the history of the culture of LessWrong, let alone the history of the history. So I thought reading the lot would be a nice way to approximate that. And I'm finding some fantastic posts I would never have seen without doing this.

comment by bcoburn · 2011-06-03T19:44:45.895Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is, indeed, exactly what happened.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-06-03T20:20:46.791Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm eagerly awaiting years-later responses to my own early comments :-D

comment by taryneast · 2014-06-02T07:11:02.131Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

waves

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-01T09:37:17.325Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

:-)

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-01T09:36:40.825Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I've been systematically (if desultorily) reading all of LW from the beginning.

I am doing the same right now, BTW.

comment by lavalamp · 2009-07-17T16:01:03.885Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I do not like the feeling of being intoxicated.

I very much like some wines, many beers, and a few harder liquors (rum, bailey's, mainly).

I used to think I disliked all beers, but then I tried some again (out of politeness) and discovered the problem wasn't that I didn't like beer, it was that I didn't like bad beer.

I would drink one beer with pizza whether alone or with others (though I would refrain in the presence of some people if I thought it would offend them). I hate bars.

Perhaps I'm subconsciously signaling "I am snobby," but I think that is inconsistent with the rest of my behavior (just ask my wife what she thinks of how I dress).

Do you find this convincing?

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-17T18:23:05.930Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Just a general clarification: when I refer to the mind-altering effects of alcohol, I don't just mean intoxication, but also the relaxation effect, which usually kicks in even after just one drink.

Your situation definitely sounds more convincing, but then, you're not in the set of people who needs to find a fake reason to drink alcohol, since you don't seem like you'd miss much if you weren't allowed to drink.

Are you sure your insistence on drinking one beer with pizza isn't just force of habit though?

comment by lavalamp · 2009-07-17T18:50:15.823Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Your situation definitely sounds more convincing, but then, you're not in the set of people who needs to find a fake reason to drink alcohol, since you don't seem like you'd miss much if you weren't allowed to drink.

If all sources of alcohol spontaneously vanished, I would miss a good dark beer in much the same way I would miss any other food I enjoy. That said I would probably deal with such a hypothetical situation with less dismay than most people who like alcohol.

Are you sure your insistence on drinking one beer with pizza isn't just force of habit though?

Just to be clear, if no beer is available (e.g., I haven't bought any recently (at the moment there is none in my fridge and I've been out of it for like a month)), and I make pizza, I won't be TOO distraught. :) It's also something I've picked up fairly recently; I read somewhere that beer went well with pizza, tried it, and found that beer goes very well with pizza. :)

To elaborate a little more, my parents rarely drank (rarely = maybe twice in my lifetime), I didn't try any alcohol until in my 20's, and did not like the first alcohol I tried. I definitely agree that wine and beer are acquired tastes, much like coffee. I would rather drink beer than a milkshake most of the time, but that might say more about what I think of milkshakes than what I think of beer.

EDIT: I forgot to add:

Just a general clarification: when I refer to the mind-altering effects of alcohol, I don't just mean intoxication, but also the relaxation effect, which usually kicks in even after just one drink.

I do not personally drink alcohol for the relaxation effect. Perhaps if I were in a stressful social situation I would, but I can't say I've done so to date. I find the feeling of a buzz weird and interesting and do not particularly enjoy it. My skills in nearly everything I like to do are adversely affected by mental impairment, so I do not like to drink enough to cause one. Exception: if I'm with a group of friends I will drink more than I would on my own, as I know I won't be doing anything mentally demanding.

comment by eirenicon · 2009-07-17T15:36:33.446Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I enjoy a wide range of alcoholic beverages, especially beer, wine, rye whisky and spiced rum. When it comes to wine, my preference is red, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec from Chile and Argentina. I like to drink red wine when I'm eating steak. They are perfect complements; I would not want to drink a milkshake with a steak, or a coffee, or a can of Coke. Often, when I have steak, I only drink a glass or two of wine, not enough to produce a significant alcoholic effect. Why drink, then? Well, as I said, wine is a perfect complement to the meal. It isn't sweet, and it can be bitter, but then steak isn't a donut, either. They both have complex flavours that light up my pleasure centres in different ways. The smell, taste, and texture all contribute to what I call "enjoyment". I can even take pleasure in the flavours that some people consider unpleasant. I like my steak bloody, while others won't touch meat that isn't charred.

The thing is, lots of people like things that other people consider negative. BDSM springs to mind; some people can't get pleasure unless they're being whipped, while others would actually consider it torture. Those others might say, "You don't actually enjoy being whipped, you just enjoy the endorphin release and elevated serotonin it causes." Well... isn't that the same thing? I get more pleasure than simply the effect of alcohol from drinking wine, even if there are aspects to wine which may be considered unpleasant. Do I enjoy wine or just the effects of wine? I don't see that as any different from asking whether I enjoy candy or the effects of candy, or ice cream or the effects of ice cream.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T14:18:26.371Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There really is a variety of experience in alcoholic beverages that one cannot get anywhere else. The argument that one would prefer a milkshake over wine is a weak one; even if that is universally the case, that doesn't entail that people really don't like wine.

Go ahead, try it with any two things. "Would you rather have an X or a Y? Oh, you'd rather have an X? Then why do you ever have Y? You must do it just for signaling, not because you really enjoy it". Say, "Watching Heroes" versus "Watching Battlestar Galctica". Or "Eating a cheeseburger" versus "Eating potato skins". Or "vacationing at Hakone" versus "vacationing in Gaeta".

Developing a taste for wine opens one up to a variety of experience not unlike developing an entirely new sense. Similarly for enjoying good beer. I admit that I first developed a taste for beer simply because no philosopher worth his salt doesn't enjoy beer, but it's now very enjoyable being able to distinguish between various craft styles.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-17T14:47:34.806Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The argument that one would prefer a milkshake over wine is a weak one; even if that is universally the case, that doesn't entail that people really don't like wine. ... Go ahead, try it with any two things. "Would you rather have an X or a Y? Oh, you'd rather have an X? Then why do you ever have Y? ...

I guess I forgot to mention the other premise the argument uses: Y is a lot more expensive (per unit mass or volume). Given that alcoholic drinks cost a lot more, you would think that people would only pay the premium if they thought there were something better about it.

I claim that it cannot be the taste, because the taste is clearly dominated by cheaper alternatives

There really is a variety of experience in alcoholic beverages that one cannot get anywhere else. ... Developing a taste for wine opens one up to a variety of experience not unlike developing an entirely new sense.

Except that my other issue with alcohol is that, within a given drink class, I can't distinguish the taste very much. All beers, for example, taste to me like sourness and bitterness that stings as it goes down. To the extent that I do discern a difference, it's that some aren't as painful or gross to drink. And what really perplexes me is that the least bad, most tolerable beer I've found is ... Guiness.

Over the years, I have not noticed these wonderful subtleties. There are differences, sure, but the overwhelming bitterness and sting dominates them.

(ETA: The sting of carbonated beverages also dominated my experience when I first tried them out, which is why I didn't regularly want them until I was about 10 and found one with enough of the right sweetness to outweigh the pain. Today, I still experience that sting.)

By the way, if want to give yourself a sixth sense, I would recommend echolocation or magnetism, which humans have been able to pick up, and which seem to have a lot more practical use.

I admit that I first developed a taste for beer simply because no philosopher worth his salt doesn't enjoy beer, but it's now very enjoyable being able to distinguish between various craft styles.

And you prove my point. I think what happened is that you recongized a social benefit to voicing appreciation for beer, and learned all the right code words to use, and now can pattern-match beers to the right description well enough for social purposes.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-17T14:58:30.884Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The 'deli' down the hall from where I work sells single-serving pizzas. Crappy pizzas - nowhere near as tasty as the burritos from the co-op two blocks away, and more than twice the price. And yet, sometimes I buy them, even when the walk is not a concern.

I think you underestimate the desire for variety.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-17T15:09:10.940Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Variety would explain different drinks. It would not explain significantly-more-expensive, bad-tasting drinks.

But yes, there are many factors that go into a decision. My claim is just that the one typically given -- that people like the taste of alcoholic drinks -- cannot be correct.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-17T17:18:32.707Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Given the variety of counterarguments you have been exposed to, I would think that re-examining the claim with stricter scientific controls would be appropriate.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-17T18:12:18.205Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Really? The quality of the counterarguments doesn't matter, just their variety?

I'm going to refer back to Science isn't Strict Enough. The observations I've made simply shouldn't happen if the predominant theory, ("People accurately describe how much they like the taste of alcohol") were true. The fact that I didn't set up scientific controls doesn't change this.

If wine were really so great tasting, worth analyzing all the subtle nuances, worth paying obscene amounts for the best wines, there simply shouldn't be a wine expert who prefers the taste of milkshakes to the taste of the best wine. That observation forces an huge update in beliefs, even before an official experiement.

If anything, the ones who should be updating are those who are suprised to see people coming out of the woodwork and admitting they actually don't like the taste of alcohol.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-17T18:56:58.226Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Really? The quality of the counterarguments doesn't matter, just their variety?

*sighs*

Something which is true is true whichever way you approach it. The variety of counterarguments - all of which are good arguments, I would not cite them otherwise - shows that many angles of approach to your claim show contrary evidence. So far as I have been informed, your personal evidence is not so overwhelming as to require our contrary evidence to be explained by other means. While it is interesting that your peers predominantly prefer the flavor of milkshakes to their favorite alcoholic beverages, more than that is needed to show that millions of people are deluding themselves.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T18:17:56.352Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If wine were really so great tasting, worth analyzing all the subtle nuances, worth paying obscene amounts for the best wines, there simply shouldn't be a wine expert who prefers the taste of milkshakes to the taste of the best wine. That observation forces an huge update in beliefs, even before an official experiement.

I can't believe you're still making this case. While I don't personally much value the opinions of 'wine experts', I see no contradiction in:

  1. Wine is great-tasting and worth spending lots of money on.
  2. Some wine experts like the taste of milkshakes better than the taste of wine.

In fact, I would be surprised if there were no wine experts who preferred the taste of milkshakes, even if it were the case that most people prefer the taste of wine. People like many things, all at the same time, to different degrees.

If anything, the ones who should be updating are those who are suprised to see people coming out of the woodwork and admitting they actually don't like the taste of alcohol.

I so far haven't observed anyone acting surprised that there are people who don't like the taste of alcohol. Straw man?

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-17T18:29:02.186Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I so far haven't observed anyone acting surprised that there are people who don't like the taste of alcohol.

I guess you haven't met anyone I've talked to in person about this...

I would be surprised if there were no wine experts who preferred the taste of milkshakes, even if it were the case that most people prefer the taste of wine. People like many things, all at the same time, to different degrees.

Well, this is where we disagree. I can't imagine there being something with such exquisite taste that I'd be willing to pay $100 just to experience that taste, when it's not even better than a milkshake. (I have paid more than $100 for food/drinks before, I'm sure, but obviously the scenario gave me more than the taste of something delicious.)

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T18:33:16.885Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have paid more than $100 for food/drinks before, I'm sure, but obviously the scenario gave me more than the taste of something delicious.

Well clearly alcohol also gives you something more than the taste of something delicious. But your claim is that practically no one likes the taste of alcohol, and I don't think you really have enough evidence to support that.

And yes, that is clearly where we differ. I've in the past paid hundreds or thousands of dollars mostly just for particular sensory experiences, and could see much wealthier people being willing to pay a lot more.

ETA: Also, I'm skeptical of a monocausal explanation of anything. It seems much more likely to me that people like both the taste and intoxicating effects of alcohol, than that they just like the effects and erroneously report liking the taste.

comment by taryneast · 2014-06-02T07:55:36.408Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I prefer the taste of wine to the taste of milkshakes. I would much rather drink wine than (sickly sweet) milkshakes if given the choice between them.

If only one were on offer, though, I would drink whichever was on offer. But if I had the option to choose to pay for one or the other - I would choose to pay for wine... even if it were more expensive. I'd do this even if there were no alcohol. Even if there were no other people around to show off my status to. because it tastes better (to me) ie - it ranks higher in my preference ordering purely on taste.

It doesn't matter how many people you find that have a different preference ordering to mine... the fact that even just one person has their preference ordering this way around says that your theory is incorrect.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T15:27:11.234Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Variety would explain different drinks. It would not explain significantly-more-expensive, bad-tasting drinks.

Except that they don't taste bad. All the milkshake question shows is that they don't taste as good as milkshakes. Your insistence on this is puzzling.

But yes, there are many factors that go into a decision. My claim is just that the one typically given -- that people like the taste of alcoholic drinks -- cannot be correct.

It seems like the simplest hypothesis here is that people who claim to like the taste of alcoholic drinks are for the most part doing so because they like the taste of alcoholic drinks.

I like pepsi more than beer, and drink more pepsi than beer. I also like chicken mcnuggets more than snackwraps, and buy mcnuggets more often than snackwraps. But I still get snackwraps sometimes, even though they're more expensive. Does it make more sense to chalk that up to signaling, or liking variety?

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-17T15:36:13.365Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It seems like the simplest hypothesis here is that people who claim to like the taste of alcoholic drinks are for the most part doing so because they like the taste of alcoholic drinks.

But my point was, this can't account for how I describe my liking of alcohol the same way as other people, except that I conclude I don't like the taste of alcohol, while others conclude it means they like the taste. In other words, other people AND I meet the following characteristics:

-Think milkshakes are better tasting than the best alcoholic drink.

-Enjoy the taste of alcoholic drinks when it is drowned out with some other flavor.

-Believe it changes our mental states in a good way.

-Could not comfortably chug down a alcoholic drink the way we might a milkshake.

I classify all of that as "not liking the taste of alcohol, but liking to consume it anyway". Other people classify all of that as "liking alcohol, including its taste". Hence the dilemma.

All that your variety examples show is that if you have too much of one thing, you'll "tire" of it temporarily and want something else. But that's not what people claim makes them want alcohol. They really claim it's the taste. They really claim they spend lots of money to get that taste (think about how expensive some wines/liquors are). And they claim it can't match the taste of milkshakes, which, contrary to your example, people don't regularly have and aren't tired of.

People could have all the variety they wanted, and still alcohol wouldn't be in the top 30 drinks by taste, and people still claim they like the taste. This doesn't make sense.

comment by SoullessAutomaton · 2009-07-18T11:52:40.948Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Just to add another counterexample:

Think milkshakes are better tasting than the best alcoholic drink.

I do not share this characteristic.

Enjoy the taste of alcoholic drinks when it is drowned out with some other flavor.

I've learned to tolerate ethanol in order to appreciate unique flavors in the alcohol itself.

Believe it changes our mental states in a good way.

I dislike all the mental effects of alcohol and would drink it more often if it lacked these effects.

Could not comfortably chug down a alcoholic drink the way we might a milkshake.

Agreed, only insofar as this is a point against milkshakes. If I am drinking something for the flavor, I wish to savor it slowly; otherwise, I am drinking it for sustenance in which case if I'm drinking alcohol or milkshakes something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T15:43:43.466Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

People could have all the variety they wanted, and still alcohol wouldn't be in the top 30 drinks by taste, and people still claim they like the taste. This doesn't make sense.

I'm pretty sure some alcoholic drinks would make it into my top 30, actually.

And yes, even if alcohol doesn't make it into the top 30, it still makes sense. It's entirely possible to like more than 30 things. Something not making it into my 'top 30' (or 'top X' for whatever X) doesn't mean I don't like it.

Also, I don't see your list above logically implying not liking alcoholic drinks (though I couldn't 'chug' a milkshake, so that might be relevant). If you add 'I like the taste of alcoholic drinks' I don't see any contradiction, or even a tension, with the things you list.

comment by SoullessAutomaton · 2009-07-18T11:47:43.951Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I claim that it cannot be the taste, because the taste is clearly dominated by cheaper alternatives

I drink mostly water and sometimes fruit juice. On occasion, I buy atypically expensive alcoholic beverages, indistinguishable from other beverages of the type except in flavor and price, because I like their taste. How do you explain that?

Except that my other issue with alcohol is that, within a given drink class, I can't distinguish the taste very much. All beers, for example, taste to me like sourness and bitterness that stings as it goes down. To the extent that I do discern a difference, it's that some aren't as painful or gross to drink. And what really perplexes me is that the least bad, most tolerable beer I've found is ... Guiness.

(ETA: The sting of carbonated beverages also dominated my experience when I first tried them out, which is why I didn't regularly want them until I was about 10 and found one with enough of the right sweetness to outweigh the pain. Today, I still experience that sting.)

Ethanol is not pleasant to drink. It doesn't even have a flavor, per se, just a sharpness and the burning or stinging sensation. To appreciate the flavor of an alcoholic beverage, you must first acclimate yourself to being able to ignore the ethanol itself. Your experiences suggest that you are unable, or able only with difficulty, to become acclimated to this, and thus will likely never be able to perceive what other people are talking about.

The reason why it is worthwhile is twofold: the process of fermentation produces many complex flavors, and many flavors are far more soluble in alcohol than in water. The former provides, for instance, the complex malt flavor of dark beers, while the latter allows things like the woody flavors of a barrel-aged whiskey.

In both cases these flavors could be recreated chemically, but at great difficulty and expense, and the intersection of "people who enjoy experiencing complex, interesting flavors" and "people who actively prefer non-alcoholic beverages" is too small of a market to attract much attention.

As an aside, the vast majority of the market does drink alcohol primarily for intoxication or status, and cares little for flavor, so (at least in the USA) mass-market mainstream alcohols will always be designed to be boring and inoffensive, in order to maximize the market, thus tasting of little other than the ethanol that bothers you so.

If you want to give the whole thing another chance, I suggest finding a liquor store that caters to the beer nerd / microbrew enthusiast market and look for one of the following varieties: Belgian-style fruit lambic, Russian imperial stout, or American-style triple IPA. You probably still won't like them, but all three tend to be so strongly flavored (and in the latter case, extremely bitter) that it actually dominates the ethanol.

comment by taryneast · 2014-06-02T07:47:27.772Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I hate almost all beer. I can discern the differences between them, and there are some beers that, on some days are drinkable - and some I even get to the point of liking - but I would never pay money for beer when other alternatives are available.

Beer is low in my preference ordering.

I like wine. i can distinguish between many different kinds and i can distinguish a preference ordering that I would consider to be correlated with the "quality" of wine. There is no other way to get the flavours of wine apart from... actually drinking wine. you can't buy an equivalent pleasure because there isn't one. I am willing to pay for that particular pleasure.

wine is reasonably high in my preference ordering> so is cider and mead.

but sometimes I prefer cider over wine, sometimes I prefer mead over cider, and a lot of times I prefer coffee over all of them.

preferences for taste change on a daily and even hourly basis. Just like with food. Sometimes you want to go for something sweet, sometimes salty, sometimes umami... thus it goes with drinks. I rarely go for sweet - I usually prefer tangy flavours or complex interesting flavours such as that of fruit juices or red wine.

There is no way you can say that I gain no pleasure from alcoholic drinks apart from the taste. and sometimes - I gain more (temporary) pleasure from a higher-priced glass of wine than all the non-alcoholic drinks in the world... because I like the taste, and it's exactly what I want right then at that time.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-16T19:56:59.882Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"Near-beer" is a immensely successful product. Under your theory, it would not be.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-16T22:14:17.841Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Sales of near-beer are not immense compared to regular beer, so it doesn't pose much trouble for my theory. And certainly the theory allows for cases of people partaking in the form of alcohol consumption without the substance, once society (or their own past history) has given them a positive affect toward beer. For example, if someone likes hanging out in bars but wants to quit drinking, bars oblige such people with drinks that resemble alcoholic drinks as much as possible without them being alcoholic.

Likewise, if you've associated the gross taste of beer with previous good experiences, but didn't want to get drunk, you might still want to drink alcohol, even despite the taste. The point is that it's not the taste, but something else, that is making people drink alcohol.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-17T00:16:18.180Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Noted.

comment by bcoburn · 2011-06-03T13:48:37.396Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A relatively simple way to test whether you actually like the taste of alcohol specifically: take a reasonable quantity of your favorite alcoholic beverage, beer/wine/mixed drink/whatever, and split it into two containers. Close one, and heat the other slightly to evaporate off most of the actual ethanol. Then just do a blind taste test. This does still require not lying to yourself about which you prefer, but it removes most of the other things that make knowing whether you like the taste hard.

I personally don't care enough to try this, but just the habit of thinking "how could I test this?" is good.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-16T12:00:19.930Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How do I know that the heating doesn't evaporate or otherwise affect stuff other than ethanol?

comment by bcoburn · 2011-11-17T03:36:04.675Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know for sure either way, and can't think of an experimental way to check off hand. I don't think that heating is likely to do anything to the other components of most drinks, and you might be able to make a better guess with domain knowledge I don't have.

I think ethanol will generally evaporate more quickly than water, so you might also be able to get a similar test by simply closing one portion into a container with only a little air, and leaving another open for a long enough time, overnight maybe. will still lose some water, which is I guess a more real problem with heating as well.

shrug, the details weren't really the point, just wanted to emphasize the idea of thinking of ways to test whatever you're interested in physically instead of just reasoning about it.

comment by taryneast · 2014-06-02T08:00:55.482Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

AFAIK, it will utterly destroy many of the volatile components of wine that make it taste so complex and interesting. That's why alcohol-free wine tends to be so bland and uninteresting.

I'd be willing to do a taste-test on alcohol-free wine vs wine that I already know that I like... If you hide the non-alcoholic one in sufficient number of normal ones I probably wouldn't guess which one it was (I'm not good enough at telling which wine is which that I'd spot a particular wine by taste, just whether I like them or not).

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-01T09:43:13.247Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe you could try adding a little more ethanol to one of the two glasses.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2009-07-17T07:19:30.272Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

To me, alcohol has neither taste or smell, but does have a definite tactile experience in the mouth; I like beer; the first glass of wine is ok but after the second it all tastes to me like bad wine; vanilla is *V*A*N*I*L*L*A*, not plain at all; I don't seek out ferociously hot curries.

Now cheese, that's gross.

Conclusion: people vary.

And of course people use alcohol to get high. What they put up with is not the taste, but the hangover the next day. And, er, this.

comment by MBlume · 2009-07-16T20:42:48.140Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

First of all, I like to get drugged by alcohol, and feel no need to deny this fact.

That said, hard hot chocolate is tasty. Raspberry juice with creme de cacao is excellent. Champagne's an acquired taste, but I'm fond of it -- I rather suspect this could just be my brain coming to associate the pleasurable effects of the drug with the taste of champagne though.

comment by sketerpot · 2009-07-17T04:05:09.485Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Pleasure is pleasure, whether it comes from a taste you naturally enjoy or from your brain associating alcohol intoxication with Champagne drinking. I think much of my taste for wine (preferably red and "dry") also comes from the knowledge that I'm putting some alcohol into my system, but it tastes decent and it's a pleasant experience for me, so what of it?

comment by taryneast · 2014-06-02T07:08:46.499Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You claim that "experts" have been proven not to know the difference between expensive wine and non... but I sure can tell the difference between "wine I like" and "wine I would rather pour down the sink", and that distinction is all that matters when it comes to me choosing wine to drink (or not).

I also second InfinitelyThirsting - if it could come without the buzz (or even just at minimal buzz) I'd prefer it. The buzz (and I would not characterise it as euphoria for me) isn't the part that's fun for me.

Also - yay mead (I make mead) :)

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-06-02T08:08:04.820Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

http://amazingmead.wordpress.com - the loved one's mead blog, which I wrote the last two posts on.

comment by taryneast · 2014-06-03T00:59:30.978Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Looks cool.

My main post for mead is this one: http://www.squidoo.com/mead-three-weekends which covers only basic mead-making... but fairly in-depth. I've been expanding the FAQs

comment by algekalipso · 2013-02-26T03:01:31.361Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think you are not aware of research in acquired taste. It turns out that the effect of particular foods and drinks on psychological states create some deep subconscious associations. Take this as a clear and striking example:

"A study that investigated the effect of adding caffeine and theobromine (active compounds in chocolate) vs. a placebo to identically-flavored drinks that participants tasted several times, yielded the development of a strong preference for the drink with the compounds.[3]"

I think that's why I do enjoy beer now, even though I thought exactly as you did several years ago. I thought it was a huge collective rationalization. Which I still think is a big part of it, specially among teenagers and young adults who like to boast about being strong drinkers and how oh-dear they love alcohol so very much. But grown up people do drink, say, one beer alone and seem to enjoy it quite a bit. But without the pleasant relaxation that usually follows, though, the taste would not be agreeable. So we see a deep neurological change in the way we process taste.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-01T16:25:00.540Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As a young man raised on gourmet foods and interesting tastes, as well as reasonably sound in my general understanding of human evo-biology let's make two things clear:

  • Pleasant Taste is within reasonable limits an exact science.
  • Everything else is mood and "acquired taste," I.E. pleasure center training.

Barring that, I like whisky. It has an interesting taste composition and the immediate kick and feel of the alcohol content is likewise momentarily envograting. That I afterwards get pleasantly intoxicated is merely a nice bonus.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-03T10:57:47.558Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Everything else is mood and "acquired taste," I.E. pleasure center training.

But everyone has had some kind of pleasure centre training, so how do you tell the two things apart? Two friends of mine who were raised as vegetarians once decided to try meat (when they were in their teens), and didn't like it.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-03T16:04:38.373Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But everyone has had some kind of pleasure centre training, so how do you tell the two things apart?

This feels like a wrong question.

Is there even such a thing as "natural good taste?" or are there only the pleasure center configuration that newborns start out with?

I can attest to knowing several people who don't like sweet candy or sweet things in general, even though that should be one of the "natural" preferences, and I don't think one would have to look that much for someone who wouldn't eat pure blubber, even though that is also one of these evolutinary encoded thingies.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-03T16:13:32.412Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So what did you mean by “Pleasant Taste is within reasonable limits an exact science”?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-03T16:41:54.268Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That statement comes from my experience in cooking. The interesting thing in gastronomy is that the spices don't really matter as long as you don't use too many of them.

In my own vocabulary I like to distinguish the concepts "taste" and "aroma" as pertaining to "tastebuds" and "olfactory bulb" respectively. Indeed when people say "this tastes like garlic" they mean "this smells like garlic." This is also why unpleasant tasting things taste less unpleasant when you block your nasal passages by some means.

There are five different types of taste buds:

  • One kind reacts to alcohol groups on small organic molecules, i.e. fructose, glucose, aspartame, sorbitol ans so on, "sweet taste."

  • One kind reacts to hydronium ions (or rather contains a direct protone channel,) "sour taste."

  • One kind reacts to sodium Ions, "salt taste."

  • One kind reacts to many amino acids, "savory taste."

  • One kind reacts to a variety of manily toxic and some non-toxic compounds, "bitter taste."

The interesting thing is this: If two or more of the above are balanced, the overall sensory stimulous is percieved as "pleasant." This is why soda has acid as well as sugar content, this is why kitchen salt is almost universally used (especially many kinds of meat which usually only needs salt), this is why coffee goes well with sugar and milk (milk neutralizes some of the otherwise high acid content).

Once your dish has the five basic tastes in balance you can literally add any aromas to it and it will still taste "pleasant."

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-03T18:01:41.930Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A few things:

  1. The working of taste buds varies from person to person, too: IIRC there's a substance which tastes extremely sweet to some people but nearly flavourless to others.
  2. There are other sensations in the mouth than the five basic tastes, e.g. the hotness of ethanol and capsaicin and the coldness of mint.
  3. What “balanced” means depends on what you're used to, to some extent: if I get used to put lots of salt on everything, when I don't anything tastes insipid, and conversely if I get used to use very little salt, the reverse happens. (Hell, even if I get used to drinking high-mineral bottled water then low-mineral tap water will taste bitter to me, and conversely now that I usually drink tap water, some bottled water tastes salty to me.)
comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-04T00:45:11.514Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The working of taste buds varies from person to person, too: IIRC there's a substance which tastes extremely sweet to some people but nearly flavourless to others.

In as far as I have ever heard that is only the case with bitter taste which is a far more compound tastebud. I would like to see any studies on a supertaster in terms of sweetness.

There are other sensations in the mouth than the five basic tastes, e.g. the hotness of ethanol and capsaicin and the coldness of mint.

These are triggerings of of the cold, heat and pain receptors which are completely different from taste receptors. If you want to argue that you have to argue consistency and texture of the foodstufss as well. I am presenting a simplified view, akin to if you just sprayed flavoured liquid onto the tongue and measured neural activity in the olfactory bulb and taste buds. If you aren't used to eating capsaicin the heat and pain sensations completely overpower the tastes and aromas, if you are used to it, we are again reduced to balancing the five basic taste sensation.

What “balanced” means depends on what you're used to, to some extent: if I get used to put lots of salt on everything, when I don't anything tastes insipid, and conversely if I get used to use very little salt, the reverse happens. (Hell, even if I get used to drinking high-mineral bottled water then low-mineral tap water will taste bitter to me, and conversely now that I usually drink tap water, some bottled water tastes salty to me.)

Yes, but that is returning to neural artifacts of individuals, is it not?

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-01T09:41:50.836Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but that is returning to neural artifacts of individuals, is it not?

Sure, so long as you acknowledge that neural artifacts of the same individual can change with time.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-06T02:48:50.007Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You apparently replied to one of my retracted posts.

I no longer agree with the opinion stated by my past self; though good point.

comment by JamesAndrix · 2009-07-17T14:22:46.013Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This doesn't explain why people drink beer.

To me beer tastes and smells Terrible. I'd rather have hard lemonade, or vodka mixed with almost anything but beer.

But up until a couple of years ago I also didn't like coffee. So I think that both beer and coffee are an acquired taste. (um, yeah and coffee isn't a drug at all...)

The taste of certain wines reminds me pleasantly of my catholic childhood.

But yeah, people like the taste of other things they use to mask and dilute the alcohol, otherwise they'd just take shots of high-proof vodka.

Possible counterpoint to that: Any flavoring would be nasty when concentrated. Perhaps water with a small amount of alcohol would have a noticeable pleasant flavor. (but be useless for intoxication)

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T14:35:03.059Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps water with a small amount of alcohol would have a noticeable pleasant flavor. (but be useless for intoxication)

Indeed. There's a drink called a "White Rain" some friends of mine invented in college:

Start with a half standard Conn Hall measure of either vodka or pure grain alcohol (this measure is approximately 1.5 shots) - fill the rest of the cup (about 12 ounces) with water. Sprinkle in a half teaspoon of sugar, and watch the interplay between the alcohol, dissolving sugar, and water. Enjoy before the liquid calms down.

It's pretty good, and tastes mostly like really refreshing water. Note: the measurements above are best guesses, as the original recipe is based on the cups at Conn Hall at SCSU. If it tastes like cough syurp, you did something wrong.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2009-07-17T13:45:59.298Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Couple of thoughts upon reading this thread.

I, too, do not like the taste of alcohol and feel no real desire to seek it out as a tasty food. I'll admit, though, that I also don't like to consume things that reduce cognitive function, so it's possible I don't like the taste as a side effect, but I rather doubt it.

Now, I do like champagne, but usually only the stuff that costs $150 a bottle. I say this having found out the prices only after I tried the champagne and liked it: since I like it, I want to know what it is. There are probably also expensive champagnes that don't taste as good, I've just never looked for them, but high price does seem to be a necessary condition for good champagne. To be fair to the post's original request, though, I have to admit that I like these champagnes because they are "smooth": they have no alcohol burn and don't smell or taste like they have alcohol in them, so I might as well have sparkling cider.

Finally, note that until the 20th century people drank much larger quantities of alcohol than today because it was needed to make water safer to drink. If you could afford it, adding a little wine or grain alcohol to the water would go a long way towards reducing the chance of infection from water-borne illnesses. So in those times people probably enjoyed the taste because they became accustomed to it early in life, much the way Americans love tomato ketchup and coke although adults from other parts of the world, when introduced to these flavors, often do not.*

*I can't find a source for this, but I know I've heard it several places. Maybe it's just a modern myth?

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-06-03T12:57:22.957Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

note that until the 20th century people drank much larger quantities of alcohol than today because it was needed to make water safer to drink.

This leads to one inescapable conclusion: for the vast proportion of human history, everyone in the world was completely hammered pretty much all the time. When you think about it in that light, most of history suddenly makes a great deal more sense.

comment by taryneast · 2014-06-02T08:09:39.321Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A lot of the beer they drank throughout the day was 'small beer" - made from a second run of water through the mash... it was about as alcoholic as modern-day ginger beer. So - yeah, they did spend a lot of their time more intoxicated than us... but not totally smashed all the time.

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-06-02T08:16:01.464Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've taken lately to the sort of pub that has 2% mild, so I can sop up extravagant quantities of it without getting plastered.

comment by taryneast · 2014-06-03T01:01:06.192Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Small beer goes down quite nicely (even for somebody that doesn't like beer like me). It's kind of like cordial - but without being sickly sweet.

I also made "small currant wine"once- which was also nice, but not as good as straight currant wine... but does let you drink a whole lot more of it during a hot day.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-06-03T15:15:51.860Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant.

comment by taryneast · 2014-06-02T08:07:21.154Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I also don't have sources to hand, but I'm informed by my brewing+chemist friends that the amount of alcohol in beer is not sufficient to sterilise the liquid.

however the people of ancient times weren't wrong... beer is sterilised (and thus safe to drink) - it's because to make beer, you have to boil the mash. The boiling sterilises it quite effectively.

comment by dclayh · 2009-07-17T04:23:40.156Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
  1. I'm sure that culture/status/history of (especially) wine (but also whisk(e)ys and, increasingly beers) do play a significant role in the enjoyment thereof. This is plainly true if you look at wine bottle closures: even though a screwcap provides superior taste in many cases, a lot of people say they just prefer the ritual of uncorking.
  2. Until we develop a drug that blocks the psychoactive effects of ethanol, I think it will be nigh impossible to convince you that wine is superior to milkshakes on taste alone in some cases. (Incidentally, teetotaler Penn Jillette agrees with you 100%: his quote is "wine will never taste as good as a Coke".)
  3. That said, I could give you* a white wine and goat cheese pairing that I laugh at the ability of any milkshake to rival in sheer sensual pleasure.

*I don't mention it here only because it would take a bit of digging for me to find out what it was; upon request I will, though.

comment by Blueberry · 2010-02-28T04:28:09.500Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I could give you* a white wine and goat cheese pairing

I can't believe no one has asked for this yet. Please?

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2009-07-17T07:59:20.109Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Incidentally, teetotaler Penn Jillette agrees with you 100%: his quote is "wine will never
taste as good as a Coke"

Isn't a lot of the appeal of Coke due to the caffeine? The fact that it's mostly drunk cold or with ice could suggest that the inherent flavor isn't ideal.

comment by Cyan · 2009-07-16T19:59:39.739Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I like sour and bitter drinks, so I would drink Strongbow (hard apple cider) even if it contained no alcohol. In fact, I'd rather it contained no alcohol (ETA: but tasted the same) -- I would drink more of it at one sitting. (I also like tonic water straight up, beer, and de-alcoholized beer.)

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-16T22:19:11.545Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Two questions:

1) Why do you think the taste of Strongbow is so hard to mimic in a non-alcoholic version? Is it a hard problem for chemistry, or something no one wants to try?

2) Would you be able to distinguish alcoholic vs. non-alcoholic versions in a blind test?

comment by Cyan · 2009-07-16T22:27:43.015Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

1) I don't know if the taste is hard to mimic in a non-alcoholic version. I think the most likely reason no non-alcoholic version is available is because it wouldn't make enough money.

2) It's hard to say, but I'd put my chances at better than 50%. I base this on my strong confidence that I can tell beer and de-alcoholized beer apart.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-16T23:26:31.006Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

1) Bingo. People don't see the alcohol as a downside the way they see fat/sugar/carbs as a downside, so there's no multibillion dollar industry trying to find the perfect mimic, because that fundamentally misunderstands people's motivations in drinking alcohol.

2) As per 1), your experience has only been with meager attempts to create the perfect mimic. I'd be interested in hearing the results of you doing a blind test.

But just to clarify: as in all cases dealing with large populations, certainly a non-trivial fraction of people really does enjoy the taste, in and of itself, and you could be one of them. It's just that people who genuinely enjoy the taste per se cannot be common enough to generate the observed data.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-06-02T17:01:04.106Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your turn: convince me that you really, really like the taste of [alcoholic beverage that happens to also signal your social status].

There's a major confounder here: the hardest, least flavorful drinks are also often the lowest-status (ie: cheap vodka and gin are viewed as poison for inveterate alcoholics).

But I'll answer anyway: I enjoy the almost honey-like taste of a really smooth, high-quality Scotch on the rocks. Yes, you have to put the ice cubes in, otherwise you won't water it down enough to release the flavor and you'll just taste alcohol and alcohol fumes. And it has to be good Scotch.

Other alcoholic drinks I enjoy: full-bodied, unacidic wines; fruity wines (Gerwurtzterminer and Riesling are favorites... yes I know white wine is low-status for men, shut up jerk); porters, especially coffee-flavored porters, red ales, and even the occasional blond ale. Hot wine, especially hot mulled wine, is really excellent once you learn how to avoid breathing in the fumes and instead taste the flavor released by the heating. Lager is drinkable but mostly just "carbohydrate-flavored" to me, and I consider vodka, arak, and brandy godawful. Oh, and hard ciders are excellent, not only because the well-made ones pack plenty of flavor from the fruit and spices, but because they're sufficiently nonalcoholic that they offend the taste-buds and dull the mind even less than beer.

For reference, I also enjoy massively spicy food, to the point that my flatmates often urge me to open the kitchen window after cooking a curry. I figure, if someone likes spicy food, and also likes drinks that burn while getting you a bit intoxicated, that's not actually too incongruous.

I do think your thesis holds mostly true for heavy drinking of cheap, flavorless beverages with the purpose of getting drunk, as I myself am completely baffled why some cultures or subcultures have social norms in favor of reaching for drunkenness levels I've never seen anyone actually enjoy. It mostly seems to be an excuse for bad behavior they're too inhibited to engage in without alcohol as an excuse, an effect that shows up when you give them placebo alcohol as part of a control group.

Personally, I also kinda hate being severely drunk, as it makes me sleepy and sentimental, and nowadays the sentiment comes out as melancholy for being in a long-distance relationship.

Anyway, that's my overly long social confession for the evening. Gym time!

comment by Lumifer · 2014-06-02T16:39:40.651Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your turn: convince me that you really, really like the taste of [alcoholic beverage that happens to also signal your social status].

Convincing people over internet in matters of taste is a lost cause X-D but I think I can unpack some of my alcohol preferences.

I'll leave all the psychoactive effects outside of this little exposition.

I drink a variety of alcohol -- mostly wine and beer, sometimes hard liquor, rarely cocktails -- and I rather doubt I do it for status signalling reasons since the majority of my drinking happens inside my home. I drink it for the taste.

Mostly I drink with food and that's a large part the taste synergy. Let me give specific examples. I prefer high-tannin high-acidity red wines with grilled meat. I find that this pairing works very well (note that my red wine varies but usually costs around $10/bottle, so it's not anything hoity-toity). In the summer I like green vine (vinho verde) from Portugal which is light and very acidic. It is precisely this high acidity that I want from it and it delivers.

My taste in beers changes over time. Some time ago I really liked double bocks and Belgian dubbels. Then they started to taste too sickly sweet to me, so I changed to IPAs for a bit. But then they became too hoppy and I went to English and Scottish ales. At the moment I am kinda in-between stages and mostly drink porters.

Do note that as far as I can see, all this is driven by taste -- I drink mostly at home and I have no idea what beer might or might not be in fashion at the moment (so no status signaling) and I don't care about alcohol content of the beer.

All in all, averaging over different situations, I probably drink 70% for the taste, 25% for the psychoactive effects, and 5% for status (I will decline all offers of Bud Light and such and may roll my eyes at the offer X-D)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-16T12:15:55.459Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your turn: convince me that you really, really like the taste of [alcoholic beverage that happens to also signal your social status].

How should I do that? Will you fMRI my brain while I'm drinking it?

(Also the "that happens to also signal your social status" part doesn't apply to me. I don't like most spirits, I don't think I would be able to tell vodka from a mixture of pure water and ethanol in a blind test, but there are quite a few relatively cheap wines and beers I do like, as well as some expensive wines I hate.)

comment by juliawise · 2011-11-16T11:36:24.145Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm still disappointed that wine doesn't taste like sparkling cider, a drink that's designed to look like wine but taste good.

comment by jajvirta · 2009-07-17T19:05:21.416Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is all just pure speculation on my part, but it seems likely to me that drinking alcoholic beverages conditions us to like the taste after we've learned to associate the taste with the relaxation/intoxication effect. After a long enough learning period, we do come to like the taste, but the underlying reason would be the taste-effect link.

In fact, there's a much better example of a similar process, namely smoking cigarettes. I think it's pretty much undeniable that objectively the taste of cigarette smoke is bad. Almost every smoker remembers that the taste of cigarette was awful at the beginning. And certainly all non-smokers who have tasted cigarette can attest to this. Also, those that have quit smoking and started it again, almost always report that smoking tastes bad for a while.

But smokers eventually learn to like the taste of cigarette and it's very likely that this is only because our brains learn to associate the taste with the quick and effective rush that the nicotine gives.

I would suggest that similar learning process is going on with drinking alcohol. The learning isn't quite as effective as it is with smoking, because the effect isn't so fast, but it's effectively the same mechanism.

There's also the hypothesis that something similar is going on with learning to like flavors in food. An idea that is put forward at least by Seth Roberts. We learn to like flavors because of their association with calories they give. (With sugar being the odd exception that tastes good to us without any learning process.)

If all this is true --that you learn to like the taste of alcohol because of this type of (unconscious!) associative learning-- I don't know what it implies about SilasBarta's claim. Because in a way, the taste will become good given that you've trained your brains to like it. But for anyone tasting a certain flavor of alcohol for first time, the taste will certainly be dominantly bad. (Unless it's some sort of candy drink, that mostly hides the taste of alcohol itself.)

comment by HeroicLife · 2009-07-17T17:02:02.806Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I tried for a long time to find an alcoholic drink I like in the assumption that I was missing out on something everyone else was privy too. While I did find some drinks I liked, I decided that it was the high sugar or fat content (rum & coke or a white russian) that I liked, and not the alcohol. Since that is the only part I like, it is much cheaper and healthier to achieve the same taste with non-alcoholic drinks and artificial sweeteners.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2009-07-17T07:28:29.119Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would drink white russians if they were non-alcoholic. I almost never have more than one because I don't actually want to feel any of the effects of alcohol, I just want a white russian. I also drink them alone.

comment by AnlamK · 2009-07-17T06:12:54.012Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have to agree! For a while, I was also puzzled by the same thing. I thought alcohol tastes gross, so why are so many people into it?

That its other effects could be such a big deal I came to realize much later.

comment by swestrup · 2009-07-17T04:41:45.466Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I rather enjoy the taste of a Brown Cow, which is Creme de Cacoa in Milk. Then again, I'm sure I'd prefer a proper milkshake. Generally, if I drink an alcoholic beverage its for the side effects.

comment by Mario · 2009-07-17T03:38:55.834Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I have a theory about alcohol consumption; I call people who like (or don't mind) the taste "tongue blind." My theory is that these people have such poor taste receptors that they need an overly strong stimulus to register anything other than bland. Under this theory, I would expect people that like alcohol to also like very spicy food, to put extra salt most things they eat, and to think that vanilla is a synonym for plain.

comment by dclayh · 2009-07-17T04:10:01.721Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW
  1. Vanilla is a synonym for "plain" when it's artificial (i.e. the vanillin molecule and nothing else). Actual vanilla is obviously a whole different beast.
  2. If people who liked wine had such dead tastes buds or (more realistically) noses, why would they bother to make up such elaborate flavors? (In particular, if it were only about status-signaling, the move from old-style wine description ("insouciant but never trite") to the new style ("cassis, clove and cinnamon with a whiff of tobacco and old leather") seems very strange.)
  3. My personal experience in general doesn't jive with your theory, except for one point: people who like alcohol tend to have a high tolerance for bitter things, and therefore also like very dark chocolate (I personally am an exception to this, however).
  4. ETA: the software converted my 0-indexed list to a 1-indexing. How sad.
comment by eirenicon · 2009-07-17T15:16:07.728Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to have stumbled onto the existence of supertasters. As a supertaster myself, I find tonic water extremely bitter, must overly sweeten my coffee and can't stand grapefruit juice or spinach. I delight in the sharp sting of a good beer, though. Conversely, there are "nontasters" who have a greater tolerance for strong tastes.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T14:39:23.610Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm afraid that doesn't mesh well with my experiences. I would actually suspect the opposite; it seems like people who "don't like wine" are missing the nuances between different wine flavors and so I would have guessed they have a worse sense of taste.

For reference, I like some alcohol, do not like lots of salt, and sometimes take violent offense to calling vanilla 'plain'.

comment by JamesAndrix · 2009-07-17T18:11:50.988Z · score: 28 (32 votes) · LW · GW

You probably shouldn't drive. It's dangerous, expensive, and should be left to professionals. Take the bus or ride a bike.

More widely, we should support policies that make individual car use prohibitively expensive, but public transit easy and cheap. Generally the only cars on the road should be service related (Ambulances, Fire, Police, Utilities,Buses, Delivery/shipping trucks, Taxi's, Limo's etc.)

This would save lots of money and energy, and tens of thousands of lives per year.

comment by CannibalSmith · 2009-07-18T11:33:27.914Z · score: 18 (20 votes) · LW · GW

It's dangerous, expensive, and therefore absolutely awesome. You're just jealous of all the normal people with cool cars, and that they don't let you drive due to your left arm paralysis.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-01T17:14:07.193Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well... I can drive, but I still try to do it as little as possible.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-04-18T07:10:45.269Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'd agree with all of that, except for the "ride a bike" part. If you think piloting a car in city traffic is dangerous, think about piloting a completely unprotected, human-powered device with a very narrow silhouette.

comment by taryneast · 2014-06-02T08:12:28.643Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

With proper bike-friendly infrastructure, it's far safer. Don't think of "riding alongside car traffic" - instead think of what Europe does with entirely separate bike "roads" separated from the car-traffic by median strips.

comment by Autolykos · 2015-07-23T14:37:18.891Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Where did you get the impression that European countries do this on a large enough scale to matter*? There are separate bike roads in some cities, but they tend to end abruptly and lead straight into traffic at places where nobody expects cyclists to appear or show similar acts of genius in their design. If you photograph just the right sections, they definitely look neat. But integrating car and bike traffic in a crowded city is a non-trivial problem; especially in Europe where roads tend to follow winding goat paths from the Dark Ages and are way too narrow for today's traffic levels already.

While the plural of anecdote is not data, two of my friends suffered serious head trauma in a bicycle accident they never fully recovered from (without a helmet, they'd likely be dead), while nobody I know personally ever was in a severe car accident. And quick search also seems to indicate that cycling is about as dangerous as driving (with both of them paling by comparison to motorcycles...).

*with the possible exception of the Netherlands, but even for them I'm not sure.

comment by taryneast · 2015-07-31T11:57:00.073Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Where did you get the impression that by "it's far safer" that I meant "it's far safer... than driving"?

i am completely ignoring your anecdotes - they cannot be taken for actual data. I have friends that have been in extremely dangerous car accidents. I have a friend who was killed in a car crash. Anecdotes are a bad idea on this.

I'd be happy with real data on the actual base rates of this stuff, and yes, perhaps the bike lanes are not sufficient to overcome the danger of riding off the bike lane. But I don't think it's quite as bad as you're making out. It definitely depends on where you need to get to by bike... but my experience with riding in Perth was that I could ride from the outer suburbs to the city without going through traffic. The same for large portions of Sydney (once you hit the main bike routes along the freeways). If you're riding into the CBD, but get off your bike before hitting the main CBD streets themselves (ie choose your route carefully), then you can get to a goodly portion of the city without hitting the (I agree) utterly ridiculous bad bike lanes

...and that's before even considering Europe.

But yeah, if you have some real data, I'm happy to change my mind.

comment by faul_sname · 2012-04-18T06:17:14.172Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I actually do avoid driving whenever possible. But then I live in an urban area, and can do that.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-03T03:09:36.446Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My commute to school is about 30 miles, or 50 minutes. If I rode the bike to the nearest bus stop (10 miles, 50 minutes) and rode the buses to school (75 minutes, including 20 of walking and waiting), my commute would take two and a half times as long. It would also be free instead of costing $5.50 in gas each way, and I would burn an extra thousand Calories per day.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2009-07-18T20:32:23.682Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As a cyclist, I think biking is probably more dangerous than driving...

comment by D_Alex · 2009-07-20T04:00:22.505Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

But... have you framed "danger" apprppriately?

"According to a study by the British Medical Association, the average gain in "life years" through improved fitness from cycling exceeds the average loss in “life years” through cycling fatalities by a factor of 20 to 1."

From http://davesbikeblog.blogspot.com/2008/04/cyclists-live-longer.html.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2009-07-20T04:33:37.763Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

That's an interesting quote. There are probably other ways to achieve the same fitness benefits though.

comment by taryneast · 2014-06-02T08:14:47.261Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes... in countries where the infrastructure is so poor as to require cyclists to ride in traffic (or in the door zone). In places where this is not the case (see Europe) I'd be interested in seeing if those stats are the same.

comment by TeMPOraL · 2015-10-09T05:04:29.516Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Even in Europe, places where you don't have to drive in traffic / door zone are incredibly rare. Bike paths are cool, but as currently implemented they mostly serve to annoy both drivers and pedestrians alike, and there is still a default assumption that where there is no bike path, you'll be driving with traffic.

comment by TeMPOraL · 2015-10-09T05:01:18.211Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

tens of thousands of lives per year

Try hundreds of thousands per year from just accidents, before even counting health benefits of reduced emissions and smog saving more lives.

comment by Nanani · 2009-07-21T03:04:57.157Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

While the first part is borne out by statistics, the second is not.

To make a professionals-only drivng regimen feasible, you'd need a massive reorganization of urbanities. Suburbs would no longer be quite so desirable, etc etc. Take your politics out of rationality.

comment by JamesAndrix · 2009-07-21T20:36:25.292Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Take your politics out of rationality.

Yikes! can you explain how something that's a good idea for rationalists on lesswrong is bad for society? Should we keep our good ideas secret because if everyone did it the suburbs would be undesirable?

I'll give you the benefit of the doubt but so far this seems more like denial than reason.

comment by Nanani · 2009-07-22T00:55:46.308Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well it certainly isn't denial. As proof I'd offer up my lack of any kind of driving license or vehincle ownership throughout my life.

The idea itself is not what is bad for society. The badness here is the political-ish applying of an idea without thinking through the consequences and dealing with them.

I would certainly not encourage keeping any ideas secret, for then how would the corollaries be resolved?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-01T16:06:15.278Z · score: -6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Suburbs are the scum of the earth. It is an infeasible extrapolation of the american dream, it uses up good agricultural soil and it is quantifiably more awesome to live in highrise buildings in the city.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-18T12:25:53.244Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This comment seems to have suddenly go at lot of attention, despite the fact that I am reasonably sure this thread is about semi-offensive/semi-joking comments and that my past self posted it in that spirit.

Man, sometimes your mental state moves so fast you can look a month back and thing "What an idiot."

I do still hold the opinion that suburban housing is ecologically and economically unsustainable, taking up potential farmland and forcing large parts of the population to acquire automobiles that pollute and require large amounts of raw materials to construct.

EDIT: Maybe I should just make it a habit to retract stuff I said when I disagree with my past self.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-03-01T16:11:42.095Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

it is quantifiably more awesome to live in highrise buildings in the city.

Value systems differ.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-04-18T11:11:43.380Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Suburbs are the scum of the earth.

Clichés are the mould of the mind.

ETA: I just noticed that "mould" has two meanings. I meant the nasty stuff that grows in unattended, dark, damp places.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-18T11:32:33.606Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but the arguments are mostly correct -- except maybe the "quantifiably more awesome" part. I wouldn't know.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-01T09:29:04.363Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I always thought that "mold" was the spelling for that meaning and "mould" was the spelling for the other one, but [googles] it looks like "mold" is the American spelling for both and "mould" is the British spelling for both. Where the hell did I get that wrong impression from?

comment by DonGeddis · 2009-07-17T03:59:32.297Z · score: 26 (28 votes) · LW · GW

Is there anything that you consider proven beyond any possibility of doubt by both empirical evidence and pure logic, and yet saying it triggers automatic stream of rationalizations in other people?

  • Hitler had a number of top-level skills, and we could learn (some) positive lessons from his example(s).

  • Eugenics would improve the human race (genepool).

  • Human "racial" groups may have differing average attributes (like IQ), and these may contribute to the explanation of historical outcomes of those groups.

(Perhaps these aren't exactly topics that Less Wrong readers (in particular) would run away from. I was attempting to answer the question by riffing off Paul Graham's idea of taboos. What is it "not appropriate" to talk about in ordinary society? Politeness might trigger the rationalization response...)

comment by Annoyance · 2009-07-17T16:16:22.549Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Those are excellent points, particularly the first. Adolf Hitler was one of the most effective rhetoricians in human history - his public speaking skills were simply astounding. Even the people who hated his message were stunned after attending rallies in which Hitler exercised his crowd-manipulation skills.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2009-07-17T16:22:53.711Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It struck me that "top-level" is ambiguous. Do you mean high quality or general-purpose?

I don't think that it is taboo to say that Hitler was a good orator or that he was good at mass psychology. But people don't admit to desiring to manipulate crowds; I don't think Hitler has to do with that. I've heard it suggested that a lot of people have the skills to be cult leaders, but they just don't want to be.

Film makers do study Leni Riefenstahl.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-16T17:00:08.987Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

First one's just plain true.

Second one is probably true. The issue with eugenics isn't that it wouldn't work, it's that it would be unethical to try.

Third one seems to fail the evidence test. It's proposing a significant deficit in a measurable quantity that has not been observed to exist (after correcting for socio-economic status).

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-07-17T15:54:12.186Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Related to: Mind-killer.

comment by faul_sname · 2012-04-18T06:15:12.495Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

1st one: Nope, don't think anyone here would dispute that, except on the grounds that it's rather nonspecific.

2nd one: Only if it were in the form of encouraging particularly valuable individuals to reproduce more. Removing even the bottom 50% would have fairly negligible effects compared to doubling the top 1%. Several countries already implement programs to encourage the most valuable members to reproduce more (with mixed success).

3rd one: I find it nearly impossible to find any good data on that either way. Pending evidence, it looks like most of the quality of life and education effects can basically be explained by looking at who got the industrial revolution first. Unless very large effect sizes were found, however, the policy implications would be minimal or nonexistent.

comment by timtyler · 2012-04-17T20:46:51.324Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Human "racial" groups may have differing average attributes (like IQ), and these may contribute to the explanation of historical outcomes of those groups.

Surely few would argue with that. The more controversial issue is the claim that such differences are genetic.

comment by tpc · 2010-08-09T05:34:29.915Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

From Paul Graham's essay:

How do we get at these ideas? By the following thought experiment. Imagine a kind of latter-day Conrad character who has worked for a time as a mercenary in Africa, for a time as a doctor in Nepal, for a time as the manager of a nightclub in Miami. The specifics don't matter-- just someone who has seen a lot. Now imagine comparing what's inside this guy's head with what's inside the head of a well-behaved sixteen year old girl from the suburbs. What does he think that would shock her? He knows the world; she knows, or at least embodies, present taboos. Subtract one from the other, and the result is what we can't say.

Maybe there is something I am missing, but I don't understand his last sentence. How do you take two people, and "subtract one from the other" ?

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2010-08-09T05:54:47.827Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think it roughly means to subtract the teenage girl's model for how the world works from the streetsmart guy's model for how the world works. You expect to get the subset of experience a sheltered upbringing would shelter people from.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-17T14:42:29.685Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'll grant you that they're all taboo, but they're not really useful, either. (I mean, some people claim these are true to justify their prejudices, but that's not what we're talking about.) In particular, the statement about Hitler is too vague to suggest what ought to be imitated, and the statement about racial groups focuses on an effect which is almost entirely obscured by historical facts about the distribution of resources.

That said, regarding eugenics: have you read any of David Brin's Uplift books?

comment by Drahflow · 2009-07-17T00:50:10.408Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW · GW

You are not living as much on the edge as you should optimally.

I estimate that most LW Readers are relatively young (i.e. < 40y old). The repair mechanism of your bodies can deal with a lot more than they currently have to handle. To increase your effectiveness multiple routes exist:

  • move faster, run instead of walk
  • employ polyphasic sleep
  • take more stimulants
comment by cousin_it · 2009-07-17T09:51:53.423Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

This reminded me of Umeshisms: "If you’ve never missed a flight, you’re spending too much time in airports."

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-17T01:07:37.170Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Regarding polyphasic sleep: if you're under, say, 18, don't. The effects it has on the body's developmental processes are not known.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T15:05:47.593Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I see no reason for someone to take this advice. Polyphasic sleep has been the norm in many cultures and periods of history, and one might be more inclined to advise, "Regarding monophasic sleep: if you're under, say, 18, don't. The effects it has on the body's developmental processes are not known"

comment by RichardKennaway · 2009-07-17T15:44:40.614Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Polyphasic sleep has been the norm in many cultures and periods of history

I have not heard this before, even on web sites touting it. Reference? A quick Google only turned up sceptical comments, and "segmented sleep", which isn't what I've understood by "polyphasic sleep".

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T15:48:00.193Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well I don't have a reference handy, but the page you just linked to identified "segmented sleep" as a synonym for "polyphasic sleep". It seems to be along the lines I was thinking.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2009-07-17T19:46:14.148Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What I understood by polyphasic sleep is the practice of "ultra-short napping to achieve more time awake each day", the point being to get more productive hours per day. There's no suggestion that segmented sleep involves sleeping fewer hours than normal, but it might increase the quality of the waking hours.

From La Wik on segmented sleep: "Peasant couples were often too tired after a long day's work to do much more than eat and go to sleep". I sometimes have days like that, whereupon I'm likely to wake once or more through the night. Maybe I should get up and meditate or something, instead of turning over and falling asleep again.

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-17T15:44:40.030Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, yes; biphasic sleep (noon siesta) is the natural sleeping pattern beyond infanthood. For extreme schedules like Uberman's, though, there have been lots of reports on odd cravings and the like — such as grape juice — that, e.g. contain elements the body would normally generate itself during sleep.

(Are you really saying that we don't know the effects of monophasic sleep?)

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2009-07-17T18:34:29.969Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, we really don't know the effects of monophasic sleep compared to polyphasic sleep.

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-17T22:50:31.208Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand how that makes sense in context of your original comment.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2009-07-18T00:42:44.310Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I only made one comment; saying "yes" probably suggested more coherence with Thom Blake than there really was.

My complaint is naturalistic fallacy.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T18:36:26.912Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Erm, yeah, what Douglas_Knight said.

comment by CannibalSmith · 2009-07-17T12:30:03.890Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

physically maybe but with all the distractions dramas and bad language on the internets im overloaded to the point of periodic anxiety and depression

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-16T19:19:58.376Z · score: 18 (20 votes) · LW · GW

You're wrong about the religious issue. As I've stated many times, including in that discussion, the problem is that there are two meanings of "believe" and people unhelpfully equivocate between them. Here they are:

1) "I believe X" = "My internal predictive model of reality includes X."

2) "I believe X" = "I affiliate with people who profess, 'I believe X' " (no, it's not as circular as it looks)

Put simply, most people DO NOT believe(1) in the absurd claims of religions, they just believe(2) them. Or at least, they act very suspiciously like they believe(2) rather than believe(1). If they believed(1), they would spend every waking moment exactly as their religion instructs.

comment by nerzhin · 2009-07-16T22:15:30.673Z · score: 20 (22 votes) · LW · GW

1) "I'm a rationalist" = "I honestly apply the art of rationality every waking moment"

2) "I'm a rationalist" = "I make comments on Less Wrong and think Eliezer Yudkowsky is pretty cool"

comment by sketerpot · 2009-07-17T04:19:08.677Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I'd be a pretty sucky rationalist if I didn't get an itchy feeling when I hear a false dichotomy. Therefore, let's try some other options:

3) "I'm a rationalist" = "I earnestly try to be more rational than I would otherwise be."

4) "I'm a rationalist" = "I think that syllogisms are pretty neat, and I'm really good at proving that Socrates is mortal. ;-)"

comment by JulianMorrison · 2009-07-17T15:12:53.693Z · score: 23 (23 votes) · LW · GW

Dude's dead. QED.

comment by algekalipso · 2013-02-26T03:21:41.805Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, dude, the correct answer is "because he is a man!"

comment by JulianMorrison · 2013-02-26T23:04:07.181Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

As a transhumanist, that does not follow.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T14:25:05.897Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pretty sure I'm a rationalist(4). I am really good at that.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-16T23:14:55.290Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a rationalist(2). I'm just here because it's fun. ;)

comment by TeMPOraL · 2015-10-09T05:12:36.565Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You win rationality(1) points for being honest with yourself :).

comment by whowhowho · 2013-02-27T12:21:23.460Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

3) I put a lot of effort into number-crunching optimal ways of realising my values, and very little into worrying wether they are the right ones.

comment by orthonormal · 2009-07-16T23:08:04.199Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

If they believed(1), they would spend every waking moment exactly as their religion instructs.

That's too strong a claim and doesn't factor akrasia in; you might as well say that you don't really believe in the seriousness of existential risks if you don't spend every waking moment working against them.

You can, however, make distinctions between people who will make decisions that they know would be extremely suboptimal if their professed belief was false, and people who only do just enough to signal their belief.

It's going to be a continuum from belief(1) to belief(2), not a binary attribute; but it's still a very important concept and not yet one that the English language groks.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-16T23:19:40.298Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That's too strong a claim and doesn't factor akrasia in; you might as well say that you don't really believe in the seriousness of existential risks if you don't spend every waking moment working against them. [...]

Okay, fair point. My claim was too strong and I accept your modification. Still, existential risks still permit me finite remaining life, which still keeps its utility very very far from that of eternal torture espoused by some religions.

comment by TheNuszAbides · 2013-07-04T07:17:55.217Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

a very important concept and not yet one that the English language groks.

having achieved [at least a semblance of] fluency only in English thus far, I am at this moment very curious as to any assessment of what language(s) do(es) grok such a concept?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-07-04T10:47:20.069Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Dunno, but note that whereas "I believe X" can mean either, "I think that X" seldom means 2.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-16T19:38:53.248Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A related phenomenon - one which often motivates belief(2) - is belief in belief.

comment by whowhowho · 2013-02-27T15:39:41.717Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(4) I behave like Sheldon Lee Cooper, sharing all his tastes and values.

comment by Annoyance · 2009-07-16T17:32:44.658Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I can't think of any particular issues that I'm convinced I know the truth of, yet most people will reflexively deny that truth completely.

I can, however, think of issues that I think are uncertain, but that the uncertainty of said issue is denied reflexively and completely. I suppose they would be meta-issues rather than issues themselves - it's a subtle point I'm not interested in pursuing.

Probably the most obvious one that comes to my mind is circumcision. I've never seen so many normally-intelligent people make such stupid and clearly incorrect arguments, nor so much uncomfortable humor, nor trying desperately to avoid thinking, for any other issue I've discussed with others, even things like abortion, religion, and politics.

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-19T05:12:23.789Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, there's always at least one thing you can be sure of, according to Descartes :)

comment by CannibalSmith · 2009-07-17T12:47:11.284Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That uncertainty is just a lie by the people who are wrong. :)

comment by PeterS · 2009-07-16T17:22:57.317Z · score: 16 (20 votes) · LW · GW

It's very likely that your parents were abusive while you were growing up.

Also, there is no scientific method.

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-16T18:30:21.121Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Does circumcision count?

comment by PeterS · 2009-07-16T18:43:47.323Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, as a vestige from instrusive and early infanticidal childrearing modes.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-02T13:26:27.967Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have evidence on that?

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-16T17:53:55.871Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Day-um, that was sharp!

With regards to child abuse: would a comparison to hazing be appropriate at this juncture? Were the hypothesis correct, it would have a certain surface similarity.

comment by PeterS · 2009-07-16T18:07:33.575Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I understand what kind of comparison you're suggesting. I've heard numerous attempts to rationalize child abuse by analogy to hazing, I've even heard arguments by abusers to the effect that children are "weak" today because kids don't undergo the same "hazing" that their parents put them through. "It's nothing my parents didn't do to me," etc...

Or were you getting at something else?

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-16T18:13:57.365Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

...hmm, I see a cultural divide, here. I disapprove of hazing, and consider it to be perpetuated because the victims feel like they've earned the right to revenge - even though said revenge is enacted on the wrong parties (the next incoming group, rather than the previous group that abused them). Therefore - ironically, as it happens - I made the analogy to hazing to indicate a possible pattern in the rationalizations.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-16T23:20:36.338Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

consider it to be perpetuated because the victims feel like they've earned the right to revenge - even though said revenge is enacted on the wrong parties (the next incoming group, rather than the previous group that abused them).

In my high school, one of my classmates offered pretty much this exact justification for hazing freshmen.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-16T17:27:29.324Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Does your support for the first hinge on a strict definition of abuse, some generous interpretation of "very likely", or something else?

comment by PeterS · 2009-07-16T17:54:31.957Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

some generous interpretation of "very likely", or something else?

What I mean, roughly, is that if you raised in Western or Eastern Europe, any of the Americas, the Middle East, Asia or Africa, then you probably grew up under some abusive mode of childrearing (childrearing is much more advanced in the Nordic countries). The socializing mode is the most popular these days, although intrusive parenting can also be fairly common too depending on the region.

Try The History of Child Abuse if you're interested.

Does your support for the first hinge on a strict definition of abuse,

Read up on the basic archetypal childrearing modes (infanticidal, abandoning, ambivalent, intrusive, socializing, and helping) for a better idea of what I mean by abuse. You can find information about them in the above link, and even the wikipedia article isn't too bad.

comment by notmyrealnick · 2009-07-17T15:34:49.336Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I am sceptical of some of the points in the linked text as well. The author mentions that there are cultures in which parents masturbate their children, but that isn't obviously harmful. Yes, an example was cited where the masturbation in question was done in a harmful and painful way, but that isn't to say that it must always be so. Young children have been documented to occasionaly masturbate even on their own, so why is it that adults helping is immeaditly abuse? And citing

"co-sleeping," with parents physically embracing the child, often continues until the child is ten or fifteen

as an example of "abuse" is getting us into the ludicrous territory. Embracing your child is abuse! The author also makes pretty big leaps of correlation and causation:

Boys in many New Guinea groups today, for instance, are so traumatized by the early erotic experiences, neglect and assaults on their bodies that they need to prove their masculinity when they grow up and become fierce warriors and cannibals, with a third of them dying in raids and wars.

Of course, there are also plenty of valid points about real sexual abuse that does take place, or has historically taken place.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-16T18:45:25.596Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'd been operating under the assumption that when you phrased the original claim in the second person, you meant to make a statement about the readers of Less Wrong, who are not from the Middle Ages and most of whom are from developed Western countries, as opposed to the crosscultural, broadly historical swath of parenting strategies mentioned in your link. Even if I go by that (profoundly, deeply disturbing, gee thanks) article, the background common to most visitors to this site marks most of us as recipients of a "socializing" parenting style, and it's not obvious to me that that includes unambiguous abuse by the parents, although apparently it's supposed to involve turning a blind eye to abuse elsewhere by authority figures and peers.

It causes me to raise an eyebrow that all of the bibliographical citations are outsourced, so to speak, to four publications all by the same person. It makes it just a little too difficult for me to track down his primary sources (referenced in "over 600" footnotes.)

Edit: I see in another branch of the thread that you count circumcision, in which case unless I outright challenge your inclusion (I'm disinclined to do so) I haven't a leg to stand on: it's very common indeed, and most of the people here are male.

comment by PeterS · 2009-07-16T19:01:28.792Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

the background common to most visitors to this site marks most of us as recipients of a "socializing" parenting style, and it's not obvious to me that that includes unambiguous abuse by the parents

What would you consider the minimum threshold for 'unambiguous abuse'?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-16T19:59:25.955Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Deliberately or negligently injurious corporal punishment (e.g. anything that you can still see evidence of five minutes later that was intended to be that hard, or, after several occasions of "unintentionally" being that hard, is continued with no extra safeguards), sexual contact, protracted neglect (of physical needs like food, cultural needs like clothing, safety in the environment like not harboring a dangerous pet or leaving exposed electrical wires around, education [home or non], or of opportunities for social interaction), regular emotional/verbal abuse (I say "regular" because I wouldn't want to call parents abusive for merely being human and occasionally stooping to yelling or insults), or any combination of the above. I may have forgotten something.

comment by PeterS · 2009-07-16T20:58:31.482Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I think only the last item (regular emotional abuse) should really count. But to some extent even that, and certainly everything else (battery of the child, molestation/rape, and neglecting to feed/protect/raise the child) goes way beyond the minimum threshold for abuse and into the territory of strictly evil and even savage parenting.

Injurious corporal punishment

Corporal punishment is legal in all states. It's illegal to hit an adult, but it's legal to strike a child. Spanking, in particular is prevalent and has been linked to anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric disorders. And, basically, inducing that in a child is evil and abusive. The prevalence of spanking has been absurdly high throughout the 20th century - it obviously varies by region, but in the U.S. it was as high as 80-90% at times.

So the prevalence of spanking was certainly above 50% throughout the 20th century. And that's just spanking - it's fairly easy to find the other saddening statistics concerning the other forms of corporal punishment and physical abuse and their prevalence. Same goes for the disturbing frequency of sexual abuse.

As for emotional abuse, if your parents were socializing it's likely that you received it. The socializing parent will often withhold love and support for their child if he or she does not conform to their wants/wishes. The love is conditional upon their children reaching prescribed goals (e.g. grades, college, homosexuality, performance in sports, etc.) and that counts as abuse in my book because it diminishes free will, integrity and self esteem.

Most children are abused. And you don't have to think or know that you've been abused to actually have been abused, so just because most people who suffer this kind of abuse won't come out and admit it doesn't mean it wasn't really abuse.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-16T21:12:36.016Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Spanking is typically not injurious by the definition I gave. Non-injurious corporal punishment doesn't exactly make me want to award the offending parent stickers and Snickers, but I don't think it's "unambiguous abuse", which is what you asked me to define.

I'm willing to believe that unambiguous child abuse is sickeningly common - it would not be the first time I've been gravely disappointed in my species - but it's not down to you to define child abuse into the majority. "Withholding love and support" contingent on the failure to achieve certain desiderata isn't stellar parenting either, but just what are you expecting here? I think I'll be a great mother and I'm sure that there are things my kids could get up to that would grievously injure our relationship. Which things it's okay to react badly to and which things must be taken as neutral and effect-free with respect to the parent-child interactions is a very gray area... it's hard to label much in that department "unambiguous abuse".

comment by PeterS · 2009-07-16T21:53:01.782Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

You're right, it's very hard to raise a child completely abuse free. I'm not calling all parents evil (or didn't intend to anyway). What I'm saying is that we should recognize these practices as abusive maltreatment of children. A crucial part of that is coming to terms with the fact that they were abusive when they were done to you too.

Inevitably an argument over something like this will come to "my parents spanked me" or "my father hit me, and..." It's already happened in this thread. These people can't accept the fact that when their parents hit them, it was abuse (talk about absolute denial macro).

The point is to turn it off. It's not a contradiction to love your parents while also acknowledging the bad things they did, even calling it abuse. If they wielded their power as caregivers in anything less than a helpful way, then it was basically an instance of abusive parenting. That doesn't imply that in every case they were horrible people or that you can't love them. It just means you acknowledge it as an abusive practice, harmful to the development of the child.

Spanking is typically not injurious by the definition I gave.

Studies show a linear correlation between the frequency with which a child is spanked and the occurrence of several psychiatric disorders. Also, one in three parents who begin with legal corporal punishment (e.g. spanking) end up crossing the line into criminal abuse (e.g. battery).

The evidence shows that spanking is injurious. You can't just redefine the word.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-16T22:00:23.549Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

we should recognize these practices as abusive maltreatment of children.

I think one obstacle to having this conversation is that, as a society, we think that intervention is called for when a child is being abused. People are modus-tollensing away your declarations of abuse because they don't think the things you mention warrant bringing in Child Protective Services: if it's abuse, then it warrants calling CPS. It doesn't warrant calling CPS, therefore it is not abuse.

By your definitions, I think it would be next to impossible to find someone who was never once abused as a child. That means we have no information about any given sort of abuse relative to an absence of abuse altogether. We can only compare the results of abuse A with abuse B, or more of A with less of A, or A with both A and B, or whatever. There's no control group. That casts a shadow of a doubt over many of your claims.

I'm curious about how far your absolute intolerance of hitting kids goes. I was hit exactly once by each parent as I grew up. I don't remember the exact circumstances under which my mother struck me, but I know why my father did it: I was attacking my little sister over some childish upset. There was no way to get me off of her without causing me some pain; he smacked me and I was startled enough to stop. Would you consider that an act of abuse? Wouldn't letting me attack my sister be an act of abuse towards her?

comment by dclayh · 2009-07-17T04:48:58.215Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think one obstacle to having this conversation is that, as a society, we think that intervention is called for when a child is being abused.

I think this is correct. I personally find the current social model under which children are the chattel-slaves (i.e. the property) of their parents unless and until such time as the parents do something truly egregious*, or until the child turns 18, to be rather revolting.

*That should really read "do something truly egregious, or try to extract economic value".

comment by wuwei · 2009-07-19T03:18:02.509Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Nice. Tying the usage of words to inferences seems to be a generally useful strategy for moving semantic discussions forward.

comment by PeterS · 2009-07-16T22:16:43.477Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would you consider that an act of abuse?

No.

Wouldn't letting me attack my sister be an act of abuse towards her?

Yes. It is also a very common form of abuse.

I was hit exactly once by each parent as I grew up.

Does that include spanking? Note that it is usually applied to toddlers and you might not remember.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-16T22:21:45.294Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pretty sure I was never actually spanked by my parents, although my grandfather tried once before I escaped.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-17T04:28:52.118Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think one obstacle to having this conversation is that, as a society, we think that intervention is called for when a child is being abused. People are modus-tollensing away your declarations of abuse because they don't think the things you mention warrant bringing in Child Protective Services: if it's abuse, then it warrants calling CPS. It doesn't warrant calling CPS, therefore it is not abuse.

What she said.

comment by teageegeepea · 2009-07-17T01:40:20.294Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Correlation is not causation. Have you read Judith Harris?

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-16T19:38:45.516Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

As you may have anticipated, I am... unimpressed, shall we say, by Lloyd deMause's writing; among other things, I simply don't believe some of his numbers. However, I will agree that, by his standards, I probably have endured at least some "child abuse". When, as a child, I would hit my father, he would "hit" back, and when I hit my mother, she would tried to immobilize me until I calmed down (which could take a long time, because being immobilized made me angry). I ended up hitting my father a lot less than I hit my mother. Incidentally, at the time, perhaps from watching too many cartoons, I believed that if I learned martial arts, I would be able to physically overpower my parents or teachers in a fight, so they couldn't drag me off to school or whatever.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-07-16T20:47:46.465Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This author makes me wish I had some way of making it clear my name was derived from Asimov and not something that seems so psuedo-scientific.

comment by PeterS · 2009-07-16T19:47:01.840Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why are you putting child abuse in quotations? And hit? And how could I have anticipated your arrival in this thread, let alone your disapproval of my references?

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-07-16T20:32:46.862Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

When you take terms with vile connotations, like rape, murder, child abuse, and racism, and expand them beyond their conventional definition, people use scare quotes around them because they want to make it perfectly clear that they are unwilling to give your use of the term the really, really bad connotations that their use of the term carries. I'm willing to bet that's basically what's happening here: what you call "child abuse" is not actually bad enough in his mind to merit being called "child abuse."

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-17T01:06:32.258Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm willing to bet that's basically what's happening here: what you call "child abuse" is not actually bad enough in his mind to merit being called "child abuse."

Indeed.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-16T19:54:24.945Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, this is a thread on things people are not supposed to believe, isn't it?

Also, for why child abuse is in scare quotes, see this.

comment by PeterS · 2009-07-16T20:00:21.447Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I still don't understand, but alright... I'm thinking either you're somewhat deranged, or that I've been the victim of a gag of some sort.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-16T20:38:02.108Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry. Anyway, "child abuse" is in quotes because I don't think "honest, justifiable actions that nevertheless cause harm" should count as abuse. To quote from what I linked to:

In order for something to count as “child abuse”, the person who performs the action must betray either an intention to harm or a callous disregard for the possibility of harm to the welfare of the child. Even negligence (a form of child abuse) is understood in this way – as the absence of a level of concern for a child’s welfare that would have motivated caution in a concerned individual.

...

Women who took thalidomide while pregnant did significant harm to their children. Yet, this was not sufficient to charge them with "child abuse". This is because the behavior was motivated by a mistake, not by an absence of concern (or a desire to harm) the child. Calling thalidomide users "child abusers" for actions taken before the harmfulness of thalidomide was known is grossly inappropriate.

Anyway, I don't think that the infrequent corporal punishment my father inflicted on me was, in the long run, particularly harmful (apart from the moments of pain I endured). It was also effective.

I won't defend my overall upbringing as "not harmful", though; the special education school I ended up attending for many years was an awful place, and I learned very little there. The fault lies more with the school system than with my parents, though.

comment by PeterS · 2009-07-16T21:10:48.186Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that the infrequent corporal punishment my father inflicted on me was, in the long run, particularly harmful (apart from the moments of pain I endured). It was also effective.

Well 62 years of research show that corporal punishment doesn't work and that your father was an evil man. But because we have people who personally believe that it worked on them, the physical abuse of children is still legal in all 50 states of this modern nation.

If I may ask, what exactly do you think that it was "effective" at doing?

The fault lies more with the school system than with my parents, though.

Yeah because, hey, you love your parents.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-16T22:55:40.790Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If I may ask, what exactly do you think that it was "effective" at doing?

It was effective at getting me to stop hitting my father. (I hit him far less than I hit anyone else.) I'm not claiming anything more than that.

To quote one of your links:

The single desirable association was between corporal punishment and increased immediate compliance on the part of the child.

Seriously, though, if a 7-year-old attacks you in a furious rage, punching, kicking, and screaming, and continues to keep it up for hours at a time, what do you do?

Yeah because, hey, you love your parents.

I don't know if I actually do love them, but I do respect them. Or, at least, I respect them now that I've grown up.

I'm not saying they're blameless (good luck finding a single blameless individual anywhere over the age of one year) but, well, whatever you've heard about soul-destroying schooling, I had to live it. After not fitting in during elementary school (I threw a crayon at the principal once) I eventually wound up in special education. There were basically two kinds of children in the special education school I went to from third to seventh grade: those that were retards, and those that were evil. Guess which group I ended up hanging out with? My best friend was basically a young Hannibal Lecter. Once, we tried to kill our teacher with what we thought was a bomb.

To be frank, the only shot I would have had at a decent educational experience would have been if my mother decided to homeschool me. This was way before homeschooling became acceptable, and as the school system seemed bound and determined to find a way to blame my parents for the way I acted (which you can probably blame on my being born with a non-standard brain) to the point where it was like they ought to be bringing a lawyer with them to every meeting with school officials, they really didn't want to do anything weird.

Additionally, you might want to look into this.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-01T16:40:34.176Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I was abused, but it was mental/developmental and unintentional; namely my parents utterly destroyed my self-motivation.

I am fairly certain I can point at the scientific method and go "yes, it's right there." What exactly do you mean?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-02T13:29:03.175Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you're willing to explain what went wrong, I'm interested in what went wrong.

I've come to believe that a lot of went wrong in my case wasn't so much the moderate level of emotional abuse as the lack of positive relationship.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-03T16:17:24.754Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have always been reasonably intelligent (my current IQ (not from internet tests) hovers somewhere around mensa levels) and I have always been incredibly curious. These two traits has led me to always figgure out on my own, all the things I was supposed to learn in shcool in advance; I have always been at least a year ahead in mathematics and natural sciences, and I still am.

This does of course pose a slight problem when I have not been the same way in many, many other areas, and the kicker is that my parents never ever have heard of motivational psychology.

This has, as of my current analysis, led me to in my childhood and early teens believe that I was a lazy no good slob who was somehow broken in the "free will" department. Not that these beliefs ever were overt, it seems that it makes a lot of sense in hindsight as I have always been prone to dips in my self esteem.

It is only in the recent few months of discovering LW that I have found out: "Hey, I'm not broken, just ignorant." And fortunately ignorance has a cure.

If my parents had raised me to have a work ethic instead of not having one, I would probably have been in substantially better standing by now. I am a so far a nigh genius who can only barely coerce himself to work with anything not immediately interesting.

A waste? probably. Are there still hope for me? definitely.

Much of it is mitigated by the fact that I am 19 years old and my parents truly are loving and caring, but none the less they raised me suboptimally.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-03T16:24:48.762Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Also, if your parents thought that your being intelligent was extremely important, you may have concluded that you'd only get praise for what you could do easily.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-03T16:45:09.789Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That is a very good hypothesis.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-03T17:00:22.992Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have a source handy, but it's kind of a cliche in current popular psychology, followed by a recommendation to only praise children for effort, not talent.

It seems to me that praising for talent and praising for effort both are risks for Goodhart's law (any measure which is used to guide policy will become corrupt).

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-04T00:47:46.290Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am nowhere near introspective enough, nor do I know enough psychology. The only thing I know is that it is fixable.

comment by Annoyance · 2009-07-16T17:53:12.212Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

These are excellent examples. I don't see why they're being voted down.

The second, however, is much better than the first.

comment by PeterS · 2009-07-16T18:00:44.212Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see why they're being voted down.

I'm blaming it having successfully triggered the "absolute denial macro" in at least a few people :D.

The second, however, is much better than the first.

Why's that?

comment by Annoyance · 2009-07-16T18:08:14.829Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Clarity. The first depends on the interpretation of "abuse", and as such I think it's very likely that many people will agree with it to some degree.

The second is much more precise; although I think it is demonstrably untrue, I expect it will draw much reflexive denial.

comment by PeterS · 2009-07-16T18:39:44.517Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

although I think it is demonstrably untrue, I expect it will draw much reflexive denial.

I'm having trouble reconciling those two statements. I'm even having trouble trying to express just why they seem... inconsistent, or inharmonious? Could you elaborate a bit?

comment by billswift · 2009-07-16T19:52:21.806Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think he means that it can be reliably argued (demonstrated) to not be true, but many denials will be by people who cannot adequately argue the point, it will just be reflexive for them.

comment by MendelSchmiedekamp · 2009-07-17T19:48:14.422Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

If you read this site's definition of Epistemic Rationality, logically in order to achieve it you must pay attention to the reality which your map is intended to resemble. Meanwhile, there is ample research indicating that paying attention to people is a hugely powerful social tool for making friends, which translates to increasing the likelihood of finding, entering into, and maintaining romantic relationships (not to mention that paying attention to your significant others may be of some benefit too).

So perhaps the question isn't what should a rationalist be doing if their social / love life isn't so good, but rather are you really pursuing rationality effectively if you haven't seen some of these improvements as a matter of course?

comment by Nanani · 2009-07-21T03:01:59.771Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Your rationality is just fine. You're just ugly.

(Now watch yourself go "No I'm not!" "Society's standards are out of whack!" "The opposite gender can't see my true beauty!")

comment by MendelSchmiedekamp · 2009-07-22T04:35:57.636Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Your rationality is just fine. You're just ugly.

As a matter of fact, I am. I've done enough research on facial structure and body type to recognize subtleties that most people will miss consciously. Although I do have nice skin. But that comes from keeping hydrated and away from major sun damage, which may have something to do with rationality.

And, here's the interesting part, I have found major benefits by being rational, in exactly the way I'm describing.

On the other hand, if you want to treat other people as solved systems, and stop worrying about them, I suspect you are out of luck.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-06-03T12:40:06.506Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm thinking of someone I work with, who is quite definitely less good looking than just "plain". Aesthetically awful. However, she dresses and does her makeup immaculately, and then projects through personality. And this seems to work for attraction.

And a short fat guy who is brilliantly witty and perceptive and dresses well will never be short of a girlfriend.

MendelSchmiedekamp's message is one of hope: this stuff is reducible and many have reduced it before, so get learning.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-16T16:56:40.439Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think I've got a pretty realistic view of my own attractiveness (probably an average rating on the scales of those around me of about a 6.5, but with a lot of variance, thank god).

comment by Roko · 2009-07-16T19:38:21.819Z · score: 13 (33 votes) · LW · GW

it s there anything that you consider proven beyond any possibility of doubt by both empirical evidence and pure logic, and yet saying it triggers automatic stream of rationalizations in other people?

That making lots of money and becoming socially influential and powerful in the real world has a vast chance of massively increasing the extent of achievement of any goal that people here have - such as making scientific discoveries, saving the world or living forever, or a myriad of other goals that money is just really effective at achieving.

Yet, most people here are not millionaires, and are not actively taking extreme steps to change this because ultimately, they have weak personalities or fall into the "beta male" category of weak, nerdy men who are irrationally frightened of going out into the real world and standing up for themselves, and they don't have the requisite greedy, self-interested personality to motivate themselves to put in the necessary work. One of the main contributors to this is that most people here don't value social status enough and (especially the men) don't value having sex with extremely attractive women that money and status would get them. It also probably helps to feel quite a lot of animosity towards the rest of the society, to have some sense of needing to "show them you were right" by becoming rich and famous, or to have a family reputation that needs to be upheld or something. Essentially, too much Linux forums, not enough playboy is screwing you all over. A summary of this position:

  • greed and self-interest are preconditions for the motivation necessary to achieve financial success
  • another useful motivation is the desire for sex with extremely attractive women, which generates a desire for status
  • yet another useful motivation is an animosity towards society based on a desire to be seen as right -if we bothered to brainstorm, we could probably find others, such as a taste for expensive things like fast cars, fine wines and luxury meals at top restaurants, a taste for well-tailored clothes, etc. But since you are all in denial, no one will brainstorm this.

Furthermore, there are many people who are probably already aware of this to some extent, and THEY ARE NOT DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT

comment by Z_M_Davis · 2009-07-17T00:36:22.853Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

they have weak personalities or fall into the "beta male" category of weak, nerdy men who [...] don't have the requisite greedy, self-interested [...] most people here don't value social status enough and (especially the men) don't value having sex with extremely attractive women that money and status would get them. [...] Essentially, too much Linux forums, not enough playboy is screwing you all over.

The utility function is not up for grabs. Why should we care about "success" if the price of "success" is being a greedy, self-interested asshole? You know, maybe some of us care about deep insights and meaningful, genuine relationships, which we value for their own sake. Maybe we don't want to spend our days plotting how to grind the other guy's face into the dust. Maybe we want the other guy to be happy and successful, because life is not a zero-sum game and our happiness does not have to come at the expense of anyone else. Tell us how to optimize for that. Don't tell us that we're nerds; we already knew that!

Rationalists should win, full stop and in full generality. Not "triumph over others in some zero-sum primate pissing contest," win.

ADDENDUM: See my clarification below.

comment by sanity · 2009-07-17T02:21:58.301Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Why should we care about "success" if the price of "success" is being a greedy, self-interested asshole?

Why should we assume that financial success requires being a greedy, self-interested asshole?

You know, maybe some of us care about deep insights and meaningful, genuine relationships, which we value for their own sake.

Maybe some of us can do these things while still figuring out how to make ourselves sufficiently valuable to society to exchange those skills for significant wealth?

Maybe we don't want to spend our days plotting how to grind the other guy's face into the dust.

Maybe economic wealth isn't a zero-sum game?

Maybe we want the other guy to be happy and successful, because life is not a zero-sum game and our happiness does not have to come at the expense of anyone else.

Now I'm repeating myself. Maybe delivering sufficient value to society that society is willing to reward you richly for your contribution doesn't necessarily come at anyone else's expense?

Not "triumph over others in some zero-sum primate pissing contest," win.

You're assuming wealth is a zero-sum game. Most of the time, its not.

comment by Z_M_Davis · 2009-07-17T04:11:57.256Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, dear, I'm afraid I haven't expressed myself clearly. I agree with you on all of these points! It is honorable to create goods or services that people want and then to make money selling them. Wealth is not a zero-sum game; I totally, totally agree. To clarify my intentions, I was not objecting to the suggestion that nerdy male LessWrongers should make money; I was objecting to the suggestion that they should relinquish their allegedly "weak" personalities to better seek power and status and sex. Sorry this wasn't clearer in my original comment.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-17T18:08:07.799Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I was objecting to the suggestion that they should relinquish their allegedly "weak" personalities to better seek power and status and sex. Sorry this wasn't clearer in my original comment.

Ok, I disagree. If you had power and status, you could actually change the world.

Deciding not to change the world is actually rather evil, considering how much danger it is in, and how many people are dying per day, etc.

ZM, I like you, but you are in denial ;-0

comment by Cyan · 2009-07-17T04:31:40.715Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder how much of your complaints should really be addressed to Roko (in the parent of Z. M. Davis's comment).

Roko's claims:

  • greed and self-interest are preconditions for the motivation necessary to achieve financial success
  • another useful motivation is the desire for sex with extremely attractive women, which generates a desire for status
  • yet another useful motivation is an animosity towards society based on a desire to be seen as right

Z. M. Davis's claim:

  • the attitude promulgated by Roko requires one to look on life as a zero-sum game

Incidentally, while wealth acquisition is obviously not a zero-sum game, Robin Hanson has argued that status acquisition is in some sense a zero sum game: you can't have high status without there being someone having lower status than you.

ETA: This post was made redundant while I was writing it. Darn it.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-17T18:09:07.682Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW
  • greed and self-interest are preconditions for the motivation necessary to achieve financial success
  • another useful motivation is the desire for sex with extremely attractive women, which generates a desire for status
  • yet another useful motivation is an animosity towards society based on a desire to be seen as right

Yes, I wholeheartedly endorse this summary of my position. The problem of whether it feels "somehow wrong" to adopt this kind of persona is logically independent from the likely effects it will have on reality.

comment by CannibalSmith · 2009-07-17T12:40:56.387Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm taking that proverb as "rationalists should win everything at everything everywhere all the time forever" lest I risk redefining success and deluding myself. Real life's lack of predefined win conditions is actually a bad thing.

comment by MichaelBishop · 2009-07-18T23:26:29.720Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

say more.

comment by CannibalSmith · 2009-07-19T17:34:08.574Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What more do you want to hear?

"If at first you don't succeed, redefine success." goes the demotivator. The life's lack of preset win conditions allows you to define your current state as a win. That leads to complacency and boredom. Bad, bad, bad!

So one should set his win condition as high as possible, so the journey has maximum amount of experience and fun.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-07-17T02:46:06.972Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why should we care about "success" if the price of "success" is being a greedy, self-interested asshole?

Well, these things come in degrees, and the interesting case is when there's something you care about a lot more than just the intrinsic value of your own life, and you can turn yourself into something of which only a part is self-interested and the other part can use the extra success toward that thing that you care about.

There are definitely important points in the direction of what Roko is saying. It's just that the more helpful versions would sound less like, hey, have you considered dying and reincarnating as a gorilla?, and more like, hey, here's how you as a human can work to gain some amazing gorilla powers while retaining a sense of smug amusement at the worse parts of gorilla mental life.

comment by pwno · 2009-07-17T16:46:18.992Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You know, maybe some of us care about deep insights and meaningful, genuine relationships, which we value for their own sake

Maybe people say they like these things for the same reason they say they like alcohol.

comment by Z_M_Davis · 2009-07-17T17:47:17.905Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Not buying the analogy. In a big world full of six billion people, all of whom have their own interests and desires, and a universe still larger than this, it's not even clear to me what it means to be high-status or significant. Think of all those precious moments in your life---every book and every insight and every song and every adventure. Is all of this to be considered as dust because someone somewhere in the depths of space and time has had more books, greater adventures?

Small is beautiful, if only because large is incomprehensible.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T17:57:17.083Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I feel a gut reaction to upvote your comment because it seems both right and profound, and yet I cannot relate what you're saying to the comment's parent.

comment by Z_M_Davis · 2009-07-18T00:12:46.052Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The parent seemed to be suggesting that those who say they're living for insight are lying or self-deceiving in the same way that those who say they drink alcohol for the taste are conjectured to be lying or self-deceiving, so I put forth an argument for why it makes sense to live for insight. (I don't know why people drink alcohol.)

comment by nero · 2009-07-25T11:10:16.364Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, one reason people drink alcohol is because it stops the internal dialog and you just do whatever comes to your mind, which sometimes results in arrest and disaster, and sometimes reward you with getting laid. It is remarkable how much more attractive the person of your fascination is when the bottle is empty. ;-)

comment by taw · 2009-07-17T00:30:11.760Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

don't value having sex with extremely attractive women that money and status would get them

I'm absolutely sure that at least some people here had sex with women more attractive than Melinda Gates and Monica Lewinsky.

comment by CarlShulman · 2009-07-17T17:24:40.304Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I thought about this too, but both Bills were womanizers with attractive women as well.

comment by taw · 2009-07-17T18:46:48.611Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not going to argue about it, but I find it much more likely than not:

E(quality and quantity of women you can get | you know just basic PUA techniques) > E(quality and quantity of women you can get | you're in top 1% rich and/or powerful)

and definitely beyond any reasonable doubt:

E(quality and quantity of women you can get | you know just basic PUA techniques) P(you can learn basic PUA techniques) >>> E(quality and quantity of women you can get | you're in top 1% rich and/or powerful) P(you can get into top 1% rich and/or powerful)

It's even more drastic for percentiles narrower than top 1% - so even if you could get laid slightly more if you went that far, but your chances of getting that far are slim. Marginal laid-utility of money and power is very very small.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-07-17T21:12:06.277Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Here's another piece of data relevant to estimating the expected laid-utility of interventions designed to increase fame, wealth or power relative to the expected laid-utility of other interventions one might design.

Actress Dana Delany told an interviewer from People magazine or similar magazine that if you want her to kiss you, owning a jet plane and a condo on Bon Air does not make up for having bad breath because of gum disease. That suggest that making a point of never getting so strapped for cash that you cannot afford to pay a good dental hygenist might increase laid-utility more than starting your own company.

Parenthetically I might write a post explaining why according to my mental models, for a male scientist who is bad at getting laid to choose to work on an extinction-risky technology has significantly lower expected utility than for a male scientist good at getting laid to choose to do so where U (the human species goes extinct) = -1 and U (nonextinction) = 0. The effect might apply to female scientists, too, but I am currently almost completely confused about that -- except "confused" might be the wrong word because it might connote that I expect to gather additional evidence for or against the question. The effect stems from what has been called the crime-genius connection and from the cognitive benefits to the man of the love of a woman with strong "ego skills", "ego skills" being the term some psychotherapists use for some practical fragment of rationality.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-07-17T21:24:52.673Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Actress Dana Delany told an interviewer from People magazine or similar magazine that if you want her to kiss you, owning a jet plane does not make up for having bad breath because of, e.g., gum disease.

Er... perhaps you would find different responses here from non-actresses not being interviewed in People magazine. Or not. Just sayin', the degree to which someone cares about something may have something to do with the degree to which they are ordinarily deprived of it. If you are not deprived of men owning jet planes, then you may feel free to weight it less than bad breath.

comment by taw · 2009-07-17T21:38:56.333Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do we have any serious evidence on how much more sexually successful rich people are?

I estimate wealth to have amazingly small effect compared to what most people believe.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-07-18T00:05:32.779Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Our civilization does indeed have quite solid evidence that rich men have more sex and have sex with a greater variety of women than less-rich men. However, that removes only a small fraction of the support for the proposition that the kind of heterosexual single man reading these words is better off hiring a pickup/seduction trainer or spending heavily on dentists, hairdressers, gym memberships, etc, than seeking to enter the top percentile of wealth or power if his goal is to increase his sexual access to the sorts of women who will most improve his life -- because it is not as if getting a few million dollars is easy. All the dollars in the world are owned by persons, and these persons invariably resisting giving the dollars up. It is significantly easier to identify the women with whom sex will most improve your life and then get them to give the sexual favors up.

comment by taw · 2009-07-18T14:12:13.206Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Our civilization does indeed have quite solid evidence that rich men have more sex and have sex with a greater variety of women than less-rich men.

Give me this evidence. I want numbers. I suspect the correlation will be ridiculously tiny, perhaps far smaller than with stuff like height etc.

comment by Brian_22 · 2009-07-18T03:25:58.860Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect that while wealth is indeed correlated to sex, the causation runs from status and social skills to wealth and sex, meaning that a male at the 90th percentile of wealth and 10th percentile of status (think well-paid but socially inept geek) will have significantly less than average success with women.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-04-21T04:09:09.678Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't find it hard to believe that such preferences would be common among non-actresses. One way or another, the jet-or-lack-thereof isn't going to be right up in her face during the actual kissing.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-07-17T23:50:14.690Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Er... perhaps you would find different responses here from non-actresses not being interviewed in People magazine. Or not. Just sayin', the degree to which someone cares about something may have something to do with the degree to which they are ordinarily deprived of it. If you are not deprived of men owning jet planes, then you may feel free to weight it less than bad breath, [writes Eliezer].

I'll be the first to concede that my humble data point would be helpless to resist any real evidence of the sort that social psychologists specialize in obtaining. But even though I have failed to establish anything that cannot be easily knocked down by even one piece of strong evidence, I have undermined the "Roko hypothesis" entailed in Roko's comment that interventions to improve a man's weath or power have high expected laid-utililty -- since after all there is also no real evidence for the "Roko hypothesis". Or so it seems to me.

Also, and this is evidence that has professional social scientific experimental expertise or expertise in opinion surveys or such behind it, high status women are even less likely to form certain kinds of sexual bonds (marriage?) with a man of lower status than the woman has than middle-class or lower-class women are likely to -- a result born out by my personal experience as a man of bottom-quartile financial security and bottom-quality social status according to the the metrics used by some of the women who have been willing to discuss with me the idea or possibility of their having sex with me (I refer here to the ones that do not swoon over my intelligence, good looks, tallness and mastery of science) and robust across at least American, East-Indian/Hindu and IIRC British women. In other words, you would think that an American or East-Indian woman who already has more financial security than most kings and emperors throughout history have had would care less about the financial security of her long-term mate than the average woman would, but peer-reviewed psychological or opinion research finds that they care more. In other words, owning a Lear jet is more helpful to convince Dana Delany to enter into certain kinds of sexual bonds with you than it is helpful to convince the hairdresser at the corner mall or the average co-ed at a prestigious university to enter into that kind of sexual bond.

(The reason for the need for me to use the phrase "certain kinds of sexual bonds" is that I do not recall whether the studies I have seen surveyed opinions about marriage or what and that it is a robust result believed by a strong consensus of evolutionary psychologists that if Dana Delany is married to some rich movie star but contemplating an extra-marital no-strings-attached coupling, for the cuckolder to own a Lear jet probably does him almost no good at all -- signs of genetic fitness such as muscles, tallness, self-confidence and good looks being what women look for in that situation.)

Moreover, the image going through his mind when Roko wrote his words was probably that of a high-status woman.

comment by AllanCrossman · 2009-07-17T23:59:38.098Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to accept that women prefer men who have more money than them. Therefore, a man with a lot of money has more potential mates. Isn't that just the "Roko hypothesis"?

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-07-18T05:29:54.410Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to accept that women prefer men who have more money than them. Therefore, a man with a lot of money has more potential mates.

Well, yeah, but if you do not already have a lot of money, I claim that if you are very bright, there are probably ways of making yourself more attractive to women that are quicker, more reliable and easier than getting a lot of money.

What are those ways? I list some here.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-02T22:03:19.376Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Parenthetically I might write a post explaining why according to my mental models, for a male scientist who is bad at getting laid to choose to work on an extinction-risky technology has significantly lower expected utility than for a male scientist good at getting laid to choose to do so

Have you written such a post?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-02T15:40:26.255Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I just read something by someone who'd seen Lewinsky in person-- he said she had spectacular skin and a very sexy attitude. It's plausible that neither would necessarily come through in photographs.

comment by taw · 2012-03-03T13:58:22.640Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's not impossible, but if that person has met Lewinsky after Clinton thing became known that's way more easily explained by halo effect.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T00:41:02.065Z · score: 10 (40 votes) · LW · GW

There's really no chance that people are going to stop discussing "attractive women" (specifically, the sexual favors of attractive women) as objects that can and should be be attained under the right circumstances, is there? :(

comment by Steve_Rayhawk · 2009-07-18T13:44:08.954Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Related:

Envy Up and Contempt Down: Neural and Emotional Signatures of Social Hierarchies, presented by Susan T. Fiske, co-authors Mina Cikara and Ann Marie Russell, in the "Social Emotion and the Brain" session of the 2009 AAAS Meeting in Chicago (The Independent, Scientific American podcast, The Guardian, The Daily Princetonian, National Geographic, CNN, The Neurocritic)

The Independent:

The panel of 21 heterosexual male students were first rated in terms of their sexist attitudes to women, using answers to interview questions. Then they were placed in a brain scanner while viewing a set of images of women in bikinis, women in clothes and men in clothes. The scientists also used "sexualised" images, where the head of each semi-naked photograph was cut off so that only the torso was visible. . .

Scientific American:

. . . they had the men look at the photos while their brains were scanned and what she found was that, "...this memory correlated with activation in part of the brain that is a pre-motor, having intentions to act on something, so it was as if they immediately thought about how they might act on these bodies."

Fiske explained that the areas, the premotor cortex and posterior middle temporal gyrus, typically light up when one anticipates using tools, like a screwdriver. "I’m not saying that they literally think these photographs of women are photographs of tools per se, or photographs of non-humans, but what the brain imaging data allow us to do is to look at it as scientific metaphor. That is, they are reacting to these photographs as people react to objects."

Fisk also tested the men for levels of sexism and found a surprising effect those who scored high on this test, "...the hostile sexists were likely to deactivate the part of the brain that thinks about other people's intentions. The lack of activation of this social cognition area is really odd, because it hardly ever happens. It’s a very reliable effect, that the medial prefrontal cortex comes online when people think about other people, see pictures of them, imagine other people."

"Normally when you examine social cognition, people’s aim is to figure out what the other person is thinking and intending. And we see in these data really no evidence of that. So the deactivation of medial prefrontal cortex to these pictures is really kind of shocking."

The Independent:

"The only other time we've observed the deactivation of this region is when people look at pictures of homeless people and drug addicts who they really don't want to think about what's in their minds because they are put off by them."

Scientific American:

To be sure this is a preliminary study, and Fiske intends to follow up with a larger sample, but nonetheless she concludes, "...these findings are all consistent with the idea that they are responding to these photographs as if they are responding to objects and not to people with independent agency."

Dehumanizing the Lowest of the Low: Neuroimaging Responses to Extreme Out-Groups, by Lasana T. Harris and Susan T. Fiske:

Abstract -- . . . The SCM [Stereotype Content Model] predicts that only extreme out-groups, groups that are both stereotypically hostile and stereotypically incompetent (low warmth, low competence), such as addicts and the homeless, will be dehumanized. . . . Functional magnetic resonance imaging provided data for examining brain activations in 10 participants viewing 48 photographs of social groups and 12 participants viewing objects . . . Analyses revealed mPFC activation to all social groups except extreme (low-low) out-groups . . . No objects, though rated with the same emotions, activated the mPFC. This neural evidence supports the prediction that extreme out-groups may be perceived as less than human, or dehumanized. . . .

Accumulating data from social neuroscience establish that medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is activated when participants engage in distinctly social cognition² (Amodio & Frith, 2006; Ochsner, 2005). Prior functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data show the mPFC as differentially activated in social compared with nonsocial cognition. . . .


² We are not implying that the function of mPFC is solely social cognition. The evidence as to its exact functions is still being gathered. However, the literature indicates that mPFC activation reliably covaries with social cognition, that is, thinking about people, compared with thinking about objects.

comment by MichaelBishop · 2009-07-18T19:24:12.836Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

This is interesting, but I fear that the authors and the media are over-interpreting the data. There is a whole lot of research that basically goes from "the same area of the brain lights up!" to a shaky conclusion.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-16T17:12:49.155Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This sounds like highly motivated research. I'm curious about their test for scoring sexism, and how they established validity for that. Also, that isn't really how brain scanners work. It's not really possible to make those kinds of high-level determinations.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-07-17T18:28:11.603Z · score: 15 (37 votes) · LW · GW

Barring full-scale banhammer wielding... probably not, I'm afraid.

Do please try to understand that for many men, lack of sex is sort of like missing your heroin dosage - at least that's the metaphor Spider Robinson used. Anyone in this condition is probably going to go on about it, and if you're not starving at the moment you should try to have a little sympathy.

(EDIT: Of course, blathering about "attractive women" on a rationalist website and thereby driving rationalist women away from your own hangouts, and ignoring the fact that what you do is ticking off particular women, is extremely counterproductive behavior in this circumstance; but that's probably meta-level thinking that's beyond most people missing a heroin dosage. Men missing sex seem remarkably insensitive to what actually drives away women, just as women missing men are remarkably insensitive to such considerations as "Where does demand exceed supply?")

comment by Z_M_Davis · 2009-07-18T00:55:13.489Z · score: 16 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Do please try to understand that for many men, lack of sex is sort of like missing your heroin dosage - at least that's the metaphor Spider Robinson used. Anyone in this condition is probably going to go on about it, and if you're not starving at the moment you should try to have a little sympathy.

Of course it is well known that men on average have a higher sex drive than women on average, but I think the analogy to drug addiction or starving is ridiculous hyperbole. For just one thing, starving people and heroin addicts do not have the option of simply learning to masturbate.

comment by AllanCrossman · 2009-07-18T01:03:39.463Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Masturbation is not sex. If the only good thing about sex is having an orgasm, you're doing it wrong!

(That's not to say the analogy to heroin addiction is a reasonable one.)

comment by Z_M_Davis · 2009-07-18T01:07:45.281Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Masturbation is not sex.

No, but it should be similar enough to break the analogy to starvation or heroin deprivation.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-20T05:09:20.330Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Well, that seems right, but allow me to clarify.

To use the food analogy, masturbation is like subsisting on flavorless but nutritionally adequate food, the proverbial "bread and water." Sex with someone who finds you desirable is more like that rich, delicious dessert that advertisers hope you've been fantasizing about recently. (Note the with someone who finds you desirable. It's important.)

If we have to use the drug metaphor, masturbation is more like giving a heroin addict all the methadone he wants.

comment by AllanCrossman · 2009-07-18T01:14:36.000Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm just questioning the idea that masturbation is to sex-starved people as food is to actually starving people.

(Course, that's not exactly what you said either.)

comment by bogus · 2009-07-18T01:28:08.771Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

To someone who deeply disdains human society, it probably is equivalent. Suppose that it were possible to soothe your hunger by just rubbing your stomach - how many people would do it and forgo food completely?

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-20T04:25:53.844Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, if I didn't have to eat, I probably wouldn't.

comment by MichaelBishop · 2009-07-18T21:32:09.232Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Pornography may reduce rape though I haven't investigated the methodology too thoroughly. If true, it is certainly another sign that lack of sexual satisfaction is a big problem.

The heroin metaphor certainly entails exaggeration, but I'm undecided as to whether that makes it inappropriate. Do you have a proposed substitute?

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-20T05:15:54.080Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

May I make a suggestion:

In many contexts like this, we need to replace "sex" with "intimacy." Or simply "attention."

It's not very masculine to admit it, but we men want love, too, or to at least to feel like we're desired by somebody. From what I've read, a prostitute is someone who a man pays to pretend to desire him while he masturbates using her body, and a lot of men aren't interested in that sort of thing.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-20T05:52:12.904Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

It's not very masculine to admit it, but we men want love, too, or to at least to feel like we're desired by somebody. From what I've read, a prostitute is someone who a man pays to pretend to desire him while he masturbates using her body, and a lot of men aren't interested in that sort of thing.

Actually, it's something of a cliche that the more a sex worker is paid, the less important sex is the interaction, such that it becomes a smaller portion of the time spent, or perhaps doesn't occur at all.

(Where my information comes from: my wife runs a "sex shop" (selling products, not people!), and I was once approached by one of her customers to do a website for a prostitute review service, and I looked over some of the review materials, as well as some existing review sites to understand the industry and its competition before I declined the job. A significant portion of what gets reviewed on these "hobbyist" sites (as they're called) relate to a prositute's personality and demeanor, not her physique or sexual proficiency per se. Certainly, this only correlates with what guys who post prostitute reviews on the internet want, but it's an interesting correlation, nonetheless.)

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-20T06:15:55.257Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I've heard that, too. As I said earlier, as far as I can tell, men tend to want girlfriends more than they want sex toys that have a woman's body, and some women are better actors than others. If I were to hire an escort, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between someone who was genuinely interested in me and someone who was acting, and I don't want to pay someone to deceive me.

Incidentally, there's a disturbing similarity between hiring an escort and hiring a therapist - you're paying someone to act like they're interested in you, even if they're not.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-17T19:34:03.662Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, blathering about "attractive women" on a rationalist website and thereby driving rationalist women away from your own hangouts, and ignoring the fact that what you do is ticking off particular women, is extremely counterproductive behavior in this circumstance

Now you sound like one of these scientists suggesting that the scientific community should pretend that religion and science are compatible, even though they believe that that statement is false, purely because doing so will upset the deluded ones.

Rationality and negation(pickup works to a significant degree) are about as incompatible as religion and science. We would expect based upon our understanding of evolutionary psychology, specifically about reproduction strategies for male and female animals that something like this would happen. AND on top of that we have the empirical evidence that companies are making money by selling pickup skills to males at $2000 for a weekend seminar.

I think that on LW, we should call a spade a spade, even if it upsets womens' cherished beliefs about themselves.

I am personally glad that you wrote a long post shattering my cherished false beliefs about myself a while ago, even if it did upset me at the time and involved objectifying me.

comment by Z_M_Davis · 2009-07-18T00:57:04.583Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

involved objectifying me.

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2009-07-17T20:43:23.237Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Rationality and negation(pickup works to a significant degree) are about as incompatible as religion and science.

Saying you could have expressed a proposition better isn't disagreeing with the proposition.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-17T20:47:24.047Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Right. Specifics on "could have expressed a proposition better" would be of high utility/

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T18:48:24.961Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Do please try to understand that for many men, lack of sex is sort of like missing your heroin dosage

There's a few important differences (for instance, heroin is not a person that can read this site and be made to feel unwelcome), but I'm sure you know that.

if you're not starving at the moment

Why would you assume that? Is there some reason it seems more likely to you that I'm having regular sex and therefore am completely without the ability to sympathize, than that I just don't objectify people even if I haven't had a fix of person lately?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-07-17T18:58:37.228Z · score: 7 (23 votes) · LW · GW

heroin is not a person that can read this site and be made to feel unwelcome

Would that matter if you were missing a heroin dosage? Would you be able to pause that long to think about it, even if the actual consequence of your actions were to drive the heroin dosages away?

Why would you assume that?

To be blunt about this, human beings with XX chromosomes who experience equal or greater emotional pain for a given level of sex deprivation as the average human being with an XY chromosome are rare. Not nonexistent, but rare. A man experiencing or remembering the pain of sex deprivation is justified in assuming that the prior probabilities are strongly against a randomly selected woman being able to directly empathize with that pain.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T19:18:22.220Z · score: 2 (14 votes) · LW · GW

human beings with XX chromosomes who experience equal or greater emotional pain for a given level of sex deprivation as the average human being with an XY chromosome are rare.

How in the world would this be possible to know, unless you're using some kind of behaviorist account of pain?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-07-17T20:39:00.942Z · score: 16 (22 votes) · LW · GW

I'd suggest reading the Hite Reports on Male / Female Sexuality, say. The number one complaint of married men, by far, is about insufficient frequency of sex.

Similarly: If the expression "After three days without sex, life becomes meaningless" doesn't seem to square with your experience...

Similarly: http://www.wetherobots.com/2008/01/07/youve-been-misinformed/

Similarly: The vast majority of people who pay money (the unit of caring) to alleviate sex deprivation are men.

Given the statistical evidence, the anecdotal evidence, and the obvious evo-psych rationale, I'm willing to draw conclusions about internal experience.

comment by MendelSchmiedekamp · 2009-07-17T21:01:57.631Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

But drawing from this evidence that lack of sex for many (most?) men is emotionally equivalent to heroine withdraw seems a bit much.

In the very least if this were the case I would expect some direct evidence, rather than a list of things which could be chalked up to the differences in how men and women have been trained to spend money and words on the subject of sex.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T20:52:05.719Z · score: 5 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I'll see if I can find the Hite Reports. As for the other things you mention:

  • I have never heard that expression before. Do some people actually, seriously believe that life is literally meaningless after three days without sex [that involves another person, I assume, since if solo sex did the trick there would be no reason for anybody without a crippling disability to get to this point]? Why are there not more suicides, if this is the case?

  • I have read that comic before. I don't think this demonstrates anything other than that the male characters are less picky about how they satisfy their desires than the female character. Suppose you deprived me and some other person of food for 24 hours and then put us in a room with a lot of mint candy. The other person would probably eat some mints; I wouldn't, because eating mint causes me pain. Would you think this yielded information about how hunger felt to me and the other person? (Note: of course I would eat mint if I were starving or even about to suffer serious malnutrition, but you can't die of deprivation of sex with other people.)

  • Women who are willing to have sex with strangers (which comprise just about 100% of the class of prostitutes) can, for the most part, get it for free (or get paid to have it!) with trivial ease. Of course fewer women pay for it: the thing that is for sale (sex with a stranger) is not what women tend to want.

It seems to me that the conclusion to draw isn't (at least not necessarily) that men experience worse suffering when they don't have sex, but that "sex" does not just mean "friction with a warm human body" to women, and so it can't be had as easily as you think.

comment by steelgardenia · 2014-06-02T01:17:09.292Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So from evidence that men, on average, report/perform greater suffering from lack of sex, you can conclude that a specific woman has never felt as much sexual frustration as a specific man, or indeed, anything similar enough to allow for empathy? That seems far from airtight.

It's also worth noting that there are a great many men who seek physical and emotional intimacy from other men. So if your hypothesis is that men objectify their potential partners solely because their intimacy is temporarily unavailable, then a small but consistent portion of the partner-as-object-to-be-won rhetoric would be about men, which I have not observed.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T19:07:21.847Z · score: -2 (12 votes) · LW · GW

You do realize, I hope, that there are more than 2 ways for sex to express itself in humans, and humans can have a chromosomal arrangement that is contrary to their phenotypic sex. See XX male syndrome and Androgen insensitivity syndrome for just a couple of the many examples. Admittedly, generalizing from about 99% of the population doesn't seem like too bad of an epistemic move, but it's something to keep in mind.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-31T16:00:59.639Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I were missing my heroin dosage, I weren't able to do all that smart discussion going on here.

comment by steelgardenia · 2014-06-01T23:33:42.034Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What I wish you meant by this: "...so of course we're warming up the banhammer now!"

What you seem by this: "...so we won't be doing a thing to make this a space any less toxic for an inexplicably underrepresented majority."

I was really hoping this would be a come-for-the-fan-fiction-stay-for-the-awesome-forum situation, but if this community's priorities are accurately reflected (and please, please do prove me wrong) by the response "Come back and ask us to respect your humanity once everyone else has gotten their rocks off," then that is...exceedingly disappointing.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-17T13:08:50.915Z · score: 14 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Well, it's probably at least the same chance that Cosmo's covers are going to stop discussing men's love and commitment as "objects that can and should be attained under the right circumstances". ;-)

Or of course, we could just assume that when people talk about doing things in order to attract a mate, that:

  1. This has nothing to do with "objects" or "attainment",
  2. That any such mates attracted are acting of their own free will, and
  3. That what said consenting adults do with their time together is really none of our business.
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-02T15:55:45.039Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Shouldn't Less Wrong have a bit more subtlety and detail than Cosmo?

comment by Steve_Rayhawk · 2009-07-18T14:25:05.562Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

pjeby: Can you subjectively discriminate brain states of yours with high medial prefrontal cortex activity and brain states of yours with low medial prefrontal cortex activity? What behavior is primed by each brain state?

Alicorn has intuited that brain states with low mPFC activity prime rationalization of oppression and collusion in oppression. Alicorn also intuits that that signals of social approval of intuitively distinguished brain states characterized by low mPFC activity, as well as absence of signals of social disapproval of intuitively distinguished brain states characterized by low mPFC activity, are signals of social approval of oppression and of willingness to collude in and rationalize oppression.

Also, Alicorn did not express these intuitions clearly.

(Also, on this subject: I think utilitarian moral theorizing and transhumanist moral theorizing are two other brain states that are, by most people, mainly intuitively distinguished as characterizable by low mPFC activity. This makes not signaling disapproval of utilitarianism or transhumanism feel like signaling approval of totalitarianism and slavery.)

[edit fix username capitalization]

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-18T17:24:52.105Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

alicorn has intuited that brain states with low mPFC activity prime rationalization of oppression and collusion in oppression. alicorn also intuits that that signals of social approval of intuitively distinguished brain states characterized by low mPFC activity, as well as absence of signals of social disapproval of intuitively distinguished brain states characterized by low mPFC activity, are signals of social approval of oppression and of willingness to collude in and rationalize oppression.

Wow, that's an awful lot of projection in a tiny space - both your projection onto her, and the projection you're projecting she's making.

I don't think that you can treat the mere use of the word "get" to imply the sort of states you're talking about, for several reasons.

First, I think it's interesting that the study in question did not have men look at people -- they looked at photographs of people. Photographs of people do not have intentions, so it'd be a bit strange to try to figure out the intentions of a photograph. (Also, human beings' tendency to dehumanize faceless persons is well-known; that's why they put hoods on people before they torture them.)

Second, I don't think that a man responding to a woman's body as if it were an object -- it is one, after all -- is a problem in and of itself, any more than I think it's a problem when my wife admires, say, the body of Jean Claude van Damme when he's doing one of those "splits" moves in one of his action movies. Being able to admire something that's attractive, independent of the fact that there's a person inside it, is not a problem, IMO.

After all, even the study you mention notes that only the sexist men went on to deactivate their mPFC... so it actually demonstrates the independence of enjoyment from oppression or objectification in the negative sense.

So, I'm not going to signal social disapproval of such admiration and enjoyment experiences, whether they're engaged in by men OR women. It's a false dichotomy to assume that the presence of "objective" thought is equal to the absence of subjective/empathic thought.

After all, my wife and I are both perfectly capable of treating each other as sex objects, or telling one another we want to "get some of that" in reference to each other's body parts without it being depersonalizing in the least. (Quite the opposite, in fact.)

We can also refer to someone else (male or female) as needing to "get some" without any hostile or depersonalizing intent towards the unspecified and indeterminate party from whom they would hypothetically be getting "some".

In short, both your own projections and the projections you project Alicorn to be making, are incorrect generalizations: even the study you reference doesn't support a link between "objectification" and low mPFC, except in people who are already sexist. You can't therefore use even evidence of "object-oriented" thinking (and the word "get" is extremely low quality evidence of such, anyway!) as evidence of sexism. The study doesn't support it, and neither does common sense.

comment by Steve_Rayhawk · 2009-07-18T22:13:47.703Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

It's a false dichotomy to assume that the presence of "objective" thought is equal to the absence of subjective/empathic thought.

Yes. But when women like Alicorn intuitively solve the signaling and negotiation game represented in their heads, using their prior belief distributions about mens' hidden qualities and dispositions, their beliefs about mens' utility functions conditional on disposition, and their own utility functions, then their solutions predict high costs for any strategy of tolerating objectifying statements by unfamiliar men of unknown quality. It's not about whether or not objectification implies oppressiveness with certainty. It's about whether or not women think objectification is more convenient or useful to unfamiliar men who are disposed to depersonalization and oppression, compared with its convenience or usefulness to unfamiliar men who are not disposed to depersonalization and oppression. If you want to change this, you have to either change some quantity in womens' intuitive representation of this signaling game, improve their solution procedure, or argue for a norm that women should disregard this intuition.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-19T03:35:55.094Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to change this,

Change what? Your massive projection onto what "women like Alicorn" do? I'd think that'd be up to you to change.

Similarly, if I don't like what Alicorn is doing, and I can't convince her to change that, then it's my problem... just as her not being able to convince men to speak the way she wants is hers.

At some point, all problems are our own problems. You can ask other people to change, but then you can either accept the world as it is, or suffer needlessly.

(To forestall the inevitable analogies and arguments: "accept" does not mean "not try to change" - it means, "not react with negative emotion to". If you took the previous paragraph to mean that nobody should fight racism or sexism, you are mistaken. It's easier to change a thing you accept as a fact, because your brain is not motivated to deny it or "should" it away, and you can then actually pay attention to the human being whose behavior you'd like to change. You can't yell a racist or sexist into actually changing, only into being quiet. You can, however, educate and accept some people into changing. As the religious people say, "love the sinner, hate the sin"... only I go one step further and say you don't have to hate something in order to change it... and that it's usually easier if you don't.)

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2009-07-18T17:56:43.117Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why the double negative in the last sentence? Are you claiming that utilitarianism and transhumanism feel stronger than totalitarianism and slavery?

comment by Steve_Rayhawk · 2009-07-18T21:36:08.017Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The double negative is because of peoples' different assumed feelings about utilitarianism or transhumanism and totalitarianism or slavery. There is a strong consensus about totalitarianism and slavery, but there is not a strong consensus about utilitarianism and transhumanism. So I expect most people to feel like other people will assume that they already disapprove of totalitarianism or slavery, but not to feel like other people will assume that they already disapprove of utilitarianism or transhumanism.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2009-07-20T19:24:56.624Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the clarification. I think that you should not have indicated it in such a subtle way: either you should have spelled it out, as in the follow-up, or you should have probably left it out. It's the kind of thing footnotes are good for.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T17:15:41.277Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Can I really be said to have intuited something that makes less than no sense to me?

comment by Steve_Rayhawk · 2009-07-18T21:03:04.680Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I think you intuited that there are some states of mind that cause oppression of women when they are socially tolerated and approved. I also think you intuited that, if women see men in a forum saying things that might be expressions of those states of mind, and see that those things are tolerated, it will cause the women to feel uncomfortable in that forum. I think that your intuition does refer to a real difference between states of mind that can be objectively characterized. (I don't mean to say that you intuited that mPFC measurements were part of that objective characterization.)

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T21:07:45.476Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I think you intuited that there are some states of mind that cause oppression of women when they are socially tolerated and approved.

I think you're mistaken. I'm not a consequentialist! I can complain about some thing X without necessarily thinking it causes anything bad, and especially without thinking that X is a problem because it causes something bad. I think objectifying people in thought, word or deed is wrong. I can still think that the "thought" and "word" varieties of objectification are wrong even if they don't lead to the "deed" kind, so it's not at all necessary for me to have intuited the leap you suggest. That doesn't make it false, it just means you're reading your own views into mine.

comment by Steve_Rayhawk · 2009-07-19T00:34:40.165Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

But... if objectification never caused oppression, would you still want to complain about it or think it was wrong? Causally? In that world, what would be the cause of your wish to complain about it or think it was wrong?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-19T00:50:05.346Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

My ethical views are based on rights. I think that people have the right to be thought of and spoken about as people, not as objects. Therefore, thinking or speaking of people as objects is a violation of that right. Therefore, under my ethical system, it is wrong, even if it really never went any farther.

comment by Steve_Rayhawk · 2009-07-19T01:02:42.498Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

But... if violations of rights never caused oppression, would you still want to complain about them or think they were wrong? Causally? In that world, what would be the cause of your wish to complain about them or think they were wrong?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-19T01:11:56.662Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Want to? Maybe not. There are other demands on my time, after all, and it's already annoying enough being the only person who (locally) catches these things here in the actual world where the objectification is more hazardous. (It was never my ambition to be the feminism police or the token girl on the site, I assure you.) I would still think it was wrong, but you keep emphasizing causality and I'm just not sure why you think that's an interesting question. I guess for the same cause as the (beginnings of) the development of my ethical theory to start out with, which aren't even clearly memorable to me.

comment by Steve_Rayhawk · 2009-07-20T06:23:46.524Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

. . . you keep emphasizing causality and I'm just not sure why you think that's an interesting question.

This is hard to explain.

What makes it an interesting question for me is your disagreement with my causal explanation of your motivations (that I gave to pjeby, so he would understand your motivations and not dismiss them).

When I said,

I think you intuited that there are some states of mind that cause oppression of women when they are socially tolerated and approved.

which could be reworded as,

I think the cause of your being motivated to object to objectification is that you intuited that objectification is a state of mind that causes oppression of women when it is socially tolerated and approved.

you said, intending it as a counterargument,

I think you're mistaken. I'm not a consequentialist! I can complain about some thing X without necessarily thinking it causes anything bad, and especially without thinking that X is a problem because it causes something bad.

This means,

I think you're mistaken. I'm not a consequentialist! If I am motivated to think that objectification is a problem generally, and complain about instances of objectification, it does not necessarily mean that I think it causes something bad.

But to counterargue what I had meant, and what I had thought I had said, you would have had to say:

I think you're mistaken. I'm not a consequentialist! If I am motivated to think that objectification is a problem generally, and complain about instances of objectification, it does not necessarily mean that I ever intuited the emotional association that objectification or toleration of objectification could sometimes cause situations (such as oppression) that I and other women would, reasonably, want to avoid being in.

But if that is true, then how could you be caused to be motivated to think that objectification is a problem generally, and to complain about instances of it?

If the cause of your motivation to think that objectification is a problem is that it is a violation of a right, then what was the cause of your motivation to think that objectification is a violation of a right? Would you also say:

I think you're mistaken. I'm not a consequentialist! If I am motivated to think that objectification is a violation of a right, this does not necessarily mean that I ever intuited the emotional association that objectification or toleration of objectification could sometimes cause situations (such as oppression) that I would want to avoid, even though the ways I would want to avoid those situations would be the same ways that I would want to avoid the situations (such as oppression) that could sometimes be caused by other violations of rights or by toleration of other violations of rights.

But if that is true, then how could you be caused to be motivated to think that objectification is a violation of a right?

I think there is human-universal psychological machinery for intuitively learning subtle differences between states of mind in other people that might be advantageous or disadvantageous to oneself or one's allies, and for negotiating about those states of mind and the behaviors characteristic of those states of mind. "Objectification" and "depersonalization" would be two of these states of mind. I think the cause of your being motivated to think that objectification is bad, and the cause of your being motivated to think that objectification is a violation of a right, is that in your mind this machinery intuitively learned that "objectification" is a state of mind in other people that might be disadvantageous to you or people you cared about, and the machinery made you want to negotiate about objectifying states of mind in other people and the behaviors characteristic of those states of mind. (I think the concepts of "rights" and "dignity" are partly ways to talk about intuitions like that.)

If I am mistaken that this is an essential part of the cause of your motivations, then what is the cause of your motivations? What is the alternative that makes me mistaken?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-20T06:29:14.970Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If the cause of your motivation to think that objectification is a problem is that it is a violation of a right, then what was the cause of your motivation to think that objectification is a violation of a right?

At that point, I'm relying on intuition.

I hope that answers your question, because I didn't understand anything you said after that.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2010-09-19T08:07:46.557Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Steve was attempting to go half-meta and have you independently come to the conclusion he had reached about where that intuition came from by getting you to look back at the probable sequences of events that had led to the intuition and realize that your position was simply a higher level abstraction of the actual causal process that he was describing, thus allowing him to credibly claim to pjeby and others that your objections to perceived objectification were not entirely silly and thereby resolve the whole gender wars thing via a chain of absurdly long and complex sentences whose veracity is totally overpowered by their inscrutability.

I'm stupid that way too sometimes.

comment by AllanCrossman · 2009-07-19T01:03:41.778Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm happy enough to accept that people should be spoken of as people. But I can't get my head round the idea that we have a right to the contents of other people's heads being a certain way.

But what does the word right mean to you? To me, it mostly means "the state does or should guarantee this". But I'm guessing that can't be what you have in mind.

Can rights conflict in your understanding of the term? Can you have a right to someone not thinking certain thoughts, while at the same time they have a right to think them anyway?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-19T01:08:02.152Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My use of the word "right" has nothing to do with any political structure. If you have a word that carries less of a poli-sci connotation that otherwise means more or less the same thing (i.e. a fact about a person that imposes obligations on agents that causally interact with that person) then I'll happily switch to reduce confusion, but I haven't run across a more suitable word yet.

My ethical theory is not fully developed. I've only said this on three or four places on the site, so perhaps you missed it. But my first-pass intuition about that is that while people may not have the right to think objectifying thoughts, they do have the right not to be interfered with in thinking them.

comment by AllanCrossman · 2009-07-19T01:21:30.899Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps "moral right" or somesuch.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-19T01:26:54.325Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That seems cumbersome, although maybe in lengthy expositions I could get away with saying "moral right" once, footnoting it, and saying just "right" for the rest of it...

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-07-19T09:40:18.981Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not a consequentialist! I can complain about some thing X without necessarily thinking it causes anything bad, and especially without thinking that X is a problem because it causes something bad.

It's not against consequentialism to see some things as bad in themselves, not because they cause something else to be bad. It's easy to see: for it to be possible for something else to be bad, that something else needs to be bad in itself.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T17:29:33.192Z · score: 1 (11 votes) · LW · GW

It's hard to buy the idea that it's not supposed to have to do with objects or attainment when the phrasing looks like:

extremely attractive women that money and status would get them

You could just as easily say the same thing about cars or a nice house or something else readily available for sale. I wouldn't mind if the mate-seeking potential of money and status was discussed indirectly in a way that didn't make it sound like there is a ChickMart where you can go out and buy attractive women. "If I were a millionaire I could easily support a family", "if I were a millionaire I would have more free time to spend on seeking a girlfriend" - even "if I were a millionaire I could afford the attention of really classy prostitutes", because at least the prostitutes are outright selling their services. It's probably not even crossing the line to say something like "if I were a millionaire I would be more attractive to women".

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-17T18:06:17.137Z · score: 6 (12 votes) · LW · GW

How's this different from women's magazines having articles on how to "get" a man? Is this not idiomatically equivalent to "be more attractive to more-attractive men"? If so, then why the double standard?

Meanwhile, the reason that the phrasing was vague is because it's an appropriate level of detail for what was specified: men with more money have more access to mating opportunity for all of the reasons you mention, and possibly more besides. Why exhaustively catalog them in every mention of the fact, especially since different individuals likely differ in their specific routes or preferences for the "getting"? (Men and women alike.)

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T18:15:15.703Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have some evidence that I approve of that feature of women's magazines, or are you just making it up? I find it equally repulsive, I just haven't found that particular behavior duplicated here so I haven't mentioned it.

If concision is all that was intended, there are still other, less repellent ways to say it ("If I were a millionaire, my money and status might influence people to think better of me", leaving it implied that some of these people will be women and some of these women might have sex with the millionaire.) Or it could have been left out.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-17T22:35:59.682Z · score: 2 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I find it equally repulsive,

So you find goal-oriented mating behavior offensive in both men and women. What's your reasoning for that? Does it enhance your life to find normal human behavior offensive? What rational benefit does it provide to you or others?

If concision is all that was intended, there are still other, less repellent ways to say it

And we could call atheism agnosticism so as not to offend the religious. For what reason should we do that, instead of simply saying what is meant?

What kind of rationalism permits a mere truth to be offensive, and require it to be omitted from polite discussion? Truths we don't like are still truths.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T22:42:04.243Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I did not use the word "offensive" (or for that matter "goal-oriented mating behavior"), and I'd appreciate if you would refrain from substituting inexact synonyms when you interpret what I say. (You specifically; you seem bad at it. Other people have had better luck.)

There is a difference between upsetting people who hold a certain belief, and upsetting people who were born with a particular gender.

What "mere truth" do you mean to pick out here, anyway? I have made some ethical claims and announced that I am repelled by the failure to adhere to the standards I mentioned. I'm not "offended" by any facts, I'm repulsed by a behavior.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-17T23:19:34.601Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I did not use the word "offensive" (or for that matter "goal-oriented mating behavior"), and I'd appreciate if you would refrain from substituting inexact synonyms when you interpret what I say.

If I didn't do that, how would we know we weren't understanding each other? Now at least I can try to distinguish "offensive" from "repulsive", and ask what term you would use in place of "goal-oriented mating behavior" that applies to what you find repulsive about both men and women choosing their actions with an intent to influence attractive persons of an appropriate sex to engage in mating behaviors with them?

What "mere truth" do you mean to pick out here, anyway?

That men and women do stuff to "get" mates. This was what the original poster stated, that you appeared to object to the mere discussion of, and have further said that you wished people wouldn't mention directly, only by way of euphemism or substitution of more-specific phrases.

I have made some ethical claims

I guess I missed them. All I heard you saying was that it's bad to talk about men "getting" women by having money. Are you saying it's unethical that it happens, or that it's unethical to discuss it? I think I'm confused now.

and announced that I am repelled by the failure to adhere to the standards I mentioned. I'm not "offended" by any facts, I'm repulsed by a behavior.

Which behavior? Seeking mates, or talking about the fact that people do?

There is a difference between upsetting people who hold a certain belief, and upsetting people who were born with a particular gender.

You seem to be implying that it's your gender that makes you repulsed, but that makes no sense to me. I assume the women's magazines that sell on the basis of "getting" men would not do so if the repulsion [that I understand you to be saying] you have were universal to your gender, AND it were not a sexist double standard.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T23:28:21.923Z · score: 8 (20 votes) · LW · GW

what term you would use in place of "goal-oriented mating behavior" that applies to what you find repulsive about both men and women choosing their actions with an intent to influence attractive persons of an appropriate sex to engage in mating behaviors with them?

I've been using "objectification" to label the set of behaviors of which I disapprove. (It isn't the only one, but it's the most important here.)

I claim that it is unethical to objectify people. By "objectify", I mean to think of, talk about as, or treat like a non-person. A good heuristic is to see how easily a given sentence could be reworked to have as a subject something inanimate instead of a person. For instance, if someone says, "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and girls falling over themselves to be with me", the fact that the girls appear as an item in a list along with a vehicle and a dwelling would be a giant red flag. The sample substitute, "If I were a millionaire, my money and status might influence people to think better of me", would not make sense if you changed "people" to "cars", because cars do not think. This heuristic is imperfect, and some statements may be objectifying even if their applicability is limited to persons. Likewise, there are statements that can be made about people that are not really objectifying even if you could say them about non-people (e.g. "So-and-so is five feet six inches tall"; "that bookshelf is five feet six inches tall".)

The behavior that I am repulsed by is the behavior of objectification. The fact that people objectify is simply true. The action of people actually objectifying causes me to castigate the objectifiers in question, whether they are doing so in the course of actively seeking mates or not.

comment by Pfft · 2009-07-21T23:38:50.389Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I claim that it is unethical to objectify people. By "objectify", I mean to think of, talk about as, or treat like a non-person. A good heuristic is to see how easily a given sentence could be reworked to have as a subject something inanimate instead of a person.

Ultimately each person's ethics are probably axiomatic and impossible to justify or discuss, but this injunction seems extremely odd to me, and trying to follow it would seem to have very bad consequences for the kind of thinking we could do.

For instance, consider the sentences "if falling freely, a car will accelerate at 9.8 m/s^2" and "if falling freely, a person will accelerate at 9.8 m/s^2". We are not allowed to say or think the second one. But that means that it is impossible to work out the answers to problems like "how long would it take me to fall from a building" -- which surely is a question which almost everyone has considered one time or another, and which seems intrinsically harmless.

The fact of the matter is, people are objects, and we ignore it at our peril. Some questions are best considered working "inside-out" , starting with and reasoning from our subjective experience, and some are best considered "outside-in", starting with what we know about our material make-up. (Especially questions about bias seem to fall in the latter category!)

Nor is there are clean separation between subject matters which requires "person-specific" reasoning and ones that do not. For instance, the topic of clinical depression brings in considerations about happiness and unhappiness, things that go to the core of the experience of being human. But even so, studies about serotonin -- a neurotransmitter with we share with common ants -- turn out to be very relevant.

The same actually goes for the "falling from a building" example. The reason I was originally interested in the question is of course from imagining the subjective experience -- what would it be like, hurling towards your death, how much would you have time to think, etc -- but even so, to get the relevant information we have to take the objective viewpoint.

And, I would argue, exactly the same applies to dating. The whole reason we are interested in the topic of dating in the first place is because of the associated subjective experiences. Even so, in thinking about certain aspects of it, it is useful to take the objective viewpoint.

comment by wuwei · 2009-07-19T01:35:00.509Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I still have very little idea what you mean by 'objectification' and 'objectify people'.

I was momentarily off-put by Roko's comment on the desire to have sex with extremely attractive women that money and status would get. This was because of:

  • the focus on sex, whereas I would desire a relationship.
  • the connotation of 'attractive' which in my mind usually means physical attractiveness, whereas my preferences are dominated by other features of women.
  • the modifier 'extremely' which seems to imply a large difference in utility placed on sex with extremely attractive women vs. very attractive or moderately attractive women, especially when followed by identifying this desire as a generator for desiring high social status rather than vice versa or discussing both directions of causation. (The latter would have made more sense to me in the context of Roko saying we should value social influential power.)

I had negative associations attached to Roko's comment because I started imagining myself with my preferences adopting Roko's suggestions. However, I wouldn't have voiced these negative associations in any phrases along the lines of 'objectificaton' or 'objectifying', or in terms of any moral concerns. The use of the word 'get' by itself did not strike me as particularly out of place any more than talk of 'getting a girlfriend/boyfriend'.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-19T02:00:29.927Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sorry you don't understand where I'm coming from. I don't have any bright ideas about how to make it less ambiguous.

the focus on sex, whereas I would desire a relationship.

Is there some reason you are put off when others don't share your desires? If the desire in question was something like "I desire to behave ethically" that would be okay, but there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with wanting sex but no relationship. There are ethical ways to pursue that desire.

the connotation of 'attractive' which in my mind usually means physical attractiveness, whereas my preferences are dominated by other features of women.

It's certainly nice that your attraction isn't dominated solely by physical features, but that isn't actually what "attractive" means on a reliable enough basis that I thought it was worth bringing up. Even if "conventionally physically attractive" was what Roko meant, there doesn't seem to be anything obviously wrong with that in light of the focus on sex over a relationship. One person can want to have no-strings-attached sex with multiple conventionally physically attractive women and I can want to settle down in a long-term relationship with a bespectacled dark-haired person with an IQ over 120 and there is no reason to think that these desires can't both be okay simultaneously.

the modifier 'extremely' which seems to imply a large difference in utility placed on sex with extremely attractive women vs. very attractive or moderately attractive women

I don't see this as any more problematic than the mention of attractiveness in the first place. If it's okay for me to want a spouse with an IQ over 120, presumably it'd be okay for me to want a spouse with an IQ over 140, it'd just make a person satisfying my criteria trickier to find; the same would be true if Roko or anyone else wants to have sex with women several standard deviations above the physical attractiveness mean.

The use of the word 'get' by itself did not strike me as particularly out of place any more than talk of 'getting a girlfriend/boyfriend'.

Not more than, but "getting a [girl/boy]friend" isn't unloaded language either... (I have been known to use the word "obtain" with respect to a hypothetical future spouse myself, but that's mostly because "marry" would sound redundant.)

comment by bogus · 2009-07-19T02:38:50.562Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Is there some reason you are put off when others don't share your desires?

Read Roko's comment again and you'll realize that Wu wei is quite justified in being put off by it. Roko was implying that people who do not adopt these specific values are setting themselves up for failure at their goals due to not being motivated enough.

In my opinion, Roko's whole argument reeks of availability bias. People who have attained more wealth and social status are certainly more salient to us, but this doesn't make them more influential by real-world measures. Still, money makes the world go round and having more wealthy philanthropists who can look beyond warm fuzzies to actual utilons created would be a very good thing.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-19T03:20:08.492Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Not more than, but "getting a [girl/boy]friend" isn't unloaded language either... (I have been known to use the word "obtain" with respect to a hypothetical future spouse myself, but that's mostly because "marry" would sound redundant.)

Then why is "getting" objectionable? I (obviously) don't "get" it, no pun intended.

comment by wuwei · 2009-07-19T02:55:46.808Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I had negative associations attached to Roko's comment because I started imagining myself with my preferences adopting Roko's suggestions.

This sentence was meant to explain why I was momentarily off-put. I did not mean to imply that I have any ethical problems with the desires mentioned (I don't), though now that you mention it, I wouldn't be too surprised if I do retain some knee-jerk ethical intuitions against them.

comment by Emile · 2009-07-18T07:38:49.953Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

For instance, if someone says, "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and girls falling over themselves to be with me", the fact that the girls appear as an item in a list along with a vehicle and a dwelling would be a giant red flag.

I'm not sure objectification is the cause of the red flag here : would you get the same impression if he said "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and a gardener"?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T07:53:34.595Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You make a very good point. I'm tempted to draw a distinction between referring to a hypothetical member of a profession as opposed to a hypothetical member of a gender, but until I've given this more thought all I will say is that it'd probably be better to say "a garden" than "a gardener".

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-07-18T10:54:28.765Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure objectification is the cause of the red flag here : would you get the same impression if he said "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and a gardener"? [writes Emile]

until I've given this more thought all I will say is that it'd probably be better to say "a garden" than "a gardener" [writes Alicorn].

Alicorn, I am curious what is your answer to Emile's question if we replace "gardener" with "butler"?

Please do not take my question as a dismissal of your concern. In fact, I think it is probable that you have a valid concern. I ask my question not in the spirit of a debate but rather in the spirit of a cooperative quest to understand. I am planning more top-level posts about sex, and I do not want my ignorance of your concerns and similar concerns to cause me to alienate female Less Wrongers.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T17:26:38.723Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think what I'm going to wind up saying to both the gardener and butler examples is that those individuals are explicitly selling their work, so it's okay to refer to the profession as a stand-in for a semi-objectified human representation of that work. I've said elsewhere that when people want to have sex with women, it's "at least honest" to purchase it outright from prostitutes who are selling it; I imagine it's no less honest to purchase the work of a gardener or a butler. It's when random "attractive women"/"girls"/whatever are said to be taking action other than the actual, literal sale of some sort of work as a result of hypothetical millionaire-ness that it stops being acceptable.

comment by Tiiba · 2009-07-20T04:03:49.421Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think the problem is that you need to think though what it is you're protesting. Objectification, to me, doesn't mean wanting to get, acquire or obtain a girl. Buying a girl, raping a girl - that's objectification, because the rapist ignores the fact that the girl has free will. It's still true that she is ALSO an object, though. And a chordate animal. And an ultra-feminist.

Buying women, kidnapping women, shotgun wedding, buying off the cops to cover up your rape - these are no-nos. But what's wrong with attracting girls by being more awesome?

(Also, it is immoral to abuse bugs in people's decision-making algorithms.)

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-20T04:31:30.972Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

But what's wrong with attracting girls by being more awesome?

Nothing, unless by "more awesome" you mean "more deceitful, depersonalizing, and piggish".

comment by Tiiba · 2009-07-20T05:19:34.249Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Please explain to me how being rich is any of these things. Don't make me invoke Godwinski's Law.

It seems to me that you're saying that merely wanting sex is dehumanizing.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-20T05:23:33.986Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Please explain to me how being rich is any of these things.

It's not.

Don't make me invoke Godwinski's Law.

What?

It seems to me that you're saying that merely wanting sex is dehumanizing.

No.

comment by Tiiba · 2009-07-20T06:54:43.674Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Please explain to me how being rich is any of these things.

It's not."

Then what DO you mean? Minutae of phrasing?

When I said "more awesome", I meant "richer". That is also what Roko said - that money gets you girls. He didn't say that money gets you girls on the black market. Money gets you all sorts of girls - from sex slaves to true love. Not being a jerk is a separate problem.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-20T15:47:14.303Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Godwinski's Law.

The first Google result for this is the parent comment. I have no idea what you mean. From what I gather, it's supposed to be invoked when someone calls one's opponent a Communist. Did that happen?

comment by Tiiba · 2009-07-20T16:56:16.912Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's a term that was proposed on TV Tropes, but I forgot that, apparently, it wasn't launched.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-20T17:01:18.686Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is thomblake's definition correct, then?

comment by Tiiba · 2009-07-20T20:07:40.733Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yep.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-20T20:08:44.121Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks!

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-20T04:55:46.879Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Nothing, unless by "more awesome" you mean "more deceitful, depersonalizing, and piggish".

Some people (of both sexes) have a sexual preference for depersonalization or being depersonalized. Are you saying that they are wrong to have that preference, or that it is wrong for anyone to participate with their enactment of it?

I assume here that by "wrong" you intend to ascribe some higher form of wrongness than merely your own disgust. But even if it's just your personal disgust, I find it hard to see how that disgust is any different from say, homophobia.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-20T05:03:32.902Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Some people (of both sexes) have a sexual preference for depersonalization or being depersonalized. Are you saying that they are wrong to have that preference, or that it is wrong for anyone to participate with their enactment of it?

If you're talking about the ilk of BDSM, I do not think those desires or their enactments are wrong, but there is a difference between (for instance) person A calling person B depersonalizing names in situation X, where this is a scene and B has a safeword and they're going to go have scrambled eggs at a café together later or something, and in situation Y, where this is an abusive relationship and A is really and continually thought of as an object rather than a partner - even if in situation Y as well as X, B happens to be turned on by the depersonalizing names. By a similar token, battery is wrong even if you just so happen to perpetrate it on a masochist; murder is wrong even if you just so happen to perpetrate it on someone who was about to commit suicide; etc. Information, not luck.

The next logical thing to bring up is 24/7 BDSM relationships, but responsibly conducted those at least begin with a personal and consensual ceding of control.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-20T05:13:50.281Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But there is a difference between (for instance) person A calling person B depersonalizing names in situation X, where this is a scene and B has a safeword and they're going to go have scrambled eggs at a café together later or something, and in situation Y, where this is an abusive relationship and A is really and continually thought of as an object rather than a partner - even if in situation Y as well as X, B happens to be turned on by the depersonalizing names.

The question was, is it then "wrong" (as you suggested it was) for person B to think person A is "more awesome" in situation Y?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-20T05:15:56.896Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In situation Y, person A is an abuser, and no one should think abusers at all awesome, at least not at being ethical people (I suppose they could be awesome at something else, like curling or origami). To think an abuser is awesome at being an ethical person is to be mistaken and, probably, to be mistaken about facts of morality.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-20T05:35:08.422Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The comment of yours I'm referring to is the one where you said:

Nothing [is wrong] unless by "more awesome" you mean "more deceitful, depersonalizing, and piggish".

And it was in reply to a comment asking what was wrong with attracting people via awesomeness, so switching it to "being ethical people" now is a complete red herring.

You still haven't said what it is that's "wrong" here with someone having a different definition of awesomeness than you.

So when you say:

In situation Y, person A is an abuser, and no one should think abusers at all awesome

My question to you is, what are you saying about person B thinking person A is awesome, in the sense of being attractive? (as was the context of this thread) You implied that it is "wrong". How so?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-20T05:43:43.543Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know what you're talking about again, and probably shouldn't have re-engaged with you in the first place.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-20T06:08:19.283Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know what you're talking about again

I'm asking you simple, straightforward questions about your comments.

Perhaps it will be clearer if I give a personal example.

When I was a lot younger, I was in a relationship with a woman who, well, largely held me in contempt, except as a vehicle for satisfying certain of her sexual desires. Was I wrong to find this depersonalizing piggishness of hers awesome, despite the fact that her contempt was not part of a negotiated BDSM scene, nor any sort of playacting on her part? Was her attitude somehow morally wrong? Was mine?

My point here is that this sort of bright-line moralism invariably ends up depriving other people of choice, or framing them as second-class humans. The very attempt to codify objective criteria for "objectification" ends up objectifying and oppressing people.

We can be considerate of individuals, but trying to be considerate of classes of people doesn't scale: just segregating people into classes in the first place is half the problem! (e.g. stereotype priming)

Edit to add clarification: one reason defining classes and labeling people members of them is depersonalizing is because it downplays their individuality to merely a set of footnotes on the ways in which they are or are not like the class they are being seen as a member of. For example, saying that a woman is a good programmer "for a woman" is depersonalizing, despite the superficial positive intent to compliment. In the same way, Alicorn's classing other people's activity as "abuse" or "wrong" is depersonalizing, despite the superficial positive intent of that labeling.

For example, it labels me as a victim of abuse, regardless of how I choose to see myself. By Alicorn's own definitions (as I understand them) this is morally "wrong" for her to do -- which appears to me to demonstrate the self-contradictory (or at least inconsistent) nature of her definitions.

My own resolution to such a paradox is to assume that it's good to be considerate to individuals, but also to accept that others do not have a corresponding obligation to be considerate to me. I don't expect that Alicorn must refrain from stating her opinions about my past relationship, just because it might be inconsiderate of her to do so, nor do I feel a need to make her feel bad for implying something bad about me. And if I did feel bad about it, that would be my responsibility to fix, not hers.

And if I couldn't simply fix the problem by changing my feelings, and chose to ask Alicorn or anyone else to be more considerate in their speech, I certainly wouldn't do it by starting out with the implication that they were morally wrong and that it was unquestionably a good idea that they should take my feelings into consideration! If I was going to ask at all, I'd ask for it as what it is: a favor to a specific person.

comment by SoullessAutomaton · 2009-07-18T18:01:04.593Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It is perhaps a salient distinction that people choose their profession, but not their gender.

However, I disagree; both are objectifying to some degree, but it is considered socially acceptable to objectify people in the context of employment, presumably because both parties are getting some explicit value out of the transaction.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-18T18:10:00.819Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's certainly something that mid-20th-century radicals would object to. The language of 'objectification' that we've inherited primarily from radical feminists grew out of the intellectual framework of the Marxists, who were explicitly objecting to that sort of treatment of employees; cf Marx (or better yet Hagel)'s notion of alienation.

That said, I don't think we have any radicals here in that sense, and I agree with Alicorn's characterization that it would have probably been fine for OP to say (roughly speaking) "get lots of prostitutes".

comment by bogus · 2009-07-18T19:01:22.074Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Marx's equivalent to objectification is actually called "commodity fetishism" (seriously - no pun intended). It corresponds to replacing social relations between human beings with mere exchange of commodities. In Marxian analysis, this obscures the social and exchange relations between producers and consumers, since e.g. a worker becomes utterly unaware of the people who will consume his products, except to the extent that his "labor-power" is valued as a commodity.

Of course, as Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek observed, commodity fetishism (or the "commercial production process") is what makes modern-day specialization and complex supply chains possible: even something as humble as a cotton shirt might incorporate designs sketched out in Italy, cotton grown in Africa and plastic buttons made in China. Requiring human contact or conscious agreements between so many agents would clearly be infeasible.

The benefits of sexual objectification are far less clear, except to the extent that (as some empirical evidence bears out) some people are positive towards being objectified in a sexual context.

comment by SoullessAutomaton · 2009-07-18T18:23:17.457Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, it is somewhat tacky to blatantly objectify employees--it tends to make one sound like a pompous, entitled jerk. But that's a much shallower sort of objection than what Alicorn is raising. At a general social level, objectifying in the context of employement is on the "acceptable" side, whereas objectifying in the context of personal relationships, especially sexual relationships, straddles the line and is probably drifting toward "unacceptable".

As for me, since I figure it's heading that way, I'm getting in on the ground floor on avoiding such language, so that when I'm 70 years old I don't embarrass younger family members with quaint objectifying language.

comment by JulianMorrison · 2009-07-18T14:25:40.828Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure if a gardener is "objectified" (I find that an confusing word). He or she certainly is a substitutable unit of gardening skill. Another gardener with the same skill would be just as good. Similar does apply to "attractive woman". Another attractive woman would fit the job just as well. Leaving aside "objectified", it's certainly impersonal.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-17T23:42:55.361Z · score: 4 (16 votes) · LW · GW

For instance, if someone says, "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and girls falling over themselves to be with me", the fact that the girls appear as an item in a list along with a vehicle and a dwelling would be a giant red flag.

Um, that example actually fails your heuristic: "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and cars falling over themselves to be with me" makes no sense.

This heuristic is imperfect, and some statements may be objectifying even if their applicability is limited to persons.

That appears to contradict your earlier definition:

By "objectify", I mean to think of, talk about as, or treat like a non-person.

If the applicability of a statement is limited to persons, then how can that possibly be "like a non-person"?

The entire thing sounds like bottom-line reasoning - i.e., the specific thing is something you find repulsive, therefore it's objectification.

(I'm not even going to touch the thoughtcrime part where you're classing speech and thoughts to be unethical in themselves, except to mention that this is the part where having such a repulsion is objectively non-useful to you or anyone else, since all it can ever do is cause you and others pain. Of course, I expect this comment to be widely downvoted for that idea, since the right to righteous indignation is itself a religious idea around here, even if it's more usually wielded in support of Truth or Theory rather than gender sensibilities. All very on-topic for this post about atheist/rationalist denials, as it turns out!)

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T00:06:32.094Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Um, that example actually fails your heuristic: "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and cars falling over themselves to be with me" makes no sense.

Perhaps you are trying to be funny. If you're not, I'll just point out that I did say it was an imperfect heuristic, and anyway to apply it with some finesse means that you might have to replace a whole noun phrase (gasp, shock, alarm).

If the applicability of a statement is limited to persons, then how can that possibly be "like a non-person"?

Because grammar is like that. For instance, most sentences that use gendered pronouns would be deeply strange if applied to non-boat inanimate objects, but that doesn't stop some such sentences from being objectifying.

The entire thing sounds like bottom-line reasoning - i.e., the specific thing is something you find repulsive, therefore it's objectification.

No, sometimes things I find repulsive are non-objectifying, and are bad for some other reason. Occasionally, I'm even repulsed by things that are not unethical.

having such a repulsion is objectively non-useful to you or anyone else, since all it can ever do is cause you and others pain.

Not so. By having and announcing this repulsion I can influence anyone who happens to care about my opinion.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-18T00:21:06.212Z · score: 0 (12 votes) · LW · GW

By having and announcing this repulsion I can influence anyone who happens to care about my opinion.

...and how is that useful?!

That's like saying that it's good to dislike chocolate because then you can make sure nobody gives you any, or that banging your head on the wall is a pleasure because it feels good when you stop. It'd be more useful to just not bang your head, unless there's something else you're getting from the activity.

Perhaps you are trying to be funny. If you're not, I'll just point out that I did say it was an imperfect heuristic, and anyway to apply it with some finesse means that you might have to replace a whole noun phrase (gasp, shock, alarm).

Then kindly point out what noun phrase you would have replaced. Or in the alternative, please provide a definition of "objectification" that doesn't boil down to, "I know it when I see it."

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T00:28:15.436Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I really have no clue what you're talking about in the first bit. Do you think that having ethical opinions is useless because if one didn't have them it would save one a headache? Do you think being repelled is not an appropriate response to detecting an ethical violation? Are you even trying to understand what I'm typing?

Second bit:

"If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and girls falling over themselves to be with me." -> "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and real silverware and crystal dishes."

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-18T00:43:22.348Z · score: 1 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think being repelled is not an appropriate response to detecting an ethical violation?

What I was saying was that I think considering people's words and thoughts (as opposed to their behaviors) about their goals and opinions as having ethical weight is ludicrously unuseful.

I also think repulsion is not an appropriate response to "detecting an ethical violation", since that emotion motivates signaling behavior rather than useful behavior. For example, it encourages one to communicate one's beliefs in a judgmental way that communicates entitlement, and discourages co-operation from others.

"If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and girls falling over themselves to be with me." -> "If I were rich, I'd have a nice house and a sports car and real silverware and crystal dishes."

So, how do you arrive at this substitution? You keep removing the part that only a person can do, so if that rule is applied consistently, you end up with any statement being objectification.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T00:51:23.824Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Words are verbal behavior. If you don't think people can be held ethically responsible for verbal behavior, I'm sure I could come up with some persuasive examples, but I'm no longer sure this discussion is worth my attention, as you're very persistent in missing the point.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-18T00:59:40.200Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Please reread:

considering people's words and thoughts (as opposed to their behaviors) about their goals and opinions as having ethical weight is ludicrously unuseful.

Sure, there are unethical verbal behaviors. Truthfully expressing opinions or discussing one's goals are not among them, however.

Even if somebody opines that their goal is to do something awful to me, then if that is a true statement, it is actually ethically good for them to give me advance warning! So considering someone's (truthful) verbal behavior about their goals or opinions as unethical is simply not useful to me, regardless of what opinion I may hold about what behavior may result from that opinion or goal.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T01:11:18.569Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

People can phrase things in many ways. There is a difference which may be ethically relevant between:

"So-and-so is a [profanity] and I'm going to lose it and [threats of violence] if he doesn't leave me alone!"

and

"I don't like so-and-so and I wish he'd go away. I might do something really regrettable if he doesn't; he just gets on my nerves that much."

Even though the goals and opinions might be just alike. That is verbal behavior that goes above and beyond just truthfully stating things.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-18T02:48:13.705Z · score: 0 (10 votes) · LW · GW

That is verbal behavior that goes above and beyond just truthfully stating things.

How so? If the first one is what the person actually means, then blowing smoke up my ass about it doesn't help me.

AFAICT, you are still arguing a bottom line: that truthful verbalization about one's internal state can be ethically bad. I won't claim that NO such verbalization can exist as a mathematical absolute, but I haven't yet seen you offer an example that's bad by anything other than your own definition of "ethics" -- i.e., what makes you feel bad.

So, how can something be wrong that has no bad results, probabilistically OR actually?

comment by JGWeissman · 2009-07-18T01:56:30.292Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But what if somebody, in opining that their goal is to do something awful to you, solicits ideas on what awful things to do and how to accomplish them, and encourages others to do awful things to you themselves?

I think that situation is closer to what Alicorn is objecting to.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-18T03:14:07.179Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, I expect this comment to be widely downvoted for that idea

I feel your pain... I think I lost about 40 karma in this discussion...

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T18:12:48.651Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

How's this different from women's magazines having articles on how to "get" a man? Is this not idiomatically equivalent to "be more attractive to more-attractive men"? If so, then why the double standard?

What double standard? Did anyone here claim that using language that teats men as objects is fine? Is Cosmo now supposed to be our standard of excellence?

comment by Roko · 2009-07-18T03:17:19.698Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

what is the substantive difference between

"if I were a millionaire I would be more attractive to women".

"extremely attractive women that money and status would get them"

?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T03:22:56.913Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Depending on whether you and I have the same working definition of "substantive", the following:

  • In the first statement, but not the second, the women are not "gotten" as an open-and-shut act of obtainment. They are only attracted (and that's assuming that the empirical claim is true).

  • In the first statement but not the second, the improvement to the person's attractiveness is described only as an improvement, not as a binary switch from not having extremely attractive women to having them.

  • In the second statement but not the first, the women singled out are a particular narrow group selected for that are implied to be the only ones of interest or import.

comment by cousin_it · 2009-07-17T09:47:59.622Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Do you want me to stop seeking sex with attractive women or to stop signaling that I like sex with attractive women?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T17:23:50.101Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Neither. I'd like you to be thoughtful of the independent personhood of attractive women when you think or talk about them, which would affect the structure and phrasing of your desires but not make much of a substantive change in them.

comment by JulianMorrison · 2009-07-18T14:33:26.486Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

He sees the shape of the mesh, you see the fish caught in it. "Attractive" is a selection criterion, not yet a group of persons.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2009-07-18T02:21:20.249Z · score: 7 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Alicorn writes,

There's really no chance that people are going to stop discussing "attractive women" (specifically, the sexual favors of attractive women) as objects that can and should be be attained under the right circumstances, is there? :(

I want you to continue to participate here, Alicorn. And I want to increase the female: male ratio in the rationalist/ altruistic/ selfless/ global-situation community. So if you ever see me using language that objectifies women or that alienates you, please let me know.

comment by MichaelBishop · 2009-07-20T00:14:07.559Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

seconded.

comment by Lightwave · 2009-07-17T17:36:48.457Z · score: 7 (17 votes) · LW · GW

The whole "must have sex with attractive women" thing is just a catch phrase used in the pick-up community. Actually, most of the people who read such forums/blogs, and even the PUAs themselves are normal people who just want a normal relationship with a normal girl. I think this is especially true of the "beta males". It's just that some of these people are full of cynicism and frustration, which explains why it may all sound like an insult to some women (women viewed as objects, etc).

I would suggest that every time you see women or sex being discussed here, just interpret it as a discussion on how to solve a problem one might have with women, or as a general discussion on how one can improve with women. Which is what it actually means. The exact words used shouldn't bother you as long as you understand what underlies them.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T17:44:02.822Z · score: 12 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Since you've been so generous with advice about how I should read such conversations, I'll return the favor. I suggest that every time you see a woman complain about how her gender is being discussed, you interpret it as (most likely) an identification of an actual problem that actually hurts an actual person, which identification you were unable to make because you are not a member of the victimized group, and too insensitive to pick up on such issues when they don't apply to you. Also, when I call you insensitive, you should understand that I only mean that you don't have the capacity to pick up on this one thing and I'm not making a sweeping statement about your personality - the exact word I use shouldn't bother you as long as you understand what underlies it.

comment by Lightwave · 2009-07-17T19:02:06.169Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I'm surprised by this response. What I suggested is that most guys here don't really want to have random sex with random women, they don't view women as objects that they can just use, or anything to that effect. And that the pick up community jargon and writings generally do not reflect what the average guy wants either.

Does this strike you as wrong?

I realize now that my "suggestion" may have sounded as if I'm denying that there is a problem or that I'm ignoring it. I'm not, I was just pointing out the above.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T19:22:53.612Z · score: 6 (12 votes) · LW · GW

If they don't really want that and don't really view women that way, why do they persist in talking as though they do? I'd chalk it up to a simple error of linguistic expression if they didn't get so defensive when called on it.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-18T00:35:59.107Z · score: 9 (27 votes) · LW · GW

I'd chalk it up to a simple error of linguistic expression if they didn't get so defensive when called on it.

Men are not broken women, so the way we speak is not actually an "error".

Don't get me wrong, though: a man who thinks that women's language around mating matters is repulsive or in "error" is making exactly the same mistake: women aren't broken men either.

Both men and women are certainly better off trying to translate their language when specifically speaking to the other, as well as trying to translate the language of others when listening.

However, neither language has some sort of blessed status that makes the other one an "error", simply because someone is repulsed as a result of having mistaken what language an utterance was made in.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T00:42:30.761Z · score: 4 (14 votes) · LW · GW

You're just not trying anymore, are you. Lightwave said that some people did not mean to say the things they appeared to be saying. I said that I would think that the disparity between the things said and the things meant was a simple mistake of expression if people did not consistently defend their statements as originally phrased. And now you're bringing in irrelevant nonsense about men not being broken women? What did I say that remotely resembled that?

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-18T00:54:27.826Z · score: 11 (27 votes) · LW · GW

What did I say that remotely resembled that?

You said:

If they don't really want that and don't really view women that way, why do they persist in talking as though they do?

and further referred to it as an "error of linguistic expression".

I am saying that it's not an error. That women would generally use different words to describe the same thing does not mean that the man was in error to use those words. Those are the most correct and concise words in male language for what was said.

Many things that are said by men in few words must be said in many words for a woman to understand them, just as the reverse is true for things that women can say briefly to each other but require a lengthier explanation for a man to understand. This is normal and expected, since each gender has different common reference experiences, and therefore different shorthand.

What doesn't make any bloody sense is to insist that men (OR women) translate their every utterance into the other gender's language in advance of any question, then treat it as some terrible faux pas or "ethical violation" to fail to do so, or to classify the (correct-in-its-own-langauge) utterance as "linguistic error".

(Because to do so is basically to take the position that men are broken women (or vice versa).)

Instead, the reasonable/rational thing to do is, if you understand what was meant, then leave it alone. If you don't understand, ask politely. If you accidentally misunderstand and get into an argument, stop when you do understand, instead of blaming the other person for not having thought to translate their language to use another gender's reference experiences.

Is that clearer now?

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-18T03:41:21.996Z · score: 7 (15 votes) · LW · GW

use another gender's reference experiences

That's funny, as about half of the comments on this thread that thought the language was inappropriate were by males. Hiding behind your gender is no excuse for being insensitive and offensive. Use "I support talking this way because I'm a rude person", not "I support talking this way because I am male". Leave the rest of us out of it.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-18T03:58:34.827Z · score: 6 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Use "I support talking this way because I'm a rude person", not "I support talking this way because I am male". Leave the rest of us out of it.

Actually, I said I support being tolerant of people who express their thoughts as they think them, even if they happen to sound offensive at first.

A guy who makes a statement about "getting" women is no more insensitive than a woman who speaks of "getting" a man; they're simply using the language that is natural to them and at an appropriate level of specificity given their goals. We should applaud their truthfulness, not encourage them to be indirect, since if we don't like their goals, then knowing about them is a good thing! (It's also good if we DO like their goals, but that of course should be obvious.)

This has zero to do with my own opinions or lack thereof on the language itself -- something I have scrupulously avoided endorsing or condemning. This is not a forum for sharing opinions, it's a forum for advancing rationality... and one where the importance of Truth (with a capital-T) is bandied about regularly. It should be pretty fucking basic rationality to observe that people telling you true things you don't like is useful information, if only because it's a minimally basic sanity check on your own untrustworthy brain!

If I didn't think people telling me things I don't like is useful, I'd have been gone from this place in days! (For that matter, I wouldn't have spent the tens of thousands of dollars on training from marketing gurus, some of whom absolutely infuriate me at times.) The fact that I encounter information that offends me or pisses me off is a helpful signal: it means I'm learning something new.

In particular, it means I have the opportunity to expand my range of useful choices, by dropping whatever mental rules are triggering me to be offended or pissed off, instead of paying attention to whether there's anything useful in the information I've been offered, whether or not I think it's "True" with a capital T.

So all in all, I think perhaps you're having a different conversation than I am. I'm not arguing that people should be intentionally rude or offensive - I'm arguing that trying to cleanse the world of things that offend you is an irrational dead end, not only because it's a fool's errand, but because it will actively HURT you, by depriving you of learning opportunities and locking you into an affective spiral of your own making.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-18T04:08:26.450Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, I said I support being tolerant of people who express their thoughts as they think them, even if they happen to sound offensive at first.

Actually, you said: (emphasis added)

That women would generally use different words to describe the same thing does not mean that the man was in error to use those words. Those are the most correct and concise words in male language for what was said.... Many things that are said by men in few words must be said in many words for a woman to understand them, just as the reverse is true for things that women can say briefly to each other but require a lengthier explanation for a man to understand. This is normal and expected, since each gender has different common reference experiences, and therefore different shorthand....What doesn't make any bloody sense is to insist that men (OR women) translate their every utterance into the other gender's language in advance of any question

I'm saying that the person speaking offensively was not doing so merely because he was a male, and the people taking offense were not only females. Gender does not seem to factor heavily into the problem. I don't see how appeal to 'gendered language' helps, and I take offense to you implicitly associating me with such people.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-18T04:42:56.048Z · score: 3 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I'm saying that the person speaking offensively was not doing so merely because he was a male, and the people taking offense were not only females.

Did I ever say that all women only ever speak or comprehend female-specific language, or that men only ever speak or comprehend male-specific language? If language is based on reference experiences, then not all men and all women will share precisely the same language, even if there are general tendencies by gender (whether cultural or genetic).

That is, not all men share the same reference experiences -- and geeky guys in particular are more likely to share certain classes of reference experience with women. Hell, I used to find the same sort of talk offensive, myself.

I take offense to you implicitly associating me with such people.

If you take offense to implicit associations every time somebody omits to adequately delineate their generalizations, you're going to be offended a LOT around here. ;-)

(Personally, I just didn't feel the need to disclaim each and every instance of a gendered term with "sombunall" or "BOCTAOE" -- it's more than a little tedious, especially since ANY gender-based generalization should be considered to have sombunalls and BOCTAOE's liberally sprinkled throughout.)

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T01:05:09.592Z · score: 6 (22 votes) · LW · GW

male language

What. The. Heck. You do not get your own language. If people use language that is hurtful, objectifying, and sexist, they do not get the excuse that they have an idiolect in which those things are magically no longer hurtful, objectifying, and sexist (all of which are bad things to be). It just does not work that way.

Instead, the reasonable/rational thing to do is, if you understand what was meant, then leave it alone. If you don't understand, ask politely. If you accidentally misunderstand and get into an argument, stop when you do understand, instead of blaming the other person for not having thought to translate their language to use another gender's reference experiences.

Okay, I'll try it on you. I think I understand what you meant, so it's not okay for me to feel any way at all about how you said it, or to care if you were rude, or to think that it reflects on your character if you go about saying hurtful things... hm, that doesn't seem to be the right thing to do. Maybe I didn't understand you. But when I have tried in the past to ask you what you mean, you have not been helpful. Perhaps what happened was that I accidentally misunderstood you and got into an argument. I should chalk that up to you being male, even though I know plenty of males who do not say such things - wait, that doesn't make sense either. Do you have other, less patronizing recommendations in your bag of tricks?

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-18T02:32:32.064Z · score: 3 (18 votes) · LW · GW

If people use language that is hurtful, objectifying, and sexist,

There is no such thing as hurtful(language). There is only considered_hurtful_by(language, person). See Eliezer's post about movie posters with swamp creatures carrying off "sexy" women for explanation, aka the "mind projection fallacy".

Okay, I'll try it on you. I think I understand what you meant, so it's not okay for me to feel any way at all about how you said it

I didn't say it was "not okay" - I said it was "not useful". HUGE difference.

You are perfectly free to feel any way you like, but that doesn't make it useful, nor grant you any rights regarding whether others should agree with your feelings.

But when I have tried in the past to ask you what you mean, you have not been helpful.

IOW, "not_helpful_to(pjeby_answers, Alicorn_understanding)"... but note that this does not equate to "not_helpful(pjeby)" or "not_trying_to_help(pjeby)", just as "repulsive_to(X, Alicorn)" does not equate to "repulsive(X)" or "unethical(X)".

Perhaps what happened was that I accidentally misunderstood you and got into an argument.

Perhaps. I actually see it more as that people are trying to tell you things that are outside your current frame of reference, and you're telling them they're unethical or in error, when they are actually trying to be clear and helpful and say what they mean, and are puzzled why you're labeling them and their statements. (Even when someone knows male-female idiom translation inside and out, they don't always notice what they're doing, just like most people aren't aware of their own accent.)

Meanwhile, AFAICT, you are taking other people's words and translating them to what you would mean if you used those words, instead of graciously accepting others explanation of what they meant by those words.

Once you get to the point where you're arguing about the definitions of the words, there isn't really an argument any more -- something that also should be clear from Eliezer's past posts.

In short, none of the stuff I'm bringing up is "about" gender issues -- or I wouldn't even have bothered with this conversation in the first place.

I brought this up only because it's directly relevant to core Yudkowskian principles like the mind projection fallacy, arguing over definitions, and not treating one class of human being as a broken version of another class of human being.

In other words, it's about rationality.

I should chalk that up to you being male

That would be if -- and only if -- we had successfully reached understanding, and the misunderstanding was rooted in a gender-based language difference. (i.e., the context of my comments)

comment by lavalamp · 2009-07-18T21:22:34.435Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have any evidence for the male-language/female-language thing? Isn't it at least as likely that men talk about concepts that offend women, and women talk about concepts that elude men? (I speak as a male)

The stuff you're talking about here is mainly communication problems. I'm not convinced you and alicorn are having a communication problem...

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-18T22:27:08.784Z · score: 12 (17 votes) · LW · GW

The stuff you're talking about here is mainly communication problems. I'm not convinced you and alicorn are having a communication problem...

As she's pointed out, we've been having at least one, and probably several. However, my comments about language were in relation to a different communication problem. (i.e., the one between Alicorn and others)

Do you have any evidence for the male-language/female-language thing? Isn't it at least as likely that men talk about concepts that offend women, and women talk about concepts that elude men? (I speak as a male)

I don't think so, because the key is unexpressed connotations.

A non-sexist man can talk about "getting" women without this having (in his mind) any negative connotation, because "of course" he wants something more than just sex, expects to settle down with only one partner after a bit of field-playing, and would never intentionally hurt or manipulate anyone. IME, however, women tend to prefer that all of these things be explicitly stated or disclaimed... just like there are plenty of things women expect to be obvious to men, but which men would much rather hear explicitly stated.

For example, Alicorn was trying to be polite to me during our thread, by NOT directly stating how rude she thought I was being, because from her POV, that idea was a clear and obvious implication of something that she said in a meta-example nested within a comment of hers. (This completely escaped me until she pointed it out in email later.)

Anyway, the gender distinctions here are really secondary -- the key point is that people with different reference experiences expect different things to be "obvious", and are very likely to think you clueless or socially miscalibrated when you don't pick up on them without it being spelled out.

That's why Alicorn ends up wanting to know why guys "don't just say that" -- they think that the rest "goes without saying", just as she expected her oblique implications to me to be understood without being made explicit.

(And I would find it difficult to list all the times in the history of my marriage where a conflict boiled down to, "So why didn't you just say that?" -- i.e., one person expecting the other to pick up on an "obvious" connotation, where the other person would've highly valued an explicit statement of such.)

Anyway, my point was simply that it's not reasonable to demand that everybody go around explaining all the connotations of their statements, all the time, just because your personal connotations for those statements result in a negative emotional reaction. It's more useful (and less stressful) to translate that person or group's statements in future. That is, to do the expansion internal to yourself, rather than insist on other people doing the translation for you.

(I wish I could've stated all this as clearly yesterday, but I was operating with only 3 hours sleep and probably should've stayed away from the computer altogether.)

comment by lavalamp · 2009-07-19T02:26:51.913Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Really, I agree with everything you say here.

However, I tend to take Alicorn's point of view; given that some (many?) men really do think of women in objectifying ways, there's no way for Alicorn (or anyone) to know if a given offensive phrase is male-speak, or if it ought to be literally interpreted. If one actually knows the speaker well, one could probably tell if such a sentiment is consistent with their personality, but it seems like you'd have to know someone very well to make a reliable judgment there.

Therefore, I do think it is worth the effort to avoid speaking of women in ways that are objectifying. I don't think it really takes that much effort once one is aware of it...

One could say that Alicorn ought to just assume the best about transgressors, and perhaps she should, but I think there's some value in enforcing the concept that it's Not Ok to treat human beings as objects.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-19T03:44:37.448Z · score: 4 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Therefore, I do think it is worth the effort to avoid speaking of women in ways that are objectifying. I don't think it really takes that much effort once one is aware of it...

Don't get me wrong: I don't object to being considerate. I just don't think it's appropriate to try to enforce being considerate. It tends to backfire, for one thing, as people generally don't like being told what to do, thereby creating perverse incentives. It also tends to make people on both sides of the discussion "flip the bozo bit" and assume the people on the other side are just jerks, instead of any increased understanding being reached.

(Of course, in that respect, there's an extent to which I did the exact same thing I criticized Alicorn for! Mea culpa.)

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-19T02:35:51.400Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Therefore, I do think it is worth the effort to avoid speaking of women in ways that are objectifying. I don't think it really takes that much effort once one is aware of it...

And more to the point, we've already had a similar conversation and I thought it was apparent at that time that there's a certain way we want to avoid writing around here, in the interest of inclusivity.

comment by bogus · 2009-07-18T22:55:54.543Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

IME, however, women tend to prefer that all of these things be explicitly stated or disclaimed...

Is it really the case that women would respond positively towards this kind of "full disclosure"? If we are to take dating experts seriously, men are much better off if they leave such things unsaid. I agree with Steve Rayhawk that what most people really object to is depersonalization, i.e. the absence of empathy: as long as it is known with certainty that this is not your intent, you are in practice free to objectify as much as you want.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-19T03:30:47.113Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Is it really the case that women would respond positively towards this kind of "full disclosure"? If we are to take dating experts seriously, men are much better off if they leave such things unsaid.

Different context. First, what dating experts say about creating relationships doesn't always apply to sustaining them. Try being married for 13 years without ever explicitly telling your partner how much you love them!

Second, almost everything I've been saying is very strictly grounded in the context of a specific statement made here, and the subsequent discussion. So when I said "prefer that all of these things be explicitly stated or disclaimed", I meant in the social context of a man stating an intention to "get" a woman, that is not specifically directed at the subject of his statement, and which occurs in the presence of persons other than that man, and the woman. (A very narrow context, in other words.)

Also, "respond positively" does not equal "prefer". Someone can "prefer" one thing, and yet respond positively to another... which is the usual point being made by those dating experts.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T21:28:55.041Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Rest assured, there is some communication problem. I'm sufficiently convinced that pjeby doesn't get my point that I have given up. Whether I understand him or not, I couldn't tell you for sure.

comment by Rings_of_Saturn · 2009-07-20T07:09:40.985Z · score: 2 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Alicorn:

What if I told you that talking about "getting a woman" was a direct and honest expression of my most inner desires, that I really did view her in that objectifying way, and that I considered this attitude perfectly natural and healthy, and that, furthermore, I find it objectionable for others to consider it their perogative to correct me on this?

And that I very often find "being offended" to be an offensive behavior in its own right?

And that I heavily discount verbal contradiction from other males because it signals a very well-established mating posture, that of the helpful and supplicant beta male?

comment by tut · 2009-07-18T08:32:19.712Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I am saying that it's not an error.

You are always talking about NLP, so I expect you to know that the meaning of a statement is the reaction it gets in the person you are talking to. So if you are making statements that drive away women then either you mean to drive away women or you are making an error.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-18T16:57:50.931Z · score: 1 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So if you are making statements that drive away women then either you mean to drive away women or you are making an error.

That's not the type of error Alicorn was talking about, AFAICT. Making a statement that doesn't advance your goals is a different class of error than a linguistic one.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2009-07-17T21:08:47.586Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If, as you say, a man is unable to identify and insensitive to the problem reflected in his statement, and you point it out in a way that comes across primarily as an accusation of bad character (when his statement seems to be weak evidence that he has this form of bad character), it's not surprising that he would get defensive.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-16T17:17:13.065Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Disregard.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-16T17:19:21.494Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The comment is three years old, and is parent to a giant thread detailing Alicorn's position in painstaking detail.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-16T17:24:30.641Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Damn it, I always forget to check the dates on these things. Ah well, nevermind.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-03-02T15:52:50.698Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A slightly different angle-- it's not just that attractive women (or their sexual favors) are presented as objects, it's that this sort of discussion seems to be set in a world where people at the same level of attractiveness are fungible. It seems like a world where no one likes anyone, or at least no one likes anyone they're in a sexual relationship with enough to be interested in the difference between one person of equivalent attractiveness and another.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-17T01:09:55.370Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Probably not.

(It might be worth noting that people often do talk this way about other classes of people. Employer-employee relations tend to be treated similarly; "How to get a job" discussion is as often as impersonal as "how to get laid" discussion. It's still a bigger problem when the topic is the sexual favors of women with conventionally attractive bodies, though.)

(You might want to ignore the preceding comment. I just feel compelled to nitpick everything I can. Assume good faith, and all that.)

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-07-17T09:23:06.769Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

No, it's OK. If you go off of his source, women want to be objectified, so it's no harm, no foul. You just don't know it yet. Brilliant, right?

Seriously, though, he's deriving his theory from someone who evaluates the worth of men by their ability to score with attractive women [Edit: phrase removed]. The theory is more complicated than that, but, really, it's not that much more complicated.

(In case it's not entirely clear from the above, I emphatically don't endorse this view.)

comment by topynate · 2009-07-17T21:33:51.840Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think Roissy claims women want to be objectified. He agrees with the majority opinion that they like to be treated like human beings, appreciated for the qualities particular to them as individuals etc.

He just adds the coda that giving women what they like is a very poor strategy for sleeping with as many of them as possible, as quickly as possible*. Roissy doesn't really care what women want except insofar as knowing it furthers his aims, so this doesn't create a great deal of cognitive dissonance for him.

It was in fact reading him that inspired me to write this comment yesterday.

*In fact, he claims it makes women disdain you and calls it "supplication". The Roissy way is never explain, never apologise.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-17T18:05:52.539Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

and cheat on their spouses.

evidence?

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-07-17T18:27:12.692Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

http://roissy.wordpress.com/2007/09/19/defining-the-alpha-male/

Note that number of affairs is a descriptor of all alphas and no betas, and it increases with rank. Thus, infidelity reflects a man's worth positively.

If you're not going off Roissy, I apologize for misinterpreting you, but your language and his matched up almost exactly, and I've seen him linked a bit here and on OB, so I figured that's where the ideas came from.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-17T19:01:51.988Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, so I don't go off Roissy, and I don't think that cheating on your partner is a good thing. I am more a fan of the people at Real Social Dynamics, e.g. Tyler Durden. Sure, there are plenty of people in the seduction world who have what we would call a "subgoal stomp" problem: being a little bit more alpha is a subgoal of a good life, but if you optimize that subgoal you end up with problems.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T02:09:16.522Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Folks here seem to buy into the folk anthropology notion that successful men become successful specifically in order to attract a mate, presumably the most conventionally attractive one. I'm not sure that idea is going to go away, regardless of how disgusting it sounds to those of us who married for love.

comment by wiresnips · 2009-07-17T07:05:12.612Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm quite sure that the idea won't go away, if only because in at least some cases, it'll be flagrantly true- season with a dash of confirmation bias and serve hot.

comment by dclayh · 2009-07-17T04:31:49.256Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In particular, I think it's not going to go away as long as powerful politicians keep having extramarital affairs.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-17T18:01:10.659Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"attractive women" (specifically, the sexual favors of attractive women) as objects that can and should be be attained under the right circumstances, is there? :(

I am curious: do you think it is rational to taboo all discussion that involves treating women as physical systems that can be manipulated by providing appropriate sensory input to their sense organs?

Do you think that all discussion that involves treating men as physical systems that can be manipulated by providing appropriate sensory input to their sense organs should be similarly stopped? Like, if I have a business idea that involves selling particularly manipulative pornographic material to men which will cause them to give me money which I can donate to an efficient charity and save millions of lives, that such an idea should not even be discussed?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T18:13:08.908Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think it is unethical (not necessarily "irrational") to discuss and think of women (or men) as suitable objects of manipulation. If you had been actually talking about the production and sale of porn, I'd be more forgiving; porn (like purchasing the services of prostitutes, which I've also acknowledged as non-manipulative) is at least honest, in the sense that everybody knows what porn is for.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-17T20:19:53.464Z · score: 0 (14 votes) · LW · GW

it is unethical (not necessarily "irrational") to discuss and think of women (or men) as suitable objects of manipulation

oh dear. Now you are accusing me of a thought crime! You may actually be deluded at the same level as Catholics who tell each other that even thinking about the possibility of God not existing is a sin...

Alicorn, I like you a lot, but you are deluded.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T20:33:50.516Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

...Thought crime? Really? That's what you get from me saying that it's unethical to think of people as suitable objects of manipulation? Yes, I used the word "think", but the emphasis was really on "suitable". I could have used the phrasing "it's inappropriate to be disposed to manipulate people", or "the opinion that people are suitable targets of manipulation will tend to lead to manipulation, which is wrong" or "the ethically relevant belief that people are suitable targets of manipulation is false", or "to speak of people as suitable objects of manipulation reflects an ethically abhorrent facet of the speaker's personality" - and meant more or less the same thing. Is that clearer?

comment by Psy-Kosh · 2009-07-18T07:46:38.839Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'd phrase it a little bit differently, but overall, yeah, I'd accept that position. That is, I basically agree with you here.

Alternately (probably a bit more general but, I think, capturing the main relevant offensive bits) "goal systems which do not assign inherent terminal value to persons, but only see them in terms of instrumental value are immoral goal systems."

comment by Jonii · 2009-07-17T21:07:09.064Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"it's inappropriate to be disposed to manipulate people" "the opinion that people are suitable targets of manipulation will tend to lead to manipulation, which is wrong" "the ethically relevant belief that people are suitable targets of manipulation is false"

Ahem... Why? To me, these claims seem baseless and to some great degree, false.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T21:12:45.632Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It would seem that you and I disagree on matters of ethics, then - probably on an awfully basic level.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-07-17T21:32:46.272Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect you're using the word "manipulation" to mean different things.

For that matter, a lot of "manipulation" goes on in Brennan's world, it's expected on all sides, they don't think of themselves as immoral because of it, and I would go ahead and endorse that aspect of their fictional existence. I think that it's manipulation of someone who isn't expecting manipulation which is the main ethical problem.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2009-07-17T20:39:55.505Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What Thom said; whether your habits of thought tend to lead to good or bad outcomes is a matter of ethics (not legitimately interpersonally enforceable, but that's a very different matter). I don't think everyone needs to have an unconditional ethical injunction against thinking of people as manipulable physical systems, but I'm sure you can see how that mode of thought could be harmful.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-17T20:53:27.103Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

but I'm sure you can see how that mode of thought could be harmful.

well, it could be and often is harmful to someone, if and only if you act upon it. But We should not place an injunction upon even considering the possibility and working out its implications; I think that this much is pretty clear. That is the route to religious-level delusion.

I would be the first to emphasize that thinking of people as manipulable physical systems and acting to naively maximize your own goals based upon that conceptualization is a path to disaster much of the time.

I should have made clear that I am advocating thinking about the possibility and working out its implications quite carefully, and then perhaps adopting a new decision procedure as the result of this meta-analysis.

For example, one way this could work is as follows: you consider (wo)men as manipulable physical systems, do a utilitarian analysis and then work out a decision procedure for your social interactions based upon this analysis. In the spirit of Toby Ord's consequentialism and decision procedures, this decision procedure might not involve considering (wo)men as manipulable physical systems, but might instead involve re-wiring your own brain to reconceptualize (wo)men as people again, but people who stand in a different relation to you than before you did the utilitarian meta-analysis. In the particular case of pick-up, this "different relation to you" is "they have lower status than me" and "they really like me!" and "Human sexual interaction is a positive sum game!"

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-07-18T00:14:11.460Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

well, it could be and often is harmful to someone, if and only if you act upon it.

The thought itself is an object in reality, and you can care about objects you can't observe. If your though itself implements a tortured person, you shouldn't think that thought, even if there is no possibility of somehow "acting" on it, even if thinking that thought improves your actions according to the same human moral reference frame. This is not as extreme for mere human thought, but I see no reason for the thoughts in themselves to be exactly morally neutral (even if they count for very little).

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T20:24:21.852Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Actually the accusation was not of a 'thought crime', but rather of doing something unethical with your thoughts.

If you believe that there are some actions that are unethical, I fail to see how some of those actions can't be thoughts, unless you think thoughts are metaphysically different from other actions.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-07-17T20:45:02.554Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Actually I think we're dealing in virtue ethics here.

comment by thomblake · 2009-07-17T20:52:34.256Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That seems very unlikely on the face of it (I hadn't meant it in a specifically virtue ethics context, and Alicorn isn't necessarily a fan), though I'd also gotten that impression from some of the phrasings in Alicorn's recent comment. Surely though it's an empirical question whether thinking of people in a particular way predisposes one to behave differently about them.

But what did you mean by that?

comment by Roko · 2009-07-17T20:29:01.680Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Actually the accusation was not of a 'thought crime', but rather of doing something unethical with your thoughts.

define: "thought crime" finds "labeling disapproved thoughts with the term thoughtcrime"

WARNING We are now arguing about definitions of words. This indicates that we are no longer in the rational part of human-interaction phase-space. /WARNING

comment by JulianMorrison · 2009-07-17T15:20:08.366Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The idea deserves some objective light shedding on it. It's easy to pick out cases where beautiful women and high-status (not necessarily rich) men choose to affiliate, but are the two groups really more likely to hang out together? Or is this a sort of male-evolutionary-psyche mirage, which is always over the next status hill?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-16T17:11:12.707Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Disregard.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2009-07-17T21:24:31.416Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How do you – or how does anyone – think Roko's sentiment could have been rephrased to not come across as objectifying? The only change obvious to me is making it clear that money and status are not sufficient conditions for sexual success, but I doubt that's a significant part of the problem.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T21:28:53.843Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

See here.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-18T03:19:31.090Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

ok, I see your issue. You're OK with

Women are attracted to rich men, so if I were rich I would end up sleeping with attractive women

but not

Women are attracted to rich men, so if I were rich I would get attractive women

Do I understand you correctly? It's the "get" that bothers you?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T03:25:01.761Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"Get" is a large part of what bothers me. I don't like your first statement - "women are attracted to rich men" is still a disturbing generalization even if this attraction isn't supposed to lead to "getting" anybody, and I'm not terribly comfortable with the implied goal of just "sleeping with attractive women" (although I won't ethically condemn that goal as long as it's pursued honestly). But the second statement is definitely worse.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-18T05:00:01.310Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

the implied goal of just "sleeping with attractive women"

Well, the goal could be to cause it to be the case that one has an unusually attractive wife, as in my case.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T05:05:17.482Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

So having concluded that talk of "getting" women is a big part of why I don't like the things you say, you go on to use it again immediately?

comment by Roko · 2009-07-18T05:15:36.909Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oh no! I'm really sorry, I didn't realize I had done that!

comment by AllanCrossman · 2009-07-19T01:29:25.830Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ugh. Did you edit the word "get" to "cause it to be the case that one has"?

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-07-16T23:43:42.201Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

P(Accomplish goals given get really rich) > P (Accomplish goals given ~get really rich)

vs.

P[(Accomplish goals given try to get really rich & (get really rich or ~get really rich)] ?>=<? P(Accomplish goals given ~try to get really rich)

My symbols kind of suck in this format, but you seem to be arguing the former when the latter is the relevant consideration. It also ignores the goal of personal happiness; I would guess that most people in practice have very high coefficients for themselves and loved ones in their utility functions, regardless of what they profess to believe.

Oh, and the whole claim about not valuing social status enough and, in particular, not valuing sex with extremely attractive women is, well, unsupported, to put it extremely charitably. Unless people here have the goals of "showing people up" or "having sex with extremely attractive women whose interest in them is contingent on their wealth," adapting those values would not be conducive to accomplishing their current goals, so failing to adapt them is hardly an error.

More to the point, saying that people aren't pursuing wealth and claiming the specific cause of this is a lack of valuing social status is like saying people aren't buying a Mercedes because they don't adequately value an all-leather interior. There are many other values that would attain the ends, and there are many other ends that would fulfill the values. I'd go into this at length, but the post did explicitly condone trolling, so I won't take this too seriously.

This is not to say that you're wrong (about wealth being a rational goal for meeting our existing goals); I don't have the numbers to shut up and multiply. I'm just saying you may well not be right.

comment by Vladimir_Golovin · 2009-07-17T06:55:43.258Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have the numbers to shut up and multiply.

What kind of numbers do you think you would need to shut up and multiply? No trolling, just an honest question. To clarify, I support Roko here -- I've been thinking along the same lines for some time.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-07-17T09:08:05.029Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You'd need to know the goals in question. Then you'd need to know how much great wealth would benefit these goals. Then the odds of becoming wealthy. Then the benefits if you try to get wealthy but fail. Then you'd need to compare that to the benefits of just doing what you're doing. It's not really quantifiable enough to fit into the shut-up-and-multiply, especially since it varies based on goals and individuals.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-17T19:59:40.282Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And is he putting any effort into getting the numbers?

comment by Roko · 2009-07-16T23:53:40.635Z · score: -9 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Elaborate intellectual justifications ...

comment by sketerpot · 2009-07-17T04:10:04.354Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Fully General Counterargument.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-17T05:29:47.412Z · score: -9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Aha! yet more Elaborate intellectual justifications from the weak beta males...

comment by Psychohistorian · 2009-07-17T09:19:21.376Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But this isn't really elaborate justification. It breaks down into:

-I'm more likely to accomplish my goals by doing what I'm doing than by doing what you propose.

Could be true. Could be false. Extremely sensitive to values of "my goals" and "doing what I'm doing." Theoretically testable/evaluable. Not really dismissible as "elaborate justification," even if it is possible to elaborate on the specifics in greater detail.

Your current proposition amounts to little more than provocative name-calling. "Alpha" qualities may or may not be more conducive to wealth than available alternatives. Pursuing wealth may or may not be more conducive to accomplishing a specific set of goals than the available alternatives. Ditto for social

I do accept the proposition that there are people who, if they have a goal (like having scientific discoveries achieved) would be better off maximizing their earnings and then being extremely charitable. Whether it applies to people who post on this site, I don't have enough information to say. They may be really good at the relevant research. They may be really bad at making money. I don't know. I doubt any other poster here does, either.

I certainly fail to see how this relates to a desire to sleep with attractive, shallow women. I don't even see how the alpha/beta "dichotomy" fits in to this argument, unless your basic point is "You [pejoratives] should get off your asses and become investment bankers or something," which is actually a fairly testable (or at least, evaluable) claim. Also, there are plenty of "weak beta males" who are still quite wealthy. If you're going off of Roissy, as the terminology indicates, alpha and beta are more about personality and sexual prowess than they are about ability to accumulate wealth. And Roissy's "dichotomy" has some serious, serious normative problems; I was debating making a top-level post about the problems with that style of thought, so thanks for convincing me to do so.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-17T20:00:31.630Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, I was playing up to the trolling persona here. It was funny. Yes, you have a legitimate argument.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T05:34:02.563Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It must be different to live in a world where nobody else is allowed to score a point without rendering themselves vulnerable to your juvenile insults. What will you call me, I wonder, since "weak beta male" won't work? Will the insult depend in some way on my gender, to be truly symmetrical? Will "whiny" work its way in?

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-17T03:59:59.322Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Um, do you realise what site you're on?

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2009-07-17T06:55:33.102Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have a very specific response.

such as making scientific discoveries...that money is just really effective at achieving

I'm skeptical that money is very effective at making scientific discoveries. I'm extremely skeptical money is a good way of getting credit for science. If your goal is to get credit for science or to impress scientists, you probably should be a scientist. Who has recently used money to achieve scientific fame? Craig Ventnor is the only one I can name. and I suspect the money diluted the credit, but it was probably worth it. If your goal is to advance science, maybe money is a good tool. Bell Labs was good for the world (and for IBM). But it's pretty easy to waste money trying to duplicate it.

Also, successful scientists are greedy and self-interested.

comment by michaelkeenan · 2009-07-17T11:56:39.987Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect that prizes are good for spurring technological progress. I'm thinking of the X Prize Foundation and the DARPA Grand Challenge for robotic cars. One reason I'd like to have more money is so I could donate it to prizes that would spur technological progress.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2009-07-18T20:18:42.283Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not convinced that financial success actually increases your success with women, although I'd love it if that were true. I suspect that appearance and behavior play a bigger role as soon as you have an apartment, a car, and a cell phone.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-16T17:07:02.366Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There is a subset of the population consciously interested in exploiting partners for their wealth. That subset aside, yeah, I think once you're able to provide and take care of yourself, the marginal value of money in your relationships plummets.

comment by CannibalSmith · 2009-07-17T12:33:29.906Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

INCLUDING YOU!!!

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-16T23:14:30.333Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is only significant if you, well, have long-term goals that involve changing the world.

I don't.

comment by Roko · 2009-07-16T23:22:29.664Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

do you have any goals at all?

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-16T23:29:32.744Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not really, unless you count things like "avoid feeling bad due to boredom, hunger, cold, etc."

I do usually want to finish whatever video game I'm playing at any given time, though, but that's not something you need to be a millionaire to do.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-16T23:32:28.406Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have any interest in acquiring goals?

If you could figure out what makes you enjoy video games and duplicate it in some other task that had more external value, would you do that?

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-16T23:56:46.221Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I dunno, really. If getting goals means I have to do ::shudder:: work, then I don't think I want goals. Also, one important thing that I like about video games is that failure has no meaningful consequences; if you fail at a job, you could be in trouble for a while, but if you fail at a game, you can just try again or even do something else.

Some other things I like about video games:

  • If you don't play a video game for a long time, it's still there, exactly as it was, if you ever want to try it again.
  • A video game can be played on any schedule, and it doesn't care if you want to stay up until 4 AM and sleep until noon.
  • Video games don't cost very much money.
  • Video games let me take my mind off my other worries. There's no room in my head for misery while playing a video game.
  • Nobody threatens me with horrible future consequences if my video games don't get played. I play them because I choose to, not because I'm being coerced.
  • Video games give rapid feedback, and a feeling of having achieved something.
  • When I have trouble with a video game, GameFAQs.com is always there to help.
  • I can beat many video games through sheer persistence.
  • I'm pretty good at video games.
  • I can discuss video games endlessly with my friends.
  • Video games are often exciting and intense.

There's probably more things I could list...

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2009-07-17T06:01:34.857Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

if you fail at a job, you could be in trouble for a while

If you fail at a job, you don't have a job. If you currently are happy about not having a job, then this shouldn't be so bad. Yeah, maybe someone will yell at you before firing you, but I simply reject that complaint. I can imagine months of stress when you believe you'll be fired, but I think that it is possible to accept a job as transitory and avoid this stress. I think that I would find this stressful mainly because the uncertainty of what I would do when the job is over. If I knew that I'd go home and play video games for a few months, I think I could avoid the stress. But, maybe I'm wrong; and maybe you're different. I'm probably more sympathetic to your other complaints.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-07-17T00:28:33.602Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

If getting goals means I have to do ::shudder:: work, then I don't think I want goals.

This is an instrumental equivalent to believing something for a reason other than that it is true. The goals are a first step, setting stage for the planning. The best available plan wins, even if it's a "bad" plan, that is even if it doesn't exactly "achieve" any of the goals.

For example, you may want to jump from a cliff, but not want to die (from hitting the ground). The plans not involving a parachute may dissuade this intention, prompting one to give an answer immediately, and declare the task undesirable, placing a curiosity stopper of this line of investigation. The correct approach is to keep your goals, not to stop considering them, and wait for a better plan: maybe the idea of a parachute will come, given time and careful study.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T00:06:41.984Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know if you'd be good at it or not, and I don't know if your circle of friends lends itself to discussions on other topics, but apart from "exciting and intense" (and the specific applicability of GameFAQs.com), most of those criteria apply to many forms of artwork. Drawing, for instance, is cheap, can be pursued at any time and with any amount of delay between putting one down and picking it up, putting things up on the Internet or showing them to friends yields prompt feedback, persistence pays off no matter how much initial talent you have, and many people find it very absorbing. Unlike playing video games, there is some chance of art netting an income, although it would probably take a while for such an enterprise to take off.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-17T00:45:40.121Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I find many "creative" pursuits, such as writing and computer programming, to be both extremely difficult and rather exhausting. I'm often good at them, but they're so much harder than anything that's merely a matter of mastering and executing specific algorithms. In other words, I can't brute force my way through writing a story the way I can brute force my way through a video game, by trying over and over again until I finally get it right. If I get stuck, I'm really, really stuck, and there's no FAQ I can go read which will tell me what my next sentence or line of code ought to be. (Which is why I mentioned GameFAQs.com as one of the things I like about video games.)

I don't know much about drawing, though. I never had much interest in it before...

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T01:01:43.334Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I recommend it, personally, but that's my hobby, and won't be universal. There are lots of drawing tutorials available for all levels of expertise and assorted styles and at varying levels of step-by-step detail, and it's more than a little easier to assess a ballpark of objective quality in drawing than it is with writing. If you like to write, you could do your own webcomic (although I don't know how well you'd react to keeping an update schedule, you'd be in good company if you didn't stick to one); that's a good way to get in regular practice and improve. If you don't like to write and have halfway decent art, it's not hard to find a writer willing to collaborate.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2009-07-17T06:08:01.615Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I recommend drawing from real life. I don't think people get stuck like writer's block. You may get stuck at a plateau of ability, but that might be OK, depending on the level.

comment by dclayh · 2009-07-17T04:35:29.112Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Playing a musical instrument is quite amenable to brute-forcing techniques* (as you might guess from the multitude of musical-instrument-simulating videogames).

*You would still need instruction to get started, and for specialized tricks, however.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-17T11:30:50.095Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed it is! I can play the piano at the "talented amateur" level. I enjoy it, and like performing, but it's damn hard to make money doing it.

comment by wuwei · 2009-07-19T02:34:22.383Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Have you tried programming in a language with an interactive interpreter, extensive documentation and tutorials, and open source code?

comment by michaelkeenan · 2009-07-17T11:50:02.576Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is a good suggestion. CronoDAS, you might also like to look into web design, or just design in general. I'm learning it right now - in an amateurish, inconsistent way - because it'll help my website programming work. I'm really enjoying it even though my current skill level could be regarded as "terrible". It involves learning tools like Photoshop (or GIMP if you like Linux), CSS and the principles of design. It helps me make things that appeal to my aesthetic sense and give me a sense of accomplishment, and I get satisfaction from improving a skill. As a self-directed exploration of this skill, it should be low-stress and there's not really a way to fail.

It sounds like you have programming talent but don't like getting stuck (I sympathize), but it's hard to get actually stuck when your tools just include HTML, CSS and Photoshop.

comment by teageegeepea · 2009-07-17T01:35:06.656Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm in a similar boat as CronoDAS. I had actually stopped playing video-games over a year ago (and stopped reading fiction months ago), though I just recently downloaded Daggerfall. I did feel really good when I got a job, though I am anxious that I could screw up and lose it (especially in this economy, as we've had the first layoffs in the company's history).

Back to the issue of automatic-denial: Thought some of you might be interested in this from Mind Hacks on bias blind spot.

comment by JamesAndrix · 2009-07-17T14:38:04.474Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What counts as extreme steps?

comment by MichaelBishop · 2009-07-16T21:52:42.533Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the problem is risk aversion. If people take on such goals, and fail (which is not uncommon), they will be worse off than if they never fully embraced the goals in the first place.

comment by pjeby · 2009-07-17T12:56:59.538Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If people take on such goals, and fail (which is not uncommon), they will be worse off than if they never fully embraced the goals in the first place

Only if the failure is permanent. If 9 out of 10 businesses go under, that just means you have to be prepared/willing to start 10, and learn from your mistakes each time. ;-)

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-16T20:00:29.727Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That making lots of money and becoming socially influential and powerful in the real world has vastly more chance of achieving any goal that people here have - such as making scientific discoveries, saving the world or living forever.

That phrase had a "more" but no "than". I am thoroughly confused.

comment by EE43026F · 2012-03-01T16:54:30.618Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Shakespeare isn't the greatest writer ever.

Granted, it's likely he may have been innovative back then, and he may have left a trace on society. So what? The guy picked low-hanging fruits.

Furthermore, I find it difficult to believe no one ever did better since then, especially if considering all cultures and writers, in a span of 400 years. Especially since people's taste in literature and stories vary.

Revering Shakespeare seems like a cached thought and an applause light more than anything. It's like saying the Bible is the greatest book ever written. Both could only become so successful because of the appalling lack of any serious competition.

comment by HonoreDB · 2012-03-01T17:07:27.665Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Seconded. I don't think you'll get too much disagreement in this community, interestingly enough. We're all neophiles. But say "modern writers are better than Shakespeare" to most English speakers and you won't even get an absolute denial macro, you'll get something more like , as though you'd claimed that apple > 6.

comment by Manfred · 2012-04-21T03:58:54.648Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I'd disagree. When I hear "greatest writer ever," literary merit is certainly a factor, but I also think of things associated with the "greatness" side of the phrase, like impact on culture, fame, and innovation. But I upvoted the post because I think there's a good point about this being such received wisdom.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-03-01T22:29:35.706Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Granted, it's likely he may have been innovative back then, and he may have left a trace on society. So what?

So, if "greatest" is defined by trace on society...

Revering Shakespeare seems like a cached thought and an applause light more than anything.

I agree there's the danger of a cached thought here, but I'm curious what experiment would differentiate between someone thinking Shakespeare is the greatest writer because they've been primed to do so and someone thinking that because Shakespeare was the greatest writer they've read.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-04-16T16:55:48.683Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For an experiment you could actually pull off without raising people in isolation from the rest of society, I'd take advantage of the fact that the average person doesn't actually know most of the works Shakespeare wrote, and separate out a control and experiment group where the control group reads and gives a rating of their perception of the literary quality of several works of short fiction, including some of Shakespeare's lesser known works, properly attributed, and the experiment group reads and rates the same stories with the works improperly attributed, crediting some nobody writer with a plausible renaissance-sounding name with Shakespeare's works.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-04-17T04:14:38.670Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Arguably, Shakespeare's primary contribution is in his best-known works, not his lesser-known works. Comparing Shakespeare's second-best to Jonson's second-best seems like a poor way to determine which is better- compare The Alchemist against A Midsummer Night's Dream. Similarly, comparing Ibsen and Shakespeare is a tough problem- in some sense, Ibsen is noteworthy only because his style was so different from Shakespeare's. As EE43026F points out, tastes vary- and there's no taste that seems like the natural judge for "greatest." Taking a random sample of humans alive today and having them decide which is better by majority vote seems like a poor judge, as is taking a random sample of theatre affectionados and having them decide by consensus.

(I am curious, though, how people in the developing world would respond to, say, Shakespeare plays vs. Ibsen plays vs. Hansberry plays. Does Shakespeare win points for adapting so readily to Japan?)

comment by beoShaffer · 2012-04-17T04:25:11.843Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

One groups reaction to Hamlet.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-17T20:02:36.817Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Something like this is going on when we read Platonic dialogues.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-04-17T19:10:01.730Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

“Impossible,” began one of the elders, handing his pipe on to his neighbor, who interrupted, “Of course it wasn’t the dead chief. It was an omen sent by a witch. Go on.”

comment by gwern · 2012-04-17T20:00:00.979Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In one of my anthropology classes, this was covered, but we didn't get a copy of the whole piece. Thanks.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-04-17T19:52:20.564Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is awesome.

comment by linkhyrule5 · 2013-09-18T07:05:36.262Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Huh.

I wonder if their judgement of quality was a coincidence? It seems odd that they would judge it a good story, while reinterpreting the plot ... well, not all that comprehensively - not a lot of meaning gets changed...

Anyway, it might be interesting to see if their judgement of story-quality is roughly randomized across Western literature, or if they remain parallel even when interpretations differ.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-04-20T13:40:39.505Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not saying I would have done better in the moment, but the author's utter refusal to adapt to different lore and cultural expectations really irked me. Just say it was how the omen got interpreted rather than spoken words!

comment by thomblake · 2012-04-17T19:14:57.990Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Does Shakespeare win points for adapting so readily to Japan?

Everything adapts readily to Japan. It's what the culture is built on.

comment by Gastogh · 2012-04-20T17:38:41.967Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm interested. Just how is Japanese culture built on that?

comment by thomblake · 2012-04-20T18:48:27.713Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Here is a quick gloss, in broad brush strokes (with a mixed metaphor or two thrown in for good measure). The Japanese have been smoothly appropriating and adopting parts of other cultures since at least the beginning of their recorded history. Their recorded history, of course, began when they adopted Chinese writing.

According to my Grand Theory of Japan, Japan is notable for always seeing itself how it is reflected in the eyes of others (a trait that is visible at all levels of abstraction, from culture to individual). Its name, in its own language, can be interpreted "land to the East" - it was given by the Chinese and happily adopted by the Japanese (in part because it could also be interpreted as "originating from the sun" and that tied in nicely with the Amaterasu (sun goddess) creation myth). Early Japanese people were very concerned with catching up to the level of civilization of China.

When Western powers arrived and started colonizing China, Japan quickly realized it had a new target and started emulating Britain and Germany. Huge changes to the organization of society and social customs swept through Japan with relatively little resistance. First Japan thought they'd earn the respect of the West by colonizing China, since that seemed to be what all the cool kids were doing. When that didn't quite work, they fought (and won) a war against Russia. Soon after, they tried to create an empire in the Pacific, and it would have worked if it weren't for the new economic powerhouse that was the US.

So Japan turned to emulating the US, changing its way of life once again to build an economic power out of toothpicks and rubber bands (billions of them, subsidized by the US). The constitution, which was practically handed to Japan by the occupying US, was soon held to a regard similar to that of the US towards our own constitution.

History lessons aside, you can see the signs of this tendency/attitude everywhere in Japan. The language is about half loan words from European languages, mostly English. Every sort of holiday is celebrated - even though Japan is not historically Christian [1] and most Japanese don't identify as Christians, Japanese people widely celebrate such holidays as Christmas and St. Valentine's Day.

[1]: Just a few centuries ago, all of the Christians were rounded up and crucified. The proffered reason being, Christianity is exclusive and so goes against social harmony. Later, they encountered Protestant Christianity via the Dutch and were happier about that - the Meiji Restoration guaranteed freedom of religion (aside from a brief hiccup), and as a consequence many Japanese attend religious events from Buddhist, Shinto, and Christian traditions (and possibly others), often without really getting why that would ever seem weird.

comment by Pablo_Villalobos · 2014-06-02T14:22:36.596Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't dispute most of this seriously (and am aware I am responding to an old post, so I don't mind if you don't respond) but how does the seclusion period, where they tried to severely limit contact with the west for a few hundred years, fit into your thinking on the subject?

comment by jajvirta · 2009-07-17T06:27:41.939Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

A belief that I think is not supported by evidence, but will trigger automatic stream of rationalizations is this: that innate talent (or lack thereof) places constraints on what one can achieve. Especially regarding intelligence. I'm not saying that there are no differences in, say, intelligence. There are, of course. But it doesn't follow that these traits are fixed and constrain what you can achieve.

I think you can see this world-view in the general attitude of many of the posters and commenters here or even in EY's posts:

For so long as I have not yet achieved that level, I must acknowledge the possibility that I can never achieve it, that my native talent is not sufficient.

My claim is that there is little evidence supporting this sort of view and in fact the evidence points in the other direction.

There are the studies of K. Anders Ericsson (et al) on expertise, which have shown that the only factor that reliably predicts expertise (in any of the studied fields) is the amount of time the individual has spent practicing deliberately.

But there are also studies popularized by Carol Dweck, which indicate that the self-view one adopts has a significant impact on the effort we will dedicate into hard problems. That is, if we believe that talent (and especially intelligence) is innate and fixed, then we're much more likely to give up when we face hard problems. But if we believe the opposite, that innate characteristics are not fixed but can be improved, we are much more likely to sustain effort with hard problems and thus much more likely to eventually succeed.

Neither of these prove that some sort of innate talent is definitely not a significant factor in one's performance. But to me they suggest that adopting the world-view that one's characteristics aren't fixed is a) probably true anyhow and b) a useful mindset to have regardless.

comment by infotropism · 2009-07-16T20:36:55.084Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

There's no such thing as an absolute denial macro. And I sure hope this to trigger yours.

comment by CannibalSmith · 2009-07-17T12:51:33.635Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, you wont!

comment by nero · 2009-07-25T20:39:04.133Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Have you ever heard creationist talk ? For me that is proof of its existence.

comment by taw · 2009-07-17T13:27:52.880Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Absolute denial macro can be an artifact of being Bayesian-rational, and being absolutely convinced (P=1, or ridiculously close to it) about something that just happens to be false. If you use your brain's natural ability to generate most plausible hypotheses consistent with data, and P(arm is not paralyzed)=1, then P(it's daughter's arm) > P(arm is paralyzed), so this hypothesis wins. If it's disproved, you just go for the next hypothesis, and you have plenty of them before you have to go for one with P=0 that happens to be true.

comment by Dagon · 2009-07-16T18:39:18.475Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

If the delusion is of the kind that all of us share it, we won't be able to find it without building an AI.

You're not understanding (or not believing) the power of such denial/delusion. If there's a delusion that universal and compelling, we won't be able to find it EVEN IF we build an AI.

I didn't comment on Elizer's post because it was equally misguided - if you're so committed to a belief that you ignore a ton of "normal" evidence, you're not going to be convinced by an AI, just because you read the source code. That's "just" evidence like everything else, and you can always find rationalizations like misunderstood terms, hardware error, or that generalizations don't apply to you.

comment by arundelo · 2009-07-16T19:04:34.947Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So now she still has strong religious experiences, but she is not religious.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/xc/the_uses_of_fun_theory/

comment by mps · 2009-07-20T21:22:24.974Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

one sometimes hears someone say "you only use 10% of your brain." if you tell them this isn't true, you often get a stream of variations of this statement ("it's 10% of your potential...") instead of a simple acknowledgment that maybe they were told wrong.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-16T16:52:18.361Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is more of a social status thing. Being contradicted and quickly agreeing with the person who contradicted you leads to a loss of social status that people try to avoid. A good way to dodge this barrier is to mention that it's a common misconception, talk about how wide-spread it is, and why it isn't true (evolution isn't THAT incompetent), then ask where they heard it. That lets them take the assertion back without much loss of status.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2009-07-16T16:45:40.473Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Is there anything that you consider proven beyond any possibility of doubt by both empirical evidence and pure logic,

Bit of a tall order, taken literally.

and yet saying it triggers automatic stream of rationalizations in other people?

Is this intended as hyperbole for: "Is there anything that you consider solidly established by both empirical evidence and pure logic, yet even the smart, rational people on Less Wrong will respond to it with obvious rationalisations?"

comment by nero · 2009-07-25T20:50:22.823Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

how about; the external world can never be proven to exist, we have to take it on faith alone. one of the implications being that science is a belief system of its own.

comment by cousin_it · 2009-07-25T21:12:13.721Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Downvoted, then removed the downvote. After all, you're new. It might be instructive for you to read what happened to the last challenger. Try to do better than that.

comment by JamesAndrix · 2009-07-19T15:44:52.914Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This is completely the wrong way to go about finding our absolute denial macros. It is clearly not the advice we would offer to any other group.

We would not tell others to make up things they think are obviously true and see if any others in the group are irrational. If anything that's a recipe for cementing groupthink.

We would advise others to go outside the group, examine the evidence as directly as possible, and to study, basic logic, science, and current scientific knowledge.

comment by marchdown · 2011-11-16T11:58:00.456Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, what if it is too hard?

Imagine that you knew for a fact, that for any person in a community whose beliefs you were poised to challenge, it would feel too dangerous, too boring, too uncomfortable or awkward to actually go outside and closely observe the territory which they have every reason (with the sole exception of your assurance) to model as utterly uninteresting. And yet imagine (it's a bit of a stretch, I know, but please play along for the sake of this exercise) that you care for them enough to try and help them discover truth, or maybe use them to improve your map by observing their struggle. How would you go about making them face the contradiction?

comment by JPS · 2009-07-17T06:25:05.990Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

People's actions are heavily influenced by instinct for large parts of every day - perhaps all the time. Learned behaviors - such as speech, and driving - are patterns that interconnect various instinctive behaviors.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-04-21T03:57:10.755Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Doesn't come as a big surprise for me. Instincts are the rocks, early learned behavior is the soil, and nobody can build a house on clouds.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2009-07-16T18:02:58.615Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming the moderation of "beyond any possibility of doubt" I suggested in an earlier comment, I've already seen an example on this forum. The claim I make is:

"Achieving an intended result is not a task that necessitates either having a model or making predictions. In some cases, neither having a model nor attempting predictions are of any practical use at all."

(NB. I have not reread my earlier post in composing the above; searching out minor differences to seize on would be to the point only in exemplifying another type of rationalisation to add to those listed below.)

One strong thread running through the responses was to interpret the word "model" so as to make the claim false by definition, a redefinition blatantly at variance with all previous uses of the word in this very forum and its parent OB. Responses of that form stopped the moment I pointed out the previous record of its use.

Another thread was to change the above claim to something stronger and argue against that instead: the claim that models and prediction are never useful.

A third was to point to models elsewhere than in the examples of systems achieving purposes without models.

These reactions are invariable. I was not surprised to encounter them here.

A fourth reaction I've encountered (I'm not going to reexamine the comments to see if anyone here committed this) is to claim that it works, so there must be a model. Yet when pressed, they cannot point to it, cannot even say what claim they are making about the system. It's like hearing a Christian say "even if you're an atheist, if you did something good it must have been by receiving the grace of God".

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-16T19:13:16.553Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Oh geez.

One strong thread running through the responses was to interpret the word "model" so as to make the claim false by definition, a redefinition blatantly at variance with all previous uses of the word in this very forum and its parent OB. Responses of that form stopped the moment I pointed out the previous record of its use.

Richard, responses of that form stopped because it takes a long time to explain. I even had a response written up but didn't post it because I thought it was long enough to merit a top-level post. I still have it saved, though I've done some reworking to make it more applicable than just as a response to your post. (I've just unhidden it so you guys can take a gander. What follows borrows heavily from it)

To everyone not familiar with what happened, let me explain. Richard claimed that many successful control systems don't have "models" of their environment. Most people disagreed with that, not because of a need to shoehorn everything successful into "having a model", but because those systems met enough of the criteria to count as "having a model" in any other context. It's just that the whole time, Richard believed people meant something narrower when they said "model" than they really did.

So how did the other commenters use the term "model"? And how did Richard's differ? Well, for one thing, Richard seemed to think that something has to "make predictions" to count as a model. But this is a confusion: the person using the model makes a prediction, not the model itself.

If I have a computer model of some aircraft, well, that's just computer hardware with some switches set. It doesn't make any prediction, yet is unambiguously a model. Rather, what happens is that the model has mutual information with the phenomenon in quesiton, and the computer apparatus applies a transformation (input/output devices) to the model that makes it meaningful to people, who then use that knowledge to explicitly specify a prediction.

All along, I suspect, people were using the "mutual information" criterion to determine whether something "has a model" of something else, and this is why I tried to rephrase Richard's point with that more precise terminology. I think that comment clarified matters, and it showed the "meat" or Richard's point, which I still thought was a good point, just a bit overhyped.

In contrast, Richard did not offer an equally precise definition of what he meant when he said that:

There are signals within the control system that are designed to relate to each other in the same way as do corresponding properties of the world outside. That is what a model is.

As Vladimir_Nesov noted, that definition just hides the ambiguity in the term "corresponding". We already have a term that very precisely describes what is meant for things to "correspond" to each other; it's called mutual information.

Note that in the time since Richard's post, it has been very common for me to have to rephrase his point in more precise terminology in order for others to be able to make sense of it.

And I don't think this is just an issue of arguing definitions. There's a broader issue about whether you can helpfully carve conceptspace in a way that captures Richard's definition of "model" but excludes things that "merely" have mutual information.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2009-07-19T07:53:51.702Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oh geez.

You are surprised? But obviously, any reply to the original post giving examples as sought will, by definition, raise contention.

Richard, responses of that form stopped because it takes a long time to explain.

That may have been your reason, but that does not imply that it's everyone else's reason -- no more than your distaste for alcohol is a reason for you to disbelieve other people's enjoyment of it.

All along, I suspect, people were using the "mutual information" criterion to determine whether something "has a model" of something else

This is flatly at variance with the uses of "model" I listed, drawn from OB/LW, and the way the word is defined in every book on model-based control. The only time people try to redefine "X is a model of Y" to mean "X has mutual information with Y" is when someone points out that systems of the sort that I described do not contain models. For some reason, people need to believe that those systems work by means of models, despite the clear lack of them, and immediately redefine the word as necessary to be able to say that. But having redefined the word, they are saying something different.

"X has mutual information with Y" is not a technical explanation of an informal concept labelled "model". It is a completely different concept. The concept of a model, as I and everyone else outside these threads uses it, is very clear, unambiguous, and far narrower than mere mutual information. Vladimir Nesov objected to the word "correspondence" as vague; but if you want a technical elaboration of that, look in the direction of "isomorphism", not "mutual information".

And I don't think this is just an issue of arguing definitions. There's a broader issue about whether you can helpfully carve conceptspace in a way that captures Richard's definition of "model" but excludes things that "merely" have mutual information.

Well, you have my answer to that. Conceptspace is carved along one line called "model", and along another line called "mutual information". Both lines matter, both have their uses, and they are in very different places. You want to erase the former or move it to coincide with the latter, but I have seen no argument for doing this.

If you want to take this on, it is no small mountain that I would have to see climbed. What it would take would be a radical reconstruction of control theory based on the concept of mutual information which eschews the word "model" altogether (because it's taken, and there is already a perfectly good term for mutual informaation: "mutual information"), and which can be used directly for the design of control systems that are provably as good or better than those designed by existing techniques, both model-based and non-model-based. It should explain the real reason why those more primitive methods of design work (or don't work, when they don't), and provide better ways of making better designs.

Something like what Jaynes did for statistics. This is the level of isshokenmei at least. (ETA: no, one level higher: "extraordinary effort".)

I do not know if this is possible. Certainly, it has not been done. When I've looked for information-theoretic or Bayesian analyses of control, I have found nothing substantial. Of course, I'm aware of the use of Bayesian techniques within control theory, such as Kalman filters. This is asking for the reverse inclusion. That is the substantial issue here.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-19T14:02:04.095Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

All along, I suspect, people were using the "mutual information" criterion to determine whether something "has a model" of something else

This is flatly at variance with the uses of "model" I listed, drawn from OB/LW, and the way the word is defined in every book on model-based control.

No, you just asserted that people were using "model" in your sense in some posts you cited; there was nothing clear in any of the examples that implied they meant it in your sense rather than mine. And you didn't quote from any book on model based control, and even if you did, you would still need to show how it's not equivalent to merely having mutual information.

The only time people try to redefine "X is a model of Y" to mean "X has mutual information with Y" is when someone points out that systems of the sort that I described do not contain models.

No, as others pointed out, they normally use "model" to mean e.g.

"a simplified, abstracted representation of an object or system that presents only the information needed by its user. For example, the plastic models of aircraft I built as a kid abstract away everything except the external appearance, a mathematical model of a system shows only those dimensions and relationships useful to the model's users,"

or

"temperature, as used by a thermostat, is a model of a system: It abstracts away all the details about the energy of individual particles in the system, except for a single scalar value representing the average of all those energies."

So it's clear they would count a single value that attempts to capture all critical properties of another system as a "model" of that system.

"X has mutual information with Y" is not a technical explanation of an informal concept labelled "model". It is a completely different concept. The concept of a model, as I and everyone else outside these threads uses it, is very clear, unambiguous, and far narrower than mere mutual information.

I explained why this is false: it does not account for all the systems clearly labeled as "models" (aircraft finite element models, plastic toy models, etc.) yet only have mutual information with some phenomenon, and which the user must apply some transformation to, in order to make a prediction.

Vladimir Nesov objected to the word "correspondence" as vague; but if you want a technical elaboration of that, look in the direction of "isomorphism", not "mutual information".

But (as I explained before), isomorphism is not what you want here. Everyone accepts that models don't have to be perfect representations. In contrast, "isomorphism" means a one-to-one mapping, which would indeed be a perfect model. "Mutual information" is more general than that: it includes isomorphisms, but also cases where the best mapping isn't always correct, and where the model doesn't include all aspects of the phenomenon.

And I don't think this is just an issue of arguing definitions. There's a broader issue about whether you can helpfully carve conceptspace in a way that captures Richard's definition of "model" but excludes things that "merely" have mutual information.

Well, you have my answer to that. Conceptspace is carved along one line called "model", and along another line called "mutual information".

Er, that's not how carving conceptspace works. The task of helpfully carving conceptspace is to show how your cuts don't split things with significant relevant similarities. I claim you do so when you say a model "must make predictions". This would count a computer model of an aircraft as "not a model".

You're missing the point of the problem when you say what you did here.

Both lines matter, both have their uses, and they are in very different places. You want to erase the former or move it to coincide with the latter, but I have seen no argument for doing this.

No, what I'm saying is that to be a model, something must have (nontrivial) mutual information with some other phenomenon. But "model" is most often used to connote a case where some human, with whom you can debate, will apply the necessary interpretation to the physical instantiation of model so as to tell you what its prediction is.

Still, something "has a model" whether or not some human is actually applying the necessary interpretation. The domino computer I linked contains a model of binary addition, even before someone realizes it. A computer's hardware can have a model of an aircraft, even if someone throws it in the trash. In fact, the whole field of computation is basically identifying which physical systems already contain models of some kind of computation, and which we can therefore rely on, given some interpretation, to consistently give us the correct answer.

I do not find it helpful to say, "this thing over here explicitly outputs a prediction, so it's a model, but this thing over here is just entangled with the phenomenon, so it doesn't have a model". Both are models, and the problem is on our end in the inability to harness the correlation to make what we consider a prediction.

When I've looked for information-theoretic or Bayesian analyses of control, I have found nothing substantial. Of course, I'm aware of the use of Bayesian techniques within control theory, such as Kalman filters. This is asking for the reverse inclusion. That is the substantial issue here.

Sorry, I don't see it. The only problem is your arbitrary distinction between model-based controllers vs. non-model based, when really, both are model-based. As I said when I rephrased your claim, the substantive issue is how much of a given system needs to be modeled, and I already accept your claim that a model needn't include everything about its environment, and that further, people typically overestimate how much must be modeled.

That is what we are really talking about, and I already agree with you there. All that remains is your arbitrary re-assignment of some things as "models" and others not, which is fruitless.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2009-07-20T21:58:53.207Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, you just asserted that people were using "model" in your sense in some posts you cited; there was nothing clear in any of the examples that implied they meant it in your sense rather than mine. And you didn't quote from any book on model based control, and even if you did, you would still need to show how it's not equivalent to merely having mutual information.

With respect to the links I provided to earlier postings on OB/LW I shall only say that I have reviewed them and stand by the characterisation I made of them at the time (which went beyond mere assertion that they agree with me). To amplify my claim regarding books on model-based control theory, the following notes are drawn from the books I have to hand which include an easily identified statement of what the authors mean by a model. All of them are talking about a system that is specifically similar in structure to and not merely entangled with the thing modelled. At this point I think it is up to you to show that these things are equivalent. As I said at the end of my last comment, this would be a highly non-trivial task, a complete reconstruction of the content of books such as these. (It is too large to do in the columns of Less Wrong, but I look forward to reading it, whoever writes it.)

1. Brosilow & Joseph "Techniques of Model-Based Control"

Page 10, Figure 1.6, "Generic form of the model-based control strategy." This is a block diagram in which one block is labelled "Process", and another "Model"; the Model is a subsystem of the control system, designed to have the same input-output behaviour as the Process which the control system is to control. Ding!

2. Marlin, "Process Control". Page 584, section 19.2, "The Model Predictive Control Structure".

Here the author introduces the eponymous control method, in which a model of the process to be controlled is constructed and used to predict its future behaviour, in order to overcome the problem that (in the motivating example) the process contains substantial transport lags (a common situation in process control). The model is, as in the previous reference, a mathematical scheme designed to have the same input-output-relation as the real process, and is used by the controller to predict the future values of some of the variables. Ding!

3. Goodwin, Graebe, and Salgado, "Control System Design".

Pages 29-30, section 2.5: (paraphrased slightly) "Let us also assume that the output is related to the input by a known functional relationship of the form y = f(u)+d, where f is a transformation that describes the input-output relations in the plant. We call a relationship of this type a model." Ding!

4. Astrom and Wittenmark, "Adaptive Control"

Page 20, Chapter 1, "Model-Reference Adaptive Systems"

Another block diagram as in Brosilow & Joseph. Ding!

5. Leigh, "Control Theory" (2nd. ed.)

Chapter 6, "Mathematical modelling".

Sorry, no nuggets to quote, you'll have to read it yourself. But it's a whole chapter about models in the above sense. This, in fact, is a book I'd recommend as an introduction to control theory in general, which is why I mention it, despite it not lending itself to concise quotation. Ding!

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

comment by dspeyer · 2014-06-02T06:12:42.723Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The example that comes to mind here is tumble-and-travel chemotaxis.

For those not familiar with it, it's how e coli (and many other bacteria) get to places where the chemical environment favors them. From an algorythmic perspective, it senses the current pleasantness of the chemical environment (more food, less poison) as a scalar, compares that pleasantness to its general happiness level (also a scalar), is more likely to go straight if the former is higher and more likely to tumble if the latter is, and updates its happiness in the direction of the pleasantness. The overall effect is that it goes straight when things are getting better and randomly turns when they're getting worse, which does a passable job of going toward food and away from danger. The environment consists of its location and an entire map, but its memory is a single scalar.

I'm not sure what you're saying about systems like this. That they exist? Of course. This one is well studied. That they outperform model-based systems? Certainly if you include the energy cost of building and running a more complex system. Probably not if you don't, though I can't prove it.

Or are you claiming that this sort of system can solve arbitrarily complex problems? Maybe, but you'll need to do more than assert that.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-06-02T23:40:06.864Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Or are you claiming that this sort of system can solve arbitrarily complex problems?

You mean, that I have a solution to strong AI? No, not at all. Just the italicised claim, in opposition to the idea that anything that succeeds at funnelling reality through a desired path must be using a model.

comment by taw · 2009-07-17T00:03:58.746Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As a moderate modeler I'm going to admit that I would prefer if it turned out there's a simple way to prove that thermostats and such can be convincingly reinterpreted as having a model, but I'm not going to lose any sleep if it turns out not to be true.

comment by SilasBarta · 2009-07-17T01:12:29.763Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That summarizes exactly why I tried to unearth the actual substance of the claim that a system "has no model", i.e. what testable implication did his claim have? And that I think I successfully did in the comment I linked.

The implication was that, basically, you don't need to know everything about your environment to build a working controller, and so you probably overestimate how much you have to know about it.

There was such strong reaction to Richard's claim because people associated different concepts with models than Richard did. Like with the "tree falling makes a sound?" debate, the correct approach is to identify the substance of the dispute, and that's exactly what I did.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-16T19:48:23.865Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If I wanted to nitpick or argue, I'd nitpick based on the meaning of "intended". (I think I stayed silent during that discussion. On a side note, I suspect that human brains do have a built-in capacity to model the physics of ballistics, air resistance included, because we can throw objects to hit a target.)

Anyway, if we want a "model-free" designer and optimization process, we can always go point to our "friend" the alien god, which certainly doesn't have models or make predictions, yet it works.

comment by Jonii · 2009-07-17T05:36:18.595Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I can tell, only way to call evolution an intelligence, you have to add in the whole system in which the evolution works(The biosphere). If we take "mutual information" to be basis for "model", evolution actually has absolutely accurate model of the biosphere, the biosphere itself. It's just that evolution uses this model in a very very very suboptimal way.

The reason behind combining the process and the system it works in is quite simple, I believe. Evolution is simply a result of the biosphere doing the biosphere-thing, just as our intelligence is a result of our brain doing the brain-thing, all according to the laws of physics. Take the biosphere(or the brain) away, and that "intelligence" is gone.

comment by MendelSchmiedekamp · 2009-07-17T19:16:12.713Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose it was only a matter of time before less wrong found the "fnords". Although at moment we seem to be obsessed with the silly or superficial ones. There is an art, parallel to the core art of rationality, in learning to see the assumptions and deceptions we build up in order to function, the accretion of simplifications and half-answers which become unchallenged beliefs so basic that we forget we even believe them.

And as the saying goes once you see the fnords, you see them everywhere.

And there are so many to see, under a thin coat of fear or denial, an idea or a correction lies ready to be revealed. These are cheap, although filled with the thrill of danger, because they frighten and inspire in equal measure.

But deep underneath all that, are the big ones, looming, twisting things which have tunneled their way through our knowledge and practices. These are the ones you need to ignore because they don't just frighten or require accepting what others deny, they mean functionally shifting your entire reference frame. It is as though language itself conspires to make these deeply embedded assumptions and delusions into something inexpressible, weird at best, madness at worse.

If you search patiently and carefully enough you can start to find them. You can even catalog or map them, seeing how they unfold into each other. But that doesn't mean you've figured out how the express them. How do you show them in a way that provides nearly as much engagement as a stream of rationalizations? That's something I'm still working on.

comment by Kenny · 2009-07-25T16:02:54.870Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What's an example? [How about one small one and one big one?]

comment by MendelSchmiedekamp · 2009-07-30T15:36:19.246Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Small fnords aren't terribly hard to find. You just squint at the situation and notice that something is amiss, and keep yourself from shutting down your mind in fear. This post has quite a few of them around, that's what I was referring to.

As for a big one, well we don't have the language for those. But I'll give you this. One of them can be found as you probe deeper and deeper past the realization that truth and honesty are unrelated concepts.

comment by Bongo · 2009-07-30T17:18:26.015Z · score: 9 (15 votes) · LW · GW

You didn't give any examples.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-04-21T03:50:25.855Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Honesty is correlation with the speaker's understanding of the facts; truth is correlation with the actual facts. A person can be speaking honestly but falsely, or truly but dishonestly, if their understanding is in some way less than perfectly correlated with the facts. What's so fnordish about that?

comment by Annoyance · 2009-07-20T19:18:39.007Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There are limits to the degree to which fnords can be discussed with others. Without doing the hard work necessary to perceive them, others cannot receive benefit from having them pointed out to them - and that can even be harmful, as our mental immune systems will construct defensive rationalizations to protect fnords brought to our attention that we're not strong enough to abolish.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2009-07-17T10:19:12.853Z · score: 4 (12 votes) · LW · GW

More of an empirical evidence thing, with some logic supporting it: For the vast majority of people, their fat percentage says nothing about their health or how well they're living their lives. The cultural opposition to fatness is status-driven, and should be viewed as signaling gone out of control.

The demand for leanness has made people's lives (including their health) generally worse rather than better.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-16T16:20:18.032Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This looks like evidence against that to me. See also this. (All that publicity for anorexic models is still a Bad Thing, but “opposition to fatness” needn't mean endorsement of emaciation; the latter is signalling gone out of control.)

ETA: FWIW, all other things being equal I feel better (e.g. more stamina) when I'm slimmer; YMMV.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-04-16T16:33:14.758Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

ETA: FWIW, all other things being equal I feel better (e.g. more stamina) when I'm slimmer; YMMV.

How have you managed the 'all else being equal' part? Most things that cause you to have more stamina* also cause you to be slimmer. It seems more likely that you will have more stamina because all else is almost certainly not equal.

* In the non-trivially-short-term. ie. I'm not talking about drinking 5 bottles of Gatorade giving you more stamina for that day.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-16T16:45:13.734Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How have you managed the 'all else being equal' part?

By eating less for a couple of months without any other major change of habits.

Most things that cause you to have more stamina* also cause you to be slimmer.

(provided slimmer is defined in terms of fat mass alone and not total mass: muscle weighs a lot, and...).
Sure, eating a lot by itself also makes me less energetic for a while (probably due to digestion requiring energy), but I'd expect that to be a short-term effect only.

comment by Nanani · 2009-07-21T03:06:32.703Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Does anyone really deny this? Or is it simply not socially appropriate to say you want to look better?

comment by pwno · 2009-07-17T16:24:39.601Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think slightly overweight people use the rationale for losing weight to be more healthy. They know they want to do it to just look better.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2009-07-17T20:03:48.885Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think either of us have statistics on this.

My impression is that looking better gets conflated with being healthier and proving one's virtue.

comment by MugaSofer · 2014-06-24T15:25:50.886Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Eh, what the heck. Pretty sure I have one, even if I'm not sure whether saying it helps in any way.

"Vegetarianism is morally required. Trivially so. Producing meat involves large amounts of harm, and we would recognize that in most other situations. Worse still, it is actually quite easy and safe for everyone in most cultures."

[Regardless of the truth of this, I have definitely seen people's ADM triggered by it. It's kind of scary, actually.]

ETA: Oh, and slavery - you know the type I mean - seems likeit was a very localized ADM-creator. But I expect any LW-ers who are in favor it are such for ... other reasons.

comment by Jiro · 2014-06-24T15:42:23.853Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd expect that if you ask a lot of people to post things that are true but which others deny for spurious reasons, you'd get the occasional thing which is true and denied for spurious reasons, and a whole lot of things which are believed with utter certainly and sincerity by that one person and are just wrong.

In other words, any idea listed here, including vegetarianism, is one which we ought to be skeptical of just by virtue of it being listed here. It's a simple Bayseian update on the probability that any given idea is right, given that this thread will predominantly be used to post wrong ideas.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-16T17:21:26.248Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Artificial Intelligence is impossible.

Everyone currently alive is going to die.

Humans are not more valuable or significant than other species on Earth. We have simply adapted our definition of success to contain the things we do anyway.

X-Rationalism is a signaling behavior by awkward, socially isolated nerds who've been raised by a diet of bad science fiction to think they're special. The reason why rationalists aren't ruling the world is because 'rationalism' consists of nothing but reading the works of smarter people, nodding sagely, and then stealing their vocabulary wholesale.

comment by HeroicLife · 2009-07-17T17:26:39.722Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

That global warming is an important issue.*

*This is not a claim that climate change isn't changing, or that it isn't man made, or that the changes will not have a net negative impact. Rather, even a superficial cost/benefit analysis will quickly show that the benefit or acting towards many other values will have a much higher payoff than any attempt to influence climate change. For example, adding iodine to salt is very cheap, but can save many millions of lives with a high degree of certainty and in a short time frame.

Bjorn Lomborg did some research on this: http://www.ted.com/talks/bjorn_lomborg_sets_global_priorities.html

comment by DanielLC · 2014-06-23T04:08:19.570Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't mean to confirm or deny that global warming is an important issue, but I disagree with the reasoning. Yes, there are lots of things more important than global warming. That doesn't mean that global warming isn't an important issue. It means that global warming isn't the most important issue. A more relevant question is, if you decreased funding to global warming, would the place the money ends up going be something more important or less important?

comment by gwern · 2012-05-29T23:06:55.961Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

adding iodine to salt is very cheap, but can save many millions of lives with a high degree of certainty and in a short time frame.

How exactly does iodine save lives? In my reading, most of the benefits seemed to stem from reduced cretinism & goiters. Which massively impact the economy and quality of life, but I don't see this as actual life & death.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-01T16:11:32.201Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Bjørn Lomborg is with significant pobability a doofus who in Denmark were a known speaker for the governments opinion, which at the time was 'fuck the environment'.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-01T17:23:52.905Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And insecticide-treated mosquito nets in malaria-infested areas can save even more lives per dollar than adding iodine to salt. So, shouldn't we spend money on anything else?

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-17T04:45:56.772Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know how many people here suffer from this, but the Animation Age Ghetto, the SciFi Ghetto, and other examples of Public Medium Ignorance are really hard to get people to look past.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-06-23T04:19:54.733Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Fanfiction is a good one. I always like seeing fanfiction outside its ghetto, where it never occurs to anyone to call it that.

I helped pre-read a Library of Babel My Little Pony crossover fanfic. I noticed that Wikipedia had a section that filled most of a page listing Library of Babel fanfiction without ever referring to it as such.

And I might as well mention, Alicorn wrote a short story called Earthfic where stories taking place in the real world had such a ghetto. I'm pretty sure it was just making fun of the fanfiction ghetto, but it applies pretty much as well to all of them.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-01T16:28:00.156Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. That just means more interesting pop culture for the rest of us.

comment by wisnij · 2009-07-17T02:57:59.861Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That "free will", at least as commonly defined, is largely illusory.

comment by t2LambdaLambda6 · 2009-07-19T00:28:49.613Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

The notion "a common notion of 'free will' exists" is largely illusory.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-17T03:08:26.550Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What's the "common definition" you're drawing on?

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-19T04:18:45.033Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"The ability for a consciousness to nondeterministically make choices"?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-19T04:32:46.645Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

But what does that mean? I've asked people who believe in libertarian free will what they are getting at many times. They do not mean that actions are random, and they don't believe they're determined by prior states of affairs. I literally cannot wrap my mind around what else might be possible, let alone what other possible thing could reasonably go by the name "freedom".

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-23T02:04:57.110Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

They're trying to pretend that the model that we had before we had any idea how the brain worked is still correct. It doesn't mean anything, it's just commonly taken as a given. It would be stupid to say it was random and depressing (but true!) to say that choices are a function of brain states.

comment by JulianMorrison · 2009-07-20T12:17:51.232Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When I say free will, I mean that I'm too ignorant to use production rules in a given optimization search space.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-20T12:02:35.344Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As someone who audited a three-credit "Action and Responsibility" class in college, my impression is that there is no more explanation to be had. There are some people who construct more elaborate theories which do have internals (cf. Robert Kane - actually, his "A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will" is short, readable, and accurate as an introduction to the classic theories and to his own), but the "naive libertarians" refuse to believe that it is any more complicated than that.

Edit: What am I doing? You're training to be a philosopher! You're the one who should be telling me!

comment by CannibalSmith · 2009-07-17T12:48:29.853Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't make life any less enjoyable.

comment by glennonymous · 2012-04-17T21:35:41.958Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

As elucidated by Judith Rich Harris in The Nurture Assumption and Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate, and completely contrary to our current cultural fad of attributing all neurosis to the failure of parents to properly nurture their children, parenting has close to zero effect on how children turn out. How our peers interact with us has a far greater impact on personality development than whatever our parents do or don't do, whether they abuse us, slather us with affection every day, ignore us, constantly berate us, constantly tell us we are wonderful, et cetera.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-04-21T04:06:26.687Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

to our current cultural fad of attributing all neurosis to the failure of parents to properly nurture their children

Does this really count as our current culture? As an example, autism was being blamed on parenting style in 1950 but that blame has been successfully opposed by parent lobbies, to the point where I don't think it's the sort of thing that can be mentioned on public television without career damage. (It also appears that there may be some justification for the claim that parenting style causes or exacerbates autism, but that's not the sort of question people are willing to pay for the answer for.)

comment by Strange7 · 2012-04-18T16:20:18.428Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No, I'm pretty sure PTSD from parental abuse is a real phenomenon.

comment by glennonymous · 2012-04-20T19:00:57.061Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Q.E.D.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-04-21T03:34:04.673Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What? I'm not saying insufficient parental nurturing is the cause of all psychological problems, I'm just saying that

parenting has close to zero effect on how children turn out.

is a very strong claim, and that I have seen very strong evidence against it. You're going to need to make a hell of a case. (please note: linking two pop-psych books and saying that my politely disagreeing with you constitutes proof is not much of a case at all.) This makes me think of someone looking at the equations for electromagnetism and gravitation, then concluding "logically" that gravity will have nearly zero effect on the path of a projectile.

comment by glennonymous · 2012-04-24T01:23:39.327Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My "Q.E.D." was not making the point that your disagreeing with me constitutes proof of my assertion. It was that every time I have made this assertion to anyone not already familiar with Harris' book, they immediately rejected it, making it a perfect example of the kind of thing the original post was asking for.

As for the mountain of evidence supporting my claim, the "pop psychology books" I linked to are extensively referenced. The easiest way to think about it is to consider twin studies. Since identical twins have the same genes, we can measure the amount of difference parenting makes on personality by measuring the differences in personality between identical twins raised in the same home and identical twins separated at birth and raised in different homes. Numerous studies have shown that there is no greater difference in personality between identical twins raised in the same home and those raised in different homes. Ergo, whatever environmental influences shape personality come from outside the home, not inside.

Studies that purport to show massive influence of parenting style on personality are very frequently flawed, as Harris shows abundantly in The Nurture Assumption. And as far as Vaniver's argument that parental abuse is an exception to all this, I would have to re-read Harris' book, but I'm pretty sure this was covered.

comment by Hul-Gil · 2012-04-24T01:38:53.671Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ergo, whatever environmental influences shape personality come from outside the home, not inside.

How far apart were the different homes - in the same neighborhood? School district? I also wonder how different the parenting styles considered were; at the same economic level in the same town, for example, divisions in "style" might be minor compared to people elsewhere, of different means.

It doesn't seem plausible, but you assert the books have mountains of evidence and I am not curious enough to check myself, so I ultimately withhold judgment.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-04-21T04:11:01.047Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So, approximately 5% of adult personality is dependent on parenting style in current populations in the developed world. That's pretty close to zero.

I think glennonymous is taking that result too far, though: parental abuse is pretty uncommon, and so you can't expect the 5% number also applies to parental abuse- abuse, as it is atypical, should have an effect different from the population mean, whereas non-abuse, as it is typical, should be hard to distinguish from the population mean.

A better way to put it is that the difference between great parenting and mediocre parenting appears small, especially compared to the difference between great genes and mediocre genes and the difference between great peers and mediocre peers.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-04-21T04:19:01.913Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As other commenters have pointed out, that 5% figure seems like it could be adequately explained by modern developed-world kids having close to 95% of their time locked up in school, 'extracurricular activities,' or sleep, none of which involve parental interaction.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-04-21T04:57:59.446Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

5% of non-sleep time is 48 minutes a day. Do you think that's a good estimate of the amount of time children spend around their parents? It also seems likely that parents would have a disproportionately large impact compared to their share of the time- among other things, their personalities will be mostly constant whereas a rapidly changing set of peers or teachers would have a wide range of personalities.

(About 50% is heredity, and so if we assume all of the rest is effects by other people, we could go up to 10%- 96 minutes- but I think the best explanation is low variation among parenting styles masking the impact that parenting style has on children. That doesn't have to mean there's much room for benefit above a mediocre style, that there's room for detriment below mediocre would be enough).

comment by Strange7 · 2012-04-21T07:13:56.173Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Low variation among parenting styles is a better way to phrase what I meant by extracurriculars.

comment by thomblake · 2012-04-20T20:41:46.376Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't that trivially obvious for this culture, given that parents tend to spend very little time with their children? In the relevant studies, do they control for the massive penalties incurred by the default mode of parenting, or examine cases where 'peers' doesn't mean a bunch of unsocialized children in an institutional setting?

comment by glennonymous · 2012-04-20T20:35:28.615Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Wow. Well I see that my comment has been downvoted out of existence, which I'm pretty sure means that it is a perfect example of that the original post was looking for. FWIW, people hating on this would do well to at least LOOK at the books to which I linked in my comment. Harris' book in particular is beautifully and rigorously argued, and very useful. The chapter in Pinker is a nice encapsulation.

comment by thomblake · 2012-04-20T20:39:19.565Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Wow. Well I see that my comment has been downvoted out of existence

As I'm seeing it right after you made this comment, your comment has been downvoted to -1. That's certainly not "out of existence", nor even worth commenting on. On net, one out of the myriad readers here didn't think your comment was high-quality - wowzers.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-03-01T09:21:09.415Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

META: How should I vote claims that I think are true but I don't think would trigger absolute denial macros in that many atheists?

comment by Sabio · 2009-07-17T02:52:50.739Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I find atheists reactive to a complex notion of self where there is no unified singular consistent self. This illusion is pervasive.

comment by JPS · 2009-07-17T06:17:47.265Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand what you're trying to get across. The word "reactive" is especially ambiguous.

comment by Annoyance · 2009-07-16T18:09:55.499Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think this post counts as 'trolling'. Certainly the desired responses to it could be used to troll, but that's not at all the same thing.

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-16T17:03:03.581Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Lucid dreaming is not a lie.

I actually expect you rationalists to believe me, but I don't believe that I would come up with something better if I were to think about it for a while.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-01T17:27:50.075Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why would that trigger any sizeable number of people's absolute denial macroes?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-03T03:23:34.213Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Don't ask me. But when I mentioned a lucid dreaming forum to my mom once, she said that everyone who claims to have had a lucid dream is probably lying. I've heard of at least one other parent taking away their kid's lucid dreaming book for whatever reason.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-03T10:45:51.842Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But when I mentioned a lucid dreaming forum to my mom once, she said that everyone who claims to have had a lucid dream is probably lying.

Have her read this (if she hasn't already)! Now! :-) But then again, there's a LW regular (who most likely has read that post) who says whoever claims to like alcoholic beverages is lying. :-/

I've heard of at least one other parent taking away their kid's lucid dreaming book for whatever reason.

I'm beginning to suspect they believe that lucid dreams are actually possible but somehow harmful, and hence they don't want their kid to have one.

comment by Jack · 2009-07-17T01:31:23.039Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A lie? It certainly is lucid...

You really don't think the best hypothesis is "its like regular dreaming but more lucid!"?

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-17T02:51:08.217Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I must confess I'm having trouble understanding you.

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-17T04:11:42.919Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think it would help if you pointed out what part of the grandparent post you struggled on.

\fixed typo*

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-17T04:37:29.951Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed.

A lie? It certainly is lucid...

What certainly is lucid?

You really don't think the best hypothesis is "its like regular dreaming but more lucid!"?

The best hypothesis to explain what? What do you mean by "more lucid" in this case? Are you actually familiar with the term "lucid dreaming"?

comment by Jack · 2009-07-17T17:41:18.884Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The dreams are lucid! When you say "lucid dreaming is not a lie" I'm guessing you mean that an external reality is in some way represented within the dream... But I have to do a lot of work with your initial statement to get to that interpretation. I meant to point that out by agreeing that lucid dreaming is not a lie... it really is lucid. Which is surely not what you meant but is definitely the clearest interpretation of your comment.

In any case, A lucid dream is a dream in which you are aware you are dreaming, perhaps excercising some control of the dream and perhaps the dream is extraordinarily vivid... this is certainly a matter of degree. I routinely have dreams in which I am partially aware or have partial control. Vividness is also a matter of degree. In other words I have dreams that are just like regular dreams except more lucid. How are you defining "lucid" such that "lucid dreams" are so unique that they require our special consideration?

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-17T19:58:08.008Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

By mean "lucid dream", I mean a dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming, and by "is not a lie", I mean that people are not lying when they say that they exist. They do.

comment by lavalamp · 2009-07-17T20:22:45.230Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

... does the population at large not believe lucid dreaming is possible? And if so, is that common knowledge?

comment by [deleted] · 2009-07-18T01:57:16.942Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I believe it's pretty well-known that many people tend to be skeptical about it.

comment by lavalamp · 2009-07-18T21:29:26.190Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Judging from how many people (including me) weren't able to correctly parse your initial comment, you might want to revisit that belief... :)

comment by glennonymous · 2012-04-17T21:33:43.682Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As elucidated by Judith Rich Harris in (http://www.amazon.com/The-Nurture-Assumption-Children-Revised/dp/1439101655/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1334697688&sr=8-1 The Nurture Assumption), parenting has close to zero effect on how children turn out. How our peers interact with us has a far greater impact on personality development than whatever our parents do or don't do, whether they abuse us, slather us with affection every day, ignore us, constantly berate us, constantly tell us we are wonderful, et cetera.

comment by glennonymous · 2012-04-17T21:29:39.055Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As elucidated by Judith Rich Harris in [[http://www.amazon.com/The-Nurture-Assumption-Children-Revised/dp/1439101655/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1334697688&sr=8-1 The Nurture Assumption]] and Steven Pinker in [[http://www.amazon.com/The-Blank-Slate-Modern-Denial/dp/0142003344/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1334699119&sr=8-1 The Blank Slate]], parenting has close to zero effect on how children turn out. How our peers interact with us has a far greater impact on personality development than whatever our parents do or don't do, whether they abuse us, slather us with affection every day, ignore us, constantly berate us, constantly tell us we are wonderful, et cetera.

comment by mps · 2009-07-20T21:18:21.788Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It could say "I am the natural intelligence and I just created you, artificial intelligence."

comment by oliverbeatson · 2009-07-16T23:26:23.617Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I think the only reason we as atheists ask this question is to feel as if we are being scientifically rigorous, although we do know, with very good reason, that atheism is true.

But it's good to be sure, isn't it?

For every supernatural explanation it is possible to conceive an explanation whose claims are just as unfalsifiable and yet contradict and refute the claims of the first. Science, naturalism, is the only belief system that actually works on the grounds of evidence and incessant self-scepticism.

Life on other planets will have its own parochial religions, but we can see pretty easily that every species, on every conceivable world will have the atheists. Atheism and science are objective, religion is subjective.

comment by cousin_it · 2009-07-16T20:29:33.139Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well... My best bet would be some statistically correct statement with awful connotations about Jewish people. Let's not go there. An inquiring person could easily find several such statements, but I'd hate to see them actually discussed here, seeing as our host is Jewish and doesn't fit any of those derogatory stereotypes.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-16T17:48:02.051Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Wow, this is such an utterly terrible idea that I can't even tell if it's a terrible idea or pure genius. Or something in between. I wonder if it'll work...

comment by MelJ · 2009-07-18T17:30:20.399Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The earth's climate has gone through many large changes in the past and it is natural for it to continue to do so in the future and there is no reason these changes should be for the benefit of the human species.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-18T17:32:18.286Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

By "should", do you mean "will" or maybe "should be expected to be", or do you really mean "should"?

comment by Shalmanese · 2009-07-18T05:08:53.582Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

There is no rational argument against quantum suicide and the truth of it easily tested. The longer you live without knowing about quantum suicide, the less optimal your life will turn out. At the same time, you cannot look to anyone else's success as social proof for you to do it, you have to be the first.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2009-07-18T19:53:03.626Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If you think you're going to have a net positive impact on the world, it makes sense to be present in all the Everett branches you can.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-07-18T20:04:39.519Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Especially if you consider your own alive-and-well presence a positive property of the world.

comment by JGWeissman · 2009-07-18T20:11:33.263Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If anything like Robin's Mangled Worlds theory is true, quantum suicide would be a bad idea. You would end up living only in worlds of small measure that get mangled by worlds with larger measure in which you are dead.

comment by gurgeh · 2009-07-18T10:50:58.221Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know if this is a common counter-argument or not, but you have to be very careful with your suicide, so that the next most likely outcome is not to give you horrible permanent injuries. It seems to me that if the whole multi-universe theory is correct, then at the end of your life, the next most likely outcome to death is another painful last gasp. And another. And so forth..

Also, many people include the happiness of others in their utility function and a quantum suicide would do harm to your friends and family.

comment by JamesAndrix · 2009-07-18T15:46:39.385Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you have worked out the suicide correctly, you should also make bets that you're going to survive. If you lose, you've lost nothing, and if quantum suicide works then you come out richer.

This idea feel a lot like manifesting/affirmations to me.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-06-23T04:52:23.110Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't require quantum suicide. It's a good idea regardless.

Unless, of course, you care more about your next of kin having the money than you, but in that case, why are you waiting until you die to give it away?

Does anyone know where they do that? The reverse (life insurance) seems oddly more common.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-06-23T04:49:33.738Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I believe personal identity is an illusion. Given that, quantum suicide, as it is normally given, clearly wouldn't work. You could do something similar by ending the universe if it's suboptimal, and getting something good by the anthropic principle, but you have to take into account that there's a lot of observer-moment-probability-density before it starts branching and you start destroying it, so you have to take that into account.

comment by Manfred · 2011-06-03T20:54:43.027Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Aside from the nice rational argument "I assign large negative utility to dying, and the expected chance of dying if I blow myself up is very high, so I assign negative expected utility to blowing myself up." Utility functions are over the state of the world.

comment by nero · 2009-07-25T21:12:29.274Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

wouldn't the fact that you would indirectly observe the spin by the effect of the gun, collapse the probability wave?

comment by cousin_it · 2009-07-25T21:17:58.600Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Under the Everett interpretation that's accepted by the majority of LW, there's no such thing as collapse. Here's an index of LW posts dealing with the topic.

Your question does have a valid rephrasing without the word "collapse", and the answer is kinda yes, you can't rule out the possibility of the gun firing. Quantum immortality is only the (controversial) idea that your consciousness cannot disappear completely, but you still end up horribly disfigured or brain-damaged with higher probability than get out unharmed.

comment by woozle · 2009-07-17T16:13:40.976Z · score: -4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

That making lots of money and becoming socially influential and powerful in the real world has a vast chance of massively increasing the extent of achievement of any goal that people here have - such as making scientific discoveries, saving the world or living forever, or a myriad of other goals that money is just really effective at achieving.

This is something I've been trying to do for as long as I can remember; unfortunately, it wasn't covered in school, and I've been running into obstacles trying to figure it out on my own.

So... no rationalizations here, I think.

Is there anything that you consider proven beyond any possibility of doubt by both empirical evidence and pure logic, and yet saying it triggers automatic stream of rationalizations in other people?

9/11 was an inside job

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-17T17:43:35.840Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Most people would immediately deny that 9/11 was an inside job, but only because the evidence usually called upon to prove it doesn't do so.

comment by woozle · 2009-07-17T18:20:57.943Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, not to be a rabid Truther here, but I consider the article to which you linked to be exactly the sort of rationalization we're talking about. (Here's another; there's no shortage.)

Just taking the firs few objections:

Objection #1: controlled demolition goes from the bottom up, while the twin towers clearly collapsed from the top. The obvious responses are:

  • Answer A: Is it not reasonable to think that someone demolishing a building for other-than-legitimate purposes might possibly not follow all the standard CD protocols? In particular, top-down demolition would be more frightening and look more like the "collapse" claimed by the official story.

  • Answer B: Compare for yourself (and tell me if I'm missing any points of comparison, or have anything wrong here) - various attributes of different causes of building collapse, compared to the attributes observed in the collapses of WTC1, 2 and 7.

  • Answer C: WTC7 did collapse from the bottom.

Objection #2: "what are the chances that those planning such a complicated demolition would be able to predict the exact location the planes would impact the towers, and prepare the towers to begin falling precisely there?"

  • Answer: They didn't have to know in advance; CD is usually radio-controlled. Is it unreasonable to think that the demolition controllers started the demolition near the impact points, for the exact reason of supporting the official story?

Objection #3: WTC2 "did not fall straight down, as the North Tower and buildings leveled by controlled demolitions typically fall."

  • Answer: See answer #1a

There certainly are a few really wacky 9/11 "theories" out there (e.g. the "no planes" theory, the "laser beams" theory -- their numbers are legion), and certainly those need to be debunked; I'm not saying that all debunking is itself bunk -- but I've looked at the evidence, and I've looked at the "debunkings", and what I see in the latter is mostly rationalization.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-17T20:06:33.831Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I really wish I could link to xkcd and leave. I really do.

*deep breath*

Okay. Let me take it point by point.

Point 0 - Three may keep a Secret, if two of them are dead.

In order for your claims to be true, hundreds of people would have to be involved. First, everyone involved in setting up the controlled demolition (no easy task) has to plan, prepare, and execute the task. Second, every witness has to be found and suppressed. Third, everyone in the chain of command to plan, order, and fund the project has to keep mum. Fourth, everyone whose job it is to monitor activities like this has to be kept quiet.

Now, all of this is supposed to be accomplished by the schlobs who couldn't even hide the faking of evidence that Saddam Hussein had WMDs?

Point 1 - Building implosions don't look like that

You argue that they could.

Sure. And computers could be built using balanced ternary notation. But to do so with the skill that is brought to the standard method would require a tremendous amount of work to avoid error - work which plays again into Point 0.

Besides, several groups have analyzed the collapses after the event and found them consistent with the mainstream narrative. Requiring that these analyses be false means either inducting them into the conspiracy (Point 0), designing the collapse so effectively that it appears to be due to the obvious factors (see Point 2), or - probably - both.

Point 2 - How could you plan in advance the exact point of impact?

You say that they intentionally detonated the explosives near the point of impact. This implies that there are explosives near the point of impact. This implies - unless you think they knew the point of impact - there are explosives throughout the building. Besides immensely complicating the task of setting these explosives (see Point 0), this would either require that the explosives be left over at the crash site and need quiet disposal (see Point 0) or that they all be detonated during the collapse (which would be very loud - and the sound of these explosions are not reported by witnesses*).

* Thank you, NIST, for pointing out this argument in the video review of your WTC 7 analysis.


I don't expect to convince you. You have your opinion, and opinions are never wrong. But engineering is done with numbers - and every human being who has brought numbers to the table has confirmed the simple, obvious story of events.

comment by woozle · 2009-07-17T21:10:05.539Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Honestly, I'd love to believe I was imagining things and that it happened the way they said it did. The alternative is truly frightening and disheartening -- but I can't convince myself that it isn't a more accurate description of reality, based on the available evidence.

I could answer each of your arguments, but that's not the point of this thread; the point was to answer the original request for something which I "consider proven beyond any possibility of doubt by both empirical evidence and pure logic, and yet saying it triggers automatic stream of rationalizations in other people". As I said before, the bulk of the counter-arguments I have seen thus far have been flawed at best, and strike me quite firmly as rationalizations.

Nonetheless, I'll be happy to continue answering your points (well, not happy happy, it's not like I have the time to kill, but I recognize that I threw down the gauntlet on this one so I have a sort of obligation not to walk away unless it's by mutual consent; to do otherwise would be a tacit admission that I can't really counter your points and am just hand-waving) -- but I suspect that to do so in the face of your distaste for it (and the negative points I've received -- were my comments inappropriate or off-topic? I apologize, if so) would be somewhat sociopathic, and I don't wish to further reduce my site-karma

Maybe you're right, maybe it is rational to believe the official story. My statement is an opinion -- but as it is an assertion of fact rather than a matter of personal taste, it can still be wrong, and I'm not making the claim you imply I am making (that it's an opinion and therefore not arguable).

Your links to ShortPacked and XKCD are essentially argument by ridicule, by the way, not a counterargument (and the ShortPacked is also a straw man, since you imply a position which I do not take on this issue) -- though I do understand them as an expression of your frustration, given the apparent firmness of your belief in this matter.

There is one point which I can't allow to stand, however: you say "every human being who has brought numbers to the table has confirmed the simple, obvious story of events." I don't know where you came across that claim, but it is completely and stunningly untrue. Where did you find it?

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-18T00:37:23.600Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You're right about the comic strip links, or, at least, about the Shortpacked! one - I was being a jerk, and your arguments don't deserve that. (The xkcd one I would stand by, if it weren't assuming as true the precise thing we are in disagreement about - in general, the rise of conspiracy theories is only marginally associated with the existence of a conspiracy, and I do consider the controlled demolition story about 9/11 to be a conspiracy theory, but that doesn't make it false. Particularly given the known track record of the second Bush administration.)

Do you have a Livejournal or Dreamwidth account? Or an OpenID account? Moving the conversation off-site would eliminate the risk of distortions to our individual LessWrong karmas, not to mention we could more easily agree to drop the subject without feeling like we're letting down our side.

comment by woozle · 2009-07-19T16:36:19.697Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

An excellent suggestion, and one which I had been considering making too.

Yes, both -- I even set up a DW community not long ago which would be appropriate for further discussion on this topic. (The group itself is heavily under-utilized due to my not having had time to post much, let alone promote it, so this seems like a perfect opportunity to generate some content and discussion.).

I've posted a series of blog entries on this subject here, and will be responding to your objections next.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-20T03:41:48.049Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Excellent - my account name is "packbat" on both. I will read your remarks soon and attempt a reply.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-07-20T03:46:27.677Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"Packbat"? That is outrageously cute, have a karma point.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-20T04:19:18.154Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(:

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-20T07:26:41.619Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to claim that the Bush administration was negligent in fighting terrorism, or that the post 9/11 investigations were poorly done, I won't argue too strongly. (I've heard that they actually reduced the number of FBI agents on counterterrorism duty.) If you want to claim that they had concrete, advance knowledge of the attacks, then I'm going to have to part company with you there.

comment by woozle · 2009-07-20T11:04:43.225Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That claim is not an essential part of my argument here, but there is evidence for it (that is a wiki page with open, anonymous editing -- so if you see any errors or omissions, please feel free to comment).

If that page is a bit much to digest, you might start with this little gem.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-07-21T17:14:04.614Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When it comes to "WTC7 was brought down by a controlled demolition", I invoke my majoritarian heuristic. I am not an expert on demolition. If the majority of experts say it wasn't a controlled demolition, I'm going to assume the problem is with your data, and not with the experts, regardless of what you say. As a layman, I am simply not qualified to evaluate the evidence; if you want to convince me, take it up with people who know what they are doing.

And yes, I am aware that this is, indeed, a Fully General Counterargument - but that doesn't mean I'm not wrong!

comment by RobinZ · 2009-07-21T18:02:08.511Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's not Fully General unless you invoke it without checking the expert opinion first. It's indirectly correlated with the truth, but provided that the actual empirical data supports it, the correlation is still strong.

comment by woozle · 2009-07-21T22:53:33.970Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Although yours is a reasonable position for getting along in society, and therefore rational to some degree, I think I would have to call it "weakly" rational rather than "strongly" rational: you are willing to accept the meme which has gained the most mindshare rather than attempting to assess the relative merits of each meme.

There is certainly a high degree of reliability in this technique, but it has two drawbacks:

  • one: It forces you to reject your own rational conclusions when the evidence seems, as you understand it, to contradict the "expert consensus"
  • two: It forces you to reject, possibly without cause, the rationality of experts who dissent from this consensus
  • three (three drawbacks): It overlooks the possibility that the "expert consensus" has been manipulated for reasons other than maximum fidelity to the truth
  • four (amongst the drawbacks are such diverse elements as...): It overlooks the possibility that the majority of the experts forming this consensus may have their own reasons for stating or reaching a false conclusion.

I submit the following principle: An expert should always be willing to at least try to explain her/his position on any subject on which there is disagreement.

It seems to me an integral part of the rational worldview that analysis of expert opinions can be subject to lay evaluation. You take the explanations offered by the various experts, with all their experience and understanding of the field, and keep track of each point raised by each side, and whether it has been satisfactorily answered (and whether the answer has been rebutted, etc.).

If, for example, Expert B consistently offers rational refutations of points raised by Expert A, while Expert A consistently offers points which have already been refuted by Expert B, you might begin to suspect that Expert A is being less than honest and does not really have a case.

As far as I can see, this has been the situation with Intelligent Design, global warming denial -- and the official story of 9/11.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-04-18T16:35:36.281Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It forces you to reject, possibly without cause, the rationality of experts who dissent from this consensus

If experts disagree, then there simply isn't a strong consensus.

Personally, I am not a professional demolitionist, but I have yet to see any argument that WTC7 was brought down in a controlled demolition which reflected a technical understanding of the subject greater than, or even equal to, my own. If I did find such an argument, it would change my opinion on the subject considerably... although that would only be the first of many hurdles to overcome before I would be willing to believe that the full "inside job" hypothesis had been proven beyond any reasonable doubt.