Ultimate List of Irrational Nonsense

post by AlwaysUnite · 2016-03-30T20:25:31.776Z · score: -3 (11 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 63 comments

A couple of years back I stumbled across this diagram on reddit. Since then I've kept a list of all illogical arguments, quackery, irrational ideas and similar nonsense, to pass the time. The count as of today stands at 1229 irrational ideas (a few could be debated perhaps). Hopefully you'll have a laugh or two! Any additions let me know!

Link to the list:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1T3HQ6TnCg6Q44WzpJPFxLvfqbfvKmT5RqvpGI3ji1y8/edit?usp=sharing

And the original diagram:

Venndiagram of Irrational Nonsense

63 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2016-03-31T00:59:36.793Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You believe communism, libertarianism, anarchism, ethical egoism, pacifism and realist philosophy of war are all immoral. What are you?

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-03-31T05:48:24.767Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A social democrat who thinks wars should be abolished. It is not as if communism, libertarianism and anarchism are the only philosophies in the world right?

comment by Lamp2 · 2016-04-07T10:05:49.045Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So is your definition of "Irrational Nonsense" anything that disagrees with your opinion?

Original thread here.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2016-03-31T12:21:42.174Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I sometimes call myself a progressivist. I don't think communism is immoral---I see totalitarianism as the thing which is immoral, and you can have totalitarianism with or without a market economy; e.g. Latin American dictatorships that murdered hundreds of protesters while remaining very business-friendly.

You think wars should be abolished. Good. Then why did you include pacifism in the immoral category?

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-02T20:29:46.735Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Pacifism is the disavowing of all violence, even if it is used proportionally and in self-defense. This only works in cases where the power difference between parties is so huge that violence is not necessary for ending conflict (Ghandi's India for example). This is hardly ever the case.

If the goal is to limit the total amount of violence (and therefore self-inflicted suffering) a limited form of violence is still necessary to keep abusers of the social contract in check. But as individual and groups of countries have already shown, it is possible for human societies to be peaceful without war. The police may have to restrain individuals but wars are not necessary.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2016-03-31T14:37:34.014Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I would never initiate a fight; that would be, simply, evil. But I'll kill somebody without hesitation or guilt who starts a fight with me, and more, think somebody who meekly responds to violence by meeting the demands of the violent is encouraging and creating violence. As a society, we cannot cooperate with defectors. People who cooperate with defectors enable and encourage defection.

Likewise on a global scale.

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-02T20:30:11.195Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd upvote, but I don't have the karma-points :)

comment by Lumifer · 2016-03-31T14:35:20.846Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think communism is immoral---I see totalitarianism as the thing which is immoral, and you can have totalitarianism with or without a market economy;

The correct question to ask is whether you can have communism without totalitarianism.

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-02T20:32:47.681Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed. As far as I know there hasn't been a peaceful communist society ever. Except maybe after all the dissenters got deported to gulags of course but that would be a form of "peace by genocide".

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2016-03-30T22:35:33.562Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Where can I find the tool by which you created this awesome complete 5 class Venn diagram?

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-03-31T01:47:50.961Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed, the shape of the diagram was by far the best part of this for me.

Here's a 7-set one in the same style.

comment by gjm · 2016-03-30T22:49:43.618Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My reading of AlwaysUnite's post is that s/he didn't create it but found it on the web. I agree about its awesomeness, though. According to a book about Venn diagrams called "Cogwheels of the Mind", a diagram almost identical to this one was constructed by Branko Grünbaum in 1975. The Grünbaum construction is more symmetrical and uses five congruent ellipses, which is cute but produces some rather small and thin regions. Here's one version of it.

If you like this diagram, you might also like the one found near the top of this page, for seven sets.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-03-31T20:28:13.970Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That is the standard definition...

X-)

comment by knb · 2016-03-30T21:12:43.767Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why exactly is "Denver Airport" a conspiracy theory? Also MKULTRA was an actual CIA project, though I'm aware there are a lot of falsehoods circulating about it as well.

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-03-30T21:28:25.664Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are several conspiracy theories about the airport actually. Apparently there are storage bunkers below the main buildings used for "unsavory business". The MKULTRA-Jonestown conspiracy theory says that MKULTRA created the Jonestown cult if I remember correctly :)

Actually I am a bit surprised, the post got two downvotes already. I was under the impression that LW would appreciate it given it being a site about rationality and all.. I've been reading LW for quite some time but I hadn't actually posted before, did I do something horribly wrong or anything?

comment by Glen · 2016-03-30T21:57:57.836Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I believe the problem people have with this is that it isn't actually helpful at all. It's just a list of outgroups for people to laugh at without any sort of analysis on why they believe this or what can be done to avoid falling into the same traps. Obviously a simple chart can't really encompass that level of explanation, so it's actual value or meaningful content is limited.

EDIT: Also, looking over your list it seems that you have marked most philosophies and alternate governments as "Immoral", along with literally everything as "Pointless and Counterproductive". Anarchism, Authoritarianism, Bushido, Collectivism, Cultural Relativism, Cynicsm, Defeatism, Ecocentrism, Egocentrism, Error Theory, Ethical Egoism, fascism, Gothicismus, Harmonious Society & Scientific Outlook on Development, Hedonism, Illegalism, Libertarianism, Machiavellianism, Medievalism, Misanthropy, Misology, Moral Relativism, Moral Skepticism, Moral Subjectivism, Nihilism, Non-Atomic Eudaiominism, Opportunism, Pacifism, Sensualism, Ubuntu(!), Value-Pluralism, Virtue Ethics, Voluntaryism are all marked as "Immoral" and nothing else. I have a lot of issues with your list, but the one that jumps out hte most is Ubuntu. How is UBUNTU of all things Immoral, Pointless and Counterproductive?

comment by Lamp2 · 2016-04-08T02:13:15.254Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I believe the problem people have with this is that it isn't actually helpful at all. It's just a list of outgroups for people to laugh at without any sort of analysis on why they believe this or what can be done to avoid falling into the same traps. Obviously a simple chart can't really encompass that level of explanation, so it's actual value or meaningful content is limited.

Thinking about it some more, I think it could. The problem with the chart is that the categories are based on which outgroup the belief comes from. For a more rational version of the diagram, one could start by sorting the beliefs based on the type and strength of the evidence that convinced one the belief was "absurd".

Thus, one could have categories like:

  • no causal mechanism consistent with modern physics

  • the evidence that caused this a priori low probability hypothesis to be picked out from the set of all hypotheses has turned out to be faulty (possibly with reference to debunking)

  • this hypothesis has been scientifically investigated and found to be false (reference to studies, ideally also reference to replications of said studies)

Once one starts doing this, one would probably find that a number of the "irrational" beliefs are actually plausible, with little significant evidence either way.

Original thread here.

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-03-31T05:46:52.258Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Haha the "pointless and counterproductive" was a joke actually, since well, all irrational ideas are pointless and counterproductive. As you already mentioned giving detailed explanations for all ideas will make into a four volume work so obviously I can't do that.

But to come to Ubuntu, I think we definitely should see this as a bad idea. Although admittedly it has had a large net positive effect in South Africa so I should probably just delete the last column. The central tennet of Ubuntu "A person is a person through other people", can be very easily corrupted into a form of communitarian dictatorship, as has in fact happened in Zimbabwe. The fact that a philosophy allows itself to be used by Mugabe does not make it look good. Of course just because Mugabe uses it doesn't mean it is a bad idea, it could just be his one good trait, but it probably isn't. The idea has more negative facets. It includes a form of philosophical innatism which is just factually wrong (see for example:Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil) and it also has as a third central tennet "that the king owed his status, including all the powers associated with it, to the will of the people under him". I think it strange that any modern philosophy would take monarchy as a basis. One positive side is that under "unhu" children are never orphans since the roles of mother and father are by definition not vested in a single individual with respect to a single child, so no orphans.

Also moral relativism is kind of a bad idea.. Just because North Koreans think concentration camps are a good idea does not mean they are suddenly moral.

comment by RowanE · 2016-03-31T07:28:02.557Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You could probably have just covered Ubuntu with "I'm not talking about the OS, I'm talking about a philosophy/ideology used used by Mugabe".

Although as formoral relativism... bad idea by whose standard? By what logic? If it's irrational nonsense to be a moral relativist, do you have a rational argument for moral realism?

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-03-31T07:53:08.756Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ah yes the illusion of transparency. I should have seen it coming that the OS would be first on peoples minds. Stupid.

My position on moral realism/relativism is a bit middle ground between the two. There is no law of the universe that says we all should be "good" or even what this "good" is supposed to be. But I believe that does not mean we can't think rationally about it. We can show that some moral systems are at least inconsistent with respect to their stated goals. And on top of that if we assume for the sake of argument that we can get everyone to believe "suffering is bad" we can rule out a few more. For example the pro-life lobby in the US is vehemently against abortion, yet thinks that the death penalty is a good thing. If life were in fact sacrosanct would it not be logical to stop killing people? (This would also extend to cryonism, but since most of the pro-life lobby is christian, most adherents believe they are going to heaven and won't actually die. So that doesn't necessarily make it inconsistent.) Such a philosophy could be made more rational by making its beliefs consistent with its goal. To say that it would be better or more moral to do so would require people to at least agree suffering is bad, although I think most people would agree on that one.

I deleted the post by now. This entire ordeal was very bad for my karma. Which come to think of it, is a strange term. Why not call it "thumbs up" or something? Such a reference to a non-scientific meta-physical idea seems a bit inconsistent with the rest of the content of the site.

comment by RowanE · 2016-03-31T09:00:04.351Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I don't think "a bit of a middle-ground" justifies taking a stance calling full-on moral relativism "immoral, pointless & counterproductive".

"Suffering is bad" seems a lot easier to agree on as a premise than it actually is - taken by itself, just about anyone will agree, but taken as a premise for a system it implies a harm-minimising consequentialist ethical framework, which is a minority view.

And it's simple enough to consistently be pro-life but also support the death penalty: if one believes a fetus at whatever stage of development is a human life and killing it is equivalent to murder, as many pro-lifers ostensibly do, one must simply have consistent standards for when killing is okay, that include a government convicting someone of a capital crime but exclude a mother not wanting to drop out of college.

We use analogies and the occasional bit of mysticism often enough that I think references are consistent, although the term has entered the popular consciousness and become divorced enough from the original religious concept that worrying about its origins seems to be mostly an ideological purity issue, a kind of worrying that's itself pretty irrational to engage in.

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-02T20:44:13.112Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But can't the same be said for rationality and science? As Descartes showed a "demon" could continuously trick us with a fake reality, or we could be in the matrix for all we know. For rationality to work we have to assume that empiricism holds true. Why couldn't the same be true for ethics? I think that if science can have its empiricism axiom, ethics can have its suffering axiom.

comment by RowanE · 2016-04-04T15:31:50.259Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The problem is that ethics can work with other axioms. Someone might be a deontologist, and define ethics around bad actions e.g. "murder is bad", not because the suffering of the victim and their bereaved loved ones is bad but because murder is bad. Such a set of axioms results in a different ethical system than one rooted in consequentialist axioms such as "suffering is bad", but by what measure can you say that the one system is better than the other? The difference is hardly the same as between attempting rationality with empiricism vs without.

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-06T18:42:56.709Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There is a difference, I'll be posting it Friday. I've got an exam tomorrow and it still needs some finishing touches. This project got a bit out of hand, the complete train of thought is about 4 pages long to explain properly, so a post is more appropriate than a comment. I'd like to hear your opinion on it, if you are willing :)

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-02T21:23:31.504Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why couldn't the same be true for ethics?

Because if you disbelieve empiricism and jump off a tall building, you will die. If you disbelieve ethics of suffering and become evil, you get to build a lair with slave girls and a white cat.

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-03T13:11:32.581Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you disbelieve in empiricism and jump of a building you may die. If all of reality actually is a simulation, there is no telling what will happen.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-03T22:46:39.576Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't recommend testing this X-/

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-03T23:12:09.368Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Neither do I :) But the possibility exists, we just assume it doesn't.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-03T23:23:47.686Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The possibility of anything you can think of (and everything you can't think of, too) exists. So what?

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-03T23:34:58.123Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The point is we have to make certain assumptions to get anything done. Without them we can't have science, we can't have ethics. We'd be all alone with our own thoughts. This is the same problem Descartes struggled with as well. He had so effectively doubted everything that he concluded that he could only know one thing with 100% certainty, that is, that he existed. All other possibilities are merely probable and require certain assumptions. I therefore hold that it is inconsistent to be relativistic about morality but not about empiricism (and by extension most of rationality).

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-03T23:38:00.925Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The point is we have to make certain assumptions to get anything done. Without them we can't have science, we can't have ethics. We'd be all alone with our own thoughts. This is the same problem Descartes struggled with as well. He had so effectively doubted everything that he concluded that he could only know one thing with 100% certainty, that is, that he existed. All other possibilities are merely probable and require certain assumptions. I therefore hold that it is inconsistent to be relativistic about morality but not about empiricism (and by extension most of rationality).

I apparently still do not entirely get the commenting system here. Apologies.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-04T00:44:33.032Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I therefore hold that it is inconsistent to be relativistic about morality but not about empiricism

Well, then it's also inconsistent to be relativistic about gastronomy. And wine. And fashion. And books. And prettiness.

If you say A, you've got to go through the whole alphabet :-)

On the other side, of course, is what is basically Samuel Johnson's refutation. You want to deny empirical reality and science, maybe I'll even come to your funeral. You want to deny some particular ethics, well, what will happen?

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-04T12:22:45.157Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Short answer, people will kill you. The long answer is about 2.5 sheets by now. Maybe I'll post it :). Hopefully that won't go as disastrously, with people getting pissed off, as this one.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-04T14:41:05.620Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Short answer, people will kill you.

8-0 Your universal ethics are "whatever is acceptable in this society at this particular time"??

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-06T18:38:51.852Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Dear lord no. I've almost finished the post, I'll be uploading it this weekend or something (with graphs :) ), but below is my one paragraph version of it. Please refrain for a whole two days from forming a definitive opinion, until I can present my case fully.

Morality is a real effect on the distribution of utility functions within a society. It has a singular direction that is a consequence of conflicting utility functions of all people in society. Imagine making a frequency distribution of utility functions (for the moment it doesn't really matter what is on the x-axis). Now the tails of this distribution will conflict (assuming for the simplest case where the average opinion is neutral). That is people will want to change the behaviour/utility functions of other people. Because people have a stronger tendency to loss aversion than to pleasure gain there will be a net effect towards compromise (also due to the nash equilibrium). This means that on average utility functions will converge towards a "social norm". So far I have not seen one society which does not have some set of social norms. This means that in every society there is a tendency to make people conform to a standard. This may not seem important at first but consider the alternative, a group of people who will go to unlimited lengths to get what they want because they only consider themselves to be important. Note that even North Korea, ISIS, Jonestown and the Nazis didn't go that far. Even in those societies (which are generally considered evil) the net effect of the social norm was still better than complete ultra-anarchy. This is not superpessimistic about human nature, it is however superoptimistic about human society. So in each society there is a tendency to force people to reduce loss (or to step out of economic terms: suffering). In some societies this tendency is admittedly very small, in some it is very large. Why I included moral relativism in my list is that, based on this knowledge, it is false to say all societies are equally moral. Clearly some societies have larger groups of conflicting utility functions than others. More peaceful societies are using this terminology, more moral. The only assumption that I personally make is that I deem more moral societies good and less moral societies bad. (If that sentence seems tautological, try reading the paragraph with all the words moral replace with smurf or something. Or wait till Friday, if you are still interested :) )

So note that I have not used should, ought, must, good and evil in this entire paragraph. It is merely a description of reality. So when I said "people will kill you", I did not mean, people will retaliate every time, I did not mean that a particular case of retaliation is morality. I mean that the average action of retaliation teaches people to avoid it. People experience this as "having a conscience", but that is just fancy words for being conditioned, ala Pavlov.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-06T18:40:32.481Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Please refrain for a whole two days from forming a definitive opinion

But... but... but....

:-)

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-06T18:43:27.145Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I know I know forgive me please

comment by knb · 2016-03-30T23:46:48.700Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't downvote and I don't think your post should have been downvoted. Probably people downvoted because they associate this kind of thing with RationalWiki type of skepticism that is basically just mocking outgroup beliefs.

Personally, I actually think this is a useful contribution just for listing a lot of skeptic bugbears in one place.

comment by Lamp2 · 2016-04-08T02:10:44.428Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Actually I am a bit surprised, the post got two downvotes already. I was under the impression that LW would appreciate it given it being a site about rationality and all.. I've been reading LW for quite some time but I hadn't actually posted before, did I do something horribly wrong or anything?

This list falls into a common failure mode among "skeptics" attempting to make a collection of "irrational nonsense". Namely, having no theory of what it means for something to be "irrational nonsense" so falling back on a combination of absurdity heuristic and the belief's social status.

It doesn't help that many of your labels for the "irrational nonsense" are vague enough that they could cover a number of ideas many of which are in fact correct.

Edit: In some cases I suspect you yourself don't know what they're supposed to mean. For example, you list "alternative medicine". What do you mean by this. The most literal interpretation is that you mean that all medical theories other than the current "consensus of the medical community" (if such a thing exists) are "irrational nonsense". Obviously you don't believe the current medical consensus is 100% correct. You probably mean something closer to "the irrational parts of alternative medicine are irrational", this is tautologically true and useless. Incidentally it is also true (and useless) that the irrational parts of the current "medical consensus" are irrational.

Original thread here.

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-03-31T06:05:16.296Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Alternative medicine is any practice that is put forward as having the healing effects of medicine, but does not originate from evidence gathered using the scientific method. So e.g. candling, homeopathy, Whole Body Vibration Training, acupuncture, etc. Given that either the effect sizes of these methods are negligible or they don't work at all, these practices are irrational from both the epistemic and the instrumental perspective. The explanation of the assertion might be a bit circular since any "alternative" medicine that works would simply be medicine. Well I can't do anything about that.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-03-31T14:31:03.973Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Alternative medicine is any practice that is put forward as having the healing effects of medicine, but does not originate from evidence gathered using the scientific method.

LOL. That's pretty much most of contemporary Western medicine. Recall that "evidence-based medicine" is a relatively recent notion and still resisted by a lot of doctors.

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-02T20:21:18.945Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hahaha thanks for the laugh, this entire posts could use some.

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-03-31T06:08:07.851Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Unless of course the goal is to just feel happy about some form of quackery, in which case it would be instrumentally rational of course.

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-02T20:36:26.824Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That actually is a very good idea, thanks :) I'd would become impossible for anyone to read unless they got their hands on a introductory statistics book of course. But some explanatory text should be able to fix that. Do you have particular items that you think should be removed? I am only human, there is bound to be a mistake or two on such a large list.

comment by TheAltar · 2016-04-01T17:59:14.388Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand why Ghosts are listed under paranormal. Ghosts are a very real threat to society and anti-ghost defense technology (sold by Sony) should be in any rationalist's toolkit.

comment by Glen · 2016-04-01T14:57:41.847Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That is true. However, at some point you are trying to fit too much into a single image or chart. I think what you're describing here could work if you keep it focused on a smaller range of ideas, rather than this many. It would also allow people to think individually about each claim, which larger sets don't really do.

I think your proposed chart would work best as an introduction or header to a more in depth analysis. Show the shape of the arguments and faults, then discuss each one thoroughly beneath the image.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-03-31T15:45:14.655Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My objection to this: Let's suppose you translate each of these things into a set of claims about the world (this might be hard to do in some cases, but if it cannot be done, why are you calling it "irrational nonsense"?)

The probability that all of the claims in every set are false, will be approximately zero. There will be some true claims in some of the sets.

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-04-02T20:23:41.204Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why? Because there are a lot of them? The list of scientific beliefs I take seriously is at least a hundred times as long, going by the books on my shelf and those in the library. I am not saying that I never made a mistake, I am only human but the probability that a significant fraction of these are false is incredibly low. Most of it is filled with alternative medicine and ufo nonsense.

comment by AlwaysUnite · 2016-03-31T05:30:34.585Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Fair criticism, indeed the list has been inclusive on some of the more philosophical ideas. Obviously I hold that some scientific ideas could be mistaken. However "alternative" medicine cannot be established using the scientific method, how is that wrong to include as irrational? Out of a list of 1229 ideas that is probably one of the most definite nonsense ideas included.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-03-31T14:29:08.153Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

However "alternative" medicine cannot be established using the scientific method

How do you know that? "Hasn't been" is not the same thing as "cannot be".

comment by Lamp2 · 2016-04-08T02:12:27.124Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

However "alternative" medicine cannot be established using the scientific method,

Care to explain what you mean by that assertion. You might want to start by defining what you mean by "alternative medicine".

comment by Lamp · 2016-03-31T01:32:53.837Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This list falls into the failure mode I've seen a lot of among "skeptics" attempting to make a collection of "irrational" beliefs. Namely, they have no theory of what it means for something to be "irrational" so they fall back on a combination of absurdity heuristic and the belief's social status.