Welcome to Less Wrong! (2012)

post by orthonormal · 2011-12-26T22:57:21.157Z · score: 26 (27 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 1438 comments

Contents

  A few notes about the site mechanics
  A few notes about the community
  A list of some posts that are pretty awesome
None
1438 comments
If you've recently joined the Less Wrong community, please leave a comment here and introduce yourself. We'd love to know who you are, what you're doing, what you value, how you came to identify as a rationalist or how you found us. You can skip right to that if you like; the rest of this post consists of a few things you might find helpful. More can be found at the FAQ.
(This is the third incarnation of the welcome thread, the first two of which which now have too many comments to show all at once.)

A few notes about the site mechanics

Less Wrong  comments are threaded  for easy following of multiple conversations. To respond to any comment, click the "Reply" link at the bottom of that comment's box. Within the comment box, links and formatting are achieved via Markdown syntax  (you can click the "Help" link below the text box to bring up a primer).
You may have noticed that all the posts and comments on this site have buttons to vote them up or down, and all the users have "karma" scores which come from the sum of all their comments and posts. This immediate easy feedback mechanism helps keep arguments from turning into flamewars and helps make the best posts more visible; it's part of what makes discussions on Less Wrong look different from those anywhere else on the Internet.
However, it can feel really irritating to get downvoted, especially if one doesn't know why. It happens to all of us sometimes, and it's perfectly acceptable to ask for an explanation. (Sometimes it's the unwritten LW etiquette; we have different norms than other forums.) Take note when you're downvoted a lot on one topic, as it often means that several members of the community think you're missing an important point or making a mistake in reasoning— not just that they disagree with you! If you've any questions about karma or voting, please feel free to ask here.
Replies to your comments across the site, plus private messages from other users, will show up in your inbox. You can reach it via the little mail icon beneath your karma score on the upper right of most pages. When you have a new reply or message, it glows red. You can also click on any user's name to view all of their comments and posts.
It's definitely worth your time commenting on old posts; veteran users look through the recent comments thread quite often (there's a separate recent comments thread for the Discussion section, for whatever reason), and a conversation begun anywhere will pick up contributors that way.  There's also a succession of open comment threads for discussion of anything remotely related to rationality.
Discussions on Less Wrong tend to end differently than in most other forums; a surprising number end when one participant changes their mind, or when multiple people clarify their views enough and reach agreement. More commonly, though, people will just stop when they've better identified their deeper disagreements, or simply "tap out" of a discussion that's stopped being productive. (Seriously, you can just write "I'm tapping out of this thread.") This is absolutely OK, and it's one good way to avoid the flamewars that plague many sites.
EXTRA FEATURES:
There's actually more than meets the eye here: look near the top of the page for the "WIKI", "DISCUSSION" and "SEQUENCES" links.
LW WIKI: This is our attempt to make searching by topic feasible, as well as to store information like common abbreviations and idioms. It's a good place to look if someone's speaking Greek to you.
LW DISCUSSION: This is a forum just like the top-level one, with two key differences: in the top-level forum, posts require the author to have 20 karma in order to publish, and any upvotes or downvotes on the post are multiplied by 10. Thus there's a lot more informal dialogue in the Discussion section, including some of the more fun conversations here.
SEQUENCES: A huge corpus of material mostly written by Eliezer Yudkowsky in his days of blogging at Overcoming Bias, before Less Wrong was started. Much of the discussion here will casually depend on or refer to ideas brought up in those posts, so reading them can really help with present discussions. Besides which, they're pretty engrossing in my opinion.

A few notes about the community

If you've come to Less Wrong to  discuss a particular topic, this thread would be a great place to start the conversation. By commenting here, and checking the responses, you'll probably get a good read on what, if anything, has already been said here on that topic, what's widely understood and what you might still need to take some time explaining.
If your welcome comment starts a huge discussion, then please move to the next step and  create a LW Discussion post to continue the conversation; we can fit many more welcomes onto each thread if fewer of them sprout 400+ comments. (To do this: click "Create new areticle" in the upper right corner next to your username, then write the article, then at the bottom take the menu "Post to" and change it from "Drafts" to "Less Wrong Discussion". Then click "Submit". When you edit a published post, clicking "Save and continue" does correctly update the post.)
If you want to write a post about a LW-relevant topic, awesome!  I highly recommend you submit your first post to Less Wrong Discussion; don't worry, you can later promote it from there to the main page if it's well-received. (It's much better to get some feedback before every vote counts for 10 karma- honestly, you don't know what you don't know about the community norms here.)
If you'd like to connect with other LWers in real life, we have  meetups  in various parts of the world. Check the wiki page for places with regular meetups, or the upcoming (irregular) meetups page.
There's also a Facebook group.  If you've your own blog or other online presence, please feel free to link it.

If English is not your first language, don't let that make you afraid to post or comment. You can get English help on Discussion- or Main-level posts by sending a PM to one of the following users (use the "send message" link on the upper right of their user page). Either put the text of the post in the PM, or just say that you'd like English help and you'll get a response with an email address.
* Normal_Anomaly
* Randaly
* shokwave
* Barry Cotter

A note for theists: you will find the Less Wrong community to be predominantly atheist, though not completely so, and most of us are genuinely respectful of religious people who keep the usual community norms. It's worth saying that we might think religion is off-topic in some places where you think it's on-topic, so be thoughtful about where and how you start explicitly talking about it; some of us are happy to talk about religion, some of us aren't interested. Bear in mind that many of us really, truly have given full consideration to theistic claims and found them to be false, so starting with the most common arguments is pretty likely just to annoy people. Anyhow, it's absolutely OK to mention that you're religious in your welcome post and to invite a discussion there.

A list of some posts that are pretty awesome

I recommend the major sequences  to everybody, but I realize how daunting they look at first. So for purposes of immediate gratification, the following posts are particularly interesting/illuminating/provocative and don't require any previous reading:

More suggestions are welcome! Or just check out the top-rated posts from the history of Less Wrong. Most posts at +50 or more are well worth your time.

Welcome to Less Wrong, and we look forward to hearing from you throughout the site.

(Note from orthonormal: MBlume and other contributors wrote the original version of this welcome message, and I've stolen heavily from it.)

1438 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Lara · 2011-12-27T00:20:42.996Z · score: 29 (29 votes) · LW · GW

Hello everyone!

Thank You for this site and for sharing your thoughts, for genuinely trying to find out what is true. What is less wrong. This has brightened my view of humanity. :)

My name is Lara, I’m from Eastern Europe, 18 years old, currently studying physics, reading a lot and painting in my free time. For about a year and a half now I’ve been atheist; before then- devout and sincere christian, religious nerd of the church. A lot of things in the doctrine bothered me as compltely illogical, unfair and just silly, and somehow I tried to reason it all out, I truly believed, that the real Truth will be with God and that he will help me understand it better. As it turned out, truth seeking and religiosity were incompatible.

Now I’m fairly ‘recovered’- getting used to the new way of thinking about the world, but still care about what is really true and important, worth devouting my life to(fundamentalist upbringing :)). As I still live with my family, it is hard to pretend all the time, knowing they will have no contact with me whatsoever, when I come out; it is really good to find places like this, where people are willing to dig as deep as possible, no matter what, to understand better.

So thanks and sorry for my english. I hope someday I’ll be able to add something useful here and learn much more.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-12-27T01:14:08.346Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome! Your English is excellent, don't worry on that count.

...also, that's a really tough predicament (hiding your atheism from your fundamentalist family), and I don't have anything wise to say about it, except that it isn't the end of the world when they do find out, and that often people will break their religious commitments rather than really abandon their children (so long as they can think of a religiously acceptable excuse to do so). But I'm not really qualified to give that advice. Hang in there!

comment by Dustin · 2012-01-05T03:42:48.127Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I sympathize with you as I'm an atheist with a fundamentalist family who would cut me out of their lives if they found out.

I also envy you, as you had your enlightenment happen at such an early age. I didn't have mine until I was pushing middle age and had created a family of my own...all whom were also fundamentalist. I still live "in the closet" so to speak...

comment by Raemon · 2012-07-04T17:53:15.557Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wow. Haven't heard of that type of situation before now and it sounds very frustrating. Don't have any relevant advice but I hope you find ways to deal with it.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2011-12-27T09:57:10.512Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sorry to hear that your family try to control you like this. Do you expect to physically live near them for long? If not, you may not need to tell them. Surely they have behaviors that they don't tell you about too, and don't honestly expect you to actually act as if you believed (just as they probably don't act that way themselves and expected you to grow out of the confused phase in your life when you were doing all that weird stuff that you did as a result of being a sincere and devout christian who expects things to be logical fair and non-silly once understood)

comment by Lara · 2011-12-27T17:14:14.499Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you all for support, it is incredibly important.

Unfortunately it is a church norm to cut off everyone who leaves, and the doctrine is such that there is no way to be ‘inbetween’. The community is quite closed and one’s whole life is determined- from the way we dress(girls especially), to the way we make carriers (or stay at home and raise children). So in the beginning I decided not to tell anyone at all, knowing how painful it would be for everyone, but after some time I realised that I could not live like that my whole life; though egoistically, after I earn enough money to leave, I will.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2011-12-29T10:28:48.942Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

There are really a lot of possibilities for finding work if you need it, at least if you are a US citizen. I can help you with that if you want. If nothing else, http://lesswrong.com/lw/43m/optimal_employment/ is available. I bet that if a few LWers could get together to do this (possibly after absorbing some of our West Coast or NYC contingent culture first) and build an amazing community there. email me.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-08T14:45:52.733Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would you mind me asking which denomination your family belongs to?

comment by thomblake · 2011-12-27T17:34:05.245Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

To expand on orthonormal's point, note impact bias. If you do end up having to be truthful with them, whatever consequences you're imagining now are probably far worse that what you will actually go through. People tend to carry on just fine.

And remember that the virtue of honesty does not require telling all truths, but rather not communicating falsely. If telling your parents you are an atheist will mean to them that you are an amoral person, maybe you should not say so unless that is also true.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-08T14:31:32.013Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hey Lara,

being a Slovenian student of physics from a very devout Catholic family (which I actually occasionally still accompany to Sunday mass) I can definitely relate to your story. I coped by sharing my doubts with less religious family members, eventually sharing with my sister that I considered myself atheist. I mostly let my extended family think what they will, but I don't really work to hide my non-belief in any serious way any more. I don't however try to argue with them about it. Mostly because de-converting my family members in a mostly secular country didn't really feel like a top priority, but also because I saw it would be very hard to get them interested in rationality. And without that in my mostly secular country, it didn't really seem worth it since I've come to realize that non-religious delusion is as widespread as religious delusion. I was for a time somewhat conflicted on this, but my general attitude since then is that I love my my family because they are my family not because I think they are good at rational debate or hold true beliefs. I think most parents feel the same way about their children.

I'd heartily recommend reading the sequences, since atheism is just the beginning. :)

Best wishes, Konkvistador

comment by obfuscate · 2011-12-27T05:05:09.243Z · score: 26 (26 votes) · LW · GW

Hi; I'm a lurker of about one year, and recently decided to stop lurking and create an account.

I'm an undergraduate in Portland-area Oregon. I study mathematics and computer science at Pacific University. I've been interested in rationality for a very long time, but Less Wrong has really provided the formalism necessary to defend certain tactics and strategies of thought over others, which has been very...helpful. :)

Speaking of Portland, it seems that there are many Portland Less-Wrongians and yet there is no meetup. I would like to start a meetup, so I need a bit of Karma to get one started.

comment by _ozymandias · 2011-12-27T17:32:24.444Z · score: 22 (26 votes) · LW · GW

Hi everyone! I'm Ozy.

I'm twenty years old, queer, poly, crazy, white, Floridian, an atheist, a utilitarian, and a giant geek. I'm double-majoring in sociology and psychology; my other interests range from classical languages (although I am far from fluent) to guitar (although I suck at it) to Neil Gaiman (I... can't think of a self-deprecating thing to say about my interest in Neil Gaiman). I use zie/zir pronouns, because I identify outside the gender binary; I realize they're clumsy, but English's lack of a good gender-neutral pronoun is not my fault. :)

One of my big interests is the intersection between rationality and social justice. I do think that a lot of the -isms (racism, sexism, ableism, etc.) are rooted in cognitive biases, and that we're not going to be able to eliminate them unless we understand what quirks in the human mind cause them. I blog about masculism (it is like feminism! Except for dudes!) at No Seriously What About Teh Menz; right now it's kind of full of people talking about Nice-Guy-ism, but normally we have a much more diverse front page. I believe that several of the people here read us (hi Nancy! hi Doug! hi Hugh, I like you, when you say I'm wrong you use citations!).

I've lurked here for more than a year; I got here from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, just like everyone else. I've made my way through a lot of the Sequences, but need to set aside some time to read through all of them. I don't know much about philosophy, math, science, or computers, so I imagine I will be lurking here a lot. :)

comment by MBlume · 2012-01-02T21:25:26.675Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Hi Ozy, it's really good to see you here, I enjoy the blog a lot. I remember reading one of your first social justice 101 posts, finding it peppered with LW links, and thinking "holy crap, somebody's using LW as a resource to get important background information out of the way while talking about something-really-important-that-isn't-itself-rationality -- this is awesome and totally what LW should be for", so that made me happy =)

comment by _ozymandias · 2012-01-02T22:05:02.850Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! LW actually helped me crystallize that a lot of the stuff social-justice-types talk about is not some special case of human evil, but the natural consequence of various cognitive biases (that, in this case, serves to disadvantage certain types of people).

comment by MileyCyrus · 2011-12-29T03:50:29.115Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Her blog is good. Instead of blindly cheering for a side in the feminism vs men's-rights football game, Ozymandias actually tries to understand the problem and recommend workable solutions.

comment by _ozymandias · 2011-12-29T04:20:52.355Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you very much, Miley! I tend to view feminism and men's rights as being inherently complementary: in general, if we make women more free of oppressive gender roles, we will tend to make men more free of oppressive gender roles, and vice versa. However, in the great football game of feminists and men's rights advocates, I'm pretty much on Team Feminism, which is why I get so upset when it's clearly doing things wrong.

Also, my pronoun is zie, please. :)

comment by MileyCyrus · 2011-12-29T04:34:34.965Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

However, in the great football game of feminists and men's rights advocates, I'm pretty much on Team Feminism, which is why I get so upset when it's clearly doing things wrong.

What I meant is that you actually demand results from your team, instead of giving them a free pass just because they have a certain label.

comment by _ozymandias · 2011-12-29T04:59:01.615Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, thank you. I misunderstood. :) I've had a few problems with people being confused about why my blog uses so much feminist dogma if it's a men's rights blog, so I'm hyper-sensitive about being mistaken for a non-feminist.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-12-29T05:26:55.351Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Hi, Ozy!

I've enjoyed your writing at No Seriously What About Teh Menz; so it's good to see you here.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-02T17:41:01.326Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

turns into a raving fanboy, squees, explodes

comment by _ozymandias · 2012-01-02T21:07:00.716Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Dammit, could someone clean the fanboy off the ceiling? The goop is getting in my hair. :)

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-12-30T03:37:35.904Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hi Ozy! (It's Doug.) Glad to see you decided to stop lurking and join in!

comment by HughRistik · 2011-12-28T10:08:16.750Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hi Ozy!

comment by windmil · 2011-12-28T03:59:55.622Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The only LWer that I've noticed was from Florida! (Of course, people don't too frequently pepper their posts with particulars of their placement.)

comment by _ozymandias · 2011-12-28T05:21:36.926Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Where are you? I'm in Fort Lauderdale and the Tampa area. If we're near each other maybe we could arrange one of those meetup thingies...

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-31T21:16:30.591Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hi ozy!

I am really happy to see you on here! I enjoy your blog.

This map shows that as of last week-ish there were at least four Floridians on LW. Unfortunately, their identity is unknown, and you guys seem to be spread out. But if you post a meetup, you can see who responds. Good luck!

comment by khafra · 2012-01-03T20:58:03.867Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I just got back to Saint Petersburg from a trip to San Francisco that included a meetup at Tortuga, and that was nifty, so I'll throw my hat into the ring.

comment by windmil · 2011-12-28T13:36:44.405Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That could be cool if we ever got around to it. I'm usually in either Daytona Beach or Gainesville, not that it's too big of a state to drive across... at least width-wise.

comment by gyokuro · 2011-12-26T19:31:18.697Z · score: 22 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Hi, I'm 15, so sadly cannot say much of my education yet, but at least I've read a fair deal. I find the ideas on this site somewhat unappreciated among my age group, but fascinating for me. I've lurked here for close to a year, but I'm irrationally shy of speaking over the internet. I hope to contribute if I find what I think interesting, regardless of my adverseness to commenting. Thank you for the welcome!

comment by KPier · 2011-12-26T19:55:45.707Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

There's an email list and occasional online meetups for LessWrong teenagers; you can join here. Welcome aboard!

comment by atucker · 2011-12-28T07:11:42.771Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Seconded!

Looking forward to meeting you, if you join the group.

comment by Kallio · 2011-12-27T01:03:34.451Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

Hi; I've been reading LessWrong for more than a year and a half, now, but I never quite got around to making an account until today.

So, introduction: I'm eighteen years old, female, transgender. I live in California, USA. I don't have a lot of formal education; I chose to be homeschooled as a little kid because my parents were awesome and school wasn't, and due to disability I've not yet entered college.

The road to rationalism was fairly smooth for me. I'm a weirdo in enough ways that I learned early on not to believe things just because everyone else believed them. It took a little bit longer for me to learn not to believe things just because I had always believed them.

I guess my major "Aha!" moment came when I was fourteen, after I finally admitted to myself that I was transgender. I had lied to myself, not to mention everyone else, for almost a decade and a half. I had shied away from the truth every time I'd had the opportunity to see it. And while I'd had pretty good reasons for doing so (Warning: Big-ass PDF), the truth felt better. Not only that, but knowing the truth was better, in measurable ways; it allowed me to begin to move my life in a direction I actually liked.

Avoiding the truth had hurt me enough that I began systematically examining every belief I could think of, and some I would rather not have thought about at all. And thus was a rationalist born.

I found LessWrong in spring of 2010, through Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I haven't had the time to read all, or even most, of the sequences yet, but I've made a good start on them: so far I've read all of Map and Territory, Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions, Reductionism, and A Human's Guide to Words. I've also read large parts of How To Actually Change Your Mind, as well as bits and pieces of other sequences, and various independent articles. They've helped a lot, both with teaching me things about rationalism which I didn't already know, and making me more sure of the things I'd worked out for myself.

Since I'm interested in not only rationalism, but also in probability theory, transhumanism, and both human and machine intelligence, this has been pretty much my favorite site to read ever since I found it. Thanks for being awesome.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-08T14:20:25.042Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome to the site Kallio!

The road to rationalism was fairly smooth for me. I'm a weirdo in enough ways that I learned early on not to believe things just because everyone else believed them. It took a little bit longer for me to learn not to believe things just because I had always believed them.

I don't think you are alone in your experience of this. People here are pretty contrarian, metacontrarian even. I hope that in the month since you've posted this you've continued to gain utility from the site. :)

I haven't had the time to read all, or even most, of the sequences yet, but I've made a good start on them: so far I've read all of Map and Territory, Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions, Reductionism, and A Human's Guide to Words. I've also read large parts of How To Actually Change Your Mind, as well as bits and pieces of other sequences, and various independent articles. They've helped a lot, both with teaching me things about rationalism which I didn't already know, and making me more sure of the things I'd worked out for myself.

While I have long ago read most of them, there are still sequences that I haven't read in a systematic fashion and I don't think I'm that exceptional among long time readers in that regard, so once you feel you've gotten a good grasp on issues don't be afraid to post. Also if you have a question about the material, need a beta reader for a contribution or would just like to discuss stuff with someone, please feel free to PM me.

All the best, Konkvistador

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T07:55:21.543Z · score: 20 (28 votes) · LW · GW
comment by occlude · 2012-01-01T11:12:51.516Z · score: 22 (28 votes) · LW · GW

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

I would recommend against expressing this opinion in your OKCupid profile.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T19:36:55.895Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, opinions deliberately selected to be my most controversial were exactly what I was planning to use when trying to make new friends. But now that you mention it, that's probably a bad idea, huh?

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-01-01T21:48:50.887Z · score: 21 (25 votes) · LW · GW

Several people have alreadt given good answers to your position on infanticide, but they haven't mentioned what is in my opinion the crucial concept involved here: Schelling points.

We are all agreed that is is wrong to kill people (meaning, fully conscious and intelligent beings). We agree that adult humans beings are people (perhaps excluding those in irreversible coma). The law needs to draw a bright line separating those beings which are people, and hence cannot be killed, from those who are not. Given the importance of the "non-killing" rule to a functioning society. this line needs to be clear and intuitive to all. Any line based on some level of brain development does not satisfy this criterion.

There are only two Schelling points, that is obvious, intuitive places to draw the line: conception and birth. Many people support the first one, and the strongest argument for the anti-abortion position is that conception is in fact in many ways a better Schelling point than birth, since being born does not affect the intrinsic nature of the infant. However, among people without a metaphysical commitment to fetus personhood, most agree that the burdens that prohibition of abortion place on pregnant women are enough to outweigh these considerations, and make birth the chosen Schelling point.

There is no other Schelling point at a later date (your ten-month rule seems arbitrary to me), and a rule against baby infanticide does not place so strong burdens on mothers (giving for adoption is always an option). So there is no good reason to change the law in the direction you propose. Doing it would undermine the strengh of the universal agreement that "people cannot be killed", since the line separating people from non-people would be obscure and arbitrarily drawn.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T22:06:02.866Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Emile · 2012-01-02T00:25:53.066Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

But there is no universal agreement on the "age of informed consent", it varies from country to country! And yes, the fact that the limit is arbitrary does undermine its strength; there are often scenarios of "reasonable" sex (in that most people don't consider it as wrong) that would be consider statutory rape or whatnot if the law was taken at the letter.

(Also, heck, 10 months is a pretty crappy limit, why not 8 months five days and 42 minutes? 12 months would be much cleaner)

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T01:43:56.813Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-01-02T00:53:26.825Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This only holds in a society where people aren't sufficiently intelligent for "is obviously not a person" not to work as the criterion. We probably live in such a society, but I hope we don't forever.

People disagree about obviousness of such things. For some people, a fetus is obviously a person too. For others, even a mentally deficient adult might not qualify as being obviously a person. Unlike you, I don't expect these disagreements to disappear anytime soon, and they are the reason that the law works better with bright Schelling point lines, if such exist.

This was the reason age was chosen, rather than neurological development.

Age is non-ambiguous, but not non-arbitrary.

Re your final objection, I agree that there are cases such as sexual consent where there are no clear Schelling points, and we need arbitrary lines. This does not mean that it is not best to use Schelling points whenever they exist. In the case of sexual consent, the arbitrariness of the line does have some unfortunate effects: for example, since the lines are drawn differently in different jurisdictions, people who move accross jurisdictions and are not epecially well informed might commit a felony without being aware. There are also problems with people not being aware of their partner's age, etc.

Such problems are not too big and in any case unavoidable, but consider the following counterfactual: if all teenagers underwent a significant and highly visible discrete biological event at exactly age 16, it would make sense (and be an improvement over current law) to have an universal law using this event as trigger for the age of consent, even if the event had no connection to sexual and mental development and these were continuous. The event would be a Schelling point, such as birth is for personhood.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T02:08:03.436Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-01-02T02:50:38.481Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is a very good response, that allows us to make our disagreement more precise. I agree that choosing menstruation, or its hypothetical unisex counterpart, is unreasonable because it is too early. I disagree that birth is too early in the same way. Pretty much everyone in our society agrees that 12-year olds cannot meaningfully consent to sex (especially with adults), whereas many believe 6-month old children to be people -- in fact, many believe fetuses to be people! You might say that they are obviously wrong, but the "obviously" is suspicious when so many disagree with you, at the very least for Aumann reasons.

To put it in another way: What makes you so certain that birth is so far off from what is reasonable as a line for personhood, when you are willing to draw your line at 10 months? That is much closer to birth than 17 is to 12 years old.

Also, I think your analogy needs a bit of amending: the relevant question is, if there was a visible unisex menstruation happening at 17 years old, and an established tradition of taking that as the age of consent, why on earth would a society change the law to make it 16 years and 2 months instead?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T03:00:34.944Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-01-02T03:35:35.402Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

While true, I suspect most or all of those people would have a hard time giving a good definition of "person" to an AI in such a way that the definition included babies, adults, and thinking aliens, but not pigs or bonobos. So yes, the claim I am implicitly making with this (or any other) controversial opinion is that I think almost everyone is wrong about this specific topic.

One rough effort at such definition would be: "any post-birth member of a species whose adult members are intelligent and conscious", where "birth" can be replaced by an analogous Schelling point in the development in an alien species, or by an arbitrary chosen line at a similar stage of development, if no such Schelling point exists.

You might say that this definition is an arbtrary kludge that does not "carve Nature at the joints". My reply would be that ethics is adapted for humans, and does not need to carve Nature at intrinsic joints but at the places that humans find relevant.

Your point about different rates of development is well taken, however. I am also not an expert in this topic, so we'll have to let it rest for the moment.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T03:46:55.169Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-01-02T15:08:44.087Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For computers, hardware and software can be separated in a way that is not possible with humans (with current technology). When the separation is possible, I agree personhood should be attributed to the software rather than the hardware, so your machine should not be considered a person. If in the future it becomes routinely possible to scan, duplicate and emulate human minds, then killing a biological human will probably also be less of a crime than it is now, as long as his/her mind is preserved. (Maybe there would be a taboo instead about deleting minds with no backup, even when they are not "running" on hardware).

It is also possible than in such a future where the concept of a person is commonly associated with a mind pattern, legalizing infanticide before brain development seats in would be acceptable. So perhaps we are not in disagreement after all, since on a different subthread you have said you do not really support legalization of infanticide in our current society.

I still think there is a bit of a meta diagreement: you seem to think that the laws and morality of this hypothetical future society would be better than our current ones, while I see it as a change in what are the appropriate Schelling points for the law to rule, in response to technological changes, without the end point being more "correct" in any absolute sense than our current law.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T08:33:32.409Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Should this machine be considered a person?

Well, yes. This seems obvious to me.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T18:49:05.191Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T20:53:14.690Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, of course. I've taken it that you were asking about a case where such software had indeed been installed on the machine. The potential of personhood on its own seems hardly worth anything to me.

comment by prase · 2012-01-02T14:20:14.197Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Pretty much everyone in our society agrees that 12-year olds cannot meaningfully consent to sex (especially with adults)

As a data point for your statistics, I think that a 12-year old can meaningfully consent to sex. When it comes to issues of pregnancy and having children, the consequences are greater and I don't think such yound people can consent to this, but fortunately sex and children can be kept separate today with only weak side effects.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T02:05:07.751Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think that a 12-year old from a society with sensible policies would be able to give meaningful consent, but for some reason an enormous amount of work has been put into keeping American 12-year olds dangerously ignorant. That needs to be fixed first.

comment by Oligopsony · 2012-01-02T03:30:23.349Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I do think there are some advantages to setting the cutoff point just slightly later than birth, even if by just a few hours:
*evaluations of whether a person should come into existence can rest on surer information when the infant is out of the womb

  • non-maternal reproductive autonomy - under the current legal personhood cutoff, I can count this as an acceptable loss, as I consider maternal bodily autonomy and the interests of the child to be more important, but with infanticide all three can be reconciled
  • psychologically, parents (especially fathers) might feel more buy-in to their status, even if almost none actually end up choosing otherwise, and if infant non-personhood catches on culturally infant deaths very close to births might cause less grief among parents

(All this assumes that late-term abortions are a morally acceptable choice to make in their own right, of course, rather than something which must be legally tolerated to preserve maternal bodily autonomy.)

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T01:54:53.536Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps the detachment of the umbilical cord would be a suitably symbolic point?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T01:44:07.721Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Mild updating of my original position due to this conversation:

I still don't have many moral qualms about allowing parents to kill children, but realize that actually legalizing it in our current society would lead to some unintended consequences, due to considerations such as the Schelling point, and killing infants as a gateway to further sociopathic behaviours.

Part of my difficulty is that some humans, such as infants, have less blicket than animals. If its ok to kill animals, then there's no reason to say it's not ok to kill blicket-less humans. Then I realize that even though it's legal to kill animals, it's still something I can't do for anything except certain bugs. Even spiders I let be, or take outside.

So maybe a wiser way to reconcile these would be to say that since infants have less blicket than animals, and we don't kill infants, that we also shouldn't kill animals. It's what I live by anyway, and seems to cause less disturbance than saying that since infants have less blicket than animals and we kill animals, that it's ok to kill infants.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T01:59:35.715Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Part of my difficulty is that some humans, such as infants, have less blicket than animals. If its ok to kill animals, then there's no reason to say it's not ok to kill blicket-less humans. Then I realize that even though it's legal to kill animals, it's still something I can't do for anything except certain bugs. Even spiders I let be, or take outside.

Don't worry, there would probably be a baby killing service if it were legal. Just like we have other people to kill animals for us.

comment by Zetetic · 2012-01-02T07:56:11.226Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

If its ok to kill animals, then there's no reason to say it's not ok to kill blicket-less humans.

I just want to point out this alternative position: Healthy (mentally and otherwise) babies can gain sufficient mental acuity/self-awareness to outstrip animals in their normal trajectory - i.e. babies become people after a while.

Although I don't wholeheartedly agree with this position, it seems consistent. The stance that such a position would imply is that babies with severe medical conditions (debilitating birth defects, congenital diseases etc.) could be killed with parental consent, and fetuses likely to develop birth defects can be aborted, but healthy fetuses cannot be aborted, and healthy babies cannot be killed. I bring this up in particular because of your other post about the family with the severely disabled 6-year-old.

I think it becomes a little more complicated when we're talking about situations in which we have the ability to impart self-awareness that was previously not there. On the practical level I certainly wouldn't want to force a family to either face endless debt from an expensive procedure or a lifetime of grief from a child that can't function in day to day tasks. It also brings up the question of whether to make animals self-aware, which is... kind of interesting but probably starting to drift off topic.

comment by FAWS · 2012-01-02T02:04:16.205Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are you aware that in many countries it's illegal to kill animals without good reason, and that wanting to get rid of a pet does not qualify?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T02:31:44.985Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Emile · 2012-01-01T12:43:09.018Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

Arbitrary limits like "ten months" don't make for good rules - especially when there's a natural limit that's much more prominent: childbirth.

What exactly counts as "people" is a matter of convention; it's best to settle on edges that are as crisp as possible, to minimize potential disagreement and conflict.

Also "any reason other than sadism", eh? Like "the dog was hungry" would be okay?

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T13:20:57.366Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

EDIT: in the ensuing discussion, we came to an agreement that the psychopathy argument is only true of our present society, and, while strengthening our reasons to keep infanticide illegal right now, wouldn't apply to someplace without a strong revulsion to infanticide in the first place. I've updated my stance and switched to other arguments against infanticide-in-general.

comment by Emile · 2012-01-01T17:22:00.311Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sorry, I just can't parse your sentence, especially "anyone who seriously doesn't understand why punishing all parents able to kill their infant is an incredibly good idea". I suspect you chained too many clauses together and ended up saying the opposite of what you meant.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T17:24:29.690Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Followed up with a clarification here.

comment by drethelin · 2012-01-01T20:32:58.342Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I broadly agree that babies aren't people, but I still think infanticide should be illegal, simply because killing begets insensitivity to killing. I know this has the sound of a slippery slope argument, but there is evidence that desire for sadism in most people is low, and increases as they commit sadistic acts, and that people feel similarly about murder.

From The Better Angels of Our Nature: "Serial killers too carry out their first murder with trepidation, distaste, and in its wake, disappointment: the experience had not been as arousing as it had been in their imaginations. But as time passes and their appetite is rewhetted, they find the next on easier and more gratifying, and then they escalate the cruelty to feed what turns into an addiction."

Similarly, cathartic violence against non-person objects (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharsis#Therapeutic_uses) can lead to further aggression in personal interactions.

I don't think we want to encourage or allow killing of anything anywhere near as close to people as babies. The psychological effects on people who kill their own children and on a society that views the killing of babies as good are too potentially terrible. Without actual data, I can say I would never want to live in a society that valued people as little as Sparta did.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T21:27:36.652Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW
comment by drethelin · 2012-01-01T21:35:07.981Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We're not talking about making new laws, and we're certainly not encouraging the government to make in-discriminatory laws about things that are possibly bad. This is a law that already exists, where changing it would lead to a worse world. Feel free to campaign against those other laws you talked about coming into existence if someone tries to make them happen, but you shouldn't be trying to get baby killing legalized.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T21:46:34.291Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T09:32:58.436Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Can't this same be said of last trimester abortions?

In any case much like we find pictures or videos of abortion distasteful, I'm sure future baby-killing society would still find videos of baby killings distasteful. We could legislate infanticide needs to be done by professionals away from the eyes of parents and other onlookers to avoid psychological damage. Also forbid media depicting it except for educational purposes.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T10:35:07.837Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We could legislate infanticide needs to be done by professionals away from the eyes of parents and other onlookers to avoid psychological damage.

For legal reasons, there'd just have to be a clear procedure where parents would take or refuse the decision, probably after being informed of the baby's overall condition and potential in the presence of a witness. I can't imagine how it could be realistically practiced without one. Such a procedure could ironically wind up more psychologically damaging than, say, simply distracting one's parental instinct with something like intoxication and personally abandoning/suffocating/poisoning the baby.

Also forbid media depicting it except for educational purposes.

Potential for tension and cognitive dissonance. Few things in our culture are censored this way, not even executions and torture. Would feel unusually hypocritical.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:41:14.920Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

For legal reasons, there'd just have to be a clear procedure where parents would take or refuse the decision, probably after being informed of the baby's overall condition and potential in the presence of a witness. I can't imagine how it could be realistically practiced without one.

Humans are pretty ok with making cold decisions in the abstract that they could never carry out themselves due to physical revulsion and/or emotional trauma.

The number of people that would sign a death order is greater than the number of people that would kill someone else personally.

Potential for tension and cognitive dissonance. Few things in our culture are censored this way, not even executions and torture.

Does society feel conflicted bothered that child pornography is censored? We can even extend existing child pornography laws with a few good judicial decisions to cover this.

Would feel unusually hypocritical.

Read more Robin Hanson.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T10:54:54.881Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Does society feel conflicted bothered that child pornography is censored? We can even extend existing child pornography laws with a few good judicial decisions to cover this.

Good point. If they aren't even people...

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T11:01:40.855Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In my own country pornography involving animals is illegal. It shows no signs of being legalized soon. And I live in a pretty liberal central European first world country.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T11:29:25.846Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I live in Russia and here the legal status of all pornography is murky but no law de facto prosecutes anything but production and distribution of child porn, and simple possession of child porn is not illegal. There's nothing about animals, violence, or such.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T10:46:36.954Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The number of people that would sign a death order is greater than the number of people that would kill someone else personally.

Much greater? I think that people signing death orders for criminals could generally execute those criminals themselves if forced to choose between that and the criminal staying alive.

Does society feel conflicted bothered that child pornography is censored?

4chan could be an argument that it's beginning to feel so :) Society just hasn't thought it through yet.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T09:41:05.305Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Don't think so, because

1) such foetuses would likely only be seen by a surgeon if the abortion is done properly

2) they probably instinctively appear much less "person-like" or "likely to become a human" even if the mother sees one while doing a crude abortion on her own - maybe even for an evolutionary reason - so that she wouldn't be left with a memory of killing something that looks like a human.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:12:45.600Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

they probably instinctively appear much less "person-like" or "likely to become a human" even if the mother sees one while doing a crude abortion on her own - maybe even for an evolutionary reason - so that she wouldn't be left with a memory of killing something that looks like a human.

blinks

How can a LWer even think this way? I suggest you reread this. I'm tempted to ask you to think 4 minutes by the physical clock about this, but I'll rather just spell it out.

Lets say you are 8 months pregnant in the early stone age. What is a better idea for you, fitness wise, wait another month to terminate reproduction attempt or try to do it right now?

I'm even tempted to say there is a reason women kill their own children more often than men.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T10:31:15.185Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm even tempted to say there is a reason women kill their own children more often than men.

Higher expected future resource investment per allelle carried?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:43:00.777Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

More or less. I'm pretty sure that controlling for certainty of the child being "yours" and time spent with them, men would on average find killing their children a greater psychological burden in the long run than women.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T10:53:00.757Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

More or less. I'm pretty sure that controlling for certainty of the child being "yours" and time spent with them, men would on average find killing their children a greater psychological burden in the long run than women.

Because after all that time spent with them some start to find them really damn annoying?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T11:04:40.376Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

We get attached to children and lovers with exposure due to oxytocin. Only when the natural switches for releasing it are shut off does exposure cease to have this effect.

Finding them annoying is a separate effect.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T14:03:03.241Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We get attached to children and lovers with exposure due to oxytocin. Only when the natural switches for releasing it are shut off does exposure cease to have this effect.

I'm trying to relate this to your theory that men find it harder to kill their infants than women do. The influence of oxytocin discourages killing of those you are attached to and mothers get more of this than fathers if for no other reason than a crap load getting released during childbirth.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2012-01-02T01:32:32.457Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think we want to encourage or allow killing of anything anywhere near as close to people as babies.

By what criterion do you consider babies sufficiently "close to people" that this is an issue, but not late term fetuses or adult animals? Specific example, an adult bonobo seems to share more of the morally relevant characteristics of adult humans than a newborn baby but are not afforded the same legal protection.

comment by drethelin · 2012-01-02T04:18:00.695Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think killing bonobos should be particularly legal.

As far as fetuses, since my worry is psychological, I don't think there's a significant risk of desensitization to killing people since the action of going under surgery or taking plan b is so vastly removed from the act of murder.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T09:37:14.587Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What if only surgeons are licensed for infanticide on request, which must be done in privacy away from parent's eyes?

That way desensitisation isn't worse than with surgeons or doctors who preform abortion, especially if aesthetics or poison is used. Before anyone raises the Hippocratic oath as an objection, let me give them a stern look and ask them to consider the context of the debate and figure out on their own why it isn't applicable.

comment by drethelin · 2012-01-02T19:16:12.451Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would probably be ok with this, though I don't see particularly strong incentives to put effort in to legalize it.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T09:51:20.692Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What if only surgeons are licensed for infanticide on request, which must be done in privacy away from parent's eyes?

The damage would've been already done elsewhere by that point. The parent would likely have already

1) seen their born, living infant, experiencing what their instincts tell them to (if wired normally in this regard)

2) made the decision and signed the paperwork

3) (maybe) even taken another look at the infant with the knowledge that it's the last time they see it

I feel that every one of those little points could subtly damage (or totally wreck) a person.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:04:46.089Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I'm afraid you may have your bottom line written already. In the age of ultrasound and computer generated images or even better in the future age of transhuman sensory enhancement or fetuses being grown outside the human body the exact same argument can be used against abortion.

Especially once you remember the original context was a 10 month old baby, not say a 10 year old child.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T10:14:01.023Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

In the age of ultrasound and computer generated images or even better in the future age of transhuman sensory enhancement or fetuses being grown outside the human body the exact same argument can be used against abortion

Then I might well have to use it against abortion at some point, for the same reason: we should forbid people from overriding this part of their instincts.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T22:28:58.284Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for bullet-biting.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2012-01-02T17:42:46.327Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why is overriding of instincts inherently bad?

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T10:10:57.300Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

'm afraid you may have your bottom line written already.

First, I'm understandably modeling this on myself, and second, it doesn't really make this speculation any less valid in itself.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T21:44:39.599Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T21:07:34.267Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks a lot. I fully support your line of thinking, all of your points and your conclusion.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-01T08:07:29.010Z · score: 6 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

They're just p-zombies pretending to be people. They only get their soul at 10 months and thereafter are able to detect qualia.

I would vote against this law. I'd vote with guns if necessary. Reason: I like babies. Tiny humans are cute and haven't even done anything to deserve death yet (or indicate that they aren't valuable instances of human). I'd prefer you went around murdering adults (adults being the group with the economic, physical and political power to organize defense.)

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T08:21:45.924Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW
comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-01T10:04:13.897Z · score: 1 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Tiny kittens are also cute and haven't even done anything to death yet. But if you accidentally lock one in a car and it suffocates, that's merely unfortunate, and should probably not be a crime. The same is true for infants and all other non-person life. If you kill a kitten for some reason other than sadism, well, it's unfortunate that you felt that was necessary, but again, they're not people.

Yeah, I get it, you don't consider babies people and I do. So pretty much we just throw down (ie. trying to reason each other into having the same values as ourselves would be pointless). You vote for baby killing, I vote against it. If there is a war of annihilation and I'm forced to choose sides between the baby killers and the non-baby killers and they seem evenly matched then I choose the non-baby killers side and go kill all the baby killers. If I somehow have the option to exclude all consideration of your preferences from the optimisation function of an FAI then I take it. Just a plain ol' conflict of terminal values.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T19:03:42.401Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW
comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-01T19:52:41.634Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do, say, pigs also meet this definition?

If babies were made of bacon then I'd have to rerun the moral calculus all over again! ;)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T20:04:08.276Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Well, they are made of eggs. Actual eggs and counterfactual bacon are an important part of this nutritious breakfast.

comment by nshepperd · 2012-01-02T13:21:24.337Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

trying to reason each other into having the same values as ourselves would be pointless

How do you know?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T13:45:29.419Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

How do you know?

It is a core belief of Bakkot's - nothing is going to change that. His thinking on the matter is also self consistent. Only strong social or personal influence has a chance of making a difference (for example, if he has children, all his friends have children and he becomes embedded in a tribe where non-baby-killing is a core belief). For my part I understand Bakkot's reasoning but do not share his preference based premises. As such changing my mind regarding the conclusion would make no sense.

More succinctly I don't expect reasoning with each other to change our minds because neither of us is wrong (in the intellectual sense). We shouldn't change our minds based on intellectual arguments - if we do then we are making a mistake.

comment by nshepperd · 2012-01-02T14:33:41.955Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It is a core belief of Bakkot's - nothing is going to change that.

Yes, and my question is how do you know? Admittedly I haven't read the entire thread from the beginning, but in the large part I have, I see nothing to suggest that there is anything particularly immutable about either of your positions such that neither of you could possibly change your mind based on normal moral-philosophical arguments. What makes you so quick to dismiss your interlocutor as a babyeating alien?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T17:41:54.134Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, and my question is how do you know?

I trust his word.

What makes you so quick to dismiss your interlocutor

You're spinning this into a dismissal, disrespect of Bakkot's intellectual capability or ability to reason. Yet disagreement does not equal disrespect when it is a matter of different preferences. It is only when I think an 'interlocutor' is incapable of understanding evidence and reasoning coherently (due to, say, biases or ego) that observing that reason cannot persuade each other is a criticism.

as a babyeating alien?

He is a [babykilling advocate]. He says he is a babykilling advocate. He says why. That I acknowledge that he is an advocate of infanticide rights is not, I would hope, offensive to him.

I note that while Bakkot's self expression is novel, engaging and coherent (albeit contrary to my values), your own criticism is not coherent. You asked "how do you know?" and I gave you a straight answer. Continued objection makes no sense.

comment by nshepperd · 2012-01-03T00:44:17.984Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I trust his word.

He said his mind could never be changed on this?

You're spinning this into a dismissal, disrespect of Bakkot's intellectual capability or ability to reason. Yet disagreement does not equal disrespect when it is a matter of different preferences.

Spinning? I'm not trying to spin anything into anything. You said this was a matter of different preferences before, and I understood the first time. You don't need to repeat it. My criticism is about why you think this a difference in values rather than a mere confusion of them. (Also, "dismissal" has connotations, but I can't think of a better word to capture "throwing up your hands and going to war with them")

He is a [babykilling advocate]. He says he is a babykilling advocate. He says why. That I acknowledge that he is an advocate of infanticide rights is not, I would hope, offensive to him.

Emphasis was meant to be on alien. Aliens are distinguished by, among other things, not living in our moral reference frame.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-03T00:53:22.646Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You don't need to repeat it. My criticism is about why you think this a difference in values rather than a mere confusion of them.

I answered your question. And I will not repeat it again.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T14:10:10.346Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Akon was resting his head in his hands. "You know," Akon said, "I thought about composing a message like this to the Babyeaters. It was a stupid thought, but I kept turning it over in my mind. Trying to think about how I might persuade them that eating babies was... not a good thing."

The Xenopsychologist grimaced. "The aliens seem to be even more given to rationalization than we are - which is maybe why their society isn't so rigid as to actually fall apart - but I don't think you could twist them far enough around to believe that eating babies was not a babyeating thing."

"And by the same token," Akon said, "I don't think they're particularly likely to persuade us that eating babies is good." He sighed. "Should we just mark the message as spam?"

comment by nshepperd · 2012-01-02T14:44:07.029Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The question was "how do you know?", not "what do you mean?". Aliens are almost certain to fundamentally disagree with humans in a variety of important matters, by simple virtue of not being genetically related to us. Bakkot is a human. Different priors are called for.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-01T10:17:53.305Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, and to clarify the extent of my disagreement: When I say "You vote for baby killing, I vote against it" that assumes I don't live in some backwards country without compulsory voting. If voting is optional then I'm staying home. Other people killing babies is not my problem - because I don't have the power to stop a mob of humans from killing babies and I'm not interested in making the token gesture.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-01T10:03:16.853Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Extremely young children are lacking basically all of the traits I'd want a "person" to have.

Most adults don't have traits I'd want a "person" to have. At least with babies there is a chance they'll turn out as worthwhile people.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T11:34:04.999Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Most adults don't have traits I'd want a "person" to have. At least with babies there is a chance they'll turn out as worthwhile people.

Adults have a small chance of acquiring those traits too. Due to selection effects adults that don't have traits have a much lower probability than a fresh new baby of turning out this way.

In a few decades genetic technology and better psychology and sociology may let us make decent probabilistic predictions about how they will turn out as adults. Are you ok with babies with very low probabilities of getting such traits being killed?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T13:56:18.149Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Adults have a small chance of acquiring those traits too. Due to selection effects adults that don't have traits have a much lower probability than a fresh new baby of turning out this way.

As well as, of course, as having far less malleable minds that have yet to crystallize the habits their upbringing gives them.

Are you ok with babies with very low probabilities of getting such traits being killed?

Far less averse, particularly in an environment where negative externalities cannot be easily prevented. Mind you I would still oppose legalization of killing people (whether babies or adults) just because they are Jerks. Not because of the value of the Jerks themselves (which is offset by their effects on others) but because it isn't just Jerks that would be killed. I don't want other people to have the right to choose who lives and who dies and I'm willing to waive that right myself by way of cooperation in order to see it happen.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T11:35:55.350Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure why this is getting down voted. "Person" is basically LW speak for "particular kind of machine that has value to me in of itself". I don't see any good reason why I personally should value all people equally. I can see some instrumental value in living in a society that makes rules that operate on this principle.

But generally I do not love my enemies and neighbours like myself. I'm sorry, I guess that's not very Christian of me. ;)

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-01T08:46:42.252Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Would you really prefer it to be legal to murder adults than to murder ten-month-old children?

Yes. The explanation given was significant.

Ten-month-old children can be replaced in a mere twenty months. It takes forty one years to make a new forty-year-old.

It takes a 110 years to make a 110 year old . In most cases I'd prefer to keep a 30 year old than either of them. More to the point I don't intrinsically value creating more humans. The replacement cost of a dead human isn't anything to do with the moral aversion I have to murder.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T09:09:07.764Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Estarlio · 2012-01-01T13:16:39.766Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Babies aren't people by any measure I can see

Do you really think it's wise to have a precedent that allows agents of Type X to go around killing off all of the !X group ? Doesn't bode well if people end up with a really sharp intelligence gradient.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T19:01:39.279Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-02T05:02:02.054Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't seen anyone respond to your request for feedback about votes, so let me do so, despite not being one of the downvoters.

By my lights, at least, your posts have been fine. Obviously, I can't speak for the site as a whole... then again, neither can anyone else.

Basically, it's complicated, because the site isn't homogenous. Expressing conventionally "bad" moral views will usually earn some downvotes from people who don't want such views expressed; expressing them clearly and coherently and engaging thoughtfully with the responses will usually net you upvotes.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T07:34:24.912Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

ETA: I hate that I have to say this, but can people respond instead of just downvoting? I'm honestly curious as to why this particular post is controversial - or have I missed something?

I haven't downvoted, for what it is worth. Sure, you may be an evil baby killing advocate but it's not like l care!

comment by Solvent · 2012-01-02T07:44:33.207Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

but it's not I care!

I think you accidentally a word.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T18:56:10.187Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

ETA: I hate that I have to say this, but can people respond instead of just downvoting? I'm honestly curious as to why this particular post is controversial - or have I missed something?

I often "claim" my downvotes (aka I will post "downvoted" and then give reason.) However, I know that when I do this, I will be downvoted myself. So that is probably one big deterrent to others doing the same.

For one thing, the person you are downvoting will generally retaliate by downvoting you (or so it seems to me, since I tend to get an instant -1 on downvoting comments), and people who disagree with your reason for downvoting will also downvote you.

Also, many people on this site are just a-holes. Sorry.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-02T21:49:10.726Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Common reasons I downvote with no comment: I think the mistake is obvious to most readers (or already mentioned) and there's little to be gained from teaching the author. I think there's little insight and much noise - length, unpleasant style, politically disagreeable implications that would be tedious to pick apart (especially in tone rather than content). I judge that jerkishness is impairing comprehension; cutting out the courtesies and using strong words may be defensible, but using insults where explanations would do isn't.

On the "just a-holes" note (yes, I thought "Is this about me?"): It might be that your threshold for acceptable niceness is unusually high. We have traditions of bluntness and flaw-hunting (mostly from hackers, who correctly consider niceness noise when discussing bugs in X), so we ended up rather mean on average, and very tolerant of meanness. People who want LW to be nicer usually do it by being especially nice, not by especially punishing meanness. I notice you're on my list of people I should be exceptionally nice to, but not on my list of exceptionally nice people, which is a bad thing if you love Postel's law. (Which, by Postel's law, nobody but me has to.) The only LessWronger I think is an asshole is wedrifid, and I think this is one of his good traits.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T22:10:43.373Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

.

comment by Prismattic · 2012-01-02T22:25:10.584Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We have traditions of bluntness and flaw-hunting (mostly from hackers, who correctly consider niceness noise when discussing bugs in X), so we ended up rather mean on average, and very tolerant of meanness.

I think there is a difference between choosing bluntness where niceness would tend to obscure the truth, and choosing between two forms of expression which are equally illuminating but not equally nice. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm using "a-hole" here to mean "One who routinely chooses the less nice variant in the latter situation."

(This is not a specific reference to you; your comment just happened to provide a good anchor for it.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-02T23:25:36.293Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, if that's the meaning, then before I judge someone to be an "a-hole" I need to know what they intended to illumine.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T22:07:04.595Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I notice you're on my list of people I should be exceptionally nice to, but not on my list of exceptionally nice people,

Would you mind discussing this with me, because I find it disturbing that I come off as having double-standards, and am interested to know more about where that impression comes from. I personally feel that I do not expect better behaviour from others than I practice, but would like to know (and update my behaviour) if I am wrong about this.

I admit to lowering my level of "niceness" on LW, because I can't seem to function when I am nice and no one else is. However MY level of being "not nice" means that I don't spend a lot of time finding ways to word things in the most inoffensive manner. I don't feel like I am exceptionally rude, and am concerned if I give off that impression.

I also feel like I keep my "punishing meanness" levels to a pretty high standard too: I only "punish" (by downvoting or calling out) what I consider to be extremely rude behavior (ie "I wish you were dead" or "X is crap.") that is nowhere near the level of "meanness" that I feel like my posts ever get near.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-02T22:45:37.929Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I come off as having double-standards

You come off as having single-standards. That is, I think the minimal level of niceness you accept from others is also the minimal level of niceness you practice - you don't allow wiggle room for others having different standards. I sincerely don't resent that! My model of nice people in general suggests y'all practice Postel's law ("Be liberal in what you accept and conservative in what you send"), but I don't think it's even consistent to demand that someone follow it.

extremely rude behavior (ie "I wish you were dead" or "X is crap.")

...I'm never going to live that one down, am I? Let's just say that there's an enormous amount of behaviours that I'd describe as "slightly blunter than politeness would allow, for the sake of clarity" and you'd describe as "extremely rude".

Also, while I've accepted the verdict that " is crap" is extremely rude and I shouldn't ever say it, I was taken aback at your assertion that it doesn't contribute anything. Surely "Don't use this thing for this purpose" is non-empty. By the same token, I'd actually be pretty okay with being told "I wish you were dead" in many contexts. For example, in a discussion of eugenics, I'd be quite fine with a position that implies I should be dead, and would much rather hear it than have others dance around the implication.

Maybe the lesson for you is that many people suck really bad at phrasing things, so you should apply the principle of charity harder and be tolerant if they can't be both as nice and as clear as you'd have been and choose to sacrifice niceness? The lesson I've learned is that I should be more polite in general, more polite to you in particular, look harder for nice phrasings, and spell out implications rather than try to bake them in connotations.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-01-02T23:07:07.631Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For example, in a discussion of eugenics, I'd be quite fine with a position that implies I should be dead, and would much rather hear it than have others dance around the implication.

I'm fine with positions that imply I should never have been born (although I have yet to hear one that includes me), but I'd feel very differently about one implying that I should be dead!

comment by lessdazed · 2012-01-02T23:25:42.451Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Many people don't endorse anything similar to the principle that "any argument for no more of something should explain why there is a perfect amount of that thing or be counted as an argument for less of that thing."

E.g. thinking arguments that "life extension is bad" generally have no implications regarding killing people were it to become available. So those who say I shouldn't live to be 200 are not only basically arguing I should (eventually, sooner than I want) be dead, the implication I take is often that I should be killed (in the future).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-02T23:22:18.369Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Personally, I'd be far more insulted by the suggestion that I should never have been born, than by the suggestion that I should die now.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-01-02T23:32:06.505Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-03T01:38:47.331Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If someone tells me I should die now, I understand that to mean that my life from this point forward is of negative value to them. If they tell me I should never have been born, I understand that to mean not only that my life from this point forward is of negative value, but also that my life up to this point has been of negative value.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-01-03T02:12:56.650Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. I don't read it as necessarily a judgment of value at all to be told that I should never have been born (things that should not have happened may accidentally have good consequences). Additionally, someone who doesn't think that I should have been born, but also doesn't think I should die, will not try to kill me, though they may push policies that will prevent future additions to my salient reference class; someone who thinks I should die could try to make that happen!

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-03T02:23:55.799Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting.

For my part, I don't treat saying things like "I think you should be dead" as particularly predictive of actually trying to kill me. Perhaps I ought to, but I don't.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T23:04:28.836Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted, and thank you for the explanation.

I'm never going to live that one down, am I?

If it helps, I didn't even remember that one of the times I've called someone out on "X is crap" was you. So consider it "lived down".

taken aback at your assertion that it doesn't contribute anything.

You're right. How about an assertion that it doesn't contribute anything that couldn't be easily rephrased in a much better way? Your example of "Don't use this thing for this purpose", especially if followed by a brief explanation, is an order of magnitude better than "X is crap", and I doubt it took you more than 5 seconds to write.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-04T19:30:25.149Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-05T14:31:18.818Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Correcting for my differing speech patterns across languages and need to speak to stuck-up authorities... probably roughly as much.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-01-02T22:13:55.869Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

If I downvote with comment, it's usually for a fairly specific problem, and usually one that I expect can be addressed if it's pointed out; some very clear logical problem that I can throw a link at, for example, or an isolated offensive statement. I may also comment if the post is problematic for a complicated reason that the poster can't reasonably be expected to figure out, or if its problems are clearly due to ignorance.

Otherwise it's fairly rare for me to do so; I see downvotes as signaling that I don't want to read similar posts, and replying to such a post is likely to generate more posts I don't want to read. This goes double if I think the poster is actually trolling rather than just exhibiting some bias or patch of ignorance. Basically it's a cost-benefit analysis regarding further conversation; if continuing to reply would generate more heat than light, better to just downvote silently and drive on.

It's uncommon for me to receive retaliatory downvotes when I do comment, though.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T21:08:12.708Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I often "claim" my downvotes (aka I will post "downvoted" and then give reason.) However, I know that when I do this, I will be downvoted myself. So that is probably one big deterrent to others doing the same.

On the other hand if people agree with your reasons they often upvote it (especially back up towards zero if it dropped negative).

For one thing, the person you are downvoting will generally retaliate by downvoting you (or so it seems to me, since I tend to get an instant -1 on downvoting comments)

I certainly hope so. I would expect that they disagree with your reasons for downvoting or else they would have not made their comment. It would take a particularly insightful explanation for your vote for them to believe that you influencing others toward thinking their contribution is negative is itself a valuable contribution.

Also, many people on this site are just a-holes. Sorry.

*arch*

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T21:17:54.415Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

For one thing, the person you are downvoting will generally retaliate by downvoting you (or so it seems to me, since I tend to get an instant -1 on downvoting comments)

I certainly hope so. I would expect that they disagree with your reasons for downvoting or else they would have not made their comment. It would take a particularly insightful explanation for your vote for them to believe that you influencing others toward thinking their contribution is negative is itself a valuable contribution.

Do you think that's a good thing, or just a likely outcome?

Downvoting explanations of downvotes seems like a really bad idea, regardless how you feel about the downvote. It strongly incentives people to not explain themselves, not open themselves up for debates, but just vote and then remove themselves from the discussion.

I don't see how downvoting explanations and more explicit behavior is helpful for rational discourse in any way.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-02T21:53:48.821Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It strongly incentives people to not explain themselves, not open themselves up for debates, but just vote and then remove themselves from the discussion.

This is exactly the reaction I want to trolls, basic questions outside of dedicated posts, and stupid mistakes. Are downvotes of explanations in those cases also read as an incentive not to post explanations in general?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T22:02:39.001Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Speaking for myself, yes. I read it as "don't engage this topic on this site, period".

I agree with downvoting (and ignoring) the types of comments you mentioned, but not explanations of such downvotes. The explanations don't add any noise, so they shouldn't be punished. (Maybe if they got really excessive, but currently I have the impression that too few downvotes are explained, rather than too many.)

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T21:56:48.702Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think that's a good thing, or just a likely outcome?

Comments can serve as calls to action encouraging others to downvote or priming people with a negative or unintended interpretation of a comment - be it yours or that of someone else -that influence is something to be discouraged. This is not the case with all explanations of downvotes but it certainly describes the effect and often intent of the vast majority of "Downvoted because" declarations. Exceptions include explanations that are requested and occasionally reasons that are legitimately surprising or useful. Obviously also an exception is any time when you actually agree they have a point.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-02T21:19:04.789Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I might well consider an explanation of a downvote on a comment of mine to be a valuable contribution, even if I continue to disagree with the thinking behind it. Actually, that's not uncommon.

comment by Prismattic · 2012-01-02T20:32:54.999Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Also, many people on this site are just a-holes. Sorry.

I think it's more that there are a few a-holes, but they are very prolific (well, that and the same bias that causes us to notice how many red lights we get stopped at but not how many green lights we speed through also focuses our attention on the worst posting behavior).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-02T21:22:00.401Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. Who are the prolific "a-holes"?

comment by Prismattic · 2012-01-02T21:31:01.281Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Explicitly naming names accomplishes nothing except inducing hostility, as it will be taken as a status challenge. Not explicitly naming names, one hopes, leaves everyone re-examining whether their default tone is appropriately calibrated.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T23:30:49.231Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Not explicitly naming names, one hopes, leaves everyone re-examining whether their default tone is appropriately calibrated.

It left me evaluating whether it was me personally that was being called an asshole or others in the community and whether those others are people that deserve the insult or not. Basically I needed to determine whether it was a defection against me, an ally or my tribe in general. Then I had to decide what, if any, was an appropriate, desirable and socially acceptable tit-for-tat response. I decided to mostly ignore him because engaging didn't seem like it would do much more than giving him a platform from which to gripe more.

comment by magfrump · 2012-01-02T23:44:01.595Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If it makes you feel better, when I read his post I thought lovingly of you. (I also believe your response was appropriate.)

comment by dlthomas · 2012-01-02T23:42:32.500Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you feel it's correct to interpret it as defection in the first place?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-03T00:43:26.303Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you feel it's correct to interpret it as defection in the first place?

In case you were wondering the translation of this from social-speak to Vulcan is:

Calling people assholes isn't a defection, therefore you saying - and in particular feeling - that labeling people as assholes is a defection says something personal about you. I am clever and smooth for communicating this rhetorically.

So this too is a defection. Not that I mind - because it is a rather mild defection that is well within the bounds of normal interaction. I mean... it's not like you called me an asshole or anything. ;)

comment by dlthomas · 2012-01-03T06:35:47.875Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That is not a correct translation. Calling someone an asshole may or may not be defection. In this case, I'm not sure whether it was. Examining why you feel that it was may be enlightening to me or to you or hopefully both. Defecting by accident is a common flaw, for sure, but interpreting a cooperation as a defection is no less damaging and no less common.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-02T21:43:01.290Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with you that naming names can be taken as a status challenge.
Of course, this whole topic positions you as an abjudicator of appropriate calibration, which can be taken as a status grab, for the excellent reason that it is one. Not that there's anything wrong with going for status.
All of that notwithstanding, if you prefer to diffuse your assertions of individual inappropriate behavior over an entire community, that's your privilege.

comment by Prismattic · 2012-01-02T22:16:26.921Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I care about my status on this site only to the extent that it remains above some minimum required for people not to discount my posts simply because they were written by me.

My interest in this thread is that like Daenerys I think the current norm for discourse is suboptimal, but I think I give greater weight to the possibility of that some of the suboptimal behavior is people defecting by accident; hence the subtle push for occasional recalibration of tone.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T22:33:22.906Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

hence the subtle push for occasional recalibration of tone.

There was a subtle push? I must of missed that while I was distracted by the blatant one!

comment by Prismattic · 2012-01-02T22:38:00.435Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

See, it's working!

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-02T23:32:25.851Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Just to be clear: I'm fine with you pushing for a norm that's optimal for you. Blatantly, if you want to; subtly if you'd rather.

But I don't agree that the norm you're pushing is optimal for me, and I consider either of us pushing for the establishment of norms that we're most comfortable with to be a status-linked social maneuver.

comment by Prismattic · 2012-01-03T00:02:19.082Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But I don't agree that the norm you're pushing is optimal for me,

Why? (A sincere question, not a rhetorical one)

and I consider either of us pushing for the establishment of norms that we're most comfortable with to be a status-linked social maneuver.

I'm not sure how every post doesn't do this; many posts push to maintain a status-quo, but all posts implicitly favor some set of norms.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-03T02:17:22.096Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that pretty much all communication does this, yes. Sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly.

As to why... because I see the norm you're pushing as something pretty close to the cultural baseline of the "friendly" pole of the American mainstream, which I see as willing to trade off precision and accuracy for getting along. You may even be pushing for something even more "get along" optimized than that.

I mostly don't mind that the rest of my life more or less optimizes for getting along, though I often find it frustrating when it means that certain questions simply can't ever be asked in the first place, and that certain answers can't be believed when they're given because alternative answers are deemed too impolite to say. Still, as I say, I accept it as a fact about my real-life environment. I probably even prefer it, as I acknowledge that optimizing for precision and accuracy at the expense of getting along would be problematic if I could never get away from it, however tired or upset I was.

That said, I value the fact that LW uses a different standard, one that optimizes for accuracy and precision, and therefore efforts to introduce the baseline "get along" standard to LW remove local value for me.

Again, let me stress that I'm not asserting that you ought not make those efforts. If that's what you want, then by all means push for it. If you are successful, LW will become less valuable to me, but you're not under any kind of moral obligation to preserve the value of the Internet to me.

But speaking personally, I'd prefer you didn't insist as you did so that those efforts are actually in my best interests, with the added implication that I can't recognize my interests as well as you can.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-02T21:58:56.401Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Am I an asshole?

I'm already working on not being an asshole in general, and on not being an asshole to specific people on LW. If someone answers "yes" to that I'll work harder at being a non-asshole on LW. Or post less. Or try to do one of those for two days then forget about the whole thing.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T23:32:43.910Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Am I an asshole?

You haven't stood out as someone who has been an asshole to me or anyone I didn't think deserved it in the context, those being the only cases salient enough that I could expect myself to remember.

comment by Prismattic · 2012-01-02T22:11:19.665Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you're already working on it, you're probably in the clear. Not being an a-hole is a high-effort activity for many of us; in this case I will depart from primitive consquentialism and say that effort counts for something.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T23:33:18.821Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

effort counts for something.

And, equivalently, signalling effectively that you are expending effort counts for something.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T21:04:50.191Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I do retailate quite commonly (less than 60% retailation ITT though), but I've never been an asshole on LW until this thread. Not particularly planning on repeating this, but I'm not sorry at all. Forced civility just doesn't fit the mood of this topic at all in my eyes.

comment by Estarlio · 2012-01-01T22:35:39.701Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think you may have taken me to be talking about whether it was acceptable or moral in the sense that society will allow it, that was not my intent. Society allows many unwise, inefficient things and no doubt will do so for some time.

My question was simply whether you thought it wise. If we do make an FAI, and encoded it with some idealised version of our own morality then do we want a rule that says 'Kill everything that looks unlike yourself'? If we end up on the downside of a vast power gradient with other humans do we want them thinking that everything that has little or no value to them should be for the chopping block?

In a somewhat more pithy form, I guess what I’m asking you is: Given that you cannot be sure you will always be strong enough to have things entirely your way, how sure are you this isn’t going to come back and bite you in the arse?

If it is unwise, then it would make sense to weaken that strand of thought in society - to destroy less out of hand, rather than more. That the strand is already quite strong in society would not alter that.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T22:45:02.103Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Estarlio · 2012-01-02T00:42:58.672Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

You did not answer me on the human question - how we’d like powerful humans to think .

No. But we do want a rule that says something like "the closer things are to being people, the more importance should be given to them". As a consequence of this rule, I think it should be legal to kill your newborn children.

This sounds fine as long as you and everything you care about are and always will be included in the group of, ‘people.’ However, by your own admission, (earlier in the discussion to wedrifid,) you've defined people in terms of how closely they realise your ideology:

Extremely young children are lacking basically all of the traits I'd want a "person" to have.

You’ve made it something fluid; a matter of mood and convenience. If I make an AI and tell it to save only ‘people,’ it can go horribly wrong for you - maybe you’re not part of what I mean by ‘people.’ Maybe by people I mean those who believe in some religion or other. Maybe I mean those who are close to a certain processing capacity - and then what happens to those who exceed that capacity? And surely the AI itself would do so....

There are a lot of ways it can go wrong.

I'm observably a person.

You observe yourself to be a person. That’s not necessarily the same thing as being observably a person to someone else operating with different definitions.

Any AI which concluded otherwise is probably already so dangerous that worrying about how my opinions stated here would affect it is probably completely pointless. So... pretty sure.

The opinion you state may influence what sort of AI you end up with. And at the very least it seems liable to influence the sort of people you end up with.

Oh, and I'm never encouraging killing your newborns, just arguing that it should be allowed (if done for something other than sadism).

-shrug- You’re trying to weaken the idea that newborns are people, and are arguing for something that, I suspect, would increase the occurrence of their demise. Call it what you will.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T01:53:28.825Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T01:56:55.897Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think I must have been unclear, since both you and wedrifid seemed to interpet the wrong thing. What I meant was that I don't have a good definition for person, but no reasonable partial definition I can come up with includes babies.

How did I misinterpret? I read that you don't include babies and I said that I do include babies. That's (preference) disagreement, not a problem with interpretation.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T02:21:27.557Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T02:34:28.811Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This line gave me the impression that you thought I was saying I want my definition of "person", for the moral calculus, to include things like "worthwhile".Which was not what I was saying -

Intended as a tangential observation about my perceptions of people. (Some of them really are easier for me to model as objects running a machiavellian routine.)

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T02:46:57.251Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T08:58:50.576Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you don't understand the distinction between "legal" and "encouraged", we're going to have a very difficult time communicating.

"Encouraged" is very clearly not absolute but relative here, "somewhat less discouraged than now" can just be written as "encouraged" for brevity's sake.

comment by Estarlio · 2012-01-02T21:21:23.847Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think I must have been unclear, since both you and wedrifid seemed to interpet the wrong thing. What I meant was that I don't have a good definition for person, but no reasonable partial definition I can come up with includes babies. I didn't at all mean that just because I would like people to be nice to each other, and so on, I wouldn't consider people who aren't nice not to be people. I'd intended to convey this distinction by the quotation marks.

How are you deciding whether your definition is reasonable?

Obviously. There's a lot of ways any AI can go wrong. But you have to do something. Is your rule "don't kill humans"? For what definition of human, and isn't that going to be awfully unfair to aliens? I think "don't kill people" is probably about as good as you're going to do.

‘Don’t kill anything that can learn,’ springs to mind as a safer alternative - were I inclined to program this stuff in directly, which I'm not.

I don’t expect us to be explicitly declaring these rules, I expect the moral themes prevalent in our society - or at least an idealised model of part of it - will form much of the seed for the AI’s eventual goals. I know that the moral themes prevalent in our society form much of the seed for the eventual goals of people.

In either case, I don’t expect us to be in-charge. Which makes me kinda concerned when people talk about how we should be fine with going around offing the lesser life-forms.

I don't want the rule to be "don't kill people" for whatever values of "kill" and "people" you have in your book. For all I know you're going to interpet this as something I'd understand more like "don't eat pineapples". I want the rule to be "don't kill people" with your definitions in accordance with mine.

Yet my definitions are not in accordance with yours. And, if I apply the rule that I can kill everything that’s not a person, you’re not going to get the results you desire.

It’d be great if I could just say ‘I want you to do good - with your definition of good in accordance with mine.’ But it’s not that simple. People grow up with different definitions - AIs may well grow up with different definitions - and if you've got some rule operating over a fuzzy boundary like that, you may end up as paperclips, or dogmeat or something horrible.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-04T19:19:42.021Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by dlthomas · 2012-01-04T19:37:20.823Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you do think both of the above things, then my task is either to understand why you don't feel that infanticide should be legal or to point out that perhaps you really would agree that infanticide should be legal if you stopped and seriously considered the proposition for a bit.

I'm not certain whether or not it's germane to the broader discussion, but "think X is immoral" and "think X should be illegal" are not identical beliefs.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-04T19:41:09.867Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-04T20:19:33.587Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was with you, until your summary.

Suppose hypothetically that I think "don't kill people" is a good broad moral rule, and I think babies are people.
It seems to follow from what you said that I therefore ought to agree that infanticide should be legal.

If that is what you meant to say, then I am deeply confused. If (hypothetically) I think babies are people, and if (hypothetically) I think "don't kill people" is a good law, then all else being equal I should think "don't kill babies" is a good law. That is, I should believe that infanticide ought not be any more legal than murder in general.

It seems like one of us dropped a negative sign somewhere along the line. Perhaps it was me, but if so, I seem incapable of finding it again.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-04T20:34:17.022Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-04T20:36:50.290Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh good! I don't usually nitpick about such things, but you had me genuinely puzzled.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T04:52:40.743Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Even if from this you decide not to kill pigs, the Bayesian spam filter that keeps dozens of viagra ads per day from cluttering up my inbox is also undoubtably learning. Learning, indeed, in much the same way that you or I do, or that pigs do, except that it's arguably better at it. Have I committed a serious moral wrong if I delete its source code?

If I were programming an AI to be a perfect world-guiding moral paragon, I'd rather have it keep the spam filter in storage (the equivalent of a retirement home, or cryostasis) than delete it for the crime of obsolescence. Digital storage space is cheap, and getting cheaper all the time.

comment by Estarlio · 2012-06-03T17:52:38.755Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Somewhat late, I must have missed this reply agessss ago when it went up.

there's a bunch of things in my mind for which the label "person" seems appropriate [...] There's also a bunch of things for which said label seems inappropriate

That's not a reasoned way to form definitions that have any more validity as referents than lists of what you approve of. What you're doing is referencing your feelings and seeing what the objects of those feelings have in common. It so happens that I feel that infants are people. But we're not doing anything particularly logical or reasonable here - we're not drawing our boundaries using different tools. One of us just thinks they belong on the list and the other thinks they don't.

If we try and agree on a common list. Well, you're agreeing that aliens and powerful AIs go on the list - so biology isn't the primary concern. If we try to draw a line through the commonalities what are we going to get? All of them seem able to gather, store, process and apply information to some ends. Even infants can - they're just not particularly good at it yet.

Conversely, what do all your other examples have in common that infants don't?

Pigs can learn, without a doubt. Even if from this you decide not to kill pigs, the Bayesian spam filter that keeps dozens of viagra ads per day from cluttering up my inbox is also undoubtably learning. Learning, indeed, in much the same way that you or I do, or that pigs do, except that it's arguably better at it. Have I committed a serious moral wrong if I delete its source code?

Arguably that would be a good heuristic to keep around. I don't know I'd call it a moral wrong – there's not much reason to talk about morals when we can just say discouraged in society and have everyone on the same page. But you would probably do well to have a reluctance to destroy it. One day someone vastly more complex than you may well look on you in the same light you look on your spam filter.

[...] odd corner-cases are almost always indicative of ideas which we would not have arrived at ourselves if we weren't conditioned with them from an early age. I strongly suspect the prohibition on infanticide is such a corner case.

I strongly suspect that societies where people had no reluctance to go around offing their infants wouldn't have lasted very long. Infants are significant investments of time and resources. Offing your infants is a sign that there's something emotionally maladjusted in you – by the standards of the needs of society. If we'd not had the precept, and magically appeared out of nowhere, I think we'd have invented it pretty quick.

You think I'm going to try to program an AI in English?

Not really about you specifically. But, in general – yeah, more or less. Maybe not write the source code, but instruct it. English, or uploads or some other incredibly high-level language with a lot of horrible dependencies built into its libraries (or concepts or what have you) that the person using it barely understands themselves. Why? Because it will be quicker. The guy who just tells the AI to guess what he means by good skips the step of having to calculate it herself.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-06-04T22:47:58.710Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Estarlio · 2012-06-05T03:23:51.631Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Five months later...

Yeah, a lack of reply notification's a real pain in the rear.


It seems to me that this thread of the debate has come down to "Should we consider babies to be people?" There are, broadly, two ways of settling this question: moving up the ladder of abstraction, or moving down. That is, we can answer this by attempting to define 'people' in terms of other, broader terms (this being the former case) or by defining 'people' via the listing of examples of things which we all agree are or are not people and then trying to decide by inspection in which category 'babies' belong.

Edit: You can skip to the next break line if you're not interested in reading about the methodological component so much as you are continuing the infants argument.

What we're doing here, ideally, is pattern matching. I present you with a pattern and part of that pattern is what I'm talking about. I present you with another pattern where some things have changed and the parts of the pattern I want to talk about are the same in that one. And I suppose to be strict we'd have to present you with patterns that are fairly similar and express disapproval for those.

Because we have a large set of existing patterns that we both know about - properties - it's a lot quicker to make reference to some of those patterns than it is to continue to flesh out our lists to play guess the commonality. We can still do it both ways, as long as we can still head back down the abstraction pile fairly quickly. Compressing the search space by abstract reference to elements of patterns that members of the set share, is not the same thing as starting off with a word alone and then trying to decide on the pattern and then fit the members to that set.

If you cannot do that exercise, if you cannot explicitly declare at least some of the commonalities you're talking about, then it leads me to believe that your definition is incoherent. The odds that, with our vast set of shared patterns - with our language that allows us to do this compression - that you can't come up with at least a fairly rough definition fairly quickly seem remote.

If I wanted to define humans for instance - "Most numerous group of bipedal tools users on Earth." That was a lot quicker than having to define humans by providing examples of different creatures. We can only think the way we do because we have these little compression tricks that let us leap around the search space, abstraction doesn't have to lead to more confusion - as long as your terms refer to things that people have experience with.

Whereas if I provided you a selection of human genetic structures - while my terms would refer exactly, while I'd even be able to stick you in front of a machine and point to it directly - would you even recognise it without going to a computer? I wouldn't. The reference falls beyond the level of my experience.

I don't see why you think my definition needs to be complete. We have very few exact definitions for anything; I couldn't exactly define what I mean by human. Even by reference to genetic structure I've no idea where it would make sense to set the deviation from any specific example that makes you human or not human.


But let's go with your approach:

It seems to me that mentally disabled people belong on the people list. And babies seem more similar to mentally disabled people than they do to pigs and stones.


This is entirely orthogonal to the point I was trying to make. Keep in mind, most societies invented misogyny pretty quick too. Rather, I doubt that you personally, raised in a society much like this one except without the taboo on killing infants, would have come to the conclusion that killing infants is a moral wrong.

Well, no, but you could make that argument about anything. I raised in a society just like this one but without taboo X would never create taboo X on my own, taboos are created by their effects on society. It's the fact that society would not have been like this one without taboo X that makes it taboo in the first place.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-06-06T03:10:59.811Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Estarlio · 2012-06-09T03:43:57.556Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I can come up with a rough definition, but rough definitions fail in exactly those cases where there is potential disagreement.

Eh, functioning is a very rough definition and we've got to that pretty quickly.


So will we rather say that we include mentally disabled humans above a certain level of functioning? The problem then is that babies almost certainly fall well below that threshold, wherever you might set it.

Well, the question is whether food animals fall beneath the level of babies. If they do, then I can keep eating them happily enough; if they don't, I've got the dilemma as to whether to stop eating animals or start eating babies.

And it's not clear to me, without knowing what you mean by functioning, that pigs or cows are more intelligent than babies. I've not seen one do anything like that. Predatory animals - wolves and the like, on the other tentacle, are obviously more intelligent than a baby.

As to how I'd resolve the dilemma if it did occur, I'm leaning more towards stopping eating food animals than starting to eat babies. Despite the fact that food animals are really tasty, I don't want to put a precedent in place that might get me eaten at some point.


I assume you've granted that sufficiently advanced AIs ought to be counted as people.

By fiat - sufficiently advanced for what? But I suppose I'll grant any AI that can pass the Turing test qualifies, yes.

Am I killing a person if I terminate this script before compilation completes? That is, does "software which will compile and run an AI" belong to the "people" or the "not people" group?

That depends on the nature of the script. If it's just performing some relatively simple task over and over, then I'm inclined to agree that it belongs in the not people group. If it is itself as smart as, say, a wolf, then I'm inclined to think it belongs in the people group.


Really? It seems to me that someone did invent the taboo[1] on, say, slavery.

I suppose, what I really mean to say is they're taboos because that taboo has some desirable effect on society.

The point I'm trying to make here is that if you started with your current set of rules minus the rule about "don't rape people" (not to say your hypothetical morals view it as acceptable, merely undecided), I think you could quite naturally come to conclude that rape was wrong. But it seems to me that this would not be the case if instead you left out the rule about "don't kill babies".

It seems to me that babies are quite valuable, and became so as their survival probability went up. In the olden days infanticide was relatively common - as was death in childbirth. People had a far more casual attitude towards the whole thing.

But as the survival probability went up the investment people made, and were expected to make, in individual children went up - and when that happened infanticide became a sign of maladaptive behaviour.

Though I doubt they'd have put it in these terms: People recognised a poor gambling strategy and wondered what was wrong with the person.

And I think it would be the same in any advanced society.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-06-11T14:48:01.170Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Estarlio · 2012-06-14T02:06:07.685Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Regardless, I have no doubt that pigs are closer to functioning adult humans than babies are. You'd best give up pork.

I suppose I had, yes. It never really occurred to me that they might be that intelligent - but, yeah, having done a bit of reading they seem smart enough that I probably oughtn’t to eat them.

I'd be interested in what standard of "functional" you might propose that newborns would meet, though. Perhaps give examples of things which seem close to to line, on either side? For example, do wolves seem to you like people? Should killing a wolf be considered a moral wrong on par with murder?

Wolves definitely seem like people to me, yes. Adult humans are definitely on the list and wolves do pack behaviours which are very human-like. Killing a wolf for no good reason should be considered a moral wrong on par with murder. There's not to say that I think it should result in legal punishment on par with killing a human, mind, it's easier to work out that humans are people than it is to work out that wolves are - it's a reasonable mistake.

Insects like wasps and flies don't seem like people. Red pandas do. Dolphins do. Cows... don't. But given what I've discovered about pigs that bears some checking --- and now cows do. Hnn. Damn it, now I won't be able to look at burgers without feeling sad.

All the videos with loads of blood and the like never bothered me, but learning that food-animals are that intelligent really does.

Have you imagined what life would be like if you were stupider, or were more intelligent but denied a body with which that intelligence was easy to express? If your person-hood is fundamental to your identity, then as long as you can imagine being stupider and still being you that still qualifies as a person. In terms of how old a person would be to have the sort of capabilities the person you're imaging would have, at what point does your ability to empathise with the imaginary-you break down?


I have to ask, at this point: have you seriously considered the possibility that babies aren't people?

As far as I know how, yes. If you've got some ways of thinking that we haven't been talking about here, feel free to post them and I'll do my best to run them.

If Babies weren't people the world would be less horrifying. Just as if food-animals are people the world is more horrifying. But it would look the same in terms of behaviours - people kill people all the time, I don't expect them not to without other criteria being involved.


We are supposing that it's still on the first step, compilation. However, with no interaction on our part, it's going to finish compiling and begin running the sufficiently-advanced AI. Unless we interrupt it before compilation finishes, in which case it will not.

Not a person.


It is, for example, almost certainly maladaptive to allow all women to go into higher education and industry, because those correlate strongly with having fewer children and that causes serious problems. (Witness Japan circa now.) This is, as you put it, a poor gambling strategy. Does that imply it's immoral for society to allow women to be educated? Do reasonable people look at people who support women's rights and wonder what's wrong with them? Of course not.

No, because we've had that discussion. But people did and that attitude towards women was especially prevalent in Japan, where it was among the most maladaptive for the contrary to hold, until quite recently. Back in the 70s and 80s the idea for women was basically to get a good education and marry the person their family picked for them. Even today people who say they don't want children or a relationship are looked on as rather weird and much of the power there, in practice, works in terms of family relationships.

It just so happens there are lots of adaptive reasons to have precedents that seem to extend to cover women too. I don't think one can seriously forward an argument that keeps women at home and doesn't create something that can be used against him in fairly horrifying ways. Even if you don't have a fairly inclusive definition of people, it seems unwise to treat other humans in that way - you, after all, are the other human to another human.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-06-14T04:36:05.698Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Estarlio · 2012-06-17T10:50:31.111Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What about fish? I'm pretty sure many fish are significantly more functional than one-month-old humans, possibly up to two or three months. (Younger than that I don't think babies exhibit the ability to anticipate things. Haven't actually looked this up anywhere reputable, though.)

I don't know enough about them - given they're so different to us in terms of gross biology I imagine it's often going to be quite difficult to distinguish between functioning and instinct - this:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_yorkshire/3189941.stm

Says that scientists observed some of them using tools, and that definitely seems like people though.

Also, separately, would you say that babies are around the lowest level of functioning that you can possess and still qualify as a person?

Yes.

Trying to narrow down where we differ here: what signs of being-a-person does a one-month-old infant display that, say, Cleverbot does not?

Shared attention, recognition, prediction, bonding -


Frequently. It's scary. But if I were in a body in which intelligence was not easy to express, and I was killed by someone who didn't think I was sufficiently functional to be a person, that would be a tragic accident, not a moral wrong.

The legal definition of an accident is an unforeseeable event. I don't agree with that entirely because, well everything's foreseeable to an arbitrary degree of probability given the right assumptions. However, do you think that people have a duty to avoid accidents that they foresee a high probability-adjusted harm from? (i.e. the potential harm modified by the probability they foresee of the event.)

The thought here being that, if there's much room for doubt, there's so much suffering involved in killing and eating animals that we shouldn't do it even if we only argue ourselves to some low probability of their being people.

About age four, possibly a year or two earlier. I'm reasonably confident I had introspection at age four; I don't think I did much before that. I find myself completely unable to empathize with a 'me' lacking introspection.

Do you think that the use of language and play to portray and discuss fantasy worlds is a sign of introspection?


OK. So the point of this analogy is that newborns seem a lot like the script described, on the compilation step. Yes, they're going to develop advanced, functioning behaviors eventually, but no, they don't have them yet. They're just developing the infrastructure which will eventually support those behaviors.

I agree, if it doesn't have the capabilities that will make it a person there's no harm in stopping it before it gets there. If you prevent an egg and a sperm combining and implanting, you haven't killed a human.


I know the question I actually want to ask: do you think behaviors are immoral if and only if they're maladaptive?

No, fitness is too complex a phenomena for our relatively inefficient ways of thinking and feeling to update on it very well. If we fix immediate lethal response from the majority as one end of the moral spectrum, and enthusiastic endorsement as the other, then maladaptive behaviour tends to move you further towards the lethal response end of things. But we're not rational fitness maximisers, we just tend that way on the more readily apparent issues.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-06-11T15:40:52.512Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Am I the only who bit the speciesist bullet?

It doesn't matter if a pig is smarter than a baby. It wouldn't matter if a pig passed the Turing test. Babies are humans, so they get preferential treatment.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-06-12T00:00:15.200Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-12T01:55:23.519Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

do you get less and less preferential treatment as you become less and less human?

I'd say so, yeah. It's kind of a tricky function, though, since there are two reasons I'm logically willing to give preferential treatment to an organism: likelyhood of said organism eventually becoming the ancestor of a creature similar to myself, and likelyhood of that creature or it's descendants contributing to an environment in which creatures similar to myself would thrive.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-06-12T14:51:04.263Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Anyway, "species" isn't a hard-edged category built in to nature - do you get less and less preferential treatment as you become less and less human?

It's a lot more hard-edged than intelligence. Of all the animals (I'm talking about individual animals, not species) in the world, practically all are really close to 0% or 100% human. On the other hand, there is a broad range of intelligence among animals, and even in humans. So if you want a standard that draws a clean line, humanity is better than intelligence.

Also, what's the standard against which beings are compared to determine how "human" they are? Phenotypically average among the current population? Nasty prospects for the cryonics advocates among us. And the mind-uploading camp.

I can tell the difference between an uploaded/frozen human, and a pig. Even a uploaded/frozen pig. Transhumans are in the preferential treatment category, but transpigs aren't..

Also veers dangerously close to negative eugenics, if you're going to start declaring some people are less human than others.

This is a fully general counter-argument. Any standard of moral worth will have certain objects that meet the standard and certain objects that fail. If you say "All objects that have X property have moral worth", I can immediately accuse you of eugenics against objects that do not have X property.

And a question for you :If you think that more intelligence equals more moral worth, does that mean that AI superintelligences have super moral worth? If Clippy existed, would you try and maximize the number of paperclips in order to satisfy the wants a superior intelligence?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-06-14T04:00:41.631Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TimS · 2012-06-11T15:03:15.680Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I really like your point about the distinction between maladaptive behavior and immoral behavior. But I don't think your example about women in higher education is as cut and dried as you present it.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-06-12T00:08:10.613Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TimS · 2012-06-12T00:53:14.835Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For those who think that morality is the godshatter of evolution, maladaptive is practically the definition of immoral. For me, maladaptive-ness is the explanation for why certain possible moral memes (insert society-wide incest-marriage example) don't exist in recorded history, even though I should otherwise expect them to exist given my belief in moral anti-realism.

comment by CuSithBell · 2012-06-12T01:01:32.461Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For those who think that morality is the godshatter of evolution, maladaptive is practically the definition of immoral.

Disagree? What do you mean by this?

Edit: If I believe that morality, either descriptively or prescriptively, consists of the values imparted to humans by the evolutionary process, I have no need to adhere to the process roughly used to select these values rather than the values themselves when they are maladaptive.

comment by TimS · 2012-06-12T02:06:34.865Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If one is committed to a theory that says morality is objective (aka moral realism), one needs to point at what it is that make morality objectively true. Obvious candidates include God and the laws of physics. But those two candidates have been disproved by the empiricism (aka the scientific method).

At this point, some detritus of evolution starts to look like a good candidate for the source of morality. There isn't an Evolution Fairy who commanded the humans evolve to be moral, but evolution has created drives and preferences within us all (like hunger or desire for sex). More on this point here - the source of my reference to godshatter.

It might be that there is an optimal way of bringing these various drives into balance, and the correct choices to all moral decisions can be derived from this optimal path. As far as I can tell, those who are trying to derive morality from evo. psych endorse this position.

In short, if morality is the product of human drives created by evolution, then behavior that is maladaptive (i.e. counter to what is selected for by evolution) is by essentially correlated with immoral behavior.

That said, my summary of the position may be a bit thin, because I'm a moral anti-realist and don't believe the evo. psych -> morality story.

comment by CuSithBell · 2012-06-12T03:33:31.983Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, I see what you mean. I don't think one has to believe in objective morality as such to agree that "morality is the godshatter of evolution". Moreover, I think it's pretty key to the "godshatter" notion that our values have diverged from evolution's "value", and we now value things "for their own sake" rather than for their benefit to fitness. As such, I would say that the "godshatter" notion opposes the idea that "maladaptive is practically the definition of immoral", even if there is something of a correlation between evolutionarily-selectable adaptive ideas and morality.

comment by wmorgan · 2012-06-05T00:09:41.906Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Consider this set:

A sleeping man. A cryonics patient. A nonverbal 3-year-old. A drunk, passed out.

I think these are all people, they're pretty close to babies, and we shouldn't kill any of them.

The reason they all feel like babies to me, from the perspective of "are they people?", is that they're in a condition where we can see a reasonable path for turning them into something that is unquestionably a person.

EDIT: That doesn't mean we have to pay any cost to follow that path -- the value we assign to a person's life can be high but must be finite, and sometimes the correct, moral decision is to not pay that price. But just because we don't pay that cost doesn't mean it's not a person.

I don't think the time frame matters, either. If I found Fry from Futurama in the cryostasis tube today, and I killed him because I hated him, that would be murder even though he isn't going to talk, learn, or have self-awareness until the year 3000.

Gametes are not people, even though we know how to make people from them. I don't know why they don't count.

EDIT: oh shit, better explain myself about that last one. What I mean is that it is not possible to murder a gamete -- they don't have the moral weight of personhood. You can, potentially, in some situations, murder a baby (and even a fetus): that is possible to do, because they count as people.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-06-06T03:20:51.685Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
comment by wmorgan · 2012-06-07T00:49:05.376Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've never seen a compiling AI, let alone an interrupted one, even in fiction, so your example isn't very available to me. I can imagine conditions that would make it OK or not OK to cancel the compilation process.

This is most interesting to me:

From these examples, I think "will become a person" is only significant for objects which were people in the past

I know we're talking about intuitions, but this is one description that can't jump from the map into the territory. We know that the past is completely screened off by the present, so our decisions, including moral decisions, can't ultimately depend on it. Ultimately, there has to be something about the present or future states of these humans that makes it OK to kill the baby but not the guy in the coma. Could you take another shot at the distinction between them?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-06-07T04:10:34.161Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Nornagest · 2012-06-05T01:09:30.716Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This question is fraught with politics and other highly sensitive topics, so I'll try to avoid getting too specific, but it seems to me that thinking of this sort of thing purely in terms of a potentiality relation rather misses the point. A self-extracting binary, a .torrent file, a million lines of uncompiled source code, and a design document are all, in different ways, potential programs, but they differ from each other both in degree and in type of potentiality. Whether you'd call one a program in any given context depends on what you're planning to do with it.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-06-05T05:16:00.595Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Gametes are not people, even though we know how to make people from them.

I'm not at all sure a randomly selected human gamete is less likely to become a person than a randomly selected cryonics patient (at least, with currently-existing technology).

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T02:42:21.976Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Might be better to talk about this in terms of conversion cost rather than probability. To turn a gamete into a person you need another gamete, $X worth of miscellaneous raw materials (including, but certainly not limited to, food), and a healthy female of childbearing age. She's effectively removed from the workforce for a predictable period of time, reducing her probable lifetime earning potential by $Y, and has some chance of various medical complications, which can be mitigated by modern treatments costing $Z but even then works out to some number of QALYs in reduced life expectancy. Finally, there's some chance of the process failing and producing an undersized corpse, or a living creature which does not adequately fulfill the definition of "person."

In short, a gamete isn't a person for the same reason a work order and a handful of plastic pellets aren't a street-legal automobile.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-06-05T00:31:23.360Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Gametes are not people, even though we know how to make people from them, because the chance that any given sex cell ever becomes a person is so slim.

What's the cutoff probability?

comment by wmorgan · 2012-06-05T04:50:28.929Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You are right; retracted.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-06-13T02:59:49.296Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Figuring out how to define human (as in "don't kill humans") so as to include babies is relatively easy, since babies are extremely likely to grow up into humans.

The hard question is deciding which transhumans-- including types not yet invented, possibly types not yet thought of, and certainly types which are only imagined in a sketchy abstract way-- can reasonably be considered as entities which shouldn't be killed.

comment by Solvent · 2012-01-02T07:45:18.115Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, it sure looks like babies have a lot of things in common with people, and will become people one day, and lots of people care about them.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T18:46:47.285Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Solvent · 2012-01-03T04:06:37.106Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

babies have a lot of things in common with people

I meant humans, not people. Sorry.

And I agree that we should treat animals better. I'm vegetarian.

and will become people one day

I agree that this discussion is slightly complex. Gwern's abortion dialogue contains a lot of relevant material.

However, I don't feel that saying that "we should protect babies because one day they will be human" requires aggregate utilitarianism as opposed to average utilitarianism, which I in general prefer. Babies are already alive, and already experience things.

and lots of people care about them

This argument has two functions. One is the literal meaning of "we should respect people's preferences". See discussion on the Everybody Draw Mohammed day. The other is that other people's strong moral preferences are some evidence towards the correct moral path.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-04T19:27:02.532Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-01T10:01:31.846Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Tiny kittens are also cute and haven't even done anything to death yet. But if you accidentally lock one in a car and it suffocates, that's merely unfortunate, and should probably not be a crime. The same is true for infants and all other non-person life. If you kill a kitten for some reason other than sadism, well, it's unfortunate that you felt that was necessary, but again, they're not people.

Yeah, I get it, you don't consider babies people and I do. So pretty much we just throw down (ie. trying to reason each other into having the same values as ourselves would be pointless). You vote for baby killing, I vote against it. If there is a war of annihilation and I'm forced to choose sides between the baby killers and the non-baby killers and they seem evenly matched then I choose the non-baby killers side and go kill all the baby killers.

comment by Solvent · 2012-01-02T03:16:20.644Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

What do you think of abortion?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T09:53:43.079Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Once we get artificial uteri I think it should be illegal except in cases of rape, but it should be legal to renounce all responsibility for it and put it up for adoption or let the other biological parent finance the babies coming to term. This has the neat and desirable effect of equalizing the position of the biological father and the biological mother.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T09:59:15.112Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

uterus's

Uteri?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:00:25.887Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Not a native speaker. And uterus is a surprisingly sparingly used word.

Uterus. Uterus. Uterus.

Thanks for the correction! :)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:01:55.209Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Any time ;)

Just remember that if it ends with -us, it probably pluralizes to -i. That's only for latin-based words. Greek-based words, like octopus, can either be pluralized to octopuses or octopodes (pronounced Ahk-top-o-dees). And sometimes you have a new or technical latin-based word like "virus" which just pluralizes to "viruses." It's perfectly fine to pluralize uterus to uteruses, too, since it's so uncommon. English is a bitch.

[Edited to give a longer explanation]

comment by gwern · 2012-01-02T04:06:42.264Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have to say, http://lesswrong.com/lw/47k/an_abortion_dialogue/ seems relevant to this entire comment tree.

comment by TimS · 2012-01-02T04:09:02.508Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Your link (in the Discussion post) is broken.

comment by gwern · 2012-01-02T04:33:41.266Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

! I didn't realize I'd broke all the old .html links - turned out that when I thought I was removing the gzip encoding, I also removed the Apache rewrite rules. I've fixed that and also pointed the Discussion at the most current URL, just in case.

comment by Solvent · 2012-01-02T04:22:50.483Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This link works. http://www.gwern.net/An%20Abortion%20Dialogue

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T07:23:17.661Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Better late than never?

(From the looks of gwern's link I'm more interested in homophones.)

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-01-01T08:32:00.431Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Why is sadism worse than indifference? Are we punishing people for their mental states?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T08:33:43.356Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Solvent · 2012-01-01T08:35:18.548Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why does that seem like a reasonable thing to do? Isn't that just an incentive to lie about motives?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T08:40:49.070Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW
comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T09:46:40.049Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Allowing sadists to kill their babies creates incentive to produce babies for the sole purpose of killing them, which is a behavior which is long-run going to be very damaging to society.

Its illegal to torture an animal. Why wouldn't it be illegal to torture a baby while killing him? If a sadist can get jollies out of killing with painless poison his children and keeps making them for that purpose, I can't really see how this harms wider society if he pays for the pills and children himself.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T09:57:53.415Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If a sadist can get jollies out of killing with painless poison his children and keeps making them for that purpose, I can't really see how this harms wider society if he pays for the pills and children himself.

Please rethink this. E.g. are you at all confident that this sadist wouldn't slip and go on to adults after their 10th child? Wouldn't you, personally, force people who practice this to wear some mandatory identification in public, so you don't have to wonder about every creepy-looking stranger? Don't you just have an intuition about the myriad ways that giving sadists such rights could undermine society?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:01:28.287Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

E.g. are you at all confident that this sadist wouldn't slip and go on to adults after their 10th child?

Fine make it illegal for this to be done except by experts.

Wouldn't you, personally, force people who practice this to wear some mandatory identification in public, so you don't have to wonder about every creepy-looking stranger?

No, why?

Don't you just have an intuition about the myriad ways that giving sadists such rights could undermine society?

We already give sadists lots of rights to psychologically and physical abuse people when this is done with consent or when we don't feel like being morally consistent or when there is some societal benefit to be had.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T10:17:55.600Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't you, personally, force people who practice this to wear some mandatory identification in public, so you don't have to wonder about every creepy-looking stranger? - No, why?

For your own safety, in every regard that such people could threaten it.

We already give sadists lots of rights to psychologically and physical abuse people when this is done with consent or when we don't feel like being morally consistent or when there is some societal benefit to be had.

Well, I've always thought that it's enormously and horribly wrong of us.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:31:37.322Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For your own safety, in every regard that such people could threaten it.

I don't think society considers that a valid reason for discrimination.

Also please remember surgeons can do nasty things to me without flinching if they wanted to, people do also occasionally have such fears since we even invoke this trope in horror movies.

Well, I've always thought that it's enormously and horribly wrong of us.

I generally agree.

But on the other hand I think we should give our revealed preference some weight as well, remember we are godshatter, maybe we should just accept that perhaps we don't care as much about other people's suffering as we'd like to believe or say we do.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T10:39:19.406Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think society considers that a valid reason for discrimination.

Yes society might, if society takes into account that it loathes most people with those characteristics to begin with.

remember we are godshatter, maybe we should just accept that perhaps we don't care as much about other people's suffering as we'd like to believe or say we do.

Maybe if we do bother to self-modify in some direction along one of our "shard"'s vectors, it could as well be a direction we see as more virtuous? Making ourselves care as much as we'd privately want to, at least to try and see how it goes?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T11:38:23.046Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Making ourselves care as much as we'd privately want to, at least to try and see how it goes?

Revealed preferences are precisely what we end up doing and actually desire once we get in a certain situation. Why not work it out the other way around? How can you be sure maximum utility is going with this shard line and not the other?

Because it sounds good? To 21st century Westerners?

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T11:47:06.046Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How can you be sure maximum utility is going with this shard line and not the other?

My current values simply DO point in the direction of rewriting parts of my utility function like I suggest, and not like you suggest.

Because it sounds good? To 21st century Westerners?

Sure, might as well stick with this reason. I haven't yet seen an opposing one that's convincing to me.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T11:57:57.009Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My current values simply DO point in the direction of rewriting parts of my utility function like I suggest, and not like you suggest.

When currently thinking in far mode about this you like the idea, but seeing it in practice might easily horrify you.

In any case when I was talking about maximising utility, I was talking about you maximising your utility. You can easily be mistaken about what does and dosen't do that.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T12:20:05.976Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

When currently thinking in far mode about this you like the idea, but seeing it in practice might easily horrify you.

I say the same about the general shape of your modern-society-with-legalized-infanticide.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T12:24:57.240Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

And you are right to say so!

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T12:29:37.312Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Uh huh, thanks. The difference is, I'm quite a bit more distrustful of your legal infanticide's perspectives than you're distrustful of my personal self-modification's perspectives.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T12:37:02.753Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The difference is, I'm quite a bit more distrustful of your legal infanticide's perspectives than you're distrustful of my personal self-modification's perspectives.

I'm not sure this is so. We should update towards each other estimates of the other's distrustfulness. I'm literally horrified by the possibility of a happy death spiral around universal altruism.

comment by Solvent · 2012-01-01T08:49:40.435Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand your reasoning for either of those dot points.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T09:02:07.086Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW
comment by soreff · 2012-01-01T15:16:47.929Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The idea is that a woman repeatedly getting pregnant and then killing the child is putting a lot of strain on society, both in terms of resources and in terms of comfort. We allow a lot of privileges for pregnant women and new mothers, with the expectation that they're trying to bring new people into society, something we encourage.

I'd think that that the bulk of the resource cost of a newborn is the physiological cost (and medical risks) the mother endured during pregnancy. The general societal cost seems small in comparison.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T15:21:29.954Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, that seems true. Note that Bakkot didn't say that the costs to everyone else outweighed the costs to the mother, merely that the costs to everyone else were also substantial.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T09:50:58.451Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This point is less important. The idea is that a woman repeatedly getting pregnant and then killing the child is putting a lot of strain on society, both in terms of resources and in terms of comfort. We allow a lot of privileges for pregnant women and new mothers, with the expectation that they're trying to bring new people into society, something we encourage. If you're killing your kid out of sadism, you're not doing this, and society will have to adjust how all pregnant women are treated.

We already treat accidental pregnant women basically the same as those who planned their pregnancy. Clearly we should distinguish and discriminate between them rather than lump them into the "pregnant woman" category (I take a lighter tone in some of my other posts here to provoke thought, but I'm dead serious about this).

Also many people are way to stuck in their 21st century Eurocentric frame of mind to comprehend the personhood argument for infanticide properly. Let me help:

This point is less important. The idea is that a woman repeatedly getting pregnant and then aborting the child is putting a lot of strain on society, both in terms of resources and in terms of comfort. We allow a lot of privileges for pregnant women and new mothers, with the expectation that they're trying to bring new people into society, something we encourage. If you're killing your fetus out of sadism, you're not doing this, and society will have to adjust how all pregnant women are treated.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T13:16:58.211Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(Let's collect academic opinions here)

The utilitarian bioethicist Peter Singer claims that it's pretty much OK to kill a disabled newborn, but states that killing normal infants who are impossible for their parents to raise doesn't follow from that, and, while not being as bad as murdering an adult, is hardly justifiable. Note that he doesn't quite consider any wider social repercussions.

http://www.princeton.edu/~psinger/faq.html

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T19:22:19.270Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Vaniver · 2012-01-02T19:57:46.081Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm having trouble finding philosophers apart from Singer and Tooley who have written on this topic at all, and both seem to have come to roughly the same conclusions that I did.

Consider Heinlein:

All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly, which can — and must — be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a "perfect society" on any foundation other than "Women and children first!" is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal. Nevertheless, starry-eyed idealists (all of them male) have tried endlessly — and no doubt will keep on trying.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T20:18:28.329Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-04T15:28:23.009Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For one, the idea of basing morality on "racial survival" terrifies me

Eh heh heh. So you can be terrified by some kinds of utilitarian reasoning. Well, this one does terrify me too, but in the context of this conversation I'm tempted to cite my people's saying: "What's fine for a Russian would kill a German."

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-04T19:37:20.928Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-04T22:16:31.114Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It feels pretty complex, and I just self-report as undecided on some preferences, but, although a part of my function seems to be optimizing for LW-"fun" too, another, smaller part is a preference for "Niceness with a capital N", or "the world feeling wholesome".

I'm not good enough at introspection and self-expression to describe this value of "Niceness", but it seems to resonate with some Christian ideals and images ("love your enemies"), the complex, indirect ethical teachings seen in classical literature (e.g. Akutagawa or Dostoevsky; I love and admire both), and even, on an aesthetic level, the modern otaku culture's concept of "moe" (see this great analysis on how that last one, although looking like a mere pop culture craze to outsiders, can tie in into a larger sensibility).

So, there's an ever-present "minority group" in my largely LW-normal values cluster. I can't quite label it with something like "conservative" or "romantic", but I recognize it when I feel it.

...shit, I feel like some kind of ethical hipster now, lol.

Tl;dr: there might be some kind of "Niceness" (permitting "fun" that's not directly fun) a level or so above "fun" for me, just as there is some kind of "fun" above pleasure for most people (permitting "pleasure" that's not directly pleasant). If people don't wirehead so they can have "fun" and not just pleasure, I'm totally able not to optimize for "fun" so I can have "Niceness" and not just "fun".

comment by EE43026F · 2012-03-01T13:27:12.572Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

More infanticide advocacy here :

Recently, Francesca Minerva published in the Journal of Medical Ethics arguing the case that :

"what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled."

Random press coverage complete with indignant comments

Actual paper, pdf, freely available

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-02T13:43:55.006Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled."

In many (most?) countries abortion is normally only allowed in the first few months of pregnancy. (Also, I can't imagine why anyone would want to carry a pregnancy nine months, give birth to a child and then kill it rather than just aborting as soon as possible, anyway.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-03-02T16:57:40.123Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Can you imagine how the experiences of childbirth and being the primary caregiver for a newborn might alter someone's desires with respect to bearing and raising a child?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-02T19:42:53.636Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As for bearing, once the child is born that's a sunk cost; as for “being the primary caregiver for a newborn”... Wait. So we're not talking about killing a child straight after birth but after a while? (A week? A month? A year?)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-03-02T19:53:23.692Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I can't see why that makes a difference in the context of my question, so feel free to choose whichever interpretation you prefer.

For my part, it seems entirely plausible to me that a person's understanding of what it means to be the primary caregiver for a child will change between time T1, when they are pregnant with that child, and time T2, when the child has been born... just as it seems plausible that a person's understanding of what a three-week stay in the Caribbean will be like will change between time T1, when they are at home looking at brochures, and time T2, when their airplane is touching down. That sort of thing happens to people all the time. So it doesn't seem at all odd to me that they might want one thing at T1 and a different thing at T2, which was the behavior you were expressing incredulity about. That seems even more true the more time passes... say, at time T3, when they've been raising the child for a month.

Incidentally, I certainly agree with you that bearing the child is a sunk cost once the child is born. If you're suggesting that, therefore, parents can't change their desires with respect to bearing the child once it's born, I conclude that our models of humans are vastly different. If, alternatively, you're suggesting that it's an error for parents to change their desires with respect to bearing the child once it's born, you may well be right, but in that case I have to conclude "I can't imagine why" was meant rhetorically.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-02T20:32:46.263Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If, alternatively, you're suggesting that it's an error for parents to change their desires with respect to bearing the child once it's born, you may well be right, but in that case I have to conclude "I can't imagine why" was meant rhetorically.

More like I was assuming too much stuff in the implicit antecedent of the conditional whose consequent is “would want”, but yeah, what I meant is that it's an error for parents to change their desires with respect to bearing the child once it's born.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-03-02T13:17:27.317Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. Maybe you could've picked out a more respectable source of "press coverage" than the goddamn Daily Mail.

comment by TimS · 2012-01-01T20:02:54.067Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

On infanticide, is this a reasonable summary of your position:

Adult humans have a moral quality (let's call it "blicket") that most animals lack. One major consequence of blicket is that morally acceptable killings require much more significant justifications when the victim is a blicket-creature ("I killed him in self-defense") than when the victim is not a blicket-creature ("Cows are delicious, and I was hungry"). Empirically, cows don't have blicket and never will without some extraordinary intervention. Six-month old babies lack blicket, but are likely to develop it during ordinary maturation.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T20:12:13.142Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TimS · 2012-01-01T20:36:23.910Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ok. I agree with you on the empirical assertions (I actually suspect that 10-month-olds also lack blicket). But my moral theory gives significant weight to blicket-potential (because blicket is that awesome), while your system does not appear to do so. Why not?


You mentioned to someone that the current system of being forced to provide for a child or place the child in foster care is suboptimal. I assume a substantial part of that position is that foster care is terrible (i.e. unlikely to produce high-functioning adults).

I agree that one solution to this problem is to end the parental obligation (i.e. allow infanticide). This solution has the benefit of being very inexpensive. But why do you think that solution is better than the alternative solution of fixing foster care (and low quality child-rearing practice generally) so that it is likely to produce high-quality adults?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T20:57:20.567Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TimS · 2012-01-01T21:17:06.339Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree there is a scale about how much weight to give blicket-potential. But I support a meta-norm about constructing a morality that the morality should add up to normal, absent compelling justification.

That is, if a proposed moral system says that some common practice is deeply wrong, or some common prohibition has relatively few negative consequences if permitted, that's a reason to doubt the moral construction unless a compelling case can be made. It's not impossible, but a moral theory that says we've all doing it wrong should not be expected either.

The fact that my calibration of my blicket-potential sensitivity mostly adds up to normal is evidence to me that the model is a fairly accurate description of the morality people say they are applying.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T21:34:06.116Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TimS · 2012-01-02T00:48:56.439Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

making infanticide illegal is something which appears to be a very Judeo-Christian affection, rather than a moral universalism.

This is a historical claim that requires a bit more evidence in support. I don't doubt that infanticide has a rich historical pedigree. But I don't think infanticide was ever justified on a "human autonomy" basis, which seems to be your justification. For example, the relatively recent dynamic of Chinese sex-selection infanticide has not been based on any concept of personal autonomy, as far as I can tell.

In general, I suspect that most cultures that tolerated infanticide were much lower on the human-autonomy scale than our current civilization (i.e. valued individual human life less than we do).

comment by gwern · 2012-01-02T00:54:38.373Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I did some reading on the ancients and infanticide, and the picture is murky - the Christians were not responsible for making infanticide illegal, that seems to have preceded them, but they claimed the laws were honored mostly in the breach, so whether you give any credit to them depends on your theories of causality, large-scale trends, and whether the Christians made any meaningful difference to the actual infanticide rate.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T01:59:08.060Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T02:01:55.144Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

It's difficult to make conclusions about this, because most historical cultures made fairly little effort to support their conventions at all. However, it's certainly been my impression that a lot more cultures were OK with casual infanticide than casual murder. This suggests strongly to me that the view of newborns as people is not universal.

Cultures are often fine with killing wives and children too, if they get too far out of line. They are yours after all.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T02:24:48.645Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TimS · 2012-01-02T04:03:12.343Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sigh. How did the post-modern moral nihilist become the defender of moral universalism? My argument is more that infanticide fits extremely poorly within the cluster of values that we've currently adopted.

most historical cultures made fairly little effort to support their conventions at all.

I am highly skeptical that this is true.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-01-02T11:17:51.360Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

An uncle of mine who is a doctor said that SIDS is a codeword for infanticide and that many of his colleagues admit as much.

comment by TimS · 2012-01-07T21:55:07.637Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Either my model is false or this story is wrong.

Specifically, I can't understand why a coroner would not take actions to facilitate the prosecution of a crime (infanticide is murder), because that is one of the jobs of a coroner.

By contrast, I've heard that coroners are quite wiling to label a death as accidental when they believe it was suicide, because any legal violations are not punishable (suicide is generally illegal, but everyone agrees that prosecution is pointless).

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-08T09:07:38.310Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Specifically, I can't understand why a coroner would not take actions to facilitate the prosecution of a crime (infanticide is murder), because that is one of the jobs of a coroner.

Because he, like some who have posted here, is sympathetic to the baby-killing mothers under certain circumstances and doesn't mind helping them avoid prosecution? I wouldn't judge him, heavens forbid. I'd likely do the opposite in his place, but I respect his position.

comment by TimS · 2012-01-08T23:34:24.065Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How much overlap do you think there is between "influential members of the criminal justice system" and "people who are sympathetic to infanticide"? Especially considering how far from mainstream the infanticide position is.

comment by Prismattic · 2012-01-08T00:15:56.457Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

By contrast, I've heard that coroners are quite wiling to label a death as accidental when they believe it was suicide, because any legal violations are not punishable (suicide is generally illegal, but everyone agrees that prosecution is pointless).

Labelling a suicide as an accident isn't legally trivial. It is, at least in some cases, an action that favors the interests of the heirs of suicides and disfavors the interests of life insurance companies.

comment by TimS · 2012-01-08T23:41:48.409Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that it isn't legally trivial. But the social consequences of labeling a death as suicide are much more immediate than any financial consequences from labeling a death as accidental. Also, I'm not sure what percentage of the suicidal have life insurance, so I'm not sure how much weight the hypothetical coroner would place on the life insurance issue.

I'm not saying the position is rational or morally correct, but it wouldn't surprise me that an influential person like a coroner held a position vaguely like "screw insurance companies." (>>75%)
By contrast, I would be extremely surprised to learn that a coroner was willing to ignore an infanticide, absent collusion (i.e. bribery) of some kind (<<<1%)

comment by Prismattic · 2012-01-08T23:50:54.566Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(I don't believe CharlieSheen's anecdote either. I was challenging the suicide point in isolation.)

But the social consequences of labeling a death as suicide are much more immediate than any financial consequences from labeling a death as accidental.

Say what now? Possibly it's because my background is Jewish, not Christian, but I don't buy that at all.

comment by TimS · 2012-01-09T00:49:24.445Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Normatively, suicide is shameful in modern society. By contrast, I don't think most suicide-victim families (or their social network) are thinking about the life insurance proceeds at the time (within a week?) that the coroner is determining cause of death.

I know I've heard of a survey of coroner in which some substantial percentage (20-50%, sorry don't remember better) of coroners reported that the following had ever occurred in their career: they believed the cause of death of the body they were examining was suicide, but listed the cause as accident.

I can't find that survey in a quick search, but this research result talks about the effect of elected coroners on cause of death determinations. Specifically, elected coroners were slightly less likely to declare suicide as the cause of death.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-03T13:59:57.594Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If it works that way with euthanasia...

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T04:14:34.173Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TimS · 2012-01-02T16:04:56.191Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

most historical cultures made fairly little effort to support their conventions at all.

I am highly skeptical that this is true.

It looks like I misread you. I thought you were referring to moral conventions generally, while you seem to have been referring to moral conventions on infanticide. I agree that many historical cultures did not oppose infanticide as strongly as the current culture.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T08:54:17.415Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

our current standard seems to be "don't kill people"

Major objection. When talking about society at large and not the small cluster of "rationalist" utilitarians (who are ever tempted to be smarter than their ethics), the current standard is "don't kill what our instincts register as people". The distinction being that John Q. Public hardly reflects on the matter at all. I believe that it's a hugely useful standard because it strengthens the relevant ethical injunctions, regardless of any inconveniences that it brings from an act utilitarian standpoint.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T19:00:12.676Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T20:08:37.023Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that infanticide has been practiced so widely suggests strongly that most people don't "instinctively" see babies as people.

NO! As you have yourself correctly pointed out, it is because most cultures, with ours being a notable exception, assign a low value to "useless" people or people who they feel are a needless drain on society. (mistake fixed)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-02T20:27:26.436Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hm. So what seems to follow from this is that most people don't actually consider killing people to be a particularly big deal, what they're averse to is killing people who contribute something useful to society... or, more generally, that most people are primarily motivated by maximizing social value.

Yes? (I don't mean to be pedantic here, I just want to make sure I'm not putting words in your mouth.)

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T20:47:13.079Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Blast me! I meant to say that our culture is an exception, not an "inclusion". So this statement is largely true about non-western cultures, but western ones mostly view the relatively recent concept of "individuality and personhood are sacred" as their main reason against murder.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-02T21:16:59.585Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, gotcha. That makes sense.

So is your position that we inherited an aversion to murder from earlier non-western cultures, and then when we sanctified personhood we made that our main reason for our pre-existing aversion?
Or that earlier cultures weren't averse to murder, and our sanctification caused us to develop such an aversion?
Or something else?

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T21:53:42.217Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Both, probably. We inherited all of their aversion (being a modest amount), and then we developed the sacredness, which, all on its own, added several times more aversion on top of that.

comment by nshepperd · 2012-01-02T13:41:47.396Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One day in the future, if we somehow survive the existential threats that await us and a Still More Glorious Dawn does, in fact, dawn, one day we might have machines akin to 3D printers that allow us to construct, atom-by-atom, anything we desire so long has we know its composition and structure.

Suppose I take one of these machines and program it to build me a human, then leave when it's half done. Does the construction chamber have blicket-potential?

comment by TimS · 2012-01-02T16:08:56.671Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. Unborn babies have blicket-potential. Heck, the only reason I don't say that unconceived babies have blicket potential is that I'm not sure that the statement is coherent.

Blicket and blicket-potential are markers that special moral considerations apply. They don't control the moral decision without any reference to context.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-01T20:46:26.365Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But my moral theory gives significant weight to blicket-potential (because blicket is that awesome), while your system does not appear to do so. Why not?

If you say you don't want to kill an infant because of its potential for blicket, then you would also have to apply that logic to abortion and birth control, and come to the conclusion that these are just as wrong as killing infants, since they both destroy blicket-potential.

Fetus- does not have blicket, has potential for blicket - killing it is legal abortion

Infant- does not have blicket (you agreed with this), has potential for blicket - killing it is illegal murder

Does not compute. One or the other outcomes needs to be changes, and I'm sure not going to support the illegalization of birth control.

Note: I apologize if this is getting too close to politics, but it is a significant part of the killing babies debate, and not mentioning it just to avoid mentioning a political issue would not give accurate reasons.

comment by TimS · 2012-01-01T20:55:46.823Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

At a certain level, all morality is about balancing the demands of conflicting blicket-supported desires. So the balance comes out different at different stages. Yes, the difference between stages is quite arbitrary (and worse: obviously historically contingent).

In short, I wish I had a better answer for you than I am comfortable with arbitrary distinctions (why is the speed limit 55 mph rather than 56?). From an outsider perspective, I'm sure it looks like I've been mind-killed by some version of "The enemy of my enemy (politically active religious conservatives) is my friend."

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T04:18:42.742Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(why is the speed limit 55 mph rather than 56?)

Somebody did some math about reaction times, kinetic energy from impacts, and fuel economy. That turned out to be a good place to draw the line. For practical purposes, people can drive 60 in a 55 zone under routine circumstances and not get in trouble.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-06-05T04:24:35.527Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Actually...

The 55 mph speed limit was a vain attempt by the Federal government to reduce gasoline consumption; initially passed in the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act the law was relaxed in 1987 and finally repealed in 1995 allowing states to choose their speed limits. Highways and cars are safer today than in the 1970s and on many highways speed limits were increased to 65 mph. Higher speed limits are often safer because what is worse than speed is variable speed, some people driving fast and some driving slow. When the speed limit is set too low you get lots of people who safely break the law and a few law-abiders who make the roads more dangerous.

Unfortunately vestiges of the 55mph limit remain, in part because police like the 55mph limit which lets them write tickets at will whenever they need an increase in revenues.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-05T14:07:57.074Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So, Alejandro's response is correct, but all of this seems rather tangential to the question you quote. The reason the speed limit is 55 rather than 56 or 54 is because we have a cultural preference for multiples of 5... which is also why all the other speed limits I see posted are multiples of 5. Seeing a speed limit sign that read "33" or something would cause me to do a potentially life-threatening double-take.

comment by othercriteria · 2012-06-05T14:21:20.285Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They're unusual but they do happen. The "19 MPH" one happens to be from the campus of my alma mater.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-05T14:24:35.319Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Huh. Some of these I can understand, but I'm really curious about the 19mph one... is there a story behind that? (If I had to guess I'd say it relates to some more global 20mph limit.)

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T17:47:40.268Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

We had a couple of fair-sized threads on infanticide before. I suggest that everyone who hasn't seen them yet skims through before posting further arguments.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/2l/closet_survey_1/1ou

http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ww/undiscriminating_skepticism/1rmf

Also: http://lesswrong.com/lw/35h/why_abortion_looks_more_okay_to_us_than_killing/

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-01-02T10:14:03.705Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth.

What benefit, other than satisfaction of sadism, do you see in infanticide of one's own children that wouldn't be satisfied by merely giving them up for adoption?

comment by juliawise · 2012-01-02T19:59:17.411Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Look at the youngest children in any adoption photolisting. The kids you usually see there are either part of a sibling group, or very disabled. (Example). There are children born with severe disabilities who are given up by their birth parents and are never adopted. (Example) The government pays foster parents to care for them. That's up to $2,000 per month for care, plus all medical expenses.

Meanwhile, other kids are dying for lack of cheap mosquito nets. This use of money does not seem right to me.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T21:19:42.977Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

At national level and above, the argument about "use of money" just plain fails. If you're looking for expenses to cut so that the money could be redirected for glaring needs like mosquito nets, foster care can't realistically appear on the cut list next to nuclear submarines and spaceflight.

comment by juliawise · 2012-01-02T22:47:36.681Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

True. I'd be happy to see those things cut as well. Though foster care is funded at a state level, I believe.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T19:08:12.976Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-04T15:35:52.167Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think things should be illegal just because we can't think of a good reason for people to be doing them

This rule has to be examined very very closely. While it sounds good, it spawns so many strawmen against libertarianism and such, we ought to try and unscrew that applause light of "liberty" from there. Liberty is an applause light to me, too (a reflected one from freedom-in-general), and a fine value it is, but still we'd better clinically examine anything that allows us to sidestep our intuitions so much.

[fucking politics, watch out] *(note that I'm a socialist and rather opposed to libertarianism as well, but I'm very willing to examine and consider its ups and downs)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-04T16:09:05.767Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Well, OK, let's examine it then.

We have some activity.
We see no particular reason to prevent people from doing that activity.
We see no good reason for people to do that activity.
We have a proposed law that makes that activity illegal.
Do I endorse that law?

The only case I can think of where I'd say yes is if the law also performs some other function, the benefit of which outweighs the inefficiencies associated with preventing this activity, and for some reason separating those two functions is more expensive than just preventing the activity. (This sort of thing happens in the real world all the time.)

Can you think of other cases?

I agree with you, by the way, that liberty-as-applause-light is a distraction from thinking clearly about these sorts of questions. Perhaps efficiency is as well, but if so it's one I have much more trouble reasoning past... I neither love that law nor hate it, but it is taking up energy I could use for something else.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T01:52:22.707Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Proposed law, or preexisting law?

As pointed out here, tribal traditions tend to have been adopted and maintained for some good reason or other, even if people can't properly explain what that reason is, and that goes double for the traditions that are inconvenient or silly-sounding.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-05T03:45:03.645Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Pace Chesterton, I don't see that much difference, especially when the context changes significantly from decade to decade. If there's a pre-existing law preventing the activity, I will probably devote significantly more effort to looking for a good reason to prevent that activity than for a proposed law, but not an infinite amount of effort; at some point either I find such a reason or I don't endorse the law.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T15:40:59.715Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

(edit)

I have the feeling that I've got to state the following belief in plain text:

Regardless of whether "babies are people" (and yeah, I guess I wouldn't call them that on most relevant criteria), any parent who proves able to kill their child while not faced with an unbearable alternative cost (a hundred strangers for an altruistic utilitarian, eternal and justified damnation for a deeply brainwashed believer) is damn near guaranteed to have their brain wired in a manner unacceptable to modern society.

Such wiring so strongly correlates with harmful, unsympathetic psychopaths that, if faced with a binary choice to murder any would-be childkillers on sight or ignore them, we should not waver in exterminating them. Of course, a better solution is a blanket application of unbounded social stigma as a first line deterrent and individual treatment of every one case, whether with an attempt at readjustment, isolation or execution.

comment by soreff · 2012-01-01T15:59:45.910Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

harmful, unsympathetic psychopaths

There is another, quite different, situation where it happens: Highly stressed mothers of newborns.

The answer to this couldn’t be more clear: humans are very different from macaques. We’re much worse. The anxiety caused by human inequality is unlike anything observed in the natural world. In order to emphasize this point, Robert Sapolsky put all kidding aside and was uncharacteristically grim when describing the affects of human poverty on the incidence of stress-related disease.

"When humans invented poverty," Sapolsky wrote, “they came up with a way of subjugating the low-ranking like nothing ever before seen in the primate world.”

This is clearly seen in studies looking at human inequality and the rates of maternal infanticide. The World Health Organization Report on Violence and Health reported a strong association between global inequality and child abuse, with the largest incidence in communities with “high levels of unemployment and concentrated poverty.” Another international study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry analyzed infanticide data from 17 countries and found an unmistakable “pattern of powerlessness, poverty, and alienation in the lives of the women studied.”

The United States currently leads the developed world with the highest maternal infanticide rate (an average of 8 deaths for every 100,000 live births, more than twice the rate of Canada). In a systematic analysis of maternal infanticide in the U.S., DeAnn Gauthier and colleagues at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette concluded that this dubious honor falls on us because “extreme poverty amid extreme wealth is conducive to stress-related violence.” Consequently, the highest levels of maternal infanticide were found, not in the poorest states, but in those with the greatest disparity between wealth and poverty (such as Colorado, Oklahoma, and New York with rates 3 to 5 times the national average). According to these researchers, inequality is literally killing our kids.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T16:16:11.689Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. Having suspected that something along these lines was out there, I did mention the possibility of readjustment. However,

1) sorry and non-vindictive as we might feel for this subset of childkillers, we'd still have to give them some significant punishment, in order not to weaken our overall deterrence factor.

2) This still would hardly push anyone (me included) from "indiscriminating extermination" to "ignore" in a binary choice scenario.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T18:58:25.867Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T19:14:33.306Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect that "babykilling is OK in and of itself, but it's a visible marker for psychosis and we want to justify taking action against psychotics and therefore we criminalize babykilling anyway" isn't a particularly stable thought in human minds, and pretty quickly decomposes into "babykilling is not OK," "psychosis is not OK," "babykillers are psychotic," a 25% chance of "psychotics kill babies," and two photons.

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-01T22:07:54.554Z · score: 13 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I know it's stupid to jump in here, but you don't mean psychotic or psychosis. You mean psychopathic (a.k.a. sociopathic). Please don't lump the mentally ill together with evil murderers. Actual psychotic people are hearing voices and miserable, not gleefully plotting to kill their own children. You're thinking of sociopaths. Psychotics don't kill babies any more than anyone else. It's sociopaths who should all be killed or otherwise removed from society.

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2012-01-03T01:56:07.577Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

It's sociopaths who should all be killed or otherwise removed from society.

Lots of sociopaths as the term is clinically defined live perfectly productive lives, often in high-stimulation, high-risk jobs that neurotypical people don't want to do like small aircraft piloting, serving in the special forces of their local military and so on. They don't learn well from bad experiences and they need a lot of stimulation to get a high, so those sorts of roles are ideal for them.

They don't need to be killed or removed from society, they need to be channelled into jobs where they can have fun and where their psychological resilience is an asset.

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-03T02:34:54.931Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Huh, okay. Thanks.

comment by cousin_it · 2012-01-02T23:21:43.878Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Some of the traits listed on the wikipedia page for psychopathy are traits that I want and have modified myself towards:

Psychopaths do not feel fear as deeply as normal people and do not manifest any of the normal physical responses to threatening stimuli. For instance, if a normal person were accosted in the street by a gun-wielding mugger, he/she might sweat, tremble, lose control of his/her bowels or vomit. Psychopaths feel no such sensations, and are often perplexed when they observe them in others.

Psychopaths do not suffer profound emotional trauma such as despair. This may be part of the reason why punishment has little effect on them: it leaves no emotional impression on them. There are anecdotes of psychopaths reacting nonchalantly to being sentenced to life in prison.

Some psychopaths also possess great charm and a great ability to manipulate others. They have fewer social inhibitions, are extroverted, dominant, and confident. They are not afraid of causing offense, being rejected, or being put down. When these things do happen, they tend to dismiss them and are not discouraged from trying again.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-01-02T23:00:43.384Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(It's odd how the words "schizophrenic" and "psychotic" bring up such different connotations even though schizophrenia is the poster-child of psychosis. (Saying this as a schizotypal person with "ultra high risk" of schizophrenia.))

comment by ahartell · 2012-01-02T22:44:21.552Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Aren't sociopaths mentally ill too?

comment by juliawise · 2012-01-02T23:16:38.112Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but people with different types of illness vary in whether they are likely to kill other people, which is the question here. This metastudy found half of male criminals have antisocial personality disorder (including sociopaths and psychopaths) and less than 4% have psychotic disorders. In other words, criminals are unlikely to be people who have lost touch with reality and more likely to be people who just don't care about other people.

comment by ahartell · 2012-01-02T23:39:51.085Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting, I knew that the rate was very low for psychotic people, but not that it was so high for sociopathic ones. I still don't think all sociopaths should be killed.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T23:00:59.754Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you say they are, it's in a totally different way. Taboo "mentally Ill".

comment by ahartell · 2012-01-02T23:38:08.852Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I was being a bit pedantic. When she says "don't lump the mentally ill together with evil murderers" I think she means "don't lump [psychotic] people in with evil murderers", which I don't disagree with. However, not all sociopaths are evil murderers. I would even say it's wrong to lump these mentally ill sociopaths together with evil murderers.

In other words, AspiringKnitter,

Please don't lump the mentally ill together with evil murderers.

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-03T00:15:34.618Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Okay. I've never heard of any non-evil sociopaths before, but I'll accept that they exist if you tell me they do.

What I meant was indeed that psychotic people aren't any more evil on average than normal people. The point is irrelevant to the thread, but I make it wherever it needs to be made because conflating the two isn't just sloppy, it harms real people in real life.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-03T00:31:40.699Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think many sociopaths become high-powered businesspeople.

The other thing that "harms people in real life" is saying stuff like "sociopaths should all be killed or otherwise removed from society". To say such things, you must override your moral beliefs, which is not a good habit to be in, and not a good image of yourself to cache.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-01-04T04:52:23.351Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To say such things, you must override your moral beliefs, which is not a good habit to be in, and not a good image of yourself to cache.

This may be a nitpick, but it's not clear to me that "removing all sociopaths from society" will even be beneficial to the remaining society. It's entirely possible that our society requires a certain number of sociopaths in order to function.

I have no hard evidence one way or the other, but I'm pretty sure that, historically, plans that involved "remove all X from society" turned out very poorly, for any given X.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-05T15:29:46.391Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

yeah good point. Not all sociopaths are murderers, just cut the middleman and do whatever with the murderers.

Proxy tests (are you a sociopath, are you black, do you have a shaved head, etc) are a terrible idea.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-05T15:33:21.023Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

By "murderer," here, do you mean someone who has actually committed murder?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-05T21:18:38.935Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

yeah. mostly. Though it would be nice to catch murderers before they kill anyone. At this point tho, I dont think we are generally rational enough to figure out in advance who the murderers are without huge collateral disutility.

I'm going to stop discussing this because it is about to get dangerously mindkillery.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T05:05:38.901Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Depends how far in advance you're looking. Aiming a loaded gun, or charging forward while screaming and brandishing something sharp and heavy, provide very solid evidence before any injury is done, and modern medicine can turn what seemed like successful murder back into 'attempted' by making it possible to recover after the injury.

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-03T01:36:48.656Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The other thing that "harms people in real life" is saying stuff like "sociopaths should all be killed or otherwise removed from society". To say such things, you must override your moral beliefs, which is not a good habit to be in, and not a good image of yourself to cache.

Good point, although actually, my moral beliefs are consequentialist, and therefore actually formulated as "prevent the greatest possible number of murders" rather than "kill the fewest possible people personally", so it's not actually accurate to say I have to override moral beliefs to advocate removing sociopaths from society. But I guess the best idea is to neutralize the threat they pose while still giving them a chance at redemption. You're right.

I think many sociopaths become high-powered businesspeople.

I thought most high-powered businesspeople were evil. XP

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-03T23:03:33.110Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

my moral beliefs are consequentialist, and therefore actually formulated as "prevent the greatest possible number of murders" rather than "kill the fewest possible people personally", so it's not actually accurate to say I have to override moral beliefs to advocate removing sociopaths from society.

Of course. I agree that one death is preferable to many, no matter who or what does the killing. I am talking about the effects on yourself of endorsing murder, and possibly the less noble real reason you chose that solution.

Maybe you have observed what I am talking about: people having to steel themselves against their moral intuitions when they say or do certain things. You can see it in their faces; a grim, slightly sadistic hatred, I call it the "murder face". I don't think people do this because they are strict utilitarians. The murder face is not the reaction you would expect from a utilitarian reluctantly deciding that someone has to be executed.

I don't think you said "sociopaths should all be killed or otherwise removed from society" for strictly utilitarian reasons either. I would expect a utilitarian to stress out and shit themselves for a few days (or as long as they had, up to years) trying to think of some other way to solve the problem before they would ever even think of murder.

The thing is, trades of one life for many are nearly always false dichotomies. There is some twisted way that humans are unjustifiably drawn to consider murder without even trying to consider alternatives. See the sequence on ethical injunctions.

Thru the known mechanisms of self-image, cached thoughts and so on, proposing murder as a solution just makes this problem worse in the future. You literally become less moral by saying that.

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-04T04:39:54.668Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would expect a utilitarian to stress out and shit themselves for a few days (or as long as they had, up to years) trying to think of some other way to solve the problem before they would ever even think of murder.

But I don't have to solve the problem. Whatever I think of regarding sociopaths is pretty pointless, since I won't have the chance to do it anyway, and even if I decided I really did think that was definitely the best course of action (which I'm not certain of; note that I've always qualified it with "or otherwise removed from society", which could include all sorts of other possibilities) after considering all the other possibilities, I doubt that I personally would be able to do it anyway, and if I did I would go to jail and I don't want that either. So for me to say it is as easy as the trolley problem (am I the only person for whom the trolley problem is easy?).

The thing is, trades of one life for many are nearly always false dichotomies. There is some twisted way that humans are unjustifiably drawn to consider murder without even trying to consider alternatives. See the sequence on ethical injunctions.

Thank you. If I'm ever in a position where killing someone is a course of action that's even on my radar as something to consider, I'll bear that in mind.

Thru the known mechanisms of self-image, cached thoughts and so on, proposing murder as a solution just makes this problem worse in the future. You literally become less moral by saying that.

Thank you for pointing that out. Just for the record, not killing people is one of my terminal values, and if I'm ever in a position to deal personally with the sociopath problem, I'll be considering the other possibilities first.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-03T00:45:39.081Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think many sociopaths become high-powered businesspeople.

Or, high powered politicians or the upper echelons of any religion's leadership.

comment by ahartell · 2012-01-03T00:27:35.726Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, my understanding is that they exist. Just wondering, how would you expect to hear about a non-evil sociopath?

Yeah, I'm totally on board with you there (though I'm not really fond of the word evil). I remember hearing that psychotic people are much more likely to hurt themselves than average, but not more likely to hurt others. And yeah, it's bad to consider them to be "evil" when they're not or to contribute to a societal model of them that does the same.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-03T00:52:16.717Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was being a bit pedantic. When she says "don't lump the mentally ill together with evil murderers" I think she means "don't lump [psychotic] people in with evil murderers", which I don't disagree with. However, not all sociopaths are evil murderers. I would even say it's wrong to lump these mentally ill sociopaths together with evil murderers.

Are we talking about psychotic people here or sociopaths (psychopaths)? The two are vastly different. Or are you saying that neither psychotic people nor sociopaths are necessarily evil?

comment by ahartell · 2012-01-03T01:08:32.948Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am saying that neither are necessarily evil.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T22:13:19.368Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

OK.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-01T19:54:47.531Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Where did the two photons come from?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T20:02:39.560Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The photons come from unjustified pattern-matching.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-01T20:07:46.081Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oooh.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T19:40:46.452Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Exhibit A: me.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T19:16:09.131Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In the end, I just feel that it's incompatible with my terminal values, one way or the other.

comment by juliawise · 2012-01-01T16:16:48.607Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Infanticide has been considered a normal practice in a lot of cultures. The Greeks and Romans, for example, don't seem to have been run down by psychopaths.

I don't think we have a good way to know about the later harmful actions of people who kill their infants. Either we find them out and lock them up, in which case their life is no longer really representative of the population, or we don't know about what they've done.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T16:51:52.415Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've managed to overlook the most important (and fairly obvious) thing, though!

If the idea of "childkilling=bad" is weakly or not at all ingrained in a culture, it's easy to override both one's innate and cultural barriers to kill your child, so most normally wired people would be capable of it => the majority of childkillers are normal people.

If it's ingrained as strongly as in the West today, there would be few people capable of overriding such a strong cultural barrier, => the majority of childkillers left would be the ones who get no barriers in the first place, i.e. largely harmful, unsympathetic psychopaths. The other ones would have an abnormally strong will to override barriers and self-modify, which can easily make them just as dangerous.

comment by juliawise · 2012-01-01T17:33:44.417Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, got it. I agree that in a culture that condemns infanticide, people who do it anyway are likely to be quite different from the people who don't. But Bakkot's claim was that our culture should allow it, which should not be expected to increase the number of psychopaths.

I'm also not sure that unbounded social stigma is an effective way to deter people who essentially don't care about other people. We don't really know of good ways to change psychopathy.

(edited for clarity)

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T17:52:57.081Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But Bakkot's claim was that our culture should allow it, which should not be expected to increase the number of psychopaths.

First, any single relaxed taboo feels to me like a blow against the entire net of ethical inhibitions, both in a neurotypical person and in a culture (proportional to the taboo's strength and gravity, that is). Therefore, I think it could be a slippery slope into antisociality for some people who previously behaved acceptably. Second, we could be taking one filter of existing psychopaths from ourselves while giving the psychopaths a safe opportunity to let their disguise down. Easier for them to evade us, harder for us to hunt them down.

I'm also not sure that unbounded social stigma is an effective way to deter people who essentially don't care about other people.

Successful psychopaths do understand that society's opinion of them can affect their well-being, this is why they bother to conceal their abnormality in the first place.

comment by juliawise · 2012-01-01T18:41:35.653Z · score: 11 (15 votes) · LW · GW

If "hunting down" psychopaths is our goal, we'd do better to look for people who torture or kill animals. My understanding is that these behaviors are a common warning sign of antisocial personality disorder, and I'm sure it's more common than infanticide because it's less punished. Would you advocate punishing anyone diagnosed with antisocial personality right away, or would you want to wait until they actually committed a crime?

I'd put taboos in three categories. Some taboos (e.g. against women wearing trousers, profanity, homosexuality, or atheism) seem pointless and we were right to relax them. Some taboos, like those against theft and murder, I agree we should hold in place because they produce so little value for the harm they produce. Some, like extramarital sex and abortion, are more ambiguous. They probably allow some people to get away with unnecessary cruelty. But because the the personal freedom they create, I think they produce a net good.

I put legalized infanticide in the third category. I gather you put it in the second? In other words, do you believe the harm it would create from psychopaths killing babies and generally being harder to detect would be greater than the benefit to people who don't raise unwanted children?

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T19:06:56.175Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In other words, do you believe the harm it would create from psychopaths killing babies and generally being harder to detect would be greater than the benefit to people who don't raise unwanted children?

I believe that legalized infanticide would be harmful, at least, to our particular culture for many reasons, some of which I'm sure I haven't even thought of yet. I'm not even sure whether the strongest reason for not doing it is connected to psychopathic behaviour at all. Regardless, I'm certain about fighting it tooth and nail if need be, at at least a 0.85.

By the way, have you considered the general memetic chaos that would erupt in Western society if somehow infanticide was really, practically made legal?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T19:18:34.546Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T19:34:21.483Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Huh. I don't follow the reasoning. Why do you expect social stigma attached to infanticide to correlate with less fun?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T19:48:00.879Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Nornagest · 2012-01-06T19:16:09.772Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

More broadly, I think having fewer things prohibited correlates with more fun unless there's some reason the prohibition increases the amount of fun in the universe.

That's pretty much tautological -- you could as well express it as "forbidding things correlates with more fun unless there's some reason allowing something increases the amount of fun in the universe". What you really need for this argument to work is a way of showing that people attach intrinsic utility to increased latitude of choice, which in light of the paradox of choice looks questionable.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-07T05:55:38.444Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-01-06T17:57:53.595Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Aside from any other possible issues, you're leaving out the possibility that one person may want to kill a baby that another person is very attached to.

Do you have an age or ability level at which you think being a person begins?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-07T05:42:50.649Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Caspian · 2012-01-07T14:09:19.533Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I expect this proposal could be taken seriously: when an owner wants to have a pet put down other than for humanitarian reasons, others who have had a close relationship to the pet, and are willing and able to take responsibility for it, get the right to veto and take custody of the pet.

Ways in which Nancy's argument was not exactly like arguing that abortion should be illegal because other people might have gotten attached to the fetus:

  • She didn't say: therefore it should be completely prohibited.
  • There can be more interaction by non-mothers with a baby than a fetus.

I'm not sure how much I will participate on this topic, it seems like a bit of a mind killer. I'm impressed we've found a more volatile version of the notorious internet abortion debate.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-07T22:56:09.345Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The standard reply to "But I like your fetus, don't kill it!" is "I'd let you have it, but we don't have the tech for me to give it to you now. My only options are going through several months of pregnancy plus labor, or killing it now. So down the drain it goes.". This suggests that inasmuch are there are people attached to fetuses not inside themselves, we should work on eviction tech.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-07T23:02:01.211Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Or, in any even slightly libertarian weirdtopia, it could be a matter of compensation for bearing the child.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-07T23:14:47.914Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's legal now (though we tend to offer status and supportive work like childcare, not money). Libertarianism mandates that refusing the transaction at any price and aborting also remains legal (unless embryos turn out to be people at typical abortion age, in which case they are born in debt).

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-07T23:12:04.534Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To which I can see people responding by getting pregnant, getting others attached, threatening abortion and collecting compensation just to make money. Especially if pro-lifers run around paying off as many would-be aborters as possible.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-08T09:11:53.786Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe. Maybe society would create new norms to fix that.

I'd like to mention that I'm emphatically not a libertarian (in fact identifying as socialist), and find many absurdities with its basic concept (see Yvain's "Why I Hate Your Freedom); however, I'd always like to learn more about how it could plausibly work from its proponents, and am ready to shift towards it if I hear some unexpectedly strong arguments.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-07T21:06:21.484Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm impressed we've found a more volatile version of the notorious internet abortion debate.

Odd to hear that about a community upon which one member unleashed an omnipotent monster from the future that could coerce folks who know the evidence for its existence to do its bidding. And where, upon an attempt to lock said monster away, about 6000 random people were sorta-maybe-kinda-killed by another member as retaliation for "censorship".

:D

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-07T22:51:28.085Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(take a stupid picture I made, based on this)

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-07T05:47:47.188Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Really, imagine making that argument and expecting to be taken seriously in any other context.

I expect this is a valid point. You can get away with far worse arguments when you have moral high ground to rely on.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-06T21:40:40.415Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Aside from any other possible issues, you're leaving out the possibility that one person may want to kill a baby that another person is very attached to.

Indeed. Look at a scenario like this. What if an adventurous young woman gets an unintended pregnancy, initially decides to have the child, many of her friends and her family are looking forward to it... then either the baby is crippled during birth or the mother simply changes her mind, unwilling to adapt her lifestyle to accommodate child-rearing, yet for some weird reason (selfish or not) refusing to give it up for adoption?

Suppose that she tells the doctor to euthanize the baby. Consider the repercussions in her immediate circle, e.g. what would be her mother's reaction upon learning that she's a grandmother no more (even if she's told that the baby died of natural causes... yet has grounds to suspect that it didn't)?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-06T21:55:31.047Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Completely independent of any of the rest of this, I absolutely endorse the legality of lying to people about why my child died, as well as the ethics of telling them it's none of their damned business, with the possible exception of medical or legal examiners. I certainly endorse the legality of lying to my mother about it.

Further, I would be appalled by someone who felt entitled to demand such answers of a mother whose child had just died (again, outside of a medical or legal examination, maybe) and would endorse forcibly removing them from the presence of a mother whose child has just died.

I would not endorse smacking such a person upside the head, but I would nevertheless be tempted to.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-06T22:03:25.027Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Crap, now that was ill-thought. Yeah, definitely agreed. I removed the last two sentences. The rest of my argument for babies occasionally having great value to non-parents still stands.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T19:59:05.488Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I kill a person, the number of Fun-having-person-moments in the universe is reduced by the remaining lifetime that person would potentially have had. If I kill a baby, the number of Fun-having-person-moments in the universe is reduced by the entire lifetime of the person that baby would potentially have become.

Reasoning sensibly about counterfactuals is hard, but it isn't clear to me why the former involves less total Fun than latter does. If anything, I would expect that removing an entire lifetime's worth of Fun-having reduces total Fun more than removing a fraction of a lifetime's worth.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T20:09:43.779Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW
comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-06T21:40:13.505Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I believed the only reason nobody has killed me yet is because it is illegal to kill people, I wouldn't be very happy.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-07T05:28:08.264Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-07T12:11:38.058Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I mean that a world where there is someone who would want to kill me, and the only reason why they don't is that they're afraid of ending up in jail, is not so much of a world in which I'd like to live.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-07T17:01:34.104Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's not that anyone hates you; they might kill you because they're afraid of you killing them first, if there were no legal deterrent against killing.

In particular, if you had any conflict with someone else in a world where killing was legal, it would quite possibly spiral out of control: you're worried they might kill you, so you're tempted to kill them first, but you know they're thinking the same way, so you're even more worried, etc.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-07T17:24:26.753Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not that anyone hates you; they might kill you because they're afraid of you killing them first, if there were no legal deterrent against killing.

At least in my country, killing someone for self-defence is already legal. (Plus, I don't think I'm going to threaten to kill someone in the foreseeable future, anyway.)

comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-07T17:31:34.457Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

At least in my country, killing someone for self-defence is already legal.

Right, but "I accidentally ran over his dog, and I was worried that he might kill me later for it, so I immediately backed up and ran him over" probably won't count as self-defense in your country. But it's the sort of thing that traditional game theory would advise if killing was legal.

This really is a case where imposing an external incentive can stop people from mutually defecting at every turn.

(Plus, I don't think I'm going to threaten to kill someone in the foreseeable future, anyway.)

If killing were legal (in a modern state with available firearms, not an ancient tribe with strong reputation effects), threatening to kill someone would be the stupidest possible move. Everyone is a threat to kill you, and they'll probably attempt it the moment they become afraid that you might do the same.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-07T18:55:23.122Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But it's the sort of thing that traditional game theory would advise if killing was legal.

I don't get it... He wouldn't gain anything by killing you (ETA: other than what your father/wife/whoever would gain by killing him after he kills you), so why would you be afraid he would do that? (Also, I'm not sure the assumptions of traditional game theory apply to humans.)

This really is a case where imposing an external incentive can stop people from mutually defecting at every turn.

If this was the case, I would expect places with less harsh penalties, or with lower probabilities of being convicted, to have a significantly higher homicide rate (all other things being equal). Does anyone have statistics about that? (Though all other things are seldom equal... Maybe the short/medium term effects of a change in legislation within a given country would be better data.)

comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-07T19:07:47.584Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If this was the case, I would expect places with less harsh penalties, or with lower probabilities of being convicted, to have a significantly higher homicide rate (all other things being equal). Does anyone have statistics about that?

I haven't read it yet, but I think this is basically the thesis of Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of our Nature.

I don't get it... He wouldn't gain anything by killing you, so why would you be afraid he would do that? (Also, I'm not sure the assumptions of traditional game theory apply to humans.)

Have you seen The Dark Knight? This is exactly the situation with the two boats. (Not going into spoiler-y detail.) Causal decision theory demands that you kill the other person as quickly and safely (to you) as possible, just as it demands that you always defect on the one-shot (or known-iteration) Prisoner's Dilemma.

Anyway, I think you shouldn't end up murdering each other even in that case, and if everyone were timeless decision theorists (and this was mutual knowledge) they wouldn't. But among humans? Plenty of them would.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-07T17:26:36.388Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure where you live, but is killing someone who you think will try to kill you some day actually considered self-defense for legal purposes there? I'm pretty sure self-defense doesn't cover that in the US.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-07T18:47:18.277Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No. I guess I misunderstood what orthonormal meant by “afraid of you killing them first”...

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-07T12:28:23.308Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As opposed to where? We can ban or allow murder. We can't yet do personality modifications that deep.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-07T13:22:26.050Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As opposed to this world. I don't think that, right now, there's anyone who would want to kill me.

We can't yet do personality modifications that deep.

So, if Alice murdered Bob, she had always wanted to kill him since she was born (as opposed to her having changed her mind at some point)? Probably we can't deliberately do personality modifications that deep (or do we? The results of Milgram's experiment lead me to suspect it wouldn't be completely impossible for me to convince someone to want to kill me -- not that I can imagine a reason for me to do that).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T20:20:46.066Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(shrug) We're both neglecting lots of things; we couldn't have this conversation otherwise.

I agree with you that the risk of being killed reduces Fun, at least in some contexts. (It increases Fun in other contexts.) Then again, the risk of my baby being killed reduces Fun in some contexts as well. I don't see any principled reason to consider the first factor in my calculations and not the second (or vice-versa), other than the desire to justify a preselected conclusion.

I agree that it's not clear that adding a person to the universe increases the amount of Fun down the line. It's also not clear that subtracting a person from the universe reduces the amount of Fun. Reasoning sensibly about conterfactuals is hard.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T20:58:29.621Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Then again, the risk of my baby being killed reduces Fun in some contexts as well.

You've struck onto something here (taking into account your update about the risk only coming from yourself)

1) Under the current system, parents are somewhat Protected From Themselves. What if a mother, while suffering a state of affect, consciously and subconsciously knew that she was allowed to kill her baby, so she did it, then was hit with regret&remorse?

2) Under the current system, parents feel like society is pressuring them not to commit especially grave failures of parenting, which gives them a feeling of fairness.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-01T21:26:17.367Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If the only thing stopping a parent from killing their child is the illegalization of said act, then they shouldn't be parents anyway. If you can't control yourself with an infant, then the probability is pretty high that you are going to be some type of abusive parent. The child is likely going to be a net drain on society because of the low-level of upbringing.

It is probably better for the baby (and society) for it to be killed while it is a blicketless infant, than to grow up under the "care" of such a parent.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T21:34:00.888Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I can easily visualize that, in our world, some very quickly passing one-in-a-lifetime temptation to get rid of an infant is experienced by many even slightly unstable or emotionally volatile parents, then forgotten.

Would you really want to give that temptation a chance to realize itself in every case when the (appropriately huge - we're talking about largely normal people here) social stigma extinguishes the temptation today?

Oh, and in no way it's "only the illegalization", it's the meme in general too.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-06T16:40:28.443Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe.

Suppose, for example, that what you're describing here as instability/emotional volatility -- or, more operationally, my likelihood of doing something unrecoverable-from which I generally abhor based on a very quickly passing once-in-a-lifetime temptation -- is hereditable (either genetically or behaviorally, it doesn't matter too much).

In that case, I suspect I would rather that infants born to emotionally volatile/unstable parents ten million years ago had not matured to breeding age, as I'd rather live in a species that's less volatile in that way. So it seems to follow that if the social stigma is a social mechanism for compensating for such poor impulse control in humans, allowing humans with poor impulse control to successfully raise their children, I should also prefer that that stigma not have been implemented ten million years ago.

Of course, I'm not nearly so dispassionate about it when I think about present-day infants and their parents, but it's not clear to me why I should endorse the more passionate view.

Incidentally, I also don't think your hypothetical has much to do with the real reasons for an infanticide social stigma. I support the meme, I just don't think this argument for it holds water.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-06T21:23:39.300Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, but I don't like your reasoning.

  • Emotionally volatile people shouldn't be automatically assumed to fail upon most such temptations, after all (when they fail in a big way, that's when we hear about it the most), and might not even be a net negative for society in other spheres (although yeah, they probably are... still, it's awfully cold just to unapologetically thin their numbers with eugenics. I know that a lot of things LWians (incl. me) would do or intend to do are awfully cold, but hell, this one concerns me directly!).
  • The "volatility" of one's behavior is a sum of the individual's psychological make-up - which might or might not be largely hereditary - and the weakness or strength of one's tendency for self-control - which is definitely largely cultural/environmental.

Look at the Far Eastern and Scandinavian societies. Wouldn't an emotionally unstable person being raised in one of them be trained to control their emotions to a much greater degree than e.g. in Southern Europe?

Further on the "hereditability" part; I'm really emotionally unstable (as you might have witnessed), but my parents are really stable and cool-headed most of the time; however, my aunt from my mother's side is a whole lot like me. I attribute most of my mental weirdness to birth trauma (residual encephalopathy, I don't know if it's pre- or post-natal), but I don't know whether part of it might be due to some recessive gene that manifested in my aunt and me, but not at all in my mother.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-06T21:49:04.901Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that we shouldn't assume that emotionally volatile people fail upon most such temptations.
I agree that my reasoning here is cold (indeed, I said as much myself, though I used the differently-loaded word "dispassionate").
I agree that if impulse control is generally nonhereditable (and, again, I don't just mean genetically), the argument I use above doesn't apply.
I agree that different cultures train their members to "control their emotions" to different degrees. (Or, rather, I don't think that's true in general, but we've specifically been talking about the likelihood of expressing transient rage in the form of violence, and I agree that cultures differ in terms of how acceptable that is.)

I understand that, independent of any of the above, you don't like my reasoning. It doesn't make me especially happy either, come to that.

I still, incidentally, don't believe that the stigma against infanticide is primarily intended to protect infants from transient murderous impulses in their parents.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-06T21:59:29.698Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I still, incidentally, don't believe that the stigma against infanticide is primarily intended to protect infants from transient murderous impulses in their parents.

Neither do I; the reasons for its development do need a lot of looking into. I just listed a function that it can likely accomplish with some success once it's already firmly entrenched.

..."control their emotions" to different degrees. (Or, rather, I don't think that's true in general, but we've specifically been talking about the likelihood of expressing transient rage in the form of violence, and I agree that cultures differ in terms of how acceptable that is.)

Yeah. I used "control" in the meaning of "steer", not "rule over".

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T21:17:30.137Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Before I respond to this, can you reassure me that you're actually interested in my honest response to it?

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T21:23:45.339Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, and by asking this you already tipped me off that it's likely to be unpleasant to me, so please fire away.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T21:37:22.575Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Does the regret and remorse in case 1 actually matter? If it does, what do you want to say about parents who would feel less regret or remorse given the death of their child than given his or her continued life?

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-06T21:52:10.488Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If their life is that terrible, there ought to be social services to take the child away from them and a good mechanism of adoption to place the child into. And I'm willing to pay a huge lot for that in various ways before legalizing infanticide becomes a reasonable alternative to me.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-06T22:02:42.819Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So I repeat my question: does the regret and remorse in case 1 actually matter? For example, what if a parent was regretful and remorseful about having their child forcibly put up for adoption; would that change your position?

I understand the argument that the infant's life is valuable, and am not challenging that here. It was your invoking the parent's regret and remorse as particularly relevant here that I was challenging.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-06T22:08:32.128Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So I repeat my question: does the regret and remorse in case 1 actually matter?

Depends of what kind of parent and what kind of person they would've been if not for that incident. There's certainly evidence that their parenting could've been poor, but I believe that it could've been just fine for a significant minority of cases. I don't sympathize much with completely worthless parents, but what we have here is not a strong enough proof of worthlessness. And I feel really terrible for the "mostly-normal" parent here that I thought of (while somewhat modeling one on myself).

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-10T10:16:58.908Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Huh? Would someone please explain how is this disagreeable at all? Look, I'm ready to change my mind if it's the wise thing to do, I just don't understand; where to, and why, do you want me to shift?

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T21:41:47.561Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Does the regret and remorse in case 1 actually matter? Enormously. For once, it could plausibly drive most people who did that to suicide.

If it does, what do you want to say about parents who would feel more regret or remorse given the death of their child than given his or her continued life?

Is there a miscommunication here? parents who would feel more regret or remorse given the death of their child than given his or her continued life - that sounds to be, like, most parents in general, and ALL the parents whom society approves of.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-06T16:29:22.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed you're right; I mis-wrote. Fixed.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T20:29:31.737Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T20:40:42.147Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've never held that other people should be allowed to kill your baby, for precisely that reason

(rereads thread) Why, so you haven't. I apologize; the fear of having my baby killed (well, by anyone other than me, anyway) is as you say irrelevant to your point. My error.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-01T20:33:42.603Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Probably true, but there's something you seem to be neglecting: Living in fear of being killed will significantly reduce the amount of fun you're having. Making it legal to kill non-person entities doesn't introduce this fear. Making it legal to kill person entities does.

This seems to be pointing out that killing could be even worse due to fear but in fact isn't. It's more of a non-argument in favour of the opposing position than an argument in favour of yours, at least is it is framed as "but something you're neglecting".

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T20:42:34.256Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-01T20:51:24.564Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I had trouble parsing that, could you rephrase?

The phrase "but there's something you seem to be neglecting" does not make sense as a reply to the comment you quote.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T21:01:07.705Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Nornagest · 2012-01-06T23:50:14.622Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Fear is frequently fun -- ask any carnival promoter, or fans of Silent Hill. (That's small-f fun; from a big-F standpoint, we'd be looking at fear as an aspect of sensual engagement or emotional involvement, but I think the argument still holds.) Without taking into account secondary effects like grief, it's not at all clear to me that an environment containing a suitably calibrated level of lethal interpersonal threats would be less fun or less (instantaneously) Fun than one that didn't, and this holds whether or not the subject is adult.

I do think those secondary effects would end up tipping the balance in favor of adults, though, once we do take them into account. There's also a fairly obvious preference-utilitarian solution to this problem.

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-07T00:04:25.781Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But the fear you get from Silent Hill is fear you can walk away from and know you're not going to be attacked by zombies and nor will your loved ones. You choose when to feel it. You choose whether to feel it at all, and how often. Making fear that is known to be unfounded available on demand to those who choose it is not even in the same ballpark as making everyone worry that they're going to be killed.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-01-07T00:12:33.878Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

True enough, and I'm not going to rule out the existence of people calibrated to enjoy low or zero levels of simulated threat (I'm pretty sure they're common, actually). It's also pretty obvious that there are levels of fear which are unFun without qualification, hence the "suitably calibrated" that I edited into the grandparent. But -- and forgive me for the sketchy evopsych tone of what I'm about to say -- the response is there, and I find it unlikely that for some reason we've evolved to respond positively to simulated threats and negatively to real ones.

Being a participant in one of the safer societies ever to exist, I don't have a huge data set to draw on. But I have been exposed to a few genuinely life-threatening experiences without intending to (mostly while free climbing), and while they were terrifying at the time I think the final fun-theoretic balance came out positive. My best guess, and bear in mind that this is even more speculative, is that levels of risk typical to contemporary life would have been suboptimal in the EEA.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T05:25:50.774Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How would you feel about a society otherwise similar to our own which included some designated spaces with, essentially, a sign on the door saying "by entering this room, you waive all criminal and civil liability for violent acts committed against you by other people in this room" and had a subculture of people who hung out in such places, intermittently mutilating and murdering each other?

comment by Nornagest · 2012-06-05T06:01:14.492Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think I'd be okay with it in principle, in the absence of some well-established psychology showing strong negative externalities and in the presence of some relatively equitable system for mitigating the obvious physical externalities (loss of employment due to disability, etc.), preferably without recourse to the broader society's resources. I probably wouldn't participate in the subculture, though -- my own level of fun calibration relative to threat isn't that high.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-27T15:44:56.318Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, keep in mind, even inside such a room social norms would rapidly evolve against letting things get too exciting, it's just that there wouldn't be any recourse to a larger legal system to resolve the finer points.

Maybe a big guy sits down in the corner with a tattoo across his bare chest saying "I am the lawgiver, if anyone in the room I watch is injured or killed without appropriate permission I will break the aggressor's arms" and mostly follows through on that. When somebody kicks the lawgiver's ass without taking over the job, everybody else votes with their feet.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-07T00:27:25.285Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

a few genuinely life-threatening experiences [..] I think the final fun-theoretic balance came out positive

Death represents pretty significant disutility; if the experience was significantly life-threatening, you're attributing some correspondingly significant utility to the experience of surviving. How confident are you?

comment by Nornagest · 2012-01-07T00:36:51.107Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah. I probably should have been clearer about that. Above I haven't been talking about expected utilities (which are likely negative, although I'd need a clearer picture of the risks than I have to do the math); in the last paragraph of the grandparent I was discussing the sum of fun-theoretic effects applying to me in the local Everett branch, and previously I'd been talking about what I assumed to be the utilitarianism of Bakkot's hypothetical (which seemed to make the most sense as an average-utilitarian framework with little or no attention given to future preferences).

My preferences do contain a large negative term for death (and I don't free climb anymore, incidentally). I'm not that reckless.

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-07T01:26:06.571Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, yes. However, I'm almost certain that having killers running around unchecked will not produce the optimal level and type of fear in the greatest possible number of people.

I find it unlikely that for some reason we've evolved to respond positively to simulated threats and negatively to real ones.

Why? A simulated threat prompts an immediate response, but killers on the loose prompts a lot of worrying over a long period of time. While fighting off a murderer might spike your adrenaline, that's not what killers on the loose will do. Instead people will lock their doors. They'll fear for their safety. They'll be afraid to let strangers into their home. They'll worry about what happens if they have a fight with their friend-- because the friend can commit murder with impunity. They'll look over their shoulders. Parents will spend every second worrying about their children. The children will have little or no freedom, because the parents won't leave them alone and may just keep them inside all the time, which is NOT optimal. People will have a lot of cortisol, depressing immune systems and promoting obesity.

That's NOT THE SAME as a single burst of adrenaline, whether from falling while climbing or from watching a movie or even from fighting for your life. So I guess you're right that it's not about whether it's real or not (though if it's a game, then when it gets too intense, you can just turn it off, and you can't turn off real life), but about the type of threat. However, the simulated threat doesn't actually make you less likely to continue living, whereas a real threat does.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-01-07T01:53:30.325Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Well, of course I don't think that allowing murder without restriction is going to make everyone fun-theoretically better off, let alone maximally satisfy their preferences over the utilitarian criteria I actually believe in. My original claim was a lot narrower than that, and in any case I'm mostly playing devil's advocate at this point; although I really do think that fun-theoretic optimization is best approached without reflexively minimizing things like fear or pain on grounds of our preexisting heuristics. That said, I'm not sure this is always going to be true:

A simulated threat prompts an immediate response, but killers on the loose prompts a lot of worrying over a long period of time. While fighting off a murderer might spike your adrenaline, that's not what killers on the loose will do. Instead people will lock their doors [...] People will have a lot of cortisol, depressing immune systems and promoting obesity.

We know about a lot of societies with a lot of different accepted levels of violence. The most violent that I know of present up to about a 30% chance of premature death, so much higher than anything Western society presents that it's scarcely conceivable (even front-line soldiers don't have those death rates, although front-line service is more dangerous per unit time). But there's very much not a monotonic relationship between level of violence and cultural paranoia, or trust of strangers, or freedom given to children. Early medieval Iceland, for example, had murder rates orders of magnitude higher than what we see now (implicit in textual sources, and confirmed by skeletal evidence); but children worked and traveled independently there, and hospitality to strangers was enshrined in law and custom. The same seems to go for more contemporary societies if the murder rates I've seen are at all accurate, although I don't have as rich a picture for most of them. Our cultural fears of violence are very poorly correlated with actual expectations, as even a cursory glance over the most recent child molestation scare should show.

If studies of relative cortisol levels have ever been performed, I don't know about them; but the cultures themselves don't seem to show evidence of that kind of stress. I'd expect to see more paranoia following a recent uptick in violence, but I wouldn't expect to see it well correlated with the base rate.

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-07T02:15:33.661Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Early medieval Iceland, for example, had murder rates orders of magnitude higher than what we see now (implicit in textual sources, and confirmed by skeletal evidence); but children worked and traveled independently there, and hospitality to strangers was enshrined in law and custom. The same seems to go for more contemporary societies if the murder rates I've seen are at all accurate, although I don't have as rich a picture for most of them.

Okay. What kind of murder are we talking about? What made up most of the extra-- was it all sorts of things or was it duels? And was it accepted or was it frowned on? Were murderers prosecuted? Did victims' families avenge them?

I'd expect to see more paranoia following a recent uptick in violence, but I wouldn't expect to see it well correlated with the base rate.

Good point.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-01-07T07:24:10.700Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Okay. What kind of murder are we talking about? What made up most of the extra-- was it all sorts of things or was it duels? And was it accepted or was it frowned on? Were murderers prosecuted? Did victims' families avenge them?

I'm not historian enough to say for sure, unfortunately. Judicial duels were part of the culture there, but the textual sources indicate that informal feuds were common, as were robbery and various other forms of informal violence. You could bring suit upon a murderer or other criminal in order to compel them to pay blood money or suffer in kind, but there was much less central authority than we're used to, and nothing resembling a police force.

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-07T08:21:32.563Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Was it by any chance a culture of honor?

comment by Nornagest · 2012-01-07T18:27:58.690Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. Don't get too hung up on the specific example, though; I chose it only because it's a time and place that I've actually studied. The pattern (or, really, lack of a pattern) I'm trying to point to is much more general, and includes many cultures that don't have a strong emphasis on honor.

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-07T21:00:14.379Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Okay.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T20:18:02.909Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Much less significantly, a culture in which you are obliged to either raise your children or see them put through foster care is also a much less fun culture to live in.

Somewhat regardless of our private feelings on the matter, a tip: Forget OKCupid, do you not see how earnestly stating such beliefs in public gives your handle a reputation you might not mind in general, yet greatly want to avoid at some future point of your LW blogging - such as when wanting to sway someone in an area concerning ethical values and empathy?

And it's not clear that adding a person to the universe (as things stand today) will, on average, increase the amount of fun had down the line; this is why you're not obliged to be trying to have as many children as possible at all times.

Now that's pretty certain.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T20:22:00.021Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW
comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-01T20:26:59.744Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'd hope that LessWrong is a community in which having in the past been willing to support controversial opinions would increase your repute, not decrease it. If we always worry about our reputation when having discussions about possibly controversial topics, we're not going to have much discussion at all.

We don't mind. You aren't actually going to kill babies and you aren't able to make it legal either (ie. "mostly harmless"). Just don't count too much on your anonymity! Assume that everything you say on the internet will come back to haunt you in the future - when trying to get a job, for example. Or when you are unjustly accused of murder in Italy.

EDIT: Pardon me, when I say "we" don't mind I am speaking for myself and guessing at an overall consensus. I suspect there are one or two who do mind - but that's ok and I consider it their problem.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T20:34:19.909Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T20:44:07.923Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

you aren't able to make it legal either

That only has a certainty approaching 1 if we all went and forgot about CEV and related prospects.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T21:05:59.289Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Really? What's your estimate of the probability that Bakkot's inclusion in a CEV-calculating-algorythm's target mind-space will make it more likely for the resulting CEV to tolerate infanticide?

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T21:55:39.797Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Pretty negligible, but still orders of magnitude above Bakkot just altering society to tolerate infanticide on his own.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-01T22:33:57.220Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would tend to agree for what it's worth.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T22:10:14.973Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think I'm not understanding you.

Call P1 the probability that Bakkot's inclusion in a CEV-calculating-algorythm's target mind-space will make it more likely for the resulting CEV to tolerate infanticide. Call P2 the probability that Bakkot isn't capable of making infanticide legal, disregarding P1.

You seem to be saying P1 approximately equals 0 (which is what I understand "negligible" to mean), and P2 approximately equals 1, and that P2-P1 does not approximately equal 1.

I don't see how all three of those can be true at the same time.

Edit: if the downvotes are meant to indicate I'm wrong, I'd love a correction as well. OTOH, if they're just meant to indicate the desire for fewer comments like these, that's fine.

comment by dlthomas · 2012-01-01T22:24:17.498Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Where do you get "P2 approximately equals 1"?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T22:42:05.666Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Multiheaded said "That only has a certainty approaching 1 if we all went and forgot about CEV and related prospects."
I understand "that" to refer to "bakkot isn't able to make make infanticide legal".
I conclude that the probability that Bakkot isn't capable of making infanticide legal, if we forget about CEV and related prospects, is approximately 1.
P2 is the probability that Bakkot isn't capable of making infanticide legal, if we disregard the probability that Bakkot's inclusion in a CEV-calculating-algorythm's target mind-space will make it more likely for the resulting CEV to tolerate infanticide.
I conclude that P2 is approximately 1.

comment by Emile · 2012-01-02T00:54:32.290Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'd hope that LessWrong is a community in which having in the past been willing to support controversial opinions would increase your repute, not decrease it.

Giving respect to controversy for the sake of controversy is just inviting more trolling and flamewars.

I have respect for true ideas, whether they are outmoded or fashionable or before their time. I don't care whether an idea is original or creative or daring or shocking or boring, I want to know if it's sound.

The fact that you seem to expect increased respect because of controversial opinions makes me think that you when you wrote about your support for infanticide, you were motivated more by the fact that many people disagreed with you, than by the fact that it's actually a good idea that would make the world a better place.

You remind me of Hanson (well, Doherty actually) on Libertarian Purity Duels

Libertarians are a contentious lot, in many cases delighting in staking ground and refusing to move on the farthest frontiers of applying the principles of noncoercion and nonaggression; resolutely finding the most outrageous and obnoxious position you could take that is theoretically compatible with libertarianism and challenging anyone to disagree. If they are not of the movement, then you can enjoy having shocked them with your purism and dedication to principle; if they are of the movement, you can gleefully read them out of it.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T02:13:43.970Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T09:08:00.271Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

...whereas my positions on Newcomb's paradox... are not

two-box

Let's not go off on that tangent in here, but two-boxing is hardly uncontroversial on LW: lots of one-boxers here, including Yudkowsky. I'm one too. Also, didn't you say you "want to win"?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T19:05:05.693Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T20:33:04.801Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd hope that LessWrong is a community in which having in the past been willing to support controversial opinions would increase your repute, not decrease it.

Not always. For any random Lesswrongian with a contrarian position you're nearly sure to find a Lesswrongian with a meta-contrarian one.

Also, notice that your signaling now is so bad from a baseline human standpoint that people's sociopath/Wrong Wiring alarms are going off, or would go off if there's more of such signaling. I think that my alarm's just kinda sensitive* because I had it triggered by and calibrated on myself many times.

*(Alas, this could also be evidence that along the line I subconsciously tweaked this bit of my software to get more excuses for playing inquisitor with strangers)

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T20:40:05.603Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-07T17:21:25.807Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

FWIW, I disagree with you but you don't set off my "sociopath alarm". I think you and Multiheaded may not be able to have a normal conversation with each other, but each of you seems to get along fine with the rest of LW.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-07T21:00:35.445Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think you and Multiheaded may not be able to have a normal conversation with each other

If it helps, I can pretty much envision what's needed for such a conversation, and understand full well that the reasons it's not actually happening are all in myself and not in Bakkot. But I don't have the motivation to modify myself that specific way. On the other hand, it might come along naturally if I just improve in all areas of communication.

Heck, I might be speaking in Runglish. Bed tiem.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-06T16:26:22.865Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious: did you?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-07T05:27:05.652Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-07T18:09:22.024Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If it helps, my opinion of you has been raised by this thread, rather than lowered. I think very few LWians actually think less of you for this discussion, but that could just be me projecting typical mind fallacy.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-07T21:22:52.077Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think very few LWians actually think less of you for this discussion

That's lumping a whole lot of things together. I'd gladly hire Bakkot if I was running pretty much any kind of IT business. I'd enjoy some kinds of debate with him. I'd be interested in playing an online game with him. I probably wouldn't share a beer. I definitely would participate in a smear campaign if he was running for public office.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T20:25:44.565Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you mean that it's pretty certain that I'm not obliged to be trying to have as many children as possible at all times?

Or that it's pretty certain that the fact that it's not clear that adding a person to the universe (as things stand today) will, on average, increase the amount of fun had down the line is why I'm not obliged to be trying to have as many children as possible at all times?

Or both?

Also: how important is it to you to manage your handle's reputation in such a way as to maximize your ability to sway someone on LW in areas concerning ethical values and empathy?

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T20:40:41.117Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Or both?

Hmm. Ehhh? ...Feels like both.

Also: how important is it to you to manage your handle's reputation in such a way as to maximize your ability to sway someone on LW in areas concerning ethical values and empathy?

Unimportant, because I'm poor at persuading the type of people who care about their status on LW anyway, and am only at all likely to make an impact on the type of person who, like me, cares little/sporadically about their signaling here.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T20:42:36.695Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

OK, thanks for clarifying.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-06T21:09:57.119Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Much less significantly, a culture in which you are obliged to either raise your children or see them put through foster care is also a much less fun culture to live in.

Quite aside from everything else, this line is needlessly grating to anyone who even slightly adheres to the Western culture's traditional values. You could've phrased that differently... somehow. There's a big difference between denouncing what a largely contrarian audience takes as the standards imposed upon them by society at large and denouncing what they perceive to be their own values. This might be hypocritical, but I guess that many LW readers feel just like that.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-01T20:31:22.639Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

If I kill a person, the number of Fun-having-person-moments in the universe is reduced by the remaining lifetime that person would potentially have had. If I kill a baby, the number of Fun-having-person-moments in the universe is reduced by the entire lifetime of the person that baby would potentially have become.

Go start breeding now. Or, say, manufacture defective condoms. (Or identify your real reason for not killing babies.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T20:35:51.966Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Please re-read the comment thread. If you still think we're talking about my reasons for doing or not doing anything in particular, let me know, and I'll try to figure out how to prevent such misunderstandings in the future.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T19:24:33.427Z · score: -6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Oh blast it, I'll just be honest.

Right now, I simply can't help but feel that if everyone who'd find it preferable to our world was (in real life) hit by a truck tomorrow, my utility function would increase.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-01T21:16:16.069Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

if everyone who'd find it preferable to our world was (in real life) hit by a truck tomorrow, my utility function would increase.

Downvoted.

You just said that you want me dead in real life.

I don't see how this is at all acceptable. Having a different viewpoint than you (note: I have never killed any babies, nor do I have any desire to) does not make saying these things towards me, and others with my view, ok.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T21:23:11.603Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If it should happen that tomorrow I find myself in the state of believing I would be happier were you dead, what do you think I ought to do about that?

I mean, I think we can agree that I ought not take steps to end your life, nor should I threaten to do so. (Multiheaded did neither of these things.)

But would it really be unacceptable for me to observe out loud that that was the state I was in?
Why?

comment by juliawise · 2012-01-04T23:53:05.194Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But would it really be unacceptable for me to observe out loud that that was the state I was in?

That depends on what it contributes to the discussion. "I'm too tired to talk about this now" or "I find it distressing that you think a world with less stigma against infanticide would be fun" help us understand where the other is coming from, even if they don't help us understand the topic better.

"I wish you were dead" detracts from the discussion.

comment by duckduckMOO · 2012-01-04T22:46:36.817Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Multiheaded said his/her (it's her, right? >_>) utility would increase, not happiness. If this is true, then, ignoring oppurtunity costs dead is what daenerys and other baby killing advocators ought be, subjectively-objectively for multiheaded.

edit: but it's almost definetely not true. Utility was probably being conflated with something, or Multiheaded was biased by emotional state (was REAL MAD, in less technical terms.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-01T21:38:58.072Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Can somebody else please give answering this a crack? Because I think I am too upset that this question is even disputed to be able to provide a clear answer. Best shot:

To me it seems obvious that there falls a category of Things You Shouldn't Say To People. "I wish you were dead" and it's variants definitely falls under that category. The utility you get from saying it is less than the disutility I get from hearing it. Also it leads to a poisonous society that no one wants to participate in.

Edit: I am amused that my post admitting to having an emotional reaction affect my reasoning abilities got downvoted.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-02T04:28:06.538Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

For what it's worth, I don't believe you deserved the downvote. I also don't believe most of the other comments in this thread deserved to be downvoted, especially since it makes it far less likely that anyone else will give answering my question a crack, since it's mostly invisible now.

That said, I do understand the "it's OK for it to be true but you can't say it" mainstream social convention, which is what you seem to be invoking.

It just doesn't seem to fit very well with the stated goals of this site. For my own part, if someone wants me dead, I want to know they want me dead. We can't engage with or improve a reality we're not allowed to even admit to. (Which is also why I dispute the "poisonous society" claim. A society where it's understood that people might want me dead and there's no way for me to know because of course they won't ever say it seems far more poisonous to me.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T16:42:29.162Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Slightly better next day answer:

I never declared Crocker's Rules on this site. If you would like to, you can, and people can tell you when they want you dead.

However blanket statements such as "I wish everyone with were dead" are never ok, because you can't know that absolutely everyone who holds Position X has declared Crocker's Rules. Even if everyone who participated in the discussion under position X has declared Crocker's Rules, there might be lurkers who haven't.

I suppose an exception to that might be "I wish everyone who has declared Crocker's Rules was dead", but I can't see why anyone would make that statement.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-02T16:54:07.146Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm still curious, however, about your answer to my original question. If it should happen that tomorrow I find myself in the state of believing I would be happier were you dead, what do you think I ought to do about that?

Or, if the answer is different: If it should happen that tomorrow you find myself in the state of believing you would be happier were I dead, what do you think you ought to do about that? (Given that I too have not declared Crocker's Rules.)

I mean, I understand that you don't think we should actually tell each other about it, but I'm wondering if that's all there is to say on the matter... just keep the feeling secret and go on about our business normally?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-02T16:47:50.672Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's fair.

For my own part, that's not the threshold I consider Crocker's Rules to endorse crossing, but I suppose reasonable people can disagree on where that threshold is and over time the actual threshold will come to resemble some aggregated function of our opinions on the matter, and announcements like yours are part of that process.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T21:45:16.235Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry to have upset you. Thanks for answering my question.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T21:49:37.425Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Also it leads to a poisonous society that no one wants to participate in.

Believe me, I really feel that sentiment much stronger in regards to infanticide than you feel it in regards to passive-aggressive rudeness.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T21:21:31.025Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You just said that you want me dead in real life.

Well, you, ceteris paribus, would want people - including, in particular, emotionally volatile people like me - free to kill their children in real life. I'd hate that more than I'd regret your death, indeed!

(Although at no point and in no way am I going to be insane enough to really kill you, just as you're not insane enough to personally kill babies)

comment by Solvent · 2012-01-02T03:22:00.169Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

if everyone who'd find it preferable to our world was (in real life) hit by a truck tomorrow, my utility function would increase.

I think you should take that back, personally. I can understand you saying it out of frustration, but saying that you want people dead is generally a bad thing to do.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T19:14:45.361Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, and you're creating significant emotional turmoil in me right now. I'm stepping away and going to sleep, although I don't suspect that this turmoil is any sign of me being less rational than you in regards to our respective values right now.

comment by juliawise · 2012-01-02T00:03:59.457Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sorry about your turmoil, but I don't take responsibility for "creating" it.

comment by TimS · 2012-01-01T18:06:00.448Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

First, any single relaxed taboo is a blow against the entire net of ethical inhibitions

This is not an uncontested statement.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T18:16:31.627Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for catching me, adjusted.

comment by soreff · 2012-01-01T17:06:01.579Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The other ones would have an abnormally strong will to override barriers and self-modify, which can easily make them just as dangerous.

You are overlooking the extreme situations some people are forced into. Looking at the act as being primarily a function of a person's internal state state can be a poor approximation. As nearly as I can tell, if an arbitrarily selected person in the West were put in a situation as dire as these infanticidal mothers had been forced into, they would quite probably do the same thing.

Note that the geographical variation in infanticide rates is more plausibly consistent with external factors driving the rates than internal factors. The populations of the USA and Canada are not hugely different, yet there is a 2X difference in the rates between them (as I quoted from the article that I cited before). I strongly doubt that the proportion of psychopaths and extreme self-modifiers differs so strongly between the two nations - but the US has been shredding its social safety nets for years.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T17:21:50.974Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is easy enough to check. Do most poor, fairly desperate people whose situation is sufficiently alike that of our hypothetical normal childkiller, in fact, kill their children?

(No, I can't quite define "sufficiently alike" right off the bat. Wouldn't mind working it out together.)

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T16:32:43.275Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The Greeks and Romans, for example, don't seem to have been run down by psychopaths.

With genocide of any foreigners and mass torture for entertainment also having been considered perfectly acceptable, the Roman culture in the flesh would certainly feel alien enough to us that an utilitarian, altruistic time traveler could likely be predicted to attempt to sway it, with virtually any means justifying the end for them.*

I know I would, and I know that I'm not an unusual decision maker for the LW community.

*(cue obvious SF story idea with the time traveler ending up as Jesus)

comment by juliawise · 2012-01-01T16:47:43.067Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

But these seem to have been larger cultural phenomena, not the unchecked actions of a few psychopaths. Psychopathy affects around 1% of the population, and I doubt so few people could have swayed the entire culture if the rest of them had no interest in killing people.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T04:28:09.059Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One percent of the modern population. How much historical data is there?

comment by juliawise · 2012-06-05T19:26:30.551Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You're right that we don't have data on the incidence of psychopathy in ancient Rome, and our data its current incidence is pretty sketchy. (Unlike most mental illnesses, psychopathy is more a problem for other people than the person who has it, so psychopaths have no reason to get treatment. Not that we really have any treatment if they did.)

But there seem to be both genetic and social components (e.g. being abused as a child), so probably those same genetic opportunities got triggered in some people throughout history. Possibly at different rates than here and now.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-01T16:53:47.145Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

See my reply's second comment.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T04:24:57.164Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The Greeks and Romans, for example, don't seem to have been run down by psychopaths.

Not sure I'd agree, there. Rome had institutionalized blood sports, and mass rioting when the entertainment was interrupted.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T16:10:56.759Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect a lot of the people who would agree with this sentiment would change their minds in the face of a sufficiently compelling argument that there exists some scenario under which they would be able to kill their child.

comment by juliawise · 2012-01-01T16:21:19.817Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I've worked with parents of very disabled children, and it's not an easy life. For mothers especially, it becomes your career. I can imagine a lot of parents might consider infanticide if they knew that was going to be their life.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-01T20:35:55.954Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Ditto, as someone who works in disability care and child care (including infant care), I support the baby-killing scenario.

I worked for a family that had a severely mentally and physically disabled 6-year old. She was at infant-level cognition, practically blind, and had very little control over her body. There was almost nothing going on mentally, but she was very volatile about sounds/music/surroundings. You could tell if she was happy or sad by whether she was laughing or crying, and she cried a LOT.

Trying to get her to STOP crying was extremely difficult, because there was no communication, and she never wanted the SAME things. However it was also very important to get her calm QUICKLY because if she cried too long she would have a "meltdown", be near inconsolable, throw up, and then you'd have to vent her stomach.

Her parents were the best at reading her. They trained people by pretty much putting you in a room with her, until you developed an ineffable intuitive ability to keep her happy. When I moved to a different city, it took them about 3-4 months to find a replacement for me who wouldn't quit by the second day. I was driving back to my old city once a week to work for them during that time.

Her existence had a terrible effect on her family. They had to hire around the clock care. As in, amazingly patient care-givers that were hard to find, to cover about 100 hours a week. I would get stressed covering 2 shifts a week, and I don't know how her parents were managing to cope.

This child was a drain on society and on everyone around her. Because of her parents' religious values, they wouldn't kill her even if it were legal. But their lives would have been dramatically improved if it were otherwise.

Also, I agree that infants have less or equal personhood than many animals. The way I handle the discrepancy is by being a vegetarian. But since most people aren't vegetarians, they don't really have a strong supporting reason to be against legalized infanticide.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-01-02T00:06:36.975Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So, my position is that the necessary standard to justify ending a 10 month old's life is only a bit lower than that of ending a 18 year old's life, and is only a bit higher than the necessary standard to justify ending a fetus's life. I'm patient. But what that statement often obscures is that I'm willing to let people meet that standard. I would support ending the individual you described at ages of 6 years, 60 years, 6 months, or 6 months after conception.

But the acknowledgement that not every life should be continued is very different from a "return policy" sort of infanticide which Bakkot is justifying by saying "well, they're not people yet." Sometimes it's best to kill people, too, and so personhood isn't the true issue.

comment by Solvent · 2012-01-01T08:07:15.172Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

You're not the first one to argue this on LW. I'll find you the link in a second. Why can't sadists kill their babies? Why ten months, precisely? More importantly, why can't we kill babies?

Why do you particularly bring up the "discrimination against youth" thing?

But yeah, welcome to LW and all that.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-01T08:16:16.209Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Why can't sadists kill their babies?

If anything it would seem more appropriate to prevent sadists from torturing their babies (including before and during the murder).

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T08:32:04.376Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T05:35:14.089Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would you approve of a man killing a child which his wife recently gave birth to, without the mother's permission, on the grounds that he does not believe himself to be the child's father? That's certainly not sadism.

Or, if genetic testing has been done and the child's biological father is known, would you say it should be legal for the father to kill the child... say, because he disagrees with the married couple's religious beliefs and wants to deny them an easy recruit?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-06-06T03:35:00.769Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-06T03:46:35.679Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How would you define "parent," then? It's not a tangent, it's an important edge case. I'm trying to understand exactly where our views on the issue differ.

For what it's worth, I agree with you unreservedly on the age discrimination thing. In fact, I think it's the root of a lot of the current economic problems: a majority of the population is essentially being warehoused during their formative years, and then expected to magically transform into functional, productive adults afterward.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-06-06T04:27:31.252Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-04T01:21:56.539Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, I was wondering how the welcome thread got to more than 500 comments so quickly!

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-03T19:53:56.477Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In other posts in this thread I've discussed infanticide, and proposed ways to reduce parental grief in cultures that would adopt it (I didn't say it should be adopted btw). But only now did I remember that the practice of infanticide where others preform the killing (something I proposed down thread as an implementation that would reduce psychological stress) reminded me of the practice of killing "mingi" (cursed) children in Ethiopia. Many of the individuals exposed to outside culture would prefer to adopt it or at least find ways to not kill the children while still severing them from the parents.

While obviously CNN as always has a progressive-Eurocentric-mind-projection-fallacy spin in its reporting and the tribes in question may be just adopting preferences of higher status tribes and groups rather than because not practising it seems so much better than practising it. I do think this is weak evidence that people prefer to live in societies that don't practice infanticide. Also reading some of the accounts has caused me (rightfully or not) to increase the estimated psychological suffering of parents. But consider that this wasn't a choice in most cases, it isn't that large either. I shouldn't be surprised, humans are built to live in a world where life is cheap after all.

I have no doubt that the practice of mingi historically did indeed help the tribe, taken as a whole traditions do tend to be adaptive in the environment in which they where established, but now that their (social) envrionment has changed, the practice seems to be falling out of favour.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-04T15:25:00.869Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I do think this is weak evidence that people prefer to live in societies that don't practice infanticide.

Thanks for updating.

comment by occlude · 2012-01-01T21:02:39.075Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Please let me know if I've missed a discussion of this point; it seems important, but I haven't seen it answered.

What is the particular and demonstrable quality of personhood that defines this okay to kill/not okay to kill threshold? In short, what is blicket?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T21:10:12.055Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by occlude · 2012-01-01T21:55:29.684Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I won't argue that newborns are people, because I have the same problem defining person that you seem to have. But until I can come up with a cogent reduction distilling person to some quality or combination of qualities that actually exist -- some state of a region of the universe -- then it seems prudent to err on the side of caution.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T22:09:13.875Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T21:25:04.834Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, one relatively simple question that might help clarify some things: do I remain a person when I'm asleep?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T21:36:09.923Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T21:43:52.716Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Cool. Would I still be a person while in a coma that I will naturally come out of in five years but not before? (I recognize that no observer could know that this was the case, I'm just asking whether in fact I would be, if it were. Put another way: after I woke up, would we conclude that I'd been a person all along?)

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T21:53:41.144Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-01T21:56:28.770Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

OK, cool... that clarifies matters. Thanks.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-01T20:33:37.661Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

Why not permit the killing of babies not your own, for the same reason?

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T20:39:09.640Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW
comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-01T20:51:04.028Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It causes me a certain level of distress when a baby is harmed or killed, even if it is of no relation to me. Many people (perhaps almost all people) experience a similar amount of distress. Is it your point of view that the aggregate amount of harm caused in this way is not large enough to justify the prohibition on killing babies?

Perhaps what you mean to argue with the house analogy is not that the parent is harmed, but that his property rights have been violated.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T21:04:55.262Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW
comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-01T21:09:46.752Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Are those property rights transferable? Would you permit a market in infants?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T09:23:15.615Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, adoption markets basically already exist, why not make them legal?

Not only are wealthier people better candidates on average because they can provide for the material needs much better and will on average have a more suitable psychological profile (we can impose legal screening of adopters too, so they need to match other current criteria before they can legally buy on the adoption market if you feel uncomfortable with "anyone can buy"). It also provides incentives for people with desirable traits to breed, far more than just subsidising them having kids of their own.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T21:13:09.204Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW
comment by gwern · 2012-01-01T23:50:47.013Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

One of the standard topics in economic approaches to the law is to discuss the massive market failures caused by not permitting markets in infants; see for example, Landes and Richard Posner's "The Economics of the Baby Shortage". I thought their analysis pretty convincing.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T09:20:46.686Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It causes me a certain level of distress when a baby is harmed or killed, even if it is of no relation to me. Many people (perhaps almost all people) experience a similar amount of distress.

Don't worry, in the right culture and society this distress would be pretty minor.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T09:32:23.248Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree with that statement on at least two points.

1) How can you so easily predict others' level of distress if you don't feel much distress from that source in the first place?

2) Don't forget about scale insensitivity. Don't forget that some scale insensitivity can be useful on non-astronomical scales, as it gives bounds to utility functions and throws a light on ethical injunctions.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:28:02.789Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

1) How can you so easily predict others' level of distress if you don't feel much distress from that source in the first place?

Looking at other humans. Perhaps even humans in actually existing different cultures.

2) Don't forget about scale insensitivity. Don't forget that some scale insensitivity can be useful on non-astronomical scales, as it gives bounds to utility functions and throws a light on ethical injunctions.

This is a good counter point. I just think applying this principle selectively is too easy to game a metric, to put too much weight to it in preliminary discussion.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T10:42:53.130Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps even humans in actually existing different cultures.

Ah, but the culture you'd want and are arguing for here is way, way closer to our current culture than to any existing culture where distress to people from infanticide is "minor"!

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:49:03.469Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

How can you be so sure? Historically speaking, infanticide is the human norm.

It is just the last few centuries that some societies have gotten all upset over it.

In some respects modern society is closer in norms to societies that practised infanticide 100 years ago than to Western society of 100 years ago and we consider this a good thing. Why assume no future changes or no changes at all would go in this direction? And that likewise we'll eventually consider these changes good?

It is certainly weak evidence in favour of a practice being nasty that societies which practice it are generally nasty in other ways. But it is just that, weak evidence.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T10:51:23.140Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In some respects modern society is closer in norms to societies that practised infanticide 100 years ago than to Western society of 100 years ago

Doesn't look that way to me at all, and never did. For every example you list (polyamory, etc) I bet I can find you a counterexample of equivalent strength.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:57:48.884Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For every example you list (polyamory, etc)

I think you mean "for every example you are likley to list", I didn't list any.

I bet I can find you a counterexample of equivalent strength.

What exactly would that accomplish? I said more similar in some respects, didn't I? I didn't say on net or overall.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T11:02:51.754Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you mean "for every example you are likley to list", I didn't list any.

Yup.

I didn't say on net or overall.

That's the rub. I repeat my claim: the culture you want is, on net or overall, closer to our society than to societies that are OK with infanticide. It's evidence against your extrapolated-volition utopia being OK with infanticide. (unless I have absolutely zero understanding of Bayes)

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-01-02T11:12:58.312Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's the rub. I repeat my claim: the culture you want is, on net or overall, closer to our society than to societies that are OK with infanticide. It's evidence against your extrapolated-volition utopia being OK with infanticide. (unless I have absolutely zero understanding of Bayes)

Tsk tsk tsk, not very multicultural of you.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T11:05:30.178Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

sigh

That's the rub. I repeat my claim: the culture you want is, on net or overall, closer to our society than to societies that are OK with infanticide. It's evidence against your extrapolated-volition utopia being OK with infanticide. (unless I have absolutely zero understanding of Bayes)

Look two comments up.

It is certainly weak evidence in favour of a practice being nasty that societies which practice it are generally nasty in other ways. But it is just that, weak evidence.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:58:17.050Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Please please just for a second try to look at your own society as the alien one for the purposes of analysis, to ascertain is rather than should when it comes to such questions. I find this has helped me more than anything else in thinking about social questions and avoiding political thinking.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T09:24:28.152Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The more interesting question is what to do when parents disagree about infanticide and the complications that come about from custody.

Also adoption contracts would probably need to have a "don't kill my baby that I've given up clause" lest some people wouldn't want to give up children for adoption.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T09:17:38.384Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Because its illegal to kill other people's pets or destroy their property? Duh.

Actually selling your baby on the adoption market should probably be legal too.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T10:02:30.260Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I would vote this up if not for the retract... accept my pseodo-vote.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:25:30.498Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Feel free to up vote other comments in this thread where I say basically the same thing.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-01-02T10:13:01.065Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Because its illegal to kill other people's pets or destroy their property? Duh.

So, premeditated killing of someone else's child should be criminal damage rather than murder?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-02T10:26:50.188Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

So, premeditated killing of someone else's child should be criminal damage rather than murder?

What monetary value does the child have, for the purpose of calculating damages I wonder? We should do early testing to see how much status the parents were likely to gain via the impressiveness of their possession in the future. Facial symmetry, genetic indicators...

comment by Estarlio · 2012-06-05T03:50:37.607Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The emotional investment a parent makes in their child must be huge, and the damages similarly so. It seems perfectly reasonable for a parent to say, "There's nothing available that I value more than I valued my child, consequently no sum of money will suffice to cover my damages. Whatever you give me it's still going to work out as a loss."

comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-05T04:09:08.066Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The emotional investment a parent makes in their child must be huge, and the damages similarly so. It seems perfectly reasonable for a parent to say, "There's nothing available that I value more than I valued my child, consequently no sum of money will suffice to cover my damages. Whatever you give me it's still going to work out as a loss."

This is reasoning we may use now. But it does not apply in the spirit of the weirdtopia where we evaluate children only as property without moral value beyond that.

comment by Estarlio · 2012-06-05T04:36:08.409Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Where did we start talking about weirdtopia?

Sewing-Machine says: Why not permit the killing of babies not your own, for the same reason?

Konkvistador says: Because its illegal to kill other people's pets or destroy their property? Duh.

Jayson_Virissimo says: So, premeditated killing of someone else's child should be criminal damage rather than murder?

And then we're back to the bit I was responding to. But we all seem to be talking about what should be the case, where we want to end up. The reasoning we can apply at the moment seems the relevant thing to that. If weirdtopia doesn't look like a place our reasoning would work, if we wouldn't want to live there.... Well, so much the worse for weirdtopia.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-05T04:42:18.327Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Where did we start talking about weirdtopia?

A weirdtopia. The premises that lead to the reasoning and conclusions here are only premises I could consider reasoning from from the perspective of a weird alternate reality. I certainly don't endorse anything we're talking about here myself but do suggest that they are incompatible with the nice sounding "Whatever you give me it's still going to work out as a loss" kind of moral expressions you mention - at least to the extent that they are embedded in the law.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T02:12:18.111Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Testing would be a lot of work and potential corruption for comparatively little gain in nailing down the sig figs. The EPA is already willing to put an approximate dollar value on the life of a random citizen shortened by pollution (for cost-benefit purposes when evaluating proposed cleanup plans), so I'd say just estimate the average or typical value and use that as the standard, preferably showing your work well enough to allow adjustments over time or judicial discretion in unusual cases.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-05T02:33:16.614Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Testing would be a lot of work and potential corruption for comparatively little gain in nailing down the sig figs.

This is a situation in which "Speak for yourself!" would apply. In the weirdtopia where killing other people's children is criminal damage and such damages are calculated being able to prove higher value of said property would and should influence the amount of recompense they receive. For the same reason that Shane Warne could insure his finger for more than I could insure my finger an owner of an impressive child would be able to have that child evaluated and treated as a more valuable piece of property than an inferior child. They would aggressively and almost certainly successfully fight any attempt to make their child evaluated as a mediocre child.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T03:27:58.396Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's what I meant by 'judicial discretion in unusual cases.'

Setting the default value a standard deviation or three above the actual average would probably be sensible. Cuts down on expensive investigations and appeals, since most bereaved parents would realize on some level that they won't actually gain by nitpicking, and erring on the side of punitive damages would help appease the victim and discourage recklessness.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T17:09:04.643Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Downvoted for sarcasm. I was under the impression that (unsubtle forms of) sarcasm in non-humorous discussions are outlawed on LW, and that's very OK with me.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-03T18:29:19.277Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Downvoted for sarcasm. I was under the impression that (unsubtle forms of) sarcasm in non-humorous discussions are outlawed on LW, and that's very OK with me.

Downvoted for being a wet blanket and incorrect assumption of sarcasm. If it's ok to talk about the implications of legalizing infanticide then it is ok to follow the weirdtopia through and have fun with it. I adamantly refuse to take on a sombre tone just because people are talking about killing babies. My due diligence to the seriousness of babykilling with my expression of clear opposition - with that out of the way I am (and should be) free to join Konk and Jayson counterfactual wherein the actual logical implications related to killing other people's non-people infants are considered.

On a related note - of all the movies I was forced to endure and study in high school the only one I don't resent as a boring waste of my time is Gattaca!

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T18:32:30.665Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm being a fucking idiot tonight.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-03T18:58:04.205Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm being a fucking idiot tonight.

If I downvote you for calling a valuable lesswrong contributor a fucking idiot is that a compliment or a criticism? ;)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-03T19:51:35.496Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If I tell you you have a perverse wit will you hold it against me?

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T19:19:29.054Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd never agree with being called a fucking-idiot-in-general! :D It's just an observation that my mind feels numb and sluggish tonight, probably because of the weather.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-03T18:12:45.148Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Leaving aside the amusing notion of LW outlawing sarcasm, I'm curious about how you concluded that wedrifid's comment was (unsubtle) sarcasm.

(Just to be clear: I'm not contesting your freedom to downvote the comment for that reason or any other, including simply being irritated by people saying such things about children.)

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T18:18:32.406Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

He started "investigating" a child's value to parents with things like the status they could gain from it, instead of obvious things like their instinctive emotional response to it, etc. That's manifestly not what most parents think and feel like.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-03T19:05:36.844Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

He started "investigating" a child's value to parents with things like the status they could gain from it, instead of obvious things like their instinctive emotional response to it, etc. That's manifestly not what most parents think and feel like.

Emotional distress caused does seem like another important consideration when calculating damages received for baby/property destruction. It probably shouldn't be the only consideration. Just like if I went and cut someone's arm off it would be appropriate to consider the future financial and social loss to that person as well as his emotional attachment to his arm.

It doesn't seem very egalitarian but it may be a bigger crime to cut off the arm of a world class spin bowler (or pitcher) than the arm of a middle manager. It's not like the latter does anything that really needs his arm.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T19:22:58.486Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

True enough, but it simply doesn't feel to me that a child can be meaningfully called "property" at all. Hell, I'm not completely sure that a pet dog can be called property.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-03T19:50:09.634Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hypothetical question: if my child expresses the desire to go live with some other family, and that family is willing, and in my judgment that family will treat my child roughly as well as I will, is it OK for me to deny that expressed desire and keep my child with me?

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T19:59:01.017Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(quick edit)

Yes, it's OK, just the same as with a mentally impaired relative under your care, and for roughly the same reasons.

If said relative couldn't be considered property, then neither does this judgment signify that children are property.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-03T20:10:20.264Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

OK, then... I suspect you and I have very different understandings of what being property entails. If you're interested in unpacking your understanding, I'm interested in hearing it.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T20:12:50.126Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, maybe later.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-01-03T18:33:16.959Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

While I don't fully disagree, I'm not sure that's a meaningful objection. One implication of the status-signaling frame is that our instinctive emotional responses (among other cognitive patterns) are calibrated at least partly in terms of maximizing status; it doesn't require any conscious attention to status at all, let alone an explicit campaign of manipulation.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T18:40:15.681Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I think that self-signaling especially - and likely even signaling to very close people like family members too - is one of the basic needs of humans, and, being as entangled with human worldview as it is, deserves to be counted under the blanket term "emotional response".

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-03T19:26:24.689Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Even granting that, it's still true that if Nornagest is right and my emotional responses are calibrated in terms of expected status-maximization, then it makes sense to consider emotional responses in terms of (among other things) status-maximization for legal purposes.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T19:52:52.477Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We clearly need to find out what kinds of emotional responses are calibrated by what adaptations in what proportion. Nominating status-seeking as the most important human drive here out of the blue just seems unjustified to me in this moment.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-01-03T20:13:26.173Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There's a tradition of examining that frame here that's probably inherited from Overcoming Bias; it's related to a model of human cognitive evolution as driven primarily by political selection pressures, which seems fairly plausible to me. I should probably mention, though, that I don't think it's a complete model; it's fairly hard to come up with an unambiguous counterexample to it, but it shares with a lot of evo-psych the problem of having much more explanatory than predictive power.

I think it's best viewed as one of several complementary models of behavior rather than as a totalizing model, hence the "frame" descriptor.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T20:21:44.325Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I described it as a frame because I think it's best viewed as one of several complementary models of behavior rather than as a totalizing model.

I have a suspicion that we'll only be able to produce any totalizing model that's much good after we crack human intelligence in general. I mean, look at all this entangled mess.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-01-03T20:27:11.002Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Well, "that's much good" is the tough part. It's not at all hard to make a totalizing model, and only a little harder to make one that's hard to disprove in hindsight (there are dozens in the social sciences) but all the existing ones I know of tend to be pretty bad at prediction. The status-seeking model is one of the better ones -- people in general seem more prone to avoiding embarrassment than to maximizing expected money or sexual success, to name two competing models -- but it's far from perfect.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T20:28:09.870Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yup. My point exactly.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-03T20:25:28.095Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, couching things in terms of status-signaling is conventional around here. But, sure, there are probably better candidates. Do you have anything in particular in mind you think should have been nominated instead?

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T20:38:13.857Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Nothing in particular, no, just skepticism. A (brief, completely uneducated) outside view of the field especially suggests that elegant-sounding theories of the mind are likely to fail bad at prediction sooner or later.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-03T18:32:08.477Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed on both counts, and thanks for clarifying.

For my own part, in the hypothetical context Konkvistador and Jayson_Virissimo established, of infanticide being a property crime, it seems at least superficially reasonable to consider how our legal system would assess damages for infanticide and how that would differ from the real world where infanticide isn't a property crime.

And evaluating the potential gain that could in the future be obtained by the destroyed property is a pretty standard way of assessing such damages, much as damages found if someone accidentally chops my arm off generally take into account my likely future earnings had I kept both arms.

So I guess I'm saying that while I'm fairly sure wedrifid was being ironic (especially since I think he's come out elsewhere as pro-babies and anti-infanticide on grounds other than potential gain to their parents), I found his use of irony relatively subtle.

Again, that doesn't in any way preclude your objecting to his post.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-03T18:35:10.909Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The funny thing is, I haven't felt even a tingle of outrage/whatever, I only objected to tone, on a formal principle, for a stupid reason which seems to have already vanished somewhere.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-03T18:37:44.855Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Nor was I inferring outrage.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T10:23:13.806Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe.

Maybe we could just keep it murder, I don't know. There is no law (heh) we have to be consistent about this. In many places across the world killing a pregnant women is tried as a double murder (I think this includes some US states).

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-02T09:21:32.776Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Actually selling your baby on the adoption market should probably be legal too.

I weakly agree, if only for the reason that it sounds better than foster care and could well curb infanticide. On the other hand, in countries that have a problem with slavery it could weaken any injunction against slave trade, by the same argument as the one I support against infanticide. Or it could harm the sacredness of the child-parent bond in general. Well, on the whole it seems just about worth it to me, and no part of it even feels creepy or alarmingly counterintuitive.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T02:25:08.769Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The slave trade thing might be prevented by specifically forbidding the quick or anonymous sale of children. Have the current and prospective parents jump through some hoops, get interviewed by a social worker, etc. and the whole thing thoroughly documented. Find an equilibrium that keeps the nonmonetary transaction costs high enough that low-level slave traders won't think it's worth the trouble to 'go legit,' and the paper trail thick enough that corrupt aristocrats won't want to take the risk of public humiliation, without actually making it more difficult for the beleaguered biological parents than raising an unwanted child themselves.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-05T02:35:14.145Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The ultimate slavery counter: red tape!

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T03:13:46.277Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Working from the assumption that slave-traders are in it for the money? Yeah. Slavery stops happening when it becomes more cost-effective to pay the workers directly, than to pay guards to coerce them.

The main use of slave labor is agriculture, because it's easy to have a large group within a single overseer's line of sight, and output is easy to measure. Child labor has historically succeeded there because of the low skill requirement, and because an individual child's lower productivity was matched by lower housing and food costs. If a child costs more to acquire than an adult - specifically if that difference in up-front costs outweighs the net present value of that slim productivity-per-upkeep-cost advantage - anyone who keeps using children for unpaid ag labor will simply be driven out of the market by competitors willing to do the math.

The app people worry about is sex. Police and prosecuting attorneys (in the US, at least) are already willing to resort to extremely dubious tactics to score a pedophile conviction; this would give them a legitimate audit trail to follow. Someone seeking to purchase a child for such purposes would not dare attract so much official attention... unless they were suicidally stupid, which is the sort of problem that solves itself.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-06-05T05:52:12.564Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Slavery stops happening when it becomes more cost-effective to pay the workers directly, than to pay guards to coerce them.

Hell no, it does not; only the label might change. If the only employers are would-be slavers with no financial, public or moral pressure to look to their workers' welfare, then wage slavery is little better than traditional slavery - in fact it's often worse because a capitalist employer, unlike a slaver, has zero investment in a slave, drawing from a huge pool of unskilled manpower with no acquisition cost. You don't need any guards if a person has no choice but work for you, work for another employer like you or starve!

Picture related.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T07:37:36.362Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I said "slavery stops," not "quality of life improves." Getting employers to compete in a way that benefits workers is a different problem, and obtaining for the workers the freedom to choose to starve (rather than, say, being executed as an example to others) is only the first step.

Quality of life for workers is also a very different problem from quality of life for open-market-adopted children, which was the original topic.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-05T07:08:58.342Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Link broken.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-06-05T07:13:42.810Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Better now?

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T07:31:47.217Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

no, still broken.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-06-05T07:37:00.190Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Changed the URL.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-05T07:35:36.526Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It works for me.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T09:42:51.777Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah the rapid response prevented me from deleting my post (I wanted to do so because the points have been raised elsewhere and I didn't want to bloat the debate, not because I didn't think the post was relevant).

comment by Vaniver · 2012-01-01T10:16:18.555Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

What's your discount rate?

(That is, if I offered you $100 now, or $X a year from now, what is the lowest value of X that would make you choose the latter option?)

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T18:36:21.741Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Vaniver · 2012-01-01T22:12:07.696Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would love to loan you money at 20% interest. Send me a private message if you're interested.

but they're not yet;

When playing chess, how many moves ahead do you look?

you're not doing harm to a person by infanticide any more than you are by using contraception.

A man produces about 47 billion sperm a year; a woman releases 13 eggs a year; a couple that tries to become pregnant over the course of a year will have a 75% chance of live birth pregnancy if the female is 30. So each feasible sperm-egg combination over the course of a year has about a trillionth chance of making it to a live birth. *

As soon as conception happens, then you've got a zygote which is very likely to make it to live birth. And once it makes it to live birth, it's very likely to make it to adulthood. So there seems to be a very bright line at conception. (Contraceptives prevent conception; condoms by preventing sperm from entering, the pill by preventing ovulation, and so on.)

(I should note that I think there are sound reasons to treat a risk that will end one out of a trillion people chosen at random as less of a concern than a risk that is certain to end a certain person, and that this line of reasoning depends heavily on this premise, but it would take too long to go into those reasons here. I can in another comment if you're interested.)

*Noting that 'potential resulting individual DNAs' are individually much less likely than just sperm-egg combinations.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-01T22:21:42.981Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Vaniver · 2012-01-01T23:31:53.390Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One or two, but for me deciding which move to make is practically instinct, less lookahead. Also I'm not entirely sure how this is relevant.

What role should the future play in decision-making?

For me, it seems that if you're confident that having more people in the world is a net positive, then as a necessary conclusion the moral thing to do is to try to have as many children as possible.

It is not clear to me that prohibiting murder derives from that position or mandates birth.

If you're not sure of this, I don't undersand how you can conclude it's a moral wrong to destroy something which is not yet a person but merely has the potential to become one.

By quantification of "merely." If we determine that a particular coma patient has a 90% chance of reawakening and becoming a person again, then it seems almost as bad to end them as it would be to end them once they were awake. If we determine that a particular coma patient has a 5% chance of reawakening and becoming a person again, then it seems not nearly as bad to end them. If we determine that a particular coma patient has a 1e-6 chance of reawakening and becoming a person again, then it seems that ending them has little moral cost.

If infants are nearly guaranteed to become people, then failing to protect them because we are impatient does not strike me as wisdom.

comment by Bakkot · 2012-01-02T01:39:00.274Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-02T11:37:25.959Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As soon as conception happens, then you've got a zygote which is very likely to make it to live birth.

From the NIH:

It is estimated that up to half of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant. Among those women who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is about 15-20%. Most miscarriages occur during the first 7 weeks of pregnancy. The rate of miscarriage drops after the baby's heart beat is detected.

So your bright line should be heartbeat, or at least zygote implantation. This does not significantly affect your conclusions.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-01-02T12:15:14.784Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The jump from 1e-12 to .5 seems brighter to me than the jump from .5 to .8. (.5 is also historically significant, as only about half of born children would live to see puberty for much of human history.)

comment by lisa · 2012-02-07T22:17:24.409Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Hello!

I'm a 20 year old student at Georgia Tech, double majoring in Industrial Engineering and Psychology, and am spending the current semester studying abroad at the University of Leeds in the UK.

I read HPMOR this weekend on a bus trip to London and as soon as I returned I found this site and have been enthralled by the Sequences, which I am slowly working my way through.

All of my life I have loved to read and learn new things and think through them, but last year I came to the realization that my curiosity had started to die in my late high school years. I found myself caring about getting a good grade and then abruptly forgetting the information. Much of what I was "learning" I never truly understood and yet I was still getting praise from teachers for my good grades, so I saw no reason to invest more effort. Early last year, I realized that this was happening and attempt to rededicate myself to finding things that again made me passionate about learning. This was a major contribution to adding Psychology as a second major.

This semester of new classes in a new educational system combined with the past few days of reading the Sequences have sparked my interest in many subjects. I'm itching to go to the school library and start picking up anything that catches my interest now that the the thirst to learn has been reawakened. I'm especially interested in Evolutionary Psychology, Social Psychology, and Statistics. I have absolutely no idea what I would like to do as a future career, but have this reoccurring thought that I would love to do some sort of work which involved restructuring the education system. (Every person at my University that I have mentioned that thought to gives me a strange look and says either "Education? You???' or "But then you wouldn't make any money!')

Anyways, I am extremely glad to have found this site and community.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-08T14:02:11.433Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome to the site!

Early last year, I realized that this was happening and attempt to rededicate myself to finding things that again made me passionate about learning. This was a major contribution to adding Psychology as a second major.

Since I suspect you may find it interesting, have you read anything on spaced repetition so far? Also since I'm linking there I just want to warmly recommend gwern's site in general, he has a great knack for finding relevant information and presenting it well (good enough to get him a job at the Singularity Institute!)

I found myself caring about getting a good grade and then abruptly forgetting the information.

I've come to know and grown to dislike this feeling in the past few years of university. It is why I spend more effort than needed to try and make knowledge I learn become truly a part of me. Of course sometimes you just need to jump through hoops ...

This semester of new classes in a new educational system combined with the past few days of reading the Sequences have sparked my interest in many subjects.

Consider asking around for a chavruta. The sequences are loooong (which is good since they are mostly well written) and talking to people about what you read is always fun. Taking up daenerys on her offer also sounds like a good idea indeed.

Cheers, Konkvistador

comment by lisa · 2012-02-08T22:38:19.476Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hi, thank you for both the welcome and the wealth of helpful knowledge!

I did find the info on spaced repetition, as well as everything else you linked me to, very interesting! I think my problem now is that my interest in so many different things has been sparked, and I'm having a hard time prioritizing what to read and research first!

comment by juliawise · 2012-02-08T00:05:41.163Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hi! I also loved finding a place where people were really excited about ideas.

You might be interested in 80,000 Hours, a site on choosing careers that improve the world (and they're very much in favor of making money as a way to do this, though also in favor of education as a career!)

comment by Swimmer963 · 2012-02-08T14:31:53.775Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm itching to go to the school library and start picking up anything that catches my interest now that the the thirst to learn has been reawakened.

That's a dangerous idea! Books in the library that are more interesting than your textbooks tend to result in "waking up" four hours later to realize you've read an entire book on [interesting subject x] and are still no closer to researching [boring essay topic y].

Good luck though! Your classes do sound pretty interesting. Hopefully you can stay engaged.

I would love to do some sort of work which involved restructuring the education system.

I think that's a brilliant idea, and it really needs to be done. The "but then you wouldn't make any money!" people are pretty annoying, but you can ignore them.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-08T01:28:53.093Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

.

comment by TimS · 2012-02-08T00:25:12.584Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome to LessWrong. If you're interested, there's a meetup every other week that meets near Emory.

comment by lisa · 2012-02-08T00:32:45.028Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm in the UK for the semester, but once I'm back at GT I'm extremely interested in the meetup!

comment by JohnEPaton · 2012-07-30T01:49:55.754Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's cool that your studying a combination of Psychology and Engineering. I'm doing something similar and it seems to be very rare to find someone who is working in both of those fields. I'm sure that in the UK people would be even less understanding of this. It seems like over there you just choose one subject and that's all you do for the next three years. Keep on looking at those library books. I think the most important thing as an undergrad is to follow your interests even if this means dialling back on the effort you put into class work.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-08T01:07:39.175Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hi Lisa! Welcome to Less Wrong!

You're studying some really interesting stuff. What's your semester abroad been like?

You seem really awesome, so I hope you continue to post on here. If you need any one-on-one question answering or discussions, feel free to shoot me a PM :)

comment by lisa · 2012-02-08T12:53:49.761Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hi! Thanks for the welcome!

Studying abroad has been amazing - it's really making me think about all sorts of things I've never thought of and I'm loving noticing the subtle cultural differences!

If I have any questions, I'll be sure to PM you - thank you so much for the offer! :)

comment by thomblake · 2012-02-07T23:30:56.556Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome!

Statistics

Probably the most profitable and most-needed of the three.

Lisa

No need to sign your comments.

comment by Benedict · 2012-07-22T19:52:49.268Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Hey, I'm -name withheld-, going by Benedict, 18 years old in North Carolina. I was introduced to Less Wrong through HPMoR (which is fantastic) and have recently been reading through the Sequences (still wading through the hard science of the Quantum Physics sequence).

I'm here because I have a real problem- dealing with the consequences of coming out as atheist to a Christian family. For about a year leading up to recent events, I had been trying to reconcile Christian belief with the principles of rationalism, with little success. At one point I settled into an unstable equilibrium of "believing in believing in belief" and "betting" on the truth of religious doctrine to cover the perceived small-but-noteworthy probability of its veracity and the proposed consequences thereof. I'd kept this all secret from my family, putting on a long and convincing act.

This recently fell apart in my mind, and I confronted my dad with a shambling confession and expression of confusion and outrage against Christianity. I'm... kinda really friggin' bad at communicating clearly through spoken dialogue, and although I managed to comport myself well enough in the conversation, my dad is unconvinced that the source of my frustrations is a conflicting belief system so much as a struggle with juvenile doubts. This is almost certainly why I haven't yet faced social repercussions, as my dad is convinced he can "fix" my thinking. He's a paid pastor and theologian, and has connections to all the really big names in contemporary theology- having an apostate son would damage both his pride and social status, and as such he's powerfully motivated to attempt to "correct" me.

After I told him about this, he handed me a book (The Reason for God by Timothy Keller) and signed himself up as a counselor for something called The Clash, described as a Christian "worldview conference". Next week, from July 30 to August 3, he's going to take me to this big huge realignment thing, and I'm worried I won't be able to defend myself. I've been reading through the book I mentioned, and found its arguments spectacularly unconvincing- but I'm having trouble articulating why. I haven't had enough experience with rationalism and debate to provide a strong defense, and I fear I'll be pressured into recanting if I fail.

That's why I'm here- in the upcoming week, I need intensive training in the defense of rationality against very specific, weak but troubling religious excuses. I really need to talk to people better trained than me about these specific arguments, so that I can survive the upcoming conference and assert my intellectual independence. Are there people I can be put in touch with, or online meetups where I can talk to people and arm myself? Should I start a discussion post, or what? I'm unfamiliar with the site structure here, so I could use some help.

Oh but dang if there aren't like over a thousand comments here, jeez i don't want to sound like i'm crying for attention but i'm TOTALLY CRYING FOR ATTENTION, srsly i need help you dudes

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-23T00:52:09.930Z · score: 22 (22 votes) · LW · GW

my dad is unconvinced that the source of my frustrations is a conflicting belief system so much as a struggle with juvenile doubts.

That is roughly speaking what juvenile doubts are. The "juvenile" mind tackling with conflicts in the relevant socially provided belief system prior to when it 'clicks' that the cool thing to do is to believe that you have resolved your confusion about the 'deep' issue and label it as a juvenile question that you do not have to think about any more now that you are sophisticated.

Next week, from July 30 to August 3, he's going to take me to this big huge realignment thing,

You clearly do not want to go. His forcing you is a hostile act (albeit one he would consider justified) but you are going along with it. From this, and from your age, I infer that he has economic power over you. That is, you live with him or he is otherwise your primary source of economic resources. I will assume here that your Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) sucks and you have essentially no acceptable alternative to submission to whatever power plays your father uses against you. Regardless of how the religious thing turns out, developing your potential for independence is something that is going to be worthwhile for you. Being completely in the power of another sucks! Having other options---even if it turns out that you don't take them---raises the BATNA and puts a hard limit on how much bullshit you have to put up with.

Now, the following is what I would do. It may or not be considered acceptable advise by other lesswrong participants since it abandons some favourite moral ideals. Particularly the ones about 'lying' and 'speaking the truth no matter the cost'.

I haven't had enough experience with rationalism and debate to provide a strong defense

Providing a 'defense' would be a mistake, for the reasons Kawoomba describes. The people you are dealing with are not interested in rational discussion or Aumann agreement and you are not obliged to try yourself. They are there to overwhelm you with social and economic pressure into submitting to the tribe's belief system. Providing resistance just gives them a target to attack.

Honesty and trust is something people earn. These people have not earned your respect and candor. Giving people access to your private and personal beliefs makes you vulnerable and can allow them to use your words to do political and social damage to you, in this case by making everyday life difficult for you and opening you up to constant public shaming. Fortunately that is better than being stoned to death as an apostate but even so there is no rule of the universe that you must confess or profess beliefs when they will be used against you. It is usually better to keep things to yourself unless there is some specific goal you have that involves being forthright (even if that goal is merely convenience and a preference for openness in cases where the consequences are less dramatic than you face.)

Religion is not about literal beliefs about physics. They lie to themselves then lie to you. You can lie too! You understand belief in belief already. You understand that religious belief (and all equivalent tribal beliefs) are about uttering the correct in-group signals. Most people convince themselves that they believe the right thing and then say that thing they 'believe' out loud. Your main difference is that you haven't lied to yourself as successfully. But why should thinking rationally be a disadvantage? Who says that you must self sabotage just because you happened to let your far mode beliefs get all entangled with reality? Sincerity is bullshit. Say what is most beneficial to say and save being honest for people who aren't going to be dicks and use your words against you.

Brainwashing is most effective against those who most strongly resist. While it can take longer to brainwash people who firmly stake their identity on sticking to a contradicting belief, it is those people who resist strongest are most likely to remain brainwashed. Those that change their mind quickly to make the torture stop (where torture includies shaming and isolation from like minded people) tend to quickly throw off the forced beliefs soon after the social pressure to comply is removed. (Forget the source, is it in Caldini?) If you make confessing the faith some sort of big deal that must be fought then if your brain is more likely to rationalise that it must have been properly convinced if it was willing to make such a dramatic confession. The hazing effect is stronger.

Precommit to false confessions. Go into the brainwashing conference with the plan to say all the things that indicate you are a devout Christian who has overcome his doubts. Systematically lying isn't all that much of a big deal to humans and while it is going to change your beliefs somewhat in the direction of the lies the effect will be comparatively far, far weaker given that you know you are lying out of contempt and convenience.

Fogging is amazing. Have you ever tried to have a confrontation with someone who isn't resisting? I've tried, even roleplaying with that as the explicit goal and I found it ridiculously difficult. It takes an extremely talented and dedicated persuader to be able to continue to apply active pressure when you are giving them nothing to fight against. Frankly, none of the people you are likely to encounter, including your father, would be able to do that even if they tried. They just aren't that good. You don't want to be barraged with bullshit. Saying the bullshit back to them a couple of times makes the bullshit stop. No brainer.

Are there people I can be put in touch with, or online meetups where I can talk to people and arm myself?

Sure, but I suggest meeting with the likeminded people for your own enjoyment and so you don't develop the unhealthy identity of the lone outsider. That and rationalists know cool stuff and have some useful habits that rub off. Where do you live? Are there lesswrong meetups around?

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-22T23:58:20.839Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Go in panic mode.

This conference is not just making a case that Christianity is correct and debating about it. It's bombarding you with arguments for six days, where you won't hear an argument against Christianity or if you do it'll be awkward rude dissent from people in inferior positions, where you won't be able to leave or have time alone to think, and where you're going against your will in the first place. This is time for not losing your mind, not time for changing it. Don't keep an open mind, don't listen to and discuss arguments, don't change your mind because they're right, don't let the atmosphere influence you. If it helps you can think of it as like being undercover among huge patriots and resisting the temptation to defect (and their ideology may be better than yours), or like being in a psychiatrist hospital and watching out for abuse when you know the nurses will try to convince you your reactions are psychiatrist symptoms (and they may well be).

So don't see anything at the conference as a social interaction or exchange of ideas. Your goals are to get out of there, to block everything out, to avoid attention, and to watch sharply for anything fishy. Block out the speakers, just watch the audience. If there's a debate be quiet and don't draw attention. If you're asked to speak, voice weak agreement, be vague, or pick peripheral nits. If you're asked to participate in group activities go through the motions as unremarkably as you can. At the socials be a bit distant but mostly your usual self when making small talk, but when someone starts discussing one of the conference topics pretend to listen and agree, smile and nod and say "Yes" and "Go on" and "Oh yeah, I liked that part" a lot. Lie like a rug if you must. Watch the social dynamics and the attitudes of everyone and anything that looks like manipulative behavior. You'll be bored, but don't try to think about any kind of deep topic, even unrelated (doing math and physics problems in your head are ok, anything with a social or personal component is not). Try to get enough sleep and to eat well. Enjoy the ice cream. Don't think about anything related to the conference for a couple weeks afterward.

This is only short-term, and it won't help with your father; you probably want to handle that afterwards separately.

comment by Kawoomba · 2012-07-22T20:44:57.930Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Hi Benedict!

Bad news first: You will not be able to defend yourself. This is not because you're 18, it's not because you can't present your arguments in a spectacular fashion.

It is because noone will care about your arguments, they will wait for the first chance to bring some generic counter-argument, probably centering on how they will be there for you in your time of implied juvenile struggle, further belittling you.

And - how aggravating - this is actually done in part to protect you, to protect the relationship with your dad. With the kind of social capital, pride and identity that's on the line for your father, there is no way he could acknowledge you being right - he'd have to admit to himself that he's a phony in his own eyes, and a failure as a parent and pastor in the eyes of his peers.

To him it may be like you telling him he wasted his life on an imaginary construct, while for you it's about him respecting your intellectual reasoning.

Maybe the rational thing to do is not strive for something that's practically unattainable - being respected as an atheist on the basis of your atheist arguments - but instead focus on keeping the relationship with your parent intact while you go do your own thing anyways. Mutual respect of one's choices is great in a family, but it may not be a realistic goal given your situation, at least in respect to discussing god.

Good news: While this is such a defining issue for your father, is it a defining issue for you to tell your father publicly your new stance? How hard/easy would it be to let him continue with his shtick, retain the relationship, and still live your life as an open atheist for all intents and purposes - other than when with your family, where you can always act with mild disinterest?

Rational in this forum is mostly construed as "the stuff that works in optimising your terminal values". It is possible for you to be the "bigger man" here, depending on which of the above you value higher. But make no mistake - I doubt that you'll change anyone's opinion on god regardless.

comment by TimS · 2012-07-23T00:38:32.896Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome. I'm sorry that you are in such an awkward situation with you family. In terms of dealing with this conference, I can only echo what MixedNuts said (except for the panicking part). I've always found this quote interesting:

Adulthood isn't an award they'll give you for being a good child. You can waste . . . years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just . . . take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I'm sorry you feel like that, and walk away. But that's hard

We have every reason to think that children's beliefs have no momentum - the evidence is right in front of us, they change their minds so often for such terrible reasons. By contrast, the fact that I disagree with another adult is not particular strong evidence that the other person is wrong.

In other words, try to free yourself from feeling obligated to defend anything or feeling guilty for not engaging with those who wish to change your beliefs. You might consider explicitly saying "Social pressure is not evidence that you are right (or wrong)." If the people talking with you assert that they aren't using social pressure, then ask them to stop continuing the debate. Their willingness to leave is a victory for your emotional state, and their refusal is strong evidence that arriving at true beliefs is not really their goal - but the proper reaction to that stance is to leaving the conversation yourself, not try to win the "you are being rude" debate.

In short, maximizing your positive emotional state doesn't rely on winning debates. Your goal should be to avoid having them at all. (If you hadn't already read the book your father found, I would have suggested declining to do so).

comment by Vaniver · 2012-07-22T21:10:25.505Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Hey! I've got a pastor father too, but thankfully my atheism doesn't seem to be a big deal for him. (It helps that I don't live nearby.)

I think the "conflicting belief system" is, as I understand it, the right model. There's a Christian worldview, which has some basic assumptions (God exists, the Bible is a useful source for learning about God, etc.), and there's a reductionist worldview, which has some basic assumptions (everything can be reduced to smaller parts, experiments are a useful source for learning about reality, etc.), and the picture you can build out of the reductionist worldview matches the world better than the picture you can build out of the Christian worldview. (There are, of course, other possible worldviews.)

I would not put much hope into being able to convince the people at this event that they should be atheists; I wouldn't even hope to convince them that you should be an atheist. And so the question becomes what your goals are.

If you're concerned about recanting your atheism and meaning it, the main thing I can think of that might be helpful is the how to change your mind sequence. You can keep that model in mind and compare the experience you're undergoing to it- it's unlikely that they'll be using rational means of persuasion, and you can point out the difference.

Are there people I can be put in touch with, or online meetups where I can talk to people and arm myself? Should I start a discussion post, or what? I'm unfamiliar with the site structure here, so I could use some help.

Starting a post in discussion is an alright idea; it'll work well if you mention specific arguments that you want to have responses to.

comment by OnTheOtherHandle · 2012-07-23T03:09:55.126Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure how much specific atheist reading you've done, but I found this list to be very helpful at articulating and formalizing all those doubts, arguments and wordless convictions that "this makes no sense." This is also a handy look at what would be truly convincing evidence of the truth of a particular religion's claims. The rest of that author's website is also wonderful.

comment by Bundle_Gerbe · 2012-07-23T02:11:57.469Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It does not sound to me like you need more training in specific Christian arguments to stay sane. You have already figured things out despite being brought up in a situation that massively tilted the scales in favor of christianity. I doubt there is any chance they could now convince you if they had to fight on a level field. After all, it's not like they've been holding back their best arguments this whole time.

But you are going to be in a situation where they apply intense social pressure and reinforcement towards converting you. On top of that, I'm guessing maintaining your unbelief is very practically inconvenient right now, especially for your relationship with your dad. These conditions are hazardous to rationality, more than any argument they can give. You have to do what MixedNuts says. Just remember you will consider anything they say later, when you have room to think.

I do not think they will convert you. I doubt they will be able to brainwash you in a week when you are determined to resist. Even if they could, you managed to think your way out of christian indoctrination once already, you can do it again.

If you want to learn more about rationality specific to the question of Christianity, given that you've already read a good amount of material here about rationality in general, you might gain the most from reading atheist sites, which tend to spend a lot of effort specifically on refuting Christianity. Learn more about the Bible from skeptical sources, if you haven't before you'll be pretty amazed how much of what you've been told is blatantly false and how much about the bible you don't know (for instance, Genesis 1&2 have different creation stories that are quite contradictory, and the gospels' versions of the resurrection are impossible to reconcile. Also, the gospels of Matthew and Luke are largely copied from Mark, and the entire resurrection story is missing from the earliest versions of Mark.) I unfortunately don't know a source that gives a good introduction to bible scholarship. Maybe someone else can suggest one?

comment by Grognor · 2012-07-23T01:41:08.968Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hello, friend, and welcome to Less Wrong.

I do think you should start a discussion post, as this seems clearly important to you.

My advice to you at the moment is to brush up on Less Wrong's own atheism sequence. If you find that insufficient, then I suggest reading some of Paul Almond's (and I quote):

great atheology

If you find that insufficient, then it is time for the big guy, Richard Dawkins:

If you are somehow still unsatisfied after all this, lukeprog's new website should direct you to some other resources, of which the internet has plenty, I assure you.

Edit: It seems I interpreted "defend myself" differently from all the other responders. I was thinking you would just say nothing and inwardly remember the well-reasoned arguments for atheism, but that's what I would do, not what a normal person would do. I hope this comment wasn't useless anyway.

comment by John_Maxwell_IV · 2012-08-02T01:41:47.972Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hey, I agree with what wedrifid said. I fell in to the same trap of trying to beat religious nonsense out of people as a kid. It's a very sexy thing to think about but it doesn't really get you anywhere, in my experience. My only additional advice is that you consider trying to make your "recapitulation" to Christianity convincing. For example, don't give in right away, and make up a story for where you went wrong and why you're a Christian again, e.g. "I thought that x, but now I see that y and z, so x is wrong. I guess maybe God exists after all."

Something to keep in mind when arguing with your dad (internally only): your dad is presenting you with evidence and arguments in favor of God's existence, but these amount to a biased sample. If you really want to know the truth, you should spend an equal amount of time hearing arguments from both Christians and atheists, or something like that.

Also, you can check internally if any of his arguments hold up to this test: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8854

comment by wedrifid · 2012-08-02T04:08:14.879Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also, you can check internally if any of his arguments hold up to this test: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8854

Hey! It's Luke!

comment by Zaine · 2012-07-23T09:39:20.589Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

While wading through all these responses for the very specific response you are looking for (which some charitable LW'er will probably provide if this thread is commented upon frequently enough), you might want to read "How to Win Every Argument - An Introduction to Critical thinking" by Nicholas Capaldi. It offers a brief overview of logic and rational argumentation, and touches upon fallacies and what this site calls the 'Dark Arts', which should help in arming you against common attacks. If you are mathematically minded, but don't want to go into too much depth, you might want to check out "Sherlock's Logic".
Mind, the former text is more of a survey course, whereas the latter is more of an introductory course.

I have read that Luke Muehlhauser has worked through a dilemma similar to yours, and his blog you may find valuable.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-07-23T02:11:28.915Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Should I start a discussion post, or what? I'm unfamiliar with the site structure here, so I could use some help.

I'm sure some people will offer other counsel than preparing yourself and giving the most persuasive arguments you can, which may be worth taking seriously, but if you make such a discussion thread I'm confident that you will receive responses to your queries, and think it is highly probable that the post will receive positive karma.

comment by beoShaffer · 2012-07-23T02:04:26.364Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You might want to wipe this site from your search and browsing history. Also, is it possible for you to feign/induce illness?

comment by shminux · 2012-07-23T01:54:58.011Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

have recently been reading through the Sequences (still wading through the hard science of the Quantum Physics sequence).

The value of this particular sequence is a topic of open debate on LW, so don't get stuck on it, skip it on the first reading, you can revisit it later, after you cover more relevant stuff.

having an apostate son would damage both his pride and social status

While this would be one way to confront him, by pointing out that he is committing mortal sins of wrath and pride, your odds of success are not good. He is a trained professional heavy-weight who has control over you and is not interested in playing by the rules, except for his own. If you play by his rules, you lose. Think about how you can redefine the game, Kirk-like, to your advantage.

As for the meetups, there is one in NC, not sure if this is close enough to you.

comment by Ezekiel · 2012-07-23T00:57:44.584Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I agree (in general) with Xenophon's advice: Calm down, do whatever you're comfortable with spiritually, and in the worst case scenario call it "God" to keep the peace with whoever you want to keep the peace with.

With that said, if you still want advice, I deconverted myself a year ago and have since successfully corrupted others, and I've been wanting to codify the fallacies I saw anyway. Before I start: bear in mind that you might be wrong. I find it very unlikely that any form of Abrahamic theism is true, but if you care about the truth you have to keep an open mind.

Here are some common fallacious arguments and argumentative techniques I've seen used by religion (and other ideologies, of course). They include exercises which I think you'd benefit from practising; if you get stuck on any of 'em, send me a PM and I'll be glad to help out.

  1. Abuse and Neglect of Definitions

Whenever anyone tries to convince you of the truth or falsehood of some claim, make sure to ask them exactly what that means - and repeat the question until it's totally clear. You'd be amazed how many of the central theological tenets of Abrahamism are literally meaningless, since almost no-one can define them, and among those who can no two will give the same definition.

For example: God created the Universe. Pretty important part of the theology, right? So what does it mean, exactly?

A smart theist will say: God caused the Universe to exist.

Okay, great. What does "cause" mean?

Seriously? You know what "cause" means; it's a word you use all the time.

(This is a classic part of this fallacy. In our own minds we have definitions that work in everyday life, but not for talking about something as abstract as God. In this specific case, the distinction is as follows:)

When I say "X caused Y" (where X and Y are events) I mean: within the laws of nature as I know them Y wouldn't have happened if X hadn't. But God created the Universe outside (or "before") any laws of nature, so what does "cause" mean?

... and I've got no idea what an Abrahamist theist would answer, since I've yet to hear one who could. Although of course I'd love to.

For homework: Play the same game, in your head (I assume your old religious self is still knocking around up there) or with a smart religious friend, on some of the other basic tenets of Abrahamism: God is all-powerful, God is all-knowing, God is (all-)good, God is formless. Similarly with any statement of the form "God loves X", "God wants X", or even "God did X" or "God said X" (how can the Cause of Everything be said to have "said" any statement more than any other?)

  1. Intellectual Package Deals

Most religious doctrines are comprised of a huge number of logically independent statements. In Abrahamic theism, we have the various qualities of God mentioned above, as well as a bunch of moral axioms, beliefs regarding the afterlife, and so on. "Proofs" of the doctrines as a whole will often treat the whole collection as a unit, so they only need to bother proving a small fraction.

For instance: A proof of Judaism one of my teachers was fond of was based on proving the Revelation at Mt Sinai - God made a thundering announcement to six hundred thousand families, announcing Its existence and several commandments (there's a dispute as to how many).

Okay, let's say I accept the proof that the Revelation happened. This points to a very powerful speaker, but does it indicate that the speaker is all-powerful? That it is good? That it is telling the truth when it claims to be the being that brought us out of Egypt? That I am morally obligated to do what it wants?

For homework: Write down as many of the axioms of Christianity as you can think of. Once you have a list, look at the behaviour of practising Christians you know, and try to see if it actually follows from the axioms you've got. Add axioms and repeat. (I did this with a religious friend of mine about Orthodox Judaism, and we got to at least fifteen before we got bored.)

Query your memory, Google, your books, and whichever humans you feel comfortable for proofs of Christianity. Check off which of the axioms on your list they actually address - before you even bother to check the proofs for coherence.

  1. X is not satisfactorily explained by modern science... therefore God/soul/etc.

(Including the specific cases where X=the existence of the universe, complex life, or consciousness.)

Aside from almost always falling under #2 (and sometimes #1 as well), arguments of this form are mathematically fallacious. To understand why, though, you have to do the maths. You can find it on this site as “Bayes's Rule” and it's well worth reading the full-length articles about it, but the short version is as follows:

We have two competing models, A and B, and an observation E. Then E will constitute evidence for A over B if and only if A predicts E with higher probability than B predicts E – that is, if I were to query an A-believer and a B-believer before I ran the experiment, the former would be more likely to get it right than than the latter.

This is easiest to see in cases where the models predict outcomes with very high or low probability. For example: If I ask a believer in Newtonian mechanics whether a rock will keep moving after I throw it (in a vacuum), he'll say “yes” (probability 1). If I ask an Aristotelian physicist, he'll say “no” (probability 0). And lo, the rock did keep moving. Therefore, the Newtonian assigned a higher probability to (what we now know is) the correct outcome than the Aristotelian, so this experiment is evidence for Newtonianism over Aristotelianism.

Got that? Then let's take a specifically religious example: as far as I know, modern science does not have a good explanation for the origin of life. We have a vague idea, but our best explanation is based on some pretty astounding coincidences. Religion, on the other hand, has: God created life. There's your explanation.

But translating into maths we get: if atheist science were true, the probability of life arising would be low, since it would take some unlikely coincidences. If theist science (normal laws of physics + God) were true, the probability of life arising would be...

Wait a second. What's the probability of God deciding to create life? We might say we have no idea, since God is inscrutable, in which case the argument obviously can't continue. But the clever apologist might say: God is good, which is to say It wants happiness. Therefore, it must create minds. So the probability of it creating life is actually quite high.

Except that God, being all-powerful, is perfectly capable of making happiness without life – a bunch of super-happy abstract beings like Itself, for example. So what's the probability of It “bothering” to create life? It has no reason not too, having infinite time and energy, but It has an infinite number of courses of action – what's the probability of It picking the specific one we observed happening?

I'm tempted to say that 1/(infinity) = 0, but that's not mathematically sound, so we'll leave it at “I don't know”. Regardless, the point is that arguments of this form fail once you actually look for numbers.

This answer is already long enough to qualify as a post in itself, so I'll leave off here (although there's lots more to talk about). Feel free to ask if I wasn't clear, or once you've finished all the exercises.

comment by Xenophon · 2012-07-22T22:16:07.571Z · score: -7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Hey Benedict,

My name is Wes and I am a new member here as well. I read your intro and all I have to say is just don't let anything bother you. Adopt your own form of spirituality, and let it be non-passive resistance, Zen, or following Jesus' Third Way. There needs to be nothing theistic about it, simply rational and philosophical. When you come into an argument with your old man or your family, just don't be perturbed. If they love you, they should let you make decisions for yourself. A teacher of mine once told me, "Making up your own mind is the only freedom we really have."

If you realize what all religions really strive for, then I think a compromise can be reached. You can have a spiritual side, you can admire and stand in awe of the infinite, the eternal, and the beauty of nature and what they call 'God'. Yet you do not need to call it under the name of the Christian God or give it any one singular definition. Recognize that there is a Higher Power, and your father will agree and will understand. When he prays, you meditate. It will simply be 'God', as you understand him. This power greater than yourself can simply be a group of humanist and rationalist people who gather on-line to share each other's wisdom. This collective here at LW is more powerful than you or me, and any one of us on our own.

Or it can be something deistic, pantheistic, or non-theistic - the choice is yours, and shall always be.

Just know that your way is ultimately the right one for you, and one day they might realize the inadequacies of anthropomorphic or cultural-specific monotheism. Practice turning the other cheek (Jesus was a philosopher- such a good one that weaker men deified him). They will see your enlightenment, whether you call it spiritual or not, through not your words, but your deeds. In the end, I'm not qualified to say this and mean no offense, but I'm guessing LW is not the spot for overcoming religion. Nor for overcoming family issues. Check out r/atheism or PM me at http://www.reddit.com/r/futurology/ my friend.

W

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2012-07-23T17:35:54.540Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If they really love you, they'll let you make decisions for yourself.

This isn't actually true. If your parents don't let you do what you want you shouldn't modus tollens to thinking they don't love you. That would be terrible.

comment by Xenophon · 2012-07-25T05:59:25.815Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It seems like my words are changed in your comment. Isn't there a difference between what you want, and the decisions you decide yourself ?

I decide that it is not worth our discourse whether or not Benedict's parents really love him or not.

I think we're ending up doing this;

|Oh but dang if there aren't like over a thousand comments here, jeez i don't want to sound like i'm crying for attention but i'm TOTALLY CRYING FOR ATTENTION, srsly i need help you dudes

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-23T00:14:24.507Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How do you know that Jesus was a philosopher?

comment by TimS · 2012-07-23T00:42:27.898Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming he was real, not divine (and knew it), and his ideas (e.g. Sermon on the Mount) were accurately depicted in the Bible, what would you call him?

The Jesus I'm describing is fervently Jewish, in case that wasn't clear.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-07-23T04:55:29.076Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Street preacher? Movement organizer? Dissident rabbi?

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-07-23T05:36:50.937Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'd lean towards cult leader.

Edit in response to downvote: while I can certainly see how this could be interpreted as a simple attack on Christianity, considering that the figure in question apparently encouraged followers to give up their belongings to live in communes and made statements strongly indicative of encouraging followers to regard family members who were not followers as outgroup members, I think this is a fair descriptor.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-23T05:56:15.129Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd lean towards cult leader.

He (whether fictional or otherwise) seemed more like a celebrity than a cult leader. The real cult leader was Saul/Paul.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-07-23T06:12:56.978Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's really hard to say, considering that practically everything recorded about him seems to have been filtered through Paul at some stage. You can take a stab at it with the help of some pretty sophisticated textual analysis methods (I think the Jesus Seminar did a pretty good, though not unimpeachable, job of this), but ultimately an analysis always depends as much on readers' preconceptions as it does on the actual text. Kind of like trying to get an handle on Socrates' ideas when all we've got to base them on is Plato and a handful of contemporary commentaries -- except worse, since analogous commentaries don't exist in this case.

I'd lean toward "dissident rabbi" based on the charitable version of my reading of the New Testament, but readings of the New Testament are notoriously idiosyncratic for the same reasons.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-07-23T06:07:10.584Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You can see my edit for further justification. Paul took up the mantle of leadership and effectively made the religion, but that doesn't mean that Jesus wasn't a cult leader.

comment by Xenophon · 2012-07-25T06:10:26.328Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hindsight. How do you know he wasn't? No matter what label you choose to give (H)im, that isn't the point though, if you ask me.

By discussing this, we're only giving in to this;

| Oh but dang if there aren't like over a thousand comments here, jeez i don't want to sound like i'm crying for attention but i'm TOTALLY CRYING FOR ATTENTION, srsly i need help you dudes

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-25T06:35:11.140Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

By discussing this, we're only giving in to this;

| Oh but dang if there aren't like over a thousand comments here, jeez i don't want to sound like i'm crying for attention but i'm TOTALLY CRYING FOR ATTENTION, srsly i need help you dudes

What do you mean "only"? In the context of a thorough introduction, and a relevant request for advice lampshading his degree of desire for an answer like this is certainly excusable.

It's not "giving in" when you choose to do something you reflectively endorse doing without being subject to any more manipulation than a forthright request.

comment by Xenophon · 2012-07-25T06:42:27.414Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I do not presume to know. I am a novel LWian.

Indeed, I hoped to not give in to Benedict's "totally crying for attention". Yet, here we are discussing it even further. I am new to the site, and assumed it was not the place for paternal issues or internal conflicts with your God/deity of choice.

comment by dekelron · 2011-12-26T17:25:48.940Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Hi all,

I'm 25 from Israel. I worked in programming for 4 years, and have recently decided to move on to more interesting stuff (either math, biology, or neurology, don't know).

I'm new in LW, but have read OB from time to time over over the past 5 years. Several months ago I ran into LW, (re)read a lot of the site, and decided to stick around when I realized how awesome it is.

Nice to meet you all!

Ron

comment by MichaelVassar · 2011-12-27T09:58:34.067Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Israel seems like a natural place for LW. Any thoughts on why the memes haven't gotten more traction there yet?

comment by erratio · 2011-12-28T01:37:40.178Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Very naive guess: people in Israel live in constant high proximity to the two biggest mindkillers, religion and politics/nationalism, both of which have serious and immediate real-world consequences for them.

comment by Ezekiel · 2011-12-30T00:09:47.460Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm Israeli, and although my contact with general society in the country is low, I think that's probably a factor. Meme propagation also just takes time.

comment by dekelron · 2011-12-30T09:50:53.524Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Actually I doubt it's something that complicated. In my opinion, the site is not known because there are few people to publicize it, loop.

Anyhow, ARE there more LWers from Israel? I would really like it if there was a meetup here.

comment by dbaupp · 2011-12-31T12:57:01.307Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Anyhow, ARE there more LWers from Israel?

According to this survey, there are at least 2 people from Israel (from Haifa and Kfar Saba).

comment by FAWS · 2011-12-27T00:27:49.275Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Now that you have some karma you should be able to post in the discussion section. Please make sure your post doesn't look like a spam ad, though.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-12-27T00:44:54.094Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

To follow up on what FAWS said, "What are good apps for rationalists?" is a much better title than "Useful Android Apps for the Rational Mind", since the latter sounds like you're trying to sell something to us.

comment by Brigid · 2012-05-01T23:01:39.176Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Hi, I’m Brigid. I’ve been reading through the Sequences for a few weeks now, and am just about to start the Quantum Section (about which I am very excited). I found out about this site from an email the SIAI sent out. I’m an Signals Intelligence officer in the Marine Corps and am slated to get out of the military in a few months. I’m not too sure what I am going to do yet though; as gung-ho as I originally was about intel, I’m not sure I want to stay in that specific field. I was a physics and political science major in college, with a minor in women’s studies. I’ve been interested in rationality for a few years now and have thoroughly enjoyed everything I’ve read so far here (including HPMOR) . Also, if there is anyone who is interested in starting a Meetup group in Hawaii (Oahu) let me know!

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-05-02T06:07:45.993Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Hi, Brigid! Pleased to have you here! Experience has shown that by far the best way to find out if anyone's interested in starting an LW group is to pick a meeting place, announce a meetup time, and see if anyone shows up - worst-case scenario, you're reading by yourself in a coffeeshop for an hour, and this is not actually all that bad.

comment by shminux · 2012-05-01T23:14:57.388Z · score: 2 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome!

am just about to start the Quantum Section (about which I am very excited).

A warning: while the QM sequence in general is very readable and quite useful for the uninitiated, the many-worlds advocacy is best taken with a mountain of salt. Consider skipping the sequence on the first pass, and returning to it later, after you've covered everything else. It is fairly stand-alone and is not relevant to rationality in general.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-05-02T06:11:27.364Z · score: 4 (14 votes) · LW · GW

A meta-warning: Take shminux's "mountain of salt" advice with an equally large mountain of salt plus one more grain - as will become starkly apparent, there's a reason why the current QM section is written the way it is, it's not meant to be skipped, and it's highly relevant to rationality in general.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-05-02T06:38:24.893Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

How would the Sequences be different, other than in the QM parts, if we lived in a classical universe, or if we had not yet discovered QM?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-02T07:22:38.970Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Wild Mass Guessing: in a classical universe, particles are definable individuals. This breaks a whole mess of things; a perfect clone of you is no longer you, and etc.

comment by JGWeissman · 2012-05-02T17:21:26.396Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

a perfect clone of you is no longer you

The lack of identity of individual particles is knock down argument against our identities being based on the identities of individual particles. However, if there was identity of individual particals, this does not require that the identity of individual particles contribute to our identities, it would just remove a knock down argument against that idea.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-05-02T17:45:30.638Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(Almost) all the particles in our bodies are replaced anyway, on the scale of a few years. Replacement here means a period of time when you're without the molecule, and then another comes in to take its place; so it's real whether or not particles have identities. This applies to quite large things like molecules. Once we know that, personal identity rooted in specific particles is shaky anyway.

comment by thomblake · 2012-05-02T17:29:19.180Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

An important point.

Heraclitus probably didn't believe in lack of identity of individual particles, but he did believe we are patterns of information, not particular stuff.

EDIT: On second thought, he'd probably work out lack of identity of individual particles if pressed, following from that.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-05-02T17:50:04.619Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

a perfect clone of you is no longer you

Not necessarily. "What/who is you" is a matter of definition to a large extent. If particles have identities (but are still identical to all possible measurements), that doesn't stop me from defining my personhood as rooted in the pattern, and identifying with other sufficiently similar instances of the pattern.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-05-02T07:54:31.580Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That minds are physical processes seems discoverable without knowing why matter is made of atoms and what atoms are made of. That elimination of mentalism seems sufficient to justify the ideas of uploading, destructive cryonics, artificial people, and so on.

But I'm actually more interested in what implications there are, if any, for practical rationality here and now. (I will be unmoved by the answer "But FAI is the most practical thing to work on, we'll all die if it's done wrong!!!")

comment by thomblake · 2012-05-02T15:41:47.774Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

it's not meant to be skipped, and it's highly relevant to rationality in general.

A few people have asserted this, but how is it actually relevant? Is it just a case study, or is there something else there? As RichardKennaway asks, how does QM make a difference to rationality itself?

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-05-02T16:18:14.121Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Speaking from a non-physicist perspective, much of what the QM sequence helped teach me is helping see the world from bottom-up; QM is regular, but it adds up to normality, and it's normality that's weird. Delving down into QM is going up the rabbit's hole away from weirdness and normality, and into mathematical regularity.

By analogy, normal people are similarly weird because they're the normality that was produced as the sum of a million years of evolution. Which in turn helps you realize that a random mind plucked out of mindspace is unlikely to have the characteristics we attribute to humanlike normality. Because normality is weird.

Once you go from bottom-to-top, you also help dissolve some questions like problems of identity and free will (though I had personally dissolved the supposed contradiction between free will and determinism many years before I encountered LessWrong) -- I still think that many knots people tie themselves over regarding issues like Quantum Suicide or Doomsday Dilemmas, are caused by insufficient application of the bottoms-up principle, or worse yet a half-hearted application thereof.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-05-02T16:38:44.512Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Because normality is weird.

It's bad enough that we've got people talking about things not being weird, as if weirdness is an objective property rather than something in the mind of the observer. Your words which I quoted are even worse; they're a self-contradiction.

If you're not willing to let the word "weird" have its dictionary definition, please, please just taboo it and let the subject die, rather than trying to redefine it as the opposite of the original meaning.

comment by chaosmosis · 2012-05-02T16:42:37.321Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The commenter was saying "our intuitive understanding of reality" is weird, I think. That's why the commenter was able to noncontradictorily say that Quantum Mechanics fixed some problems and made things less weird.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-05-02T17:09:03.857Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"our intuitive understanding of reality" is weird

Let's unpack what that means, because I feel we might be disagreeing over the meaning of the word. I'll use Wiktionary but if you don't like the definitions given feel free to substitute.

Weird (when used as adjective):

  1. Strange.
  2. Deviating from the normal, bizarre. (And some unrelated meanings.)

"Strange" in turn unpacks to: 1a. Not normal; odd, unusual, surprising, out of the ordinary. 1b. Unfamiliar, not yet part of one's experience. (Ex: a strange town.)

For completeness I looked up normal. I believe the only relevant meaning is "usual; ordinary".

Summing up, I define "weird" as meaning "not normal; irregular, exceptional; unexpected". And a secondary meaning of "strange, unfamiliar".

In light of this, what does it mean to say that:

"our intuitive understanding of reality" is weird

Is our intuitive understanding not "normal", exceptional, or unexpected? It's certainly normal among humans; and we have no concrete examples of a larger reference class of conscious beings. It's been argued that other life-forms would form different intuitions, but at least all Earth life except maybe microbes operates on classical-mechanics intuitions. Arguing that this isn't "normal" requires more than just saying something different is possible in principle.

As for the secondary meaning, quantum mechanics (and relativity for that matter) certainly describes behavior which is strange and unfamiliar to our intuitions. But then the correct use of the word "weird" is precisely to say that QM is weird. Not that we are.

comment by chaosmosis · 2012-05-02T18:56:43.102Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think those definitions really capture some of the relevant connotations that weirdness has related to accuracy and consistency. I personally didn't even realize the exact problem you had with the commenter because the way zhe used "weird" made perfect sense to me.

I also don't like prescriptivist theories of grammar very much and think that the original comment was clearly understandable and was perhaps less clearly intended to subvert the common belief that "QM is weird", which is a belief that has been criticized in multiple places on this website, and I appreciated the creative attempt to get rid of the flawed belief by reframing "normalcy".

My initial overview of these comments made me believe there was a lack of communication, now I see the initial hints I missed that show that you're upset because words like "weird" are used informally. My bad for the initial comment, then.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-05-02T19:04:37.646Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I also don't like prescriptivist theories of grammar very much

Me neither. I'm bringing up dictionary definitions as descriptions, not as prescriptions. I happen to agree with the dictionary (and it's not my native language anyway), and since you seem to use a different meaning/definition, please tell me what it is!

and think that the original comment was clearly understandable

I, at least, apparently still don't understand it.

Or rather, I understand the intent (because it's been explained) but can't understand how that intent can be read from the original words.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-05-02T16:52:16.058Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My whole point was about being helped to gain an additional perspective; seeing something from bottoms up.

When you say that weirdness is "in the mind of the observer", you're quite obviously correct in the most plain sense, but you seem to be assuming that a mind can have only one point of view, and not intentionally attempt or even manage to shift between different point of views.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-05-02T17:34:17.999Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I understand your point about the POVs. In light of that, here's what bothers me about saying "normality is weird".

If we look at a quantum-mechanical system from the classical POV, we notice that no classical laws (even classical-style laws we don't know yet) can explain its behavior. So it looks weird to us. That's fine.

If we look at a classical system from the quantum POV, we can't calculate its behavior on the quantum level, it's too complex. But if we could - and in principle the laws of physics tell us how to do it - then we expect to predict its behavior correctly. So why should it seem weird?

The two situations aren't symmetrical. We used to believe in classical mechanics, and then we discovered quantum phenomena, and we saw that they were weird. This was because the laws of physics we used were wrong! Now that we use the right ones (hopefully), nothing should look weird anymore, including "classical" systems.

It's true that QM is at best incomplete, and we can't yet use it correctly in some relativistic situations. So those situations still look weird from a QM POV. But this doesn't apply to our normal lives.

comment by thomblake · 2012-05-02T16:22:58.994Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that's roughly the best I could come up with, but it doesn't seem sufficient. Noticing the extent of cognitive bias is enough to figure out that humans are weird.

comment by shminux · 2012-05-02T16:52:07.768Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious how you used this approach to resolve the Quantum Suicide argument.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-05-02T17:06:02.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I should perhaps make a fuller post about this at some point, but in brief: "Individuals" are in reality quite divisible (pun intended). Quantum Suicide makes sense to me only if you have a top-down pespective on identity that either persists as a whole or is destroyed as a whole and nothing in between.

If you instead view the self as some bizarre arbitrary conglameration of qualia-producing processes (including whatever processes produce self-awareness, however they do it), then the very concept of destruction or persistence must be applied to actually individual thought-processes, and is meaningless when applied to whole people.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-05-02T17:35:39.758Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you instead view the self as some bizarre arbitrary conglameration

Again with the bizarre :-)

comment by shminux · 2012-05-03T16:27:52.599Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have dutifully gone through the entire sequence again, enjoying some cute stories along the way, and my best guess of what EY means is that it is relevant not in any direct sense ("QM is what rationality is built on"), but more as a teaching tool: it brings "traditional Science" in conflict with "Bayesian rationality". (The Bayesianism wins, of course!) The MWI also lends some support to the EY's preferred model, Barbour's timeless physics, and thus inspires the TDT.

comment by thomblake · 2012-05-03T16:41:33.464Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That still doesn't seem like enough to justify the reversal from "not relevant" to "highly relevant".

comment by shminux · 2012-05-03T18:23:49.982Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What reversal? I still think that it detracts from the overall presentation of "modern rationality" by getting people sidetracked into learning open problems in physics at a pop-sci level. Whatever points EY was trying to make there can surely be made better without it.

comment by thomblake · 2012-05-03T18:30:18.986Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What reversal?

I meant where you said "not relevant" and Eliezer responded with "highly relevant". It sounds to me as though he thinks it's fundamental to rationality or something. Very confusing.

comment by thomblake · 2012-05-03T19:34:20.619Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It looks like Eliezer answers my question in this post.

comment by shminux · 2012-05-03T19:59:39.259Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Have you noticed any confusion?

It just seems almost too good to be true that I now get what plenty of genius quantum physicists still can't.

Hmm, "too good to be true"... Does this suggest anything?

In physics, you can get absolutely clear-cut issues. Not in the sense that the issues are trivial to explain. But if you try to apply Bayes to healthcare, or economics, you may not be able to formally lay out what is the simplest hypothesis, or what the evidence supports.

So why bother with an example where Bayes works the worst and is most confusing? [EDIT: What I mean is that the scientific principle works so much better in physics compared to other fields mentioned, Bayes clearly is not essential there]

Bayes-Goggles on: The simplest quantum equations that cover all known evidence don't have a special exception for human-sized masses. There isn't even any reason to ask that particular question. Next!

This is an actual testable prediction. Suppose such an exception is found experimentally (for example, self-decoherence due to gravitational time dilation, as proposed by Penrose, limiting the quantum effects to a few micrograms or so). Would you expect EY to retract his Bayesian-simplest model in this case, or "adjust" it to match the new data? Honestly, what do you think is likely to happen?

Okay, Bayes-Goggles back on. Are you really going to believe that large parts of the wavefunction disappear when you can no longer see them? As a result of the only non-linear non-unitary non-differentiable non-CPT-symmetric acausal faster-than-light informally-specified phenomenon in all of physics? Just because, by sheer historical contingency, the stupid version of the theory was proposed first?

Have you noticed that this is a straw-Copenhagen, and not the real thing?

comment by dlthomas · 2012-05-03T20:42:37.637Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This is an actual testable prediction. Suppose such an exception is found experimentally (for example, self-decoherence due to gravitational time dilation, as proposed by Penrose, limiting the quantum effects to a few micrograms or so). Would you expect EY to retract his Bayesian-simplest model in this case, or "adjust" it to match the new data? Honestly, what do you think is likely to happen?

Honestly, when the first experiment shows that we don't see quantum effects at some larger scale when it is otherwise believed that they should show up, I expect EY to weaken, but not reverse, his view that MWI is probably correct - expecting that there is an error in the experiment. When it has been repeated, and variations have shown similar results, I expect him to drop MWI, because it now longer explains the data. I don't have a specific prediction regarding just how many experiments it would take; this probably depends on several factors, including the nature and details of the experiments themselves.

This is from my personal model of EY, who seems relatively willing to say "Oops!" provided he has some convincing evidence he can point to; this model is derived solely from what I've read here, and so I don't ascribe it hugely high confidence, but that's my best guess.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-05-02T01:15:49.996Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Well, there are a couple of things going on in the QM sequence. One of them is MWI. The other is the general debunking of the commonly-held idea that QM is soooooooo weeeeeeeeird.

comment by shminux · 2012-05-02T02:00:39.929Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that's the good part.

comment by Bruno_Coelho · 2011-12-26T23:00:21.277Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Hi everybody,

I’m male, 24, philosophy student and live in Amazon, Brazil. I came across to LessWrong on the zombies sequence, because in the beginning, one of my intelectual interests was analytic philosophy. I saw that reductionism and rationality have the power to respond various questions, righting them to something factually tractable. My goals here is to contribute to the community in a useful form, learn as much as possible, become stronger and save the world reducing the risks of human extintion. I'm looking for some advice in these topics: bayesian epistemology, moral uncertain and the complexity of the wishes. If some of the participants in the forum can help me, I will be very grateful.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-12-27T00:56:06.824Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have specific questions? You could ask them here, or in the comments of the relevant posts (the age of the thread doesn't matter much, since more people read the Recent Comments sidebar than read any particular post's comments).

Also, on the topic of morality, have you come across lukeprog's mini-sequence?

comment by Bruno_Coelho · 2011-12-27T02:50:30.452Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I read part of the sequence and a recent post of lukeprog on his blog. He think that much of the language of morality is failed, and we have to substitute with another language more precise. In normative terms, decision theory is the best candidate,I suppose, but in the site we have various versions.

comment by Malevola · 2012-01-24T23:35:33.438Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Less Wrong,

After lurking for about a week, I decided to register today. I have read some of the Sequences and a good many posts and comments. I am a life long agnostic who recently began to identify as atheist. I am interested in rationality for many reasons, however, my primary reason is that I'd like to learn more about rationality to help me get over my fear of death. A fear that I feel is very irrational, yet I am unable to shake it. I am 39, female and a mother, I have lots of college under my belt but no degree. I guess I never really cared about that. I am also a schizophrenic and that makes rationality quite challenging for me. (Not that it's not challenging for many people.)
I am looking forward to reading more of the Sequences and hope to be able to comment or post in the near future. I am glad I found this site. Thanks for your time.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-25T23:01:53.846Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

.

comment by Malevola · 2012-01-26T00:29:37.851Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you, GabrielDuquette. I hope what I add is worthwhile.

comment by jwmares · 2011-12-27T04:27:12.755Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I heard about LW from a startup co-founder. I'm 22, in Pittsburgh, graduating college in 4 months and on my 2nd startup. Raised hard-core Catholic, and still trying to pull together arguments from various sources as to the existence of God. The posts on LW have certainly helped, and I'd say I'm leaning towards atheism - though it's been a short journey of only 6 months or so since I've started to question my religion.

I'm very interested in the Singularity movement and how that will shape human philosophy and morality. I've also done some body hacking and started tracking my time, an interest which I think a lot of the LW community shares. Looking forward to becoming more active in the community!

comment by orthonormal · 2011-12-28T01:23:47.952Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome!

The best unsolicited advice I have to give is this: your philosophical leanings are immensely sensitive to psychology, and in particular to the sort of self you want to project to the people around you. So if you want to decide one way or another on a philosophical question that's tormenting you, the biggest key is to surround yourself (socially, in real life) with people who will be pleased if you decide that way. If you want to do your best to figure out what's true, though, the best way is to surround yourself with people who will respect you whatever you decide on that matter, or else to get away from everyone you know for a week or two while you think about it.

Good luck!

comment by jwmares · 2011-12-28T06:35:26.545Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks ortho. I've definitely found that to be the case. I've also struggled to meet moral atheist girls, though a lot of that is also sampling bias (having only been looking for a few months). Interested to see how everything plays out!

comment by jswan · 2011-12-26T22:10:07.073Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I've been lurking here on and off since the beginnings at OB, IIRC, though more off than on. Expressed in the language of the recent survey: I'm an 43-year-old married white male with an advanced humanities degree working in the technical side of for-profit IT in the rural USA. I was raised in a non-theist environment and was interested in rationality tools from an early age. I had a spontaneous non-theistic mystical experience when I was 17 that led me to investigate (but ultimately reject) a variety of non-materialist claims. This led to a life-long interest in the workings of the brain, intuition, rationality, bias, and so on.

I enjoy LW primarily because of the interest in conscious self-improvement and brain hacking. I think that the biggest error I see in general among self-described rationalists is the tendency to undervalue experience. My thinking is probably informed most strongly by individual athletics, many of the popular writers in the rationalist tradition, and wide variety of literature. These days, I'm nursing obsessions with Python programming, remote backcountry cycling, and the writing of Rebecca Goldstein.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-12-27T00:48:19.424Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think that the biggest error I see in general among self-described rationalists is the tendency to undervalue experience.

There are a couple of things you could mean by this. Can you give an example?

comment by jswan · 2011-12-27T03:02:57.987Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

There are indeed a couple of different ways I do mean it, but my best specific examples come from athletics. About eight or nine years ago I started getting seriously interested in long distance trail running. Like most enthusiastic autodidacts I started reading lots of material about shoes, clothing, hydration, nutrition, electrolytes, training, and so on. As I'm sure you've seen, a lot of people on the Internet can get paralyzed by analysis in the face of vast easily available information. In particular, they have a lot of trouble sorting out conflicting information gained from other knowledgeable people.

Frequently, further research will help you arrive at less-wrong conclusions. However, in some endeavors there really is a great deal of individual variation, and you just have to engage in lengthy, often-frustrating self-experimentation to figure out what techniques or training methods work best for you. This base of experience can't really be replaced by secondary research. Where research skill comes in, though, is in figuring out where to focus that secondary research (and this in itself is a skill that is honed by experience). As a friend of mine likes to put it: the best practitioners of [insert skill here] in the world perform almost all components of their skill the same way. They all have weird idiosyncrasies too. The place to focus your research is in the areas they have in common.

Anyway, this is a longer response than I had intended, and undoubtedly this is not new to you; it's just variation on standard cognitive bias. However, I think that deferral of experience and self-experimentation in favor of secondary research (aka, analysis paralysis) is a common bias blind-spot among rationality enthusiasts.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-12-27T16:15:30.530Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree it's a common failure mode, and that the areas in which I've done cheap self-experimentation and kept notes showed remarkably quick improvement. There are some LW posts expounding the meme of actually trying things, but it's less prominent than it ought to be.

comment by troll · 2012-04-17T20:34:44.716Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

minimalist, 17, white, male, autodidact, atheist, libertarian, california, hacker, studying computer science, reading sequences, intellectual upbringing, 1 year bayesian rationalist, motivation deficient, focusing on skills, was creating something similar to bayesian rationality before conversion, have read hpmor (not intro to lw), interested in contributing to ai research in the future

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-04-18T11:20:35.882Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

The Identikit LessWrongian!

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2012-04-17T22:31:50.721Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

"Minimalist" is implied by the sparsity of the rest of the comment, and so is ironically redundant.

comment by troll · 2012-04-17T22:39:47.550Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

There are a few other reasons I could be formatting my introduction that way, such as being bad at English or writing in general. I used "minimalist" both as a heads up for the format and to draw away from the other possible explanations.

comment by thomblake · 2012-04-18T23:56:39.091Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sure you're aware at this point, but with that description you blend into the wallpaper.

Thank you for creating a comment to link "stereotypical Less Wrong reader". If only you were a couple of years older.

Since you're 17, have you looked into the week-long summer camp?

comment by troll · 2012-04-24T22:42:23.309Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have and I have submitted an application.

comment by jimrandomh · 2013-04-24T17:09:42.102Z · score: 6 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Consider restarting with a different account name. Trolling (that is, trying to provoke people) is not welcome here, and when your username is "troll", people will not (and should not) give you the benefit of doubt.

comment by troll · 2013-04-24T21:59:56.110Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Should not? Why? Obviously I'm not provoking anyone.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-04-24T22:35:44.585Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Illusion of transparency seems relevant; even if you know why you picked that username, others can only guess, and their guess should be expected to match their experience, not your private knowledge.

comment by troll · 2013-04-24T22:40:54.752Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I expect people to know what a troll is based on cultural knowledge. I expect them to not care due to this being LW.

comment by shminux · 2013-04-24T23:08:19.517Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Consider your second expectation falsified and update on it, as a "bayesian rationalist" would.

comment by troll · 2013-04-24T23:18:38.158Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah okay.

comment by troll · 2013-04-24T23:44:35.276Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh man 2/3 downvotes just for an affirmation.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2013-04-25T08:01:28.929Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I expect them to not care due to this being LW.

The choice of a name can provide some evidence about whether it's a good-faith account or not; and the name "troll" is providing evidence against. If you told people why you chose that name that might serve to counteract the effect, but I think you've not yet done so... Needing to justify your nick may seem unfair to you, but consider it from the point of view of someone who doesn't know you.

comment by troll · 2013-04-25T20:50:38.212Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My standard way of dealing with internet names is to just ignore them completely because they don't provide much evidence/usefulness (unless I want to reference the person) and I want to read the comment anyway. I guess I thought LWers would either not notice my name at all or see it, be a little more suspicious, and read anyway. (not immediately downvote or tell me my name sucks and I should change it)

AFAICT, you're looking at posts anyway, so good/bad natured names shouldn't matter, only good/bad natured writing.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-25T16:52:58.591Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

See also

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2012-04-17T21:08:52.890Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That handle bodes well.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-04-17T22:00:36.184Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

On an elitist gaming forum I used to frequent (RPG Codex), we called such things "post-ironic" (meaning "post-modern as fuck online performance art").

Basically the joke is that everyone gets the joke, and that allows its author to act as if it was no joke, and self-consciously reference that fact - which is the joke.

comment by Emile · 2012-04-17T21:01:42.920Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome to LessWrong!

(For a cheap way to give a better impression, you may want to switch to another user name)

comment by shokwave · 2012-04-17T21:00:17.317Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Contrarian?

comment by troll · 2012-04-17T21:31:29.086Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

No.

comment by DSimon · 2012-04-19T00:13:42.929Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Anti-contrarian?

comment by troll · 2012-04-24T22:25:06.253Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you mean 'against people who are contrarian', no. If you mean 'for popular opinions', no.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-04-19T04:21:23.739Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Data point: I'm anti-contrarian (well, somewhat) in emotional sentiment, but not in any rationally held principle, and I'm trying not to mistreat contrarians, especially if I'm curious about their ideas. This might be unpleasant to admit, though, as it's basically prejudgice.

comment by Bugmaster · 2013-04-24T23:19:35.002Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You weren't kidding when you said "minimalist". Nicely done.

comment by troll · 2013-04-24T23:30:22.985Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I guess a lot of people are interested enough in an account with the handle "troll" to check my first post, but not enough to not consider the name when reviewing posts.

comment by Bugmaster · 2013-04-24T23:37:49.672Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Realistically, when someone replies to one of my posts on some long thread, I don't take the time to click through their handle and find their own intro post. I don't think that doing so is a good use of my time, and I believe that I am typical in this regard. However, I do take the time to read their handle, and if it seems to say "I am not arguing in good faith", I take notice.

This gives me an idea for a new Less Wrong feature, though: allow users to enter a short descriptions of themselves, and display it when the mouse hovers over their handle for a certain amount of time. I know how I'd implement it with jQuery, but I'm not sure how easy it would be to plug into the LW general architecture.

comment by Sniffnoy · 2013-04-24T23:51:47.748Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think it would be simpler to just allow people to add a short description of themselves to the user page. (And then maybe later the hovering thing can be added if people want that.)

comment by Bugmaster · 2013-04-25T00:11:25.087Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed; if we had that feature, then we could write the Greasemonkey (or whatever) extension as well, since it would just scrub their user page for the description.

comment by gwern · 2013-04-25T01:45:06.464Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Don't we have that as part of the linked wiki userpages?

comment by Sniffnoy · 2013-04-27T00:26:21.890Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

...huh. OK, how on earth do you set up that "profile" thing you have? I can't find it anywhere in the preferences. I think we need to promote this a bit more.

comment by gwern · 2013-04-27T00:27:25.101Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I know, you just register the exact same account name on the LW wiki, and create your userpage, and it's transcluded over automatically.

comment by Sniffnoy · 2013-04-27T02:40:58.329Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hm. OK, I made myself a user page on the Wiki a few hours ago, and I still have no profile here. Do you know how long this is supposed to take?

comment by gwern · 2013-04-27T19:21:42.252Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Second, minute, hour, day are the usual Schelling points for things updating. In this case, when I click on your username I get

This is a test of profile transclusion. Will write more here later.

So I'm guessing the syncing is done daily.

comment by troll · 2013-04-24T23:43:10.897Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Greasemonkey or a browser extension that injects javascript?

comment by Bugmaster · 2013-04-24T23:46:54.693Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How would it get the intro post, though ?

comment by Pesto · 2012-01-06T15:10:19.284Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a 22-year-old mathematics graduate student, moving to Boston next year.

I was recommended HPMoR by another Boston math grad student, followed the authors' notes to read most of the sequences, and then started following lesswrong, although I didn't create an account until recently.

I can't say how I came to actually be a rationalist, though---most of the sequences seemed true or even obvious in hindsight when I first read them, and I've always had a habit of remembering "x tells me y is true" instead of "y is true" when x tells me y is true.

I'm signed up for cryonics. (Current probability estimates 90% that it preserves enough information to be reversible, 95% that I'll die with enough notice to be preserved, 50% that humanity'll advance far enough to reverse it, and 70% that CI'll survive that long.)

I'm vegetarian for carbon efficiency and because the animals that produce most of our meat have negative utility from awful conditions. I don't think sentience is the right standard; is there a good past lesswrong discussion about that?

comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-06T16:25:09.947Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've always had a habit of remembering "x tells me y is true" instead of "y is true" when x tells me y is true.

Impressive if true- the best way to test this might be playing a game like The Resistance...

I'm vegetarian for carbon efficiency and because the animals that produce most of our meat have negative utility from awful conditions. I don't think sentience is the right standard; is there a good past lesswrong discussion about that?

The last one I remember started off with a really confrontational post, and ended up being an angry discussion; I don't think I'll find and link it. I think you could write a better one, and I'd comment on it- I think your points are good reasons to cut back on meat and to strongly prefer small farms over industrial-scale meat (at least for pork, since pigs are the most sentient of our livestock), and I do both of these, but I don't find it worthwhile to go completely vegetarian.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-11-04T04:23:32.024Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I like your username!

comment by beoShaffer · 2012-01-06T16:16:15.538Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome to Less Wrong.

is there a good past lesswrong discussion about that?

There is conversation that touches one it further down in this intro post. There was also a discussion article a while back, I'll see if I can find it.

-edit I was thinking of this but there are actually a ton of results if you just search for vegetarian. This also looks like it might be of interest.

comment by windmil · 2011-12-27T05:11:40.635Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Hello all.

I've been lurking around here and devouring the sequences for about two years now. I haven't said much because I rarely feel like I have much that's useful, or I don't feel knowledgeable about the subject. But I thought I might start commenting a bit more.

I'm 19, in Florida and studying engineering. I really want to do something that will bring the world forward in some way, and right now that has me pointed at trying to put my personal effort towards nanotechnology. For now though I'm just trying to win classes and learn as much as I can.

Not too much more than 'hi', but there it is.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-12-28T01:34:56.138Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome!

I really want to do something that will bring the world forward in some way, and right now that has me pointed at trying to put my personal effort towards nanotechnology.

Although I disagree that this is the best direction for marginal technological development (in particular, I don't know if we're smart enough to not do nanotech horribly wrong), I expect you'll learn some extremely important things in the process of studying...

comment by windmil · 2011-12-28T03:53:18.303Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It might not be. Of course I don't feel like I'm on track to help suddenly make atomically precise, self replicating nanomachines. But it would be nice to get closer to some mechanically precise manufacturing, or just certain better materials for some applications. Also I could make some money.

I am an early engineering undergrad, so right now I'm mostly taking intro to anything at all classes and not doing any real work. I wouldn't be surprised if I changed directions at all.

comment by khafra · 2012-01-03T20:48:19.056Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good to meet you. AFAIK, since molybdenumblue and one other whose name I can't recall left, _ozymandias, you, and me are the only people here willing to admit to being Floridians. I'm a bit south of you, in Tampa Bay.

edit: Heh, due to my terrifyingly slow computer, I noticed and added _ozymandias in a spacelike interval to your reply. Internet special relativity.

comment by windmil · 2012-01-03T20:51:19.744Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good to meet you too. There's also Ozy in Florida. That's a whole Three People!

comment by rv77ax · 2011-12-27T04:04:07.105Z · score: 13 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Hello LW readers,

Long time lurker here. Just created this account so I can, probably, participated more in LW discussion.

I'm male, 27 years old, from Indonesia. I work as freelance software developer. I love music and watching movies. Any movies. Movie is the only way I can detached from reality and have a dream without a sleep.

I come from Muslim family, both of my parent is Muslim. Long story short, after finished my college, with computer science degree, I tried to learn extend my knowledge more in Islam. I read a lot of books about Islam history, Islam teaching, Quran commentary, book that explain hadith and Quran, etc. Every books that my parents have. Soon, with the help of Internet, I renounce my faith and become an atheist. I see rationalism, philosophy in general, as the way to see the world without giving any judgments. Because, in the end, there is no absolute truth, only facts and opinions.

I know LW from /r/truereddit, and has been reading some of the articles and discussions in here, very informative and thoughtful. The only thing I can help here probably by translating some of articles, especially the Sequences, into Bahasa Indonesia.

comment by cousin_it · 2011-12-27T13:13:42.427Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Because, in the end, there is no absolute truth, only facts and opinions.

Eliezer's essay The Simple Truth is a nice argument for the opposite. The technical name for his view is correspondence theory. A short summary is "truth is the correspondence between map and territory" or "the sentence 'snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white".

comment by rv77ax · 2011-12-28T06:53:36.357Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, The Simple Truth is one of my favorite essay, and it's not the opposite of my statement. Autrey is the one who work with facts (reality) and Mark is the one who work with opinion (belief). Who jump at the cliff at the end ?

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-12-31T06:44:04.218Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I interpreted your comment about no absolute truth to mean something like the objects in the universe having no inherent properties (or at least less inherent properties than most might think). Was that what you meant?

comment by rv77ax · 2012-01-03T18:06:35.486Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am not sure I'm fully understand about Mind Projection Fallacy, but I answered it with: Yes.

The point is the word "truth" that we, English language, use today is not truth in the sense of everything is true and everyone accept it as true; but only part of it is true, I called in facts, and the rest of the part is just an opinions.

comment by thomblake · 2011-12-27T16:42:37.416Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The technical name for his view is correspondence theory.

If you really want to be technical, I think it would be hard to say whether this view is supposed to be a correspondence or deflationary theory of truth, and some (including the linked article) would regard them as currently at odds.

Personally, I think the distinction is not very important (which is also hinted at in the linked article) and it makes sense to use the language of both. The Simple Truth in particular casts it as deflationary; the shepherd doesn't even know what 'truth' is, and thinks questions about it are silly - he just knows that the pebbles work.

ETA: To be slightly more helpful to readers, here's a relevant section of the SEP article that intends to illustrate the difference:

A correspondence-type formulation like

(5) “Snow is white” is true iff it corresponds to the fact that snow is white,

is to be deflated to

(6) “Snow is white” is true iff snow is white,

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-27T17:23:43.624Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One can, of course, get arbitrarily wrapped around the axle of reference here. "The man with a quarter in his shoe is about to die," said by George, who has a quarter in his shoe, shortly before his own death, is true... but most intuitive notions of truth leave a bad taste in my mouth if it turns out that George, when he said it, had not known about the quarter in his shoe and was asserting his intention to kill Sam, whom George mistakenly believed to have a quarter in his shoe. Which is unsurprising, since many intuitive notions of truth are primarily about evaluating the credibility and reliability of the speaker; when I divorce the speaker's credibility from the actual properties of the environment, my intuitions start to break down.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-12-28T01:27:08.745Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Because, in the end, there is no absolute truth, only facts and opinions.

There are several different things you could mean by this. Do you agree that, outside of human cognition, some things happen rather than others? And also, isn't it practically useful if our expectations are in line with the sorts of things that actually happen?

comment by rv77ax · 2011-12-28T06:36:58.928Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There are several different things you could mean by this.

Yes. The big context are science and ethics. In science, we work with facts, and from them we develop a hypothesis (opinion). Someone can agree with one hypothesis, and become true, until it proven otherwise. In ethics, everything is just opinions.

Do you agree that, outside of human cognition, some things happen rather than others?

Yes. If I can simplify it, only one thing is happened outside of our cognition, and its linear with time.

isn't it practically useful if our expectations are in line with the sorts of things that actually happen?

No. I think that would become confirmation bias.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-01T18:19:04.682Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

isn't it practically useful if our expectations are in line with the sorts of things that actually happen?

No. I thing that would become confirmation bias.

So you do accept scientific evidence, then- simple (approximate) models that explain well-verified patterns should be taken as practically true, until their limits are found. Right?

(Otherwise, on what grounds do you cite research about confirmation bias?)

comment by TimS · 2012-01-01T18:26:03.417Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Link to a previous discussion I had about post-modernism and science. Brief summary: Models - no, Predictions - yes.

comment by rv77ax · 2012-01-03T18:43:51.416Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So you do accept scientific evidence, then- simple (approximate) models that explain well-verified patterns should be taken as practically true, until their limits are found. Right?

Yes and no, depends on the context. In reality, some of patterns can be taken as practically true and some of it is not.

As an example, If I drop something from top of building, it's always go down to the ground; this pattern is always reproducible with the same result by all peoples who can test it. But, if I drink hot water when I'm sick and I get healthy in the next morning, that would become biased, because it's not always reproducible with the same result.

I think, it's only a matter of how someone defined the value for "well-verified" and "limit" until it become true for himself.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-03T21:42:38.656Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So you're talking about a quantitative difference rather than a qualitative one- we should be far more skeptical about our generalizations than we're inclined to be. A good point in this community, but phrasing it as "no truth" probably communicates the wrong concept.

comment by KwHayes · 2011-12-27T01:17:10.740Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Hello! I'm male, 20-something, educator, living in Alberta, Canada. I came across LessWrong via some comments left on a Skepchick article.

My choice to become an educator is founded upon my passion for rational inquiry. I work in the younger grades, where teaching is less about presenting and organizing knowledge and more about the fundamental, formative development of the human brain. Because of this, I am interested in exploring the mental faculties that produce "curiosity behaviors" and the relationship between these behaviors and motivation.

I'm a constructivist at heart; I help guide my students to become masterful thinkers and doers by modifying environmental variables around them. Essentially, I trick them into achieving curriculum-mandated success by 'exploiting' their mental processes. In order to do this effectively, I need to understand as best I can the processes that guide human thoughts and behaviors. This is something I have been interested in since I was young - I am fortunate to have found a career that allows me to explore these interests and use my understanding to better my students'.

I've considered myself to be a rationalist since i was 16 or so, and it's hard to trace my motivations to anything declarative. I have always been a disassembler; As a child, I would take things apart and explore them, but I would rarely put anything back together. Instead, I would use my energy to create new things for myself. This probably alludes to something meaningful about my own brain, but I am so far unable to fully illuminate it.

My goal here is to explore the thoughts and ideas of others and construct enduring understandings for myself. It would be great if these understandings can be applied to education, but satisfying and reinforcing my own curiosity will suffice :). My background is weakly academic; I do not have formal experience with many of the theoretical frameworks that I've seen used here, but I feel that my knowledge and experience will allow me to add some value. I'm a debater, a discusser, and a collaborator, so I think I will fit in pretty well. I'm also excited at the prospect of meeting individuals with whom my interests overlap - so far, the chances seem pretty good!

In short: I am an educator, interested in the way that environment and media interact with the human faculties of inquiry and curiosity. My goal is to understand how these faculties influence motivation, and eventually learning. I am also concerned with the ways that we define all of the above words, and especially what teachers sometimes thoughtlessly call "intelligence." I hope to one day develop a more clear framework of learning as it relates to cognitive processes.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-12-27T01:30:44.137Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome! I hope you'll post about some of the specific methods you're used with your students.

comment by cousin_it · 2011-12-27T13:07:41.534Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am interested in exploring the mental faculties that produce "curiosity behaviors" and the relationship between these behaviors and motivation.

This interests me because my small experience with teaching kids suggests that curiosity is indeed the bottleneck resource. Please post about your experiments and conclusions.

comment by Curiouskid · 2012-01-02T00:15:24.836Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You should talk to daenerys she's also an educator of the young.

comment by OrdinaryOwl · 2012-04-15T02:26:29.986Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Hello Less Wrong!

I am a twenty year old female currently pursuing a degree in programming in Washington State, after deciding that calculus and statistics was infinitely more interesting to me than accounting and economics. I found LW via HPMOR, and tore through the majority of the Sequences in a month. (Now I'm re-reading them much more slowly for better comprehension and hopefully retention.)

I wish to improve my rationality skills, because reading the Sequences showed me that there are a lot of time-wasting arguments out there, and I want to spend my time doing productive, interesting, and fun things instead. Also, I've always enjoyed philosophy, so finding a site that uses scholarship and actual logic to tackle critical issues was amazing.

Other defining things about me: I like cooking, folding origami, playing video games, and reading science fiction, fantasy, and history books. I struggle with procrastination and akrasia. I look forward to self-improvement!

comment by Kevedes · 2012-07-25T17:48:39.749Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Hello Everyone,

This is an interesting site! I found it in the recent New York Observer article about the Singularity.

I've been a huge fan of the Sciences my entire life (primarily Biology, but more recently physics and mathematics) and like to think of myself as rationalist, although I have doubts about it's limits. I'm also a playwright, comedian and musician.

I was loosely raised Greek Orthodox, and although it never really took hold, I think this explains why I really like Nikolai Gogol. I'd consider myself a de-facto atheist with a strong intuitive (faith-based? 'infinite resignation') streak. A few years back I had a 'religious revelation' and it took me quite some time to come to terms with what exactly happened to/in/through me. I now semi-jokingly refer to myself as a Born-Again Secular Humanist.

This seems like an interesting place to meet people and discuss ideas. Thanks for existing!

-Kevin (Kevedes)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-25T18:53:19.108Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I know after reading this post, one of the first things I thought was that I wanted to read the article you mentioned. So I went and found the article and have linked it below in case any one else wanted to read it as well.

http://betabeat.com/2012/07/singularity-institute-less-wrong-peter-thiel-eliezer-yudkowsky-ray-kurzweil-harry-potter-methods-of-rationality/

Thanks for referencing it!

comment by thomblake · 2012-07-25T20:06:46.492Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That is an awesome article - thanks for finding the link!

comment by Adriano_Mannino · 2012-07-04T01:23:15.160Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Hi all, I'm a lurker of about two years and have been wanting to contribute here and there - so here I am. I specialize in ethics and have further interests in epistemology and the philosophy of mind.

LessWrong is (by far) the best web resource on step-by-step rationality. I've been referring all aspiring rationalists to this blog as well as all the people who urgently need some rationality training (and who aren't totally lost). So thanks, you're doing an awesome job with this rationality dojo!

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-04T17:06:00.649Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hi all, I'm a lurker of about two years and have been wanting to contribute here and there - so here I am. I specialize in ethics and have further interests in epistemology and the philosophy of mind.

I look forward to hearing what you have to say about each of these fields!

comment by Elithrion · 2012-04-02T21:17:45.052Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Hello there!

I think I first saw LessWrong about three years ago, as it frequently came up in discussions on KW, the forum formerly linked to the Dresden Codak comic. This makes mine one of the longer lurking periods, but I've never really felt the urge to take discussion to the actual posts being discussed and talked about them elsewhere when I felt the need to comment. All this changed when Alicorn told me that when I was asked to make a post relevant to LessWrong that meant I actually had to post it on LessWrong (a revelation which I should have probably anticipated). So it has come to this.

The simplest place to start describing myself is by saying that I'm the type of person that skims through the 200 most recent comments to see which ones are well liked before writing anything.* In real life terms, I've finished up my bachelor's degree in December, after making various errors. Unfortunately, with it finished, I have discovered that I lack motivation to pursue a standard career, since just about the only things I find myself caring about are stories, knowing the future (in the general, not the personal, respect), and understanding things, particularly things related to people. (This is probably not normal for a human, but I can't say I mind it.) Fortunately, these things are fairly similar to the things LW is interested in, so it shouldn't be a problem!

These atypical weights in my utility function do, however, leave me with opinions that I think are largely a lot "darker" than the typical poster (and I don't just write that for sexy bad-boy appeal). For example:

  • I think utilitarianism is a terrible system to base anything on, and is basically what you adopt if you want to say "I think being nice is good" and want to make it sound like a well-reasoned ethical system. I'd like it better if you just said "I think being nice is good".
  • I think democracy and equality under the law merely look like good ideas because we don't yet have the computational power to implement actually good ideas of which these are at best extremely simplified approximations.
  • I think that seemingly obvious statements such as "we are all agreed that [it] is wrong to kill people (meaning, fully conscious and intelligent beings)", from a highly rated comment by Alejandro1 down the page, are not very obvious and require serious justification. I think there are cases in our world where it is completely acceptable to kill people (although admittedly he probably meant his comment to apply only to a very specific subset of killing people), and there are many possible worlds where such cases would be far more frequent.

Well, the first two of those don't even have much to do with my personal preferences. And yet, I'm not a scary person, I promise! While maybe my utility function makes it easier for me to accept these conclusions, the overwhelming majority of my beliefs actually arose from oodles of thinking about the topics, and they are just things that I think are true, regardless of whether I want them to be true or not. That said, when the enraged zealots come for us, I'm pretty sure I'm going to be one of the first to burn at the stake! I also wish that using smiley faces was more acceptable here, since I would not mind adding an equals sign-three one to the end of that sentence to convey the intended mood a little better.

Well, this has already gone on too long already, but I hope you were not too bored. I might as well mention that at the moment, I'm trying to write a realistic post-apocalyptic novel (where the recovery has set in enough that they're ahead of the previous all-time high), and applying for a Center for Modern Rationality helper position, since I think these things are interesting, and I'd like to explore them before moving on to uninteresting survival strategies if necessary.

Bye for now, and I hope we have illuminating conversations together!

*If you're curious what I found, here are the general conclusions (although some of these are fairly low confidence):

  • introductions that include the person's real name are a little bit better liked, but not significantly
  • there is no particular correlation between length and upvotes
  • most introductions reach a rating of 5 over time, even if they're relatively content-free
  • including something that praises LW or HPMoR or the community has a small positive correlation with upvotes
  • introductions which trigger responses of any sort are generally upvoted more (not surprising since they're more visible and overall upvotes per view seem almost universally positive)
  • introductions that describe something fairly unique get noticeably more upvotes
  • general good writing style helps (big surprise there)
  • posts that primarily promote something unrelated to introductions are rated lower
  • mentioning having a PhD or other real-world qualifications seems to be fairly karma-neutral
  • other minor things I have even less confidence in
comment by Swimmer963 · 2012-04-02T22:38:55.657Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think democracy and equality under the law merely look like good ideas because we don't yet have the computational power to implement actually good ideas of which these are at best extremely simplified approximations.

Yeah, probably. Mainly because it seems likely to me that almost any system in place has better, more optimal alternatives which we don't have the computational power to implement. It is a useful statement in some ways, if only to distinguish ideological, "this-is-sacred", versus instrumental, "this is the best we can do so far" types of beliefs. However, a more useful statement would compare democracy and equality to all the other options that require the same computational power or less.

"we are all agreed that [it] is wrong to kill people (meaning, fully conscious and intelligent beings)"

I unpack this statement to mean that, all other circumstances being equal, it's preferable to accomplish your goals in a way that involves not killing conscious beings. This isn't obvious, really, but it's intuitive to humans, who are generally conscious beings who don't want to be dead and who can empathize with other conscious beings and assume they also don't want to be dead. It's not obvious, I guess, that someone else's consciousness, which I can never experience directly, is comparable in value to my own consciousness, which I experience continually... I find myself unable to break it down any further, though, so I think I must take this as an axiom of my ethical system. Humans have specific brain sub-systems in charge of empathy, which likely evolved for reasons of social cohesion and its survival advantages, and I'm not sure you can break morality any further down than that...but saying those words doesn't cancel the empathy modules either. Empathy would make it hard for me to justify choosing to kill a conscious being right in front of me, and some desire for symmetry or fairness or universality makes my brain want this to be the case everywhere, for all conscious beings, not just those ones immediately in front of me whose life is in my hands. I don't want someone else a thousand miles away to start killing people either, because [insert axiom] their conscious is equal in value to mine, thus in a different possible world I could be them, and I really don't want to get killed. Thus it's wrong.

Make any sense?

since just about the only things I find myself caring about are stories, knowing the future (in the general, not the personal, respect), and understanding things, particularly things related to people.

I've started caring about these things much less since setting out on the process of establishing a standard career. It might be caused by years of working too much while studying full time, and the resulting burnout, or just from having to cram a lot of career-relevant stuff into my head and thus having less room left over for bigger ideas. It might also just be from getting older–during the past few years, I've studied a lot and worked a lot, but I also aged up from adolescence to young adulthood, with the accompanying changes in brain development. I would say be warned, though–forcing yourself to focus on something specific might cause you to lose some of your general curiosity.

I might as well mention that at the moment, I'm trying to write a realistic post-apocalyptic novel (where the recovery has set in enough that they're ahead of the previous all-time high

Sounds fascinating. I'm not sure I've read any post-apocalyptic novels where the current level of development was higher than that before the apocalypse, which is what I'm interpreting. I've completed what I guess could be called a post-apocalyptic novel, though some realistic-ness was compromised in the name of a more exciting and compelling narrative. Best of luck!

comment by Elithrion · 2012-04-03T03:25:09.140Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

However, a more useful statement would compare democracy and equality to all the other options that require the same computational power or less.

This is definitely true. That said, I actually do have at least two systems that I prefer to democracy that are implementable at current processing power levels (they might have somewhat higher needs than democracy, but nothing huge). Equality probably actually does require a lot of processing power to shift completely. However, it is conceivable that we could benefit from creating additional classes of citizens with widely different rights (currently we have children and the mentally ill in this category), although I have not thought about that too much, so I'm not sure if we actually would or not.

I unpack this statement to mean that, all other circumstances being equal, it's preferable to accomplish your goals in a way that involves not killing conscious beings.

Sorry, it was probably bad of me to quote without context. What he actually meant (in my interpretation) was that it is clear that it should be illegal to kill adult human beings, which was part of his argument that it should be illegal to kill infants (search it if you want the full context), so it is with this claim that I took exception. Certainly, I would agree that if all else is equal (a premise that is almost never true, unfortunately), it would be better not to kill people than to kill people. In particular, I think the reason that some view it as possibly okay for parents to kill infants is that the status of infants is close to that of property or pets of their parents. It is here that the analogy breaks down, because our current society does not have adults as pets or property of other adults. However, I think such a situation would be perfectly acceptable - for example, it should be legal for me (in full possession of my faculties, without coercion, etcetera) to sign over to someone else the right to kill me if he or she so chooses. After such a contract is made, I believe it should be completely legal for them to kill me if they wish it. Additionally, we already implicitly provide such rights to any state we enter with some conditions attached (I use a social contract approach here, which is not to indicate I endorse social contracts) - they can kill us if we violently and dangerously resist the police, in some places if we break the law in certain ways, and further the state transfers the right to kill us to private citizens if we attack them and sometimes in other instances. As such, there are indeed many cases when killing people is deemed acceptable and proper, and I think most of these instances are not outrageous.

I'm not sure I've read any post-apocalyptic novels where the current level of development was higher than that before the apocalypse, which is what I'm interpreting. I've completed what I guess could be called a post-apocalyptic novel, though some realistic-ness was compromised in the name of a more exciting and compelling narrative.

Yep, you're interpreting that correctly. Mostly the apocalypse is an extremely well justified for a big shake-up of society without massive technological progress. To be honest, I like fantasy better than science fiction in general, since it explores societies more than it does technology, and I think that is much more appealing in a novel. So, I'm trying to sort of get the best of both worlds - a character driven story exploring interesting societal patterns, and a setting that is somewhat familiar to anyone who knows the modern world, as well as makes them think about where we might head. Although I'm not sure to what extent this thoughtful motivation sprung up after I had a story idea I really liked, which is what really triggered novel writing inspiration. We'll see how it goes anyway, and thanks for the interest!

comment by Zaine · 2012-04-02T21:57:38.626Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hello! I'd welcome you, but I can't honestly represent anything or anyone besides, well, me (I'm a complete neophyte). Really my interest quite piqued at your thoughts on Mr. Bentham's philosophy, as they happen to be the exact opposite conclusion I came to - namely that utilitarianism is essentially for people who think, "Things could be so much better if I ran things." The main logical process that led to this conclusion was: People aren't being logical < If they were logical, they would consider the probability of the net good of an act, and only act if the probability was very high, or just above normal but still low risk < What about contentious issues, based upon value systems? who would make the call on those? < ___.

On that last step I've never really made any progress, as it seems no matter how objective (I consider this word to include the consideration of emotions) and rational you are, on the contentious issues that have no... *

  • ... Sorry, I just had a thought. I remember reading somewhere that for things that have no right or wrong, after the collective evidence has been weighted for accuracy, legitimacy, credibility etcetera, the option(s) that have the greatest probability of truth should be (as a rationalist) treated as truth for the time being; if some new evidence tips the scale in the other direction, so follows the belief. This ... means no religion could be rationally considered true - as of now, at least. Thus any governmental system based upon utilitarianism would only tolerate religion insofar as it affects the emotional welfare of its citizens. And that if either 3,000 innocents or 3 brilliant, Nobel prize winning, humanity-revolutionizing genius scientists absolutely, all other possible and impossible avenues had been taken and failed, had to die, then it would come down to probabilities of each possibility's net good (utility) when deciding which to pick.

I suppose I made a little bit of progress there, so thank you for the kick - but you can see, I hope, how I think utilitarianism is embraced by people who think on the opposite pole of "I think being nice is good". I don't think it's embraced only by those who think they should be running things anymore, though. That changed since the beginning of the post, and since this was a bit about your thought processes in coming your conclusion, I've kept mine.
Cheers!

*The following bracketed fragment completes the thought I was going write, before I cut off the sentence and started from "... Sorry"; it was written ex post facto: [right or wrong, it comes down to the individual value system of the decider(s).]

comment by Elithrion · 2012-04-02T23:19:45.489Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think your thought process brings up a few different aspects of evaluating ethical philosophies, and disentangling them would be very helpful.

First, I certainly agree that there are probably people out there that reach utilitarianism through a process of motivated cognition - they want to be in control, and the reason they use (perhaps even to themselves) to make that sound better is that it would be for the good of everyone. However, I also think that there are many other people out there who grew up believing that good is what we should strive for and that the way to do that is to aim for the greatest benefit of the greatest number of people. These types of people might then reach for utilitarianism not to justify actions they wanted to perform already, but rather as what they perceive as the closest complete ethical system to their previous objectives.

While the former group of people merely use utilitarianism as an excuse (even if they believe they believe in it), it is actually the latter group whose reasoning I am generally more concerned about. Whereas the dictator types will do what they planned to do anyway, the forces of good types are vulnerable to taking utilitarianism too seriously, and doing such things as, for example, thinking that maybe it's okay to sacrifice one human life if it will save one million ants (without considering ecosystem impacts), which I do not think is a thought that would have ever arisen from their core belief system. Which is not to say that all utilitarians would agree with that trade-off, but I have seen some who seem like they would, and that is just one minor example of the many problems I have with the idea.

The other point I wanted to bring up is that utilitarianism is really a system for general thinking, even if one likes it, not for immediate real-world implementation. Indeed, it is unimplementable, in the mechanism design sense. So the only way (that I can think of) that you could put it into practice in the real world is to have a strong AI (or equivalent) build detailed models of everyone (possibly involving brain scans) and implement a solution based on those (as otherwise, any implementation would suffer from participants refusing to tell the truth about their utility functions). So, the question of "how would contentious decisions be made?" is fairly unanswerable, except through accepting some deviation from utilitarianism.

I hope that helps crystallize your thoughts a little bit.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-04-02T23:58:46.966Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That said, where there exists a measurable difference between an implementable approximation of utilitarianism and an implementable approximation of some other moral principle X, then it makes sense to consider oneself a utilitarian or an Xian even if one is, as you say, accepting deviations from utilitarianism or X in order to achieve implementability.

comment by Zaine · 2012-04-03T02:10:16.977Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you! I'd never really thought of that other (the latter) approach to utilitarianism; that explains a lot.
Nitpick: The use of 'crystallize' in regard to 'thoughts', I think, would only be recommendable when describing a particularly desirable thought process. I understood crystallize to mean elucidate, in this context, but cause for confusion is there.

comment by Elithrion · 2012-04-03T04:17:58.323Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! I was sort of using a word experimentally, and it's good to know that it can be a bit confusing. For the record, yes, I did mean it in an elucidate sort of way.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-04-02T21:35:20.582Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome! FWIW, your thoughts about democracy, equality under the law, and the utility of killing people are not uncommon around here. Possibly your thoughts about utilitarianism are as well, although it depends rather a lot on what you consider a better system to base anything on, and on just what you mean by "utilitarianism".

comment by Elithrion · 2012-04-02T22:42:25.224Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, at the very least, I am fairly confident that my particular conclusions about what alternative systems I prefer are not common. As evidence of deviation from the mean, I find myself more in favour of legal infanticide (or even filicide depending on your preferred age ranges for each word) than the most pro-infanticide positions expressed in that big debate down below, which in my case is merely a quick consequence of other, possibly more unusual, positions.

Maybe I'll do a summary in the actual discussion area when I feel up to it, or if people are genuinely curious as to what my positions are.

comment by drnickbone · 2012-01-20T19:21:46.711Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Hi, I'm Nick Bone ... Just joined the site.

I'm based in the UK and interested in a wide variety of topics in science and associated philosophy. In particular, the basics of rationality (deductive and inductive logic, Bayesian Theorem, decision theory), foundations of mathematics (logic and set theory). Plus some of the old staples (classical arguments for/against existence of God, first cause, design, evil and so on).

My background is in mathematics and computer science (PhD in maths) and I'm currently working in an area of applied game theory. Generally I found the site by Googling, and the quality of discussion seems rather higher than on other discussion boards. Hope I can contribute.

By the way, I started off by putting together some thoughts on the "Doomsday Argument" and Strong Self-Selection Assumption which I hadn't seen discussed before. Since I'm brand new, and have no karma points, I'm not sure where to post them. Any suggestions?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-20T21:52:13.156Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

By the way, I started off by putting together some thoughts on the "Doomsday Argument" and Strong Self-Selection Assumption which I hadn't seen discussed before. Since I'm brand new, and have no karma points, I'm not sure where to post them. Any suggestions?

Sounds like perfect material for the discussion section. :-)

comment by thomblake · 2012-01-20T19:43:20.682Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You published a duplicate of this comment. You should click the button on the bottom-right of your other comment to retract and then delete it.

comment by drnickbone · 2012-01-20T21:24:17.312Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, I can only see one instance of the comment. (Did someone already delete the other?)

comment by katydee · 2012-01-20T21:26:52.827Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Here is a link to the duplicate comment: http://lesswrong.com/lw/90l/welcome_to_less_wrong_2012/5ptg

comment by drnickbone · 2012-01-20T21:28:20.727Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks... Got it and retracted it (I hope...)

comment by katydee · 2012-01-20T21:33:57.518Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yep, you got it-- I now see the comment as retracted. For future reference, what I did to find that comment was click on your name to view your comment history-- this can often be more efficient than sorting through the comment section of individual threads, especially long ones like this.

comment by camie0626 · 2012-01-05T11:05:13.505Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Hi people :) I'm 16 from France and the Philippines, going to a Christian boarding school. Um, i met a guy on Omegle... he gave me a link to this website after a conversation about Christianity. Long story short, I'm confused. Maybe someone would like to help me get my head straight?

comment by Baughn · 2012-01-05T12:17:19.725Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Sure~!

Though for a starter, what in particular are you confused about?

You might want to start by skimming Making Beliefs Pay Rent and Belief in Belief, which lacking evidence to the contrary I believe are most likely to be helpful.

comment by Anubhav · 2012-01-07T09:54:08.963Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The guy who sent you here... That would be me.

Baughn's links are a nice place to start. For the 'Ever wonder why we're here?' question, you should probably see Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions. It doesn't answer that, but I think it's vital if you're ever to find a satisfying answer.

And if you think, even a bit, that it'd all be pointless if God or Jesus had never existed... You should read Explaining vs Explaining Away and Joy in the Merely Real. Everything that's beautiful about the world is beautiful no matter what!

Of course, you're not going to buy all this straightaway, and that's fine.... Just leave yourself a line of retreat for now. (And that's another article you should read, especially if all of this is beginning to feel overwhelming.) But don't just rationalise all of this away-- it's an easy trap to fall into (and some of your friends have already fallen into it, from what you were telling me), and it's kind of pointless if your doubts end up just 'confirming' everything you'd already believed

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-30T20:11:32.168Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Hello LW community, my name is Karl, but please call me MHD for short; here's a lot of sentences beginning with "I..." :

I am a 19 year old, slightly gifted individual, male of gender and psyche, bi, hard to define my preferred relationship structure; honestly my gonads and sexual preference are mostly irrelevant here.

I came here by way of HPMoR and was pressed to do some serious reading by my good friend, known around here as Armok_GoB.

I have at time of writing read sequences MaT and MAtMQ along with some non-structured link-walking, looking to read Reductionism next. My attitude is so far positive, but I read it with a healthy dose of sceptic afterthought and note-taking to verify that it really does make sense. You see, my native language is not English, and I have read a study that one is more gullible when communicating in a non-native language.

My mind is built for logical thinking and I have a knack for mathematics, physics and language. I know approx. 12 turing complete programming languages (C likes, LISPs, ML family, SmallTalk-esque, Assembly) reasonably well. I am looking into Tensors, Bayesian probability, formal logic, type theory, quantum physics, relativity, human psychology, Lojban and some other stuff.

Armok tells me that I am very susceptible to basilisk material; I one-box (eff me! bad error to switch those around, sorry), and I tend to fall for the Planning Fallacy and the Transparency-thingey. I am probably genetically predisposed to mild mental illness and I know from personal experience how bad a Death Spiral can really get.

I am a devoted materialist, I hate not understanding things (or at least knowing how to learn how it works), but I tend not to go into too much depth with everything; I know a bit of many topics.

I am not a fan of cryonics because I know that freezing, regardless of method, is a very good way to destroy tissue; and I would like to see some more evidence towards what actually constitutes memory and other brain-related stuff, so as to make sure the freezing method doesn't wreck it, before I buy into it.

I do some creative writing and I like sci-fi. I lack time to read as well as a book budget, another point which Armok has called me out on.

I think that's about what's relevant. Happy New Year LW!

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-12-30T22:55:55.251Z · score: 19 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I am not a fan of cryonics because I know that freezing, regardless of method, is a very good way to destroy tissue

Cryonics uses vitrification, which protects from the tissue-destroying crystal formation.
http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/vitrification.html

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-31T00:11:39.722Z · score: 6 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I am not a fan of cryonics because I know that freezing, regardless of method, is a very good way to destroy tissue; and I would like to see some more evidence towards what actually constitutes memory and other brain-related stuff, so as to make sure the freezing method doesn't wreck it, before I buy into it.

Oh oh. That argument was just removed. Now what are you going to do? You can make up a new one to support your existing conclusion or you could make up a new conclusion based on what you know.

Welcome to lesswrong.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-12-31T00:42:32.249Z · score: 8 (16 votes) · LW · GW

This seems needlessly confrontational, especially as a comment to a newcomer.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-31T01:45:40.491Z · score: 2 (14 votes) · LW · GW

This seems needlessly confrontational, especially as a comment to a newcomer.

That would seem to be in the eye of the beholder. I saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the most basic principle of lesswrong and instantly raise his standing in the tribe and reputation for sanity.

I reject your accusation!

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-12-31T06:34:21.813Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My apologies for the misinterpretation, then.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-31T01:46:32.633Z · score: 4 (12 votes) · LW · GW

All right, I'll play ball. If my devoting my career to AI research fails to make FAI, sure, I'll buy into cryonics.

Right now I am 19 years old, poor as dirt, lives with my parents, healthy lifestyle, careful to the point of paranoia; show me a cryonics establishment in Denmark and I will reserve a space when I have the funding. (the "show me" is a rethoric, I intend to find out myself)

I am generally optimistic with regards to FAI, and I am no strong Bayesian at all. You have a point, yeah, plain as day.

And thank you Kaj_Sotala, for taking up on this, frankly not at all "fun" or "inviting" and, yes, frankly quite "needlessly confrontational," yet still true counterargument.

wedrifid; there is a time to be direct and insulting in a playful kind of way. You need to learn when that time is.

ETA: After a brief lookup of the term "Vitrification" i find the term "Toxicity" to feature, along with "Optimistic of the future." I am not sure what to think here, compelling arguments can be made for each.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T14:39:19.025Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

ETA: After a brief lookup of the term "Vitrification" i find the term "Toxicity" to feature, along with "Optimistic of the future." I am not sure what to think here, compelling arguments can be made for each.

The toxicity isn't a problem if it's going to be a brain upload, but it is a valid concern for any attempt at resurrecting the wetware.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-31T01:49:13.654Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

frankly quite "needlessly confrontational," yet still true counterargument.

I didn't make a counterargument of any kind.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-31T01:59:12.858Z · score: 12 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, you pointed out a counterargument made by Vladimir_Nesov, in a confrontational manner.

Also, thank your for reminding me that I have to sharpen my posting abilities.

Vladimir Nesov made a very true counterargument, you endorsed it to test my ability to change my standpoint. Nothing wrong with that; and lo and behold, I actually have. Congratulations, you and Vladimir_Nesov both get an upvote from the new guy.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-31T02:33:07.532Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Congratulations, you and Vladimir_Nesov both get an upvote from the new guy.

Thankyou! Respond positively and thinking clearly despite (being primed to) consider an interaction to be a confrontation is potentially even more valuable trait to signal than ability to update freely. A valuable newcomer indeed!

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-30T23:28:25.838Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome!

You see, my native language is not English, and I have read a study that one is more gullible when communicating in a non-native language

Was the study in a non-native language? ;)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-31T02:02:09.966Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I actually don't remember; let me consult my sources for a spell.

comment by marchdown · 2012-01-06T02:17:01.135Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That study sounds interesting, could you post a link if you happen to find it?

comment by jsteinhardt · 2011-12-31T00:32:30.491Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My attitude is so far positive, but I read it with a healthy dose of sceptic afterthought and note-taking to verify that it really does make sense. You see, my native language is not English, and I have read a study that one is more gullible when communicating in a non-native language.

Kudos for that. Sceptic afterthought is always good if you have the time to devote to it.

comment by windmil · 2012-01-02T01:41:00.817Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

.ui lo du'u do cu se cinri la lojban. cu pluka mi

It's nice to see someone else interested in lojban.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-02T01:57:40.251Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

.uiru'e .i'i

comment by Michelle_Z · 2012-01-03T04:56:19.404Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've recently started trying to learn a bit about lojban.

.ui

comment by kerspoon · 2011-12-27T10:02:50.911Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Hello,

I'm a 26 year old guy from the UK. I've finished writing my Ph.D. thesis in "Quantification of risk in large scale wind power integration" and I'm now working as a phone-app framework developer. I spent the last year on a round the world travel where I have spent a lot of my time writing practical philosophy. After coming back I found this site and read the core sequences. I loved them, they echoed a lot of my previous thoughts then took them much further. I felt like they would be easier to understand if they were one article so I have been re-writing bits of them for my own benefit. I am in two minds whether to post them here but I would appreciate the feedback to see if I have understood what was written.

comment by fburnaby · 2011-12-28T00:45:39.581Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'd love to see them when they're somewhere approaching done.

comment by kerspoon · 2012-01-03T12:47:03.239Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What is the best way to go about this? I have a short chapter written in a state that I am willing to show people.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-12-28T01:38:08.400Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome!

I felt like they would be easier to understand if they were one article so I have been re-writing bits of them for my own benefit.

Lukeprog did a similar thing a while ago, which doubled for the rest of us as a good overview. I'd be interested in reading yours, too!

comment by WhiskyJack · 2012-04-06T15:11:42.807Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Howdy,

tl;dr This seems like a place that I can use to shore up some of my cognitive shortcomings, eliminate some bias and expand my worldview. Maybe I can help someone else along the way.

I have been reading the material here for the last several days and have decided that this is a community that I would like to be a part of and hopefully contribute to. My greatest interests are improving my map of the territory(how great is that analogy?), using my constantly improving map to be a better husband and father, and exploring transhumanist ideas and conceits.

I came to be a rationalist when I started reading somewhat milquetoast skeptical literature. Having been raised religious and having served in the Marine Corps I have found that I have a tendency to allow arguments from authority too much credence. If I am not careful I can serve as quite the dutiful drone.

It became important over the last few months that I be able to do as much of my own philosophical and scientific legwork as possible. If an author or speaker that I enjoy espouses ideas I am inclined to agree with it is vital (in my estimation) that I either be able to verify the information presented myself or locate reliable independent verification. This is the type of thinking that I feel I owe my wife and son. LessWrong seems like it aligns well with that ideal. Bias and gullibility kill.

The religious arguments were fun at first, but have become boring. The issue is resolved to my satisfaction. I tend to approach things scientifically instead of philosophically. I struggle to grok philosophy. I think that means I need to redouble my efforts there. My maths could use work, but aren't as sorry as some folks. I get algebra and have survived a few classes in statistics. Keyword: survived.

I am slowly chewing my way through the sequences and learning a good bit. I'm not the fastest thinker, so I will have to read some of them a few times to get the ideas involved. Some of the quantum ideas seem wildly exotic, but that just means I am going to have to really brush up on my physics....of which I have none. I'm not about to make an argument from incredulity there. I don't know enough to HAVE an opinion yet.

I used to read Common Sense Atheism and I find myself now thinking, "Ah, this is what Luke was going on about.' There is some pretty cool stuff here and I look forward to contributing what I can.

comment by TimS · 2012-04-06T15:51:31.210Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome to LessWrong. One of the most interesting parts of LessWrong for me is noticing the cognitive bias in our thought process. For example, noticing that one dislikes another solely because the other is a member of a different group. (Psychology calls this the in-group bias).

Noticing those sorts of mistakes doesn't necessarily require all that much mathematical ability. In short, the hope in this community is that clear thinking helps you achieve your stated goals (rather than some inaccurate approximation created by unclear thinking from the imperfect brain). In short, don't sweat the math, there's lots of practical stuff that can be achieved without it. If you are particularly interested in improving your self-awareness, might I recommend Alicorn's Luminosity sequence?

comment by WhiskyJack · 2012-04-06T17:46:39.240Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! I consider myself more self aware than most, largely because I have done work similar to what is proposed in the Luminosity sequence myself. Of course interesting arguments could be had about how subjective the experience is, what ‘self’ I am even trying to be aware of (would that just be semantic?), but the result was a positive net gain in my quality of life. I'm curious to try the work with different techniques, though.

It will be interesting to see if the concept I hold of myself as pretty self-aware survives around here. All part of the process, I suppose.

As far as the math... If I don't try I definitely won't learn it. It will be a struggle, though.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-04-18T00:28:17.534Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome!

My background is in physics and mathematical optimization techniques, and so it interests me a lot what perspective people without those skills have on the sorts of thinking and strategies we talk about on Less Wrong. Knowing what [inferential gaps] we missed is really useful to writers or educators. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

Or, if it comes to it, to let sleeping theories lie. Lots of posters here don't finish all of the sequences, or avoid the more esoteric decision theory posts.

comment by Larks · 2012-04-18T00:11:38.731Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Did you burn any bridges while in the Marines?

comment by GuySrinivasan · 2012-04-18T00:37:19.310Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You said you were religious before serving... were you by chance a Mason? :D

comment by Vaniver · 2012-04-18T00:18:21.661Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is that question literal or metaphorical?

comment by Larks · 2012-04-18T09:32:04.858Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Literary

comment by wedrifid · 2012-04-18T06:19:29.335Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is that question literal or metaphorical?

Almost certainly metaphorical. I mean, at the very least the Marines would have used explosives rather than fire.

comment by whiteswan21 · 2012-03-15T02:48:19.064Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Greetings, everyone. My name is Elizabeth, and I am a young adult female beginning to learn how to think for herself. I stumbled across this website right after reading Alicorn's fanfiction Luminosity in the summer of 2010. Due to some personal issues, life in general, and a dead hard drive, I stopped visiting Less Wrong up until a couple of weeks ago.

I found Less Wrong attractive because of its being a free resource on learning the art of rationality. Borderline Personality Disorder runs in my family, and so my hypothesis is that I personally am drawn to things like LW partly in order to "self-medicate" after years of chaos, unpredictability, and irrationality. Chances are likely that I will be very quiet on this website for several months at least: for one thing, that is my usual modis operandi when learning about and researching a topic; for another, it would seem that I need to thoroughly acquaint myself with the sequences and other such work in order to fully understand and be able to contribute to more recent posts/discussions.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-03-15T04:11:06.507Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I stumbled across this website right after reading Alicorn's fanfiction Luminosity in the summer of 2010

Squee! How'd you find it?

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-03-16T01:43:41.649Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

FWIW, I'd read the first book so far (Luminosity) and I enjoyed it, despite being completely unfamiliar with the original Twilight novels (except by, ah, reputation).

ETA: I found it when someone on LW linked to it.

comment by whiteswan21 · 2012-03-16T01:25:39.118Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is how I remember it happening (though 20 minutes of hunting around hasn't provided much evidence for this; then again, I allowed myself much more internet time those days): Cleolinda's snarky Twilight posts on livejournal --> audrey_ii's Jacob/Bella fanfic The Movement of the Earth on livejournal --> Luminosity.

comment by Tripitaka · 2012-03-15T02:54:36.707Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As a fellow semi-lurker and also mentally ill person, a heartly welcome to you! Did you choose you username with regards to black-swan-bets?

comment by whiteswan21 · 2012-03-16T01:41:43.872Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! Good guess, but no connection. My username actually stems from Darren Aronofsky's film; I had first seen it right after going through a particularly negative emotional "flare-up", so to speak, and I immediately identified with many elements of the film. Nina's mother acts very much like my own, plus I felt I could relate to Nina's naivete, perfectionism, egocentrism, and high level of self-criticism (the last two traits are MUCH more pronounced when I'm in the middle of a flare-up). After seeing the film together, my boyfriend and I developed our own lingo: when referring to a flare-up (past, impending, its characteristics, etc.), we call it my "black swan"; when referring to normal me, we call that my "white swan". So you could say that my username is a subtle reminder of which "swan" to always try to be.

...though now that I think about it a little more, one could argue that my flare-ups are black swan events for the people around me (if I understand the idea correctly).

comment by Hermione · 2012-02-23T13:54:42.303Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Hi there. I'm Hermione (yes, really). I went to my first LW meetup recently and I'm now working on the Rationality Curriculum, so it feels like time to introduce myself and start getting involved in discussions.

There are a lot of things I'd be interested in talking about. I only found LW a couple of months ago so I'm trying to level up in rationality and work out how to teach others to do so at the same time. I'll probably be posting about this and asking for advice. Has anyone written about their experiences of reading the sequences for the first time? Should I try and absorb things really quickly, or is it better to take it slowly, and if so, what comes first? That kind of thing.

I've also been inspired by Alicorn's Luminosity sequence and have been piloting a beeper experiment, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi style. In order to understand myself and my moods better, I've been recording what I'm doing and how I feel at random times (3x/day). I'd like to improve the indicators I've been using. I struggle to get the right balance between quantitative (more analysable) and qualitative (more accurate). Any suggestions?

Finally, I'd really like to meet some more rationalists in person, so please PM me if you're in Brussels!

comment by gwern · 2012-02-23T17:24:59.560Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to improve the indicators I've been using. I struggle to get the right balance between quantitative (more analysable) and qualitative (more accurate). Any suggestions?

I am slowly setting up a self-experiment with lithium focusing on mood, so I'm interested in the same question. Seth Roberts suggested I rate my mood on just a 0-100 scale as opposed to the 1-5 I was using; I suggested using the Brief POMS as an apparently standard mood rating tool (and used in previous lithium studies) but I haven't heard back.

comment by Hermione · 2012-02-27T21:32:55.374Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. My problem seems to be along the lines of "well, I'm happy about x but simultaneously anxious about y and kind of stressed because I only just met my deadline for blah..., so what does that aggregate to?"

I'm not sure how increasing the scale would help with that, but I followed the link to the POMs stuff on your website, I reckon something similar could be a good solution, though probably with different moods.

comment by gwern · 2012-02-28T01:29:27.435Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, if each axis of happiness / anxiety / stress is equally important, then the happiness gets canceled out. And you'd wind up with a score indicating as much on the POMS.

This seems sensible to me. If the happiness wasn't being canceled out by the other two, would you really be feeling 'kind of stressed'? Wouldn't you be feeling a kind of relief or smugness - 'ha, beat the deadline again!' - or feeling of accomplishment - 'go me!' - or something positive like that?

comment by Kevin · 2012-02-23T14:11:13.731Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hello there! With regards to better understanding your moods and indicators, I'd suggest a bit of noting meditation, or at least adding some of the different kinds of things to note to your vocabulary of moods and indicators.

http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/ Just see the lists from "First Gear".

comment by Hermione · 2012-02-27T21:48:40.084Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

At the moment I'm looking for something that can be done with half a brain when busy, since the beeper study interrupts me a lot. Meditation in any form seems to require quite a big investment before it yields results.Thanks for the link, though

comment by Kevin · 2012-02-28T00:44:11.755Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Right, I meant that you could just add the vocabulary of noting meditation to the beeper study without actually doing the meditation.

comment by thomblake · 2012-02-23T14:47:38.817Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome! Note that there are some references to "Hermione" on this site and they are probably about that other person.

Should I try and absorb things really quickly, or is it better to take it slowly, and if so, what comes first?

As a general comment, remember The Art must have a purpose other than itself. Don't assume you're more rational because you know some bias names or feel more rational. Make sure it's making a difference in your life, and if possible do that via systematic empirical study.

comment by Hermione · 2012-02-27T21:10:52.048Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm, thanks, that makes sense. But do you have any suggestions for indicators that would measure if I'm improving?

comment by thomblake · 2012-02-28T14:22:57.462Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, I'm just here ironically to recite empty platitudes about empiricism.

But seriously, figuring out how to know that is one of the big projects here.

comment by Hermione · 2012-02-29T13:21:15.131Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

hah. Has anyone made any progress?

I was wondering if one could test group rationality by starting a conversation about something the group finds it hard to agree on. There are a few such topics here on LW and I'm sure there would be more if you added politics into the mix. The test would be so see whether the group could reach unanimity. I was thinking this might be a fun thing to try at the brussels meetups if they get going.

comment by beoShaffer · 2012-02-29T16:45:13.476Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Articles taged verification

Unfortuantly, the set of articles with the tag verification doesn't have a perfect correspondence to articles that would be relevant here, but its close and generally to broad rather than to narrow. http://lesswrong.com/lw/2s/3_levels_of_rationality_verification/ and the rest of it's series are probably the most important.

comment by Lleu · 2012-01-07T17:25:44.155Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

19 male, currently in Florida.

Used to be a hardcore Christian. Then I started looking for alternate explanations and wound up believing in magic because I wanted it to be real. Then I read HP:MoR and it changed my life. My head is on a lot straighter now.

At first I thought this was just something cool. Then I was talking to someone about investing a fairly large amount of money. As we were talking, I was conscious of myself changing my plans to agree with him simply because he was nice. Despite this, he still changed my mind even though I recognized that he did it by being nice instead of a good argument. Had to go home before I could think clearly again.

It scared me that I could be so easily swayed by the Dark Arts, as I've heard them referred to. This might be something worth taking seriously after all.

So now I'm about to use what I learned to buy a car. A year ago, I would've just gone down with an informed friend and pick up something functional. Now I'm going down with a friend and a journal, identifying several possible vehicles and taking notes, then spend a week doing research on price, making sure I'm not being swayed by the salesman being nice, etc. before I actually spend any money.

I look forward to becoming less wrong.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-07T17:33:46.217Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome! That's a great example of rationality-in-practice.

comment by Locke · 2011-12-27T16:12:38.586Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

So, am I a second-class citizen because I found this place via MoR?

Anyways, I've been Homeschooled for the majority of my education thus far, mostly due to my Creationist parents' concerns about government-run schools. Fortunately they didn't think to censor the internet, and here I am. My PSATs showed me in the 98th percentile, so I expect I'll be able to get into a decent university. Plan A has always been Engineering, but after going through a few of the more inspirational sequences I think I may readjust my plans and try to do some good for this planet. How does one get into the Singularity business?

comment by thomblake · 2011-12-27T16:33:08.948Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

So, am I a second-class citizen because I found this place via MoR?

I'm pretty sure that accounts for most of our new readership over the last year or so.

ETA: To actually answer the question, no.

How does one get into the Singularity business?

I'm pretty sure the preferred method here currently is #1 below, but here are some options:

  1. Make lots of money doing something else and then give it to SIAI.
  2. The lukeprog method: Be insanely awesome at scholarship and get tens of thousands of Lw karma in a few months and be generally brilliant and become a visiting fellow and wow everyone at SIAI.
  3. Go start your own Singularity. With blackjack. And hookers.

Also, I'm generally of the opinion that having been suddenly inspired by something you read recently should be evidence against that thing being what you should do with your life (assuming your prior is based on your feelings about it). You should check out some of the material by Anna Salamon on how to take that kind of decision seriously (I don't have a useful link handy).

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-12-27T16:31:04.541Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How does one get into the Singularity business?

With great difficulty. And it's not clear whether there will be any repeat trade.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-27T16:32:40.064Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How does one get into the Singularity business?

Engineering is actually not that bad a way. It's worth taking a look at computer science, but pretty much any technical field will be involved somewhere along the way.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-27T16:28:31.536Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome to LessWrong.

So, am I a second-class citizen because I found this place via MoR?

I hope not. That's how I ended up here.

How does one get into the Singularity business?

Well, that depends a bit on what you think the Singularity is/will be.

comment by blob · 2012-04-25T14:57:10.474Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Hello!

I'm a mathematician and working as a programmer in Berlin, Germany. I read HPMOR after following a recommendation in a talk on Cognitive Psychology For Hackers and proceeded to read most of the sequences.

Reading LW has had several practical consequences for me: Spaced repetition and effective altruism were new to me. Things have also improved around social skills, exercise and nutrition.

I'm also part of a small Berlin LW meetup: spuckblase and me have met twice - and now we got contacted by two other Berlin based lurkers which prompted the creation of a wiki entry and a mailing list. We're now planning the first meetup that will actually get a meetup post and be announced in advance.

comment by gwern · 2012-04-25T17:05:14.574Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Spaced repetition is awesome for memorizing things I value.

Such as?

comment by blob · 2012-04-25T20:46:17.601Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have decks for:

  • English vocabulary. I've learned many new words and sometimes get an explanation for a word I had only inferred the meaning of from the context - and guessed wrongly.

  • Family facts, mostly birthdays. It's a minor thing really, but I used to not know how old everyone is. And more than once I felt bad when someone asked about the age of a parent and I had to say 'no idea'.

  • Random facts I've looked up several times before or that I don't want to have to ever admit not knowing. Like the age of the solar system, the first few digits of Euler's number, approximately when Newton lived. This kind of thing.

What I wish I had a deck for: Math. I really enjoyed doing math and am sad that I'll forget most of the definitions and theorems now that I don't use them regularly anymore. I've tried converting my lecture notes into flashcards, but it's a lot of work that I'm not motivated enough to do.

comment by coffeespoons · 2012-04-05T12:26:11.977Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Hiya,

I've been occasionally reading for a while, and have decided to get a login. I suppose the reason I'm here is that it's become important in the last 2 years or so that my beliefs are as accurate as possible. I've slowly had to let go of some beliefs because the evidence didn't seem to support them, and while that's been painful it has been worthwhile.

I'm also a friend of ciphergoth's - we've discussed less wrong a lot! I don't feel like I know a great deal yet - I still need to read more of the sequences, so I'll stick to asking questions until I feel I know more :-).

I'm 28, female, and I live in Cambridge, UK. My academic background is in the philosophy/politics/economics area, and I work in accounts.

coffeespoons

comment by TimS · 2012-04-05T13:25:26.194Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome to LessWrong. If you like believing true things and don't think death is a necessary counterpart to life, you'll fit in great.

If you have questions, might I suggest asking in the current open thread?

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-04-05T12:27:04.862Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hurrah! welcome :)

comment by Modig · 2012-01-30T01:21:56.972Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I'm very excited to have found this community. In a way, it's like meeting a future, more evolved version of myself. So many things that I've read about here I've considered before, but often in a more shallow and immature way. A big thanks to all of you for that!

To the topic of me, I'm 24, male, and Swedish. After studying some of PJ Eby's work, I identify strongly as a naturally struggling person. I've been trying to figure out why for all my life, I think I read Wayne Dyer at about the same age as Eliezer read Feynman. Since then I've read a lot more, and at this point it seems like I have very credible explanations for why things turned out as they did.

Still, even though I might think I ought to have the tools now to stake out a better future path for myself, I'm plagued by learned helplessness and surrounded by ugh-fields. But as I see it there is only one best way forward - to learn more and then attempt to do things better.

I'm a great admirer of the stoic philosopher Lucius Seneca. Here's a short segment from one of his letters that resonates with me:

It is clear to you, I know, Lucilius, that no one can lead a happy life, or even one that is bearable, without the pursuit of wisdom, and that the perfection of wisdom is what makes the happy life, although even the beginnings of wisdom makes life bearable.

And a few paragraphs down...:

Philosophy is not an occupation of a popular nature, nor is it pursued for the sake of self-advertisement. Its concern is not with words, but with facts. It is not carried on with the object of passing the day in an entertaining sort of way and taking the boredom out of leisure. It moulds and builds the personality, orders one's life, regulates one's conduct, shows one what one should do and what one should leave undone, sits at the helm and keeps one on the correct course as one is tossed about in perilous seas. Without it no one can lead a life free of fear or worry. Every hour of the day countless situations arise that call for advice, and for that advice we have to look to philosophy.

I believe that the topics being explored on this site are a natural extension of what Seneca and his contemporaries termed philosophy. To live more purposefully, to be happy and to contribute more to others, studying these topics isn't optional, it's essential. And that's why I'm so glad this community exists and that I've found it.

comment by Solvent · 2012-01-30T02:19:43.443Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's nice to have you here.

comment by lessdazed · 2012-01-30T01:55:10.677Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

a future, more evolved version of myself.

I'm offended!

Just kidding.

comment by SpaceFrank · 2012-01-25T19:32:04.701Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Hello, Less Wrong.

Like some others, I eventually found this site after being directed by fellow nerds to HPMOR. I've been working haphazardly through the Sequences (getting neck-deep in cognitive science and philosophy before even getting past the preliminaries for quantum physics, and loving every bit of it).

I can't point to a clear "aha!" moment when I decided to pursue the LW definition of rationality. I always remember being highly intelligent and interested in Science, but it's hard for me to model how my brain actually processed information that long ago. Before high school (at the earliest), I was probably just as irrational as everyone else, only with bigger guns.

Sometime during college (B.S. in mechanical engineering), I can recall beginning an active effort to consider as many sides of an issue as possible. This was motivated less from a quest for scientific truth and more from a tendency to get into political discussions. Having been raised by parents who were fairly traditional American conservatives, I quickly found myself becoming some kind of libertarian. This seems to be a common occurrence, both in the welcome comments I've read here and elsewhere. I can't say at this point how much of this change was the result of rational deliberation and how much was from mere social pressure, but on later review it still seems like a good idea regardless.

The first time I can recall actually thinking "I need to improve the way I think" was fairly recent, in graduate school. The primary motivation was still political. I wanted to make sure my beliefs were reasonable, and the first step seemed to be making sure they were self-consistent. Unfortunately, I still didn't know the first thing about cognitive biases (aside from running head-on into confirmation bias on a regular basis without knowing the name). Concluding that the problem was intractable, I withdrew from all friendly political discussion except one in which my position seemed particularly well-supported and therefore easy to argue rationally. I never cared much for arguing in the first place, so if I'm going to do it I'd prefer to at least have the data on my side.

I've since lost even more interest in trying to figure out politics, and decided while reading this site that it would be more immediately important anyway to try figuring out myself. I've yet to identify that noble cause to fight for (although I have been interested in manned space exploration enough to get two engineering degrees), but I think a more rational me will be more effective at whatever that cause turns out to be.

Still reading and updating...

comment by DSimon · 2012-01-25T19:59:47.014Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome to LW!

I like the "just with bigger guns" metaphor a lot; the trouble with intelligence is its ability to produce smart-seeming arguments for nearly any silly idea.

comment by SpaceFrank · 2012-01-25T21:41:34.477Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Exactly. I also suspect that logical overconfidence, i.e. knowing a little bit about bias and thinking it no longer affects you, is magnified with higher intelligence.

I can't help but remember that saying about great power and great responsibility.

comment by thomblake · 2012-01-25T22:08:05.506Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes - see Knowing about biases can hurt people.

comment by SpaceFrank · 2012-01-30T18:45:53.845Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! I hadn't read that article yet, but I became familiar with the concept when reading one of Eliezer Yudkowsky's papers on existential risk assessment. (Either this one or this one) I did have a kind of "Oh Shit" moment when the context of the article hit me.

comment by Ebelean · 2012-01-02T19:00:37.730Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Hi y'all. I'm a senior in high school in the Silicon Valley who's been lurking for a couple of months. I've been working my way through the Sequences since then. I don't know how much I have to contribute to the discussion, since I'm a bit of a newcomer to rationalism, but I enjoy reading everyone else's discussions.

I was introduced to this site through my philosophy class- a research project on transhumanism led me to Eliezer Yudkowsky's site, which led me to here. I came here for the Sequences, stayed here for the intelligent discussion (just like almost everyone else on this page). I'm really interested in computer science and economics and how they intersect with rationality.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-06T16:32:55.979Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome!

I was introduced to this site through my philosophy class- a research project on transhumanism led me to Eliezer Yudkowsky's site

Cool! Was this an assigned topic or a self-chosen one?

And since you're a HS senior, you might find it worthwhile to read the threads on where (or even whether) to go for college next year, or start your own thread if you want personalized advice.

comment by madison · 2011-12-27T12:59:26.661Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Hi everyone. 23 year old south american software developer/musician here. I've been lurking around and reading for a couple of months now and I've found a lot of useful and interesting information here. It has actually triggered in me a lot of thinking about thinking, about reflexivity and the need for being aware of one's methods of thinking/learning/communicating etc.

I've been having some thoughts lately on the positive aspects of "rationality-motivated" socialization, mainly because of what I've learned of LW's weekly meetups and also because it has been, so far, pretty difficult to find someone who's interested about rationality. The first google searches took me nowhere, though I have still to look somewhere around philosophy/mathematics departments of local universities.

Anyway thanks for the information and the friendly welcome, and also for the big corpus of material you make available.

comment by bramflakes · 2011-12-26T20:25:40.491Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Hello, I'm 16 years old and from the UK. I found this blog via MoR and I'vebeen lurking for a few months now (this is my first post I think), and I'm slowly but surely working my way through the sequences. I think I've gotten to the point where I can identify a lot of the biases and irrational thoughts as they form in my brain, but unfortunately I'm not well-versed enough in rationality to know how to tackle them properly yet.

comment by atucker · 2011-12-28T07:17:02.103Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome to LessWrong!

Some other teenagers occasionally do online meetups, and we have a facebook group here

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-12-27T00:15:39.428Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It would probably be worth your while to post about particular biases you'd like to tackle.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-12-27T00:47:13.086Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Or, comment on relevant posts with any questions or examples you want to share.

comment by istihanifah · 2013-04-30T09:03:32.158Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Hello everyone,

My name is Isti, I am from Indonesia and I have been a lurker for this site for almost to years now. I came across this website when I was learning about skepticism and I just could't stop. I was afraid to join because of my limited English and I always think that this is not newbie friendly. Maybe I was wrong.

I am an atheist, and it's not an easy to be atheist in Indonesia. If you're not familiar with Indonesia, it's considered against the law to be an atheist and the religious extremist keeps growing. A man was sent to jail few years ago because he posted an atheism related status on his Facebook. He was charged with religious blasphemy. I only told my close friends about it (and to strangers on the internet).

I just want to say I am so glad to finally find courage to sign up and say something in this website. I hope I can contribute more than just introduction in the future.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-04-30T11:04:34.146Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I just want to say I am so glad to finally find courage to sign up and say something in this website.

So are we! Happy to have you along for the ride!

comment by Jack · 2013-04-30T10:31:03.522Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome!

comment by HalMorris · 2012-12-14T05:08:07.632Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks to Emile for suggesting I come here write something. I hope to get to the New York meetup on Sunday; I'm not ready for "rituals" and futuristic music just yet.

I just ran across LW by trying google terms along the lines of memetics "belief systems", etc., which led me to some books from late 90s like "Virus of the Mind", and in the last 2-3 years some just "OK" books on religions as virus-like meme systems. This kind of search to see what people may have said about some odd combination of thoughts that I suspect might be fruitful has brought me interesting results in the past. E.g. by googling ontological comedian, I discovered Ricky Gervais which has brightened my life (his movie "The Invention of Lying" out to be of interest to LW-ers). I'm interested in practical social epistemology -- trying to come up with creative responses to what looks like major chunks of the population (those pesky folks who elect presidents) being less and less moored in reality and going off into diverse fantasy lands -- or to put it another way, a massive breakdown in common sense about what sources are reliable.

I asked someone how she makes such decisions and she answered that she trusts people who are saying things consistent with what she already knows. Unfortunately, much of what she already knows isn't true.

I wonder why people have such a tin ear for bullshit. Someone kept sending me the latest "proof" that global warming is a big hoax, and as far as I'm concerned their own arguments are the best case against them. I.e. if this is the best they can do, they must not have a case. This sort of reasoning isn't part of classic epistemology, but I can hardly think of anything more important getting a quick read on a source as to its trustworthiness - esp. whether those contributing to it are truth seekers or propagandists. I think Alvin Goldman's Social Epistemology (which is far from the "social construction of reality" folks) can help with some of my concerns. I'd like to see an "economics of ideas" concerned with what makes ideas fly, whether they're true or not -- pretty close to memetics and from a different perspective, "media ecology", analogous to the set of topological T3 space and then find embedded within that [Social] Epistemology analogous to the more constrained T4 spaces.

I'm not so much interested in Philosophy 401 syllabi, but more interested in finding ways to teach truth seeking and bullshit avoidance in elementary schools. Also how to push back against the propagandists and liars with some viral techniques of our own - browsers that facilitate fact checking, maybe make it fun in some way; walling off purely factual data and building consensus that on one side of the wall the data really is factual; and building tools for synthesizing answers to particular questions based on that data.

I hope to learn something from the "black arts" threads on LW.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2012-12-14T09:42:29.861Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder why people have such a tin ear for bullshit.

The obvious evolutionary argument that comes to mind is that not believing in bullshit, particularly the bullshit believed by powerful people in your tribe, could get you killed in the ancestral environment. Domains of human knowledge in which bullshit is not tolerated are those where that knowledge is constantly being tested against reality - computer programming is a good example, since you can't bullshit a compiler - and in other domains terrible things can happen.

Global warming in particular seems to me to be a case where most people hold beliefs one way or the other primarily to signal affiliation with either the pro- or anti-global warming tribes. That belief certainly doesn't get tested against reality in any meaningful way in many people's lives.

comment by HalMorris · 2012-12-14T20:02:07.937Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The obvious evolutionary argument that comes to mind is that not believing in bullshit, particularly the bullshit believed by powerful people in your tribe, could get you killed in the ancestral environment. Domains of human knowledge in which bullshit is not tolerated are those where that knowledge is constantly being tested against reality - computer programming is a good example, since you can't bullshit a compiler - and in other domains terrible things can happen.

Not so obvious. From all I've read, hunter-gatherer societies were and are largely governed by consensus although no doubt there are sometimes extremely dominant personalities. What you're describing is more like early civilization (e.g. Aztec), and what we used to see in Tarzan movies.

I have quite a different theory about the evolutionary advantage of tending towards orthodoxy, but that seems like a different issue anyway.

Global warming in particular seems to me to be a case where most people hold beliefs one way or the other primarily to signal affiliation with either the pro- or anti-global warming tribes. That belief certainly doesn't get tested against reality in any meaningful way in many people's lives.

My construction: The "AGW is a hoax" meme is exhibit A in movement conservatism's massive (most of you probably have no idea how massive and thorough) and mostly spurious argument that the MSM (Mostly sane Media), Academia, and every left-of-Milton Friedman institution are joined in one big lie factory aimed at bringing about one-world socialist government. That, I believe is why GOP congressmen are so nearly unanimous, or at best tiptoeing around if if they know the thing is a crock. Toe the line or be called a RINO and then "primaried"

comment by Nominull · 2012-12-14T05:49:05.812Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Please don't learn anything from the black arts threads. That's why they're called "black arts", because you're not supposed to learn them.

comment by almkglor · 2012-12-14T09:31:50.742Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Although it might be good to be aware that you shouldn't remove a weapon from your mental arsenal just because it's labeled "dark arts". Sure, you should be one heck of a lot more reluctant to use them, but if you need to shut up and do the impossible really really badly, do so - just be aware that the consequences tend to be worse if you use them.

After all, the label "dark art" is itself an application of a Dark Art to persuade, deceive, or otherwise manipulate you against using those techniques. But of course this was not done lightly.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-12-14T10:50:50.419Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's why they're called "black arts", because you're not supposed to learn them.

Is that why? I wonder, sometimes.

Given our merry band's contrarian bent, it occurs to me that calling something a "dark art" would be a pretty good way of encouraging its study while simultaneously discouraging its unreflective use. You'd then need to come up with some semi-convincing reasons why it is in fact too Dark for school, though, or you'd look silly.

On the other hand it doesn't seem to be an Eliezer coinage, which would have made this line of thinking a bit more likely. "Dark Side epistemology" is, but has a narrow enough meaning that I'm not inclined to suspect shenanigans.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-12-14T06:00:31.499Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, one could certainly learn from the dark arts threads what not to do and what to be aware of to watch out for.

comment by HalMorris · 2012-12-14T16:19:06.158Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, yeah, my point exactly to reiterate from elsewhere

[I'm interested in] spreading dark-art antibody memes, but you can't do that without taking a sample of the dark arts most prevalent at the moment, much as they must round up viruses every year to develop the yearly flu shot. So I wouldn't be looking for "the best" dark arts but rather the ones one is likely to encounter. E.g. a good source would be Newt Gingrich's "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" memo (http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4443.htm) EXCERPT:

"In the video 'We are a Majority,' Language is listed as a key mechanism of control used by a majority party, along with Agenda, Rules, Attitude and Learning. As the tapes have been used in training sessions across the country and mailed to candidates we have heard a plaintive plea: 'I wish I could speak like Newt.' That takes years of practice ..."

This introduces the famous word list: a list of smiley-face words to use when describing your own positions, and nasty-face words to use when putting words in the mouths of your opponents (or do I say 'enemies'?). Or there is the Paul Wyrich farewell letter which did much to propagate the meme "political correctness is cultural Marxism", or the Weyrich-inspired "The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement" (http://therealtruthproject.blogspot.com/2011/02/integration-of-theory-and-practice.html), a document Lenin might have been proud of.

I'm all about blunting the effectiveness of certain tactics that reduce the possibility of our thinking clearly (and by "our", I mean not that of LW, or the Second Foundation, but of the whole mass of people whose votes determine who we get to have as President, etc.) ASIDE: One place where Thomas Jefferson was one of the least small-gov't-ish founding fathers was education, and he was also all about disempowering religion memes

NOTE: I don't mean to get onto politics per se - just practices that tend to turn it into a struggle between hidden conspiracies, but I think it's hopelessly abstract to try to discuss that without the aid of current examples.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-12-14T11:57:39.361Z · score: 0 (0 votes) ·