Outside the Laboratory

post by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-01-21T03:46:57.000Z · score: 75 (73 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 347 comments

"Outside the laboratory, scientists are no wiser than anyone else."  Sometimes this proverb is spoken by scientists, humbly, sadly, to remind themselves of their own fallibility.  Sometimes this proverb is said for rather less praiseworthy reasons, to devalue unwanted expert advice.  Is the proverb true?  Probably not in an absolute sense.  It seems much too pessimistic to say that scientists are literally no wiser than average, that there is literally zero correlation.

But the proverb does appear true to some degree, and I propose that we should be very disturbed by this fact.  We should not sigh, and shake our heads sadly.  Rather we should sit bolt upright in alarm.  Why?  Well, suppose that an apprentice shepherd is laboriously trained to count sheep, as they pass in and out of a fold.  Thus the shepherd knows when all the sheep have left, and when all the sheep have returned.  Then you give the shepherd a few apples, and say:  "How many apples?"  But the shepherd stares at you blankly, because they weren't trained to count apples - just sheep.  You would probably suspect that the shepherd didn't understand counting very well.

Now suppose we discover that a Ph.D. economist buys a lottery ticket every week.  We have to ask ourselves:  Does this person really understand expected utility, on a gut level?  Or have they just been trained to perform certain algebra tricks?

One thinks of Richard Feynman's account of a failing physics education program:

"The students had memorized everything, but they didn't know what anything meant.  When they heard 'light that is reflected from a medium with an index', they didn't know that it meant a material such as water.  They didn't know that the 'direction of the light' is the direction in which you see something when you're looking at it, and so on.  Everything was entirely memorized, yet nothing had been translated into meaningful words.  So if I asked, 'What is Brewster's Angle?' I'm going into the computer with the right keywords.  But if I say, 'Look at the water,' nothing happens - they don't have anything under 'Look at the water'!"

Suppose we have an apparently competent scientist, who knows how to design an experiment on N subjects; the N subjects will receive a randomized treatment; blinded judges will classify the subject outcomes; and then we'll run the results through a computer and see if the results are significant at the 0.05 confidence level.  Now this is not just a ritualized tradition.  This is not a point of arbitrary etiquette like using the correct fork for salad.  It is a ritualized tradition for testing hypotheses experimentally.  Why should you test your hypothesis experimentally?  Because you know the journal will demand so before it publishes your paper?  Because you were trained to do it in college?  Because everyone else says in unison that it's important to do the experiment, and they'll look at you funny if you say otherwise?

No: because, in order to map a territory, you have to go out and look at the territory.  It isn't possible to produce an accurate map of a city while sitting in your living room with your eyes closed, thinking pleasant thoughts about what you wish the city was like.  You have to go out, walk through the city, and write lines on paper that correspond to what you see.  It happens, in miniature, every time you look down at your shoes to see if your shoelaces are untied.  Photons arrive from the Sun, bounce off your shoelaces, strike your retina, are transduced into neural firing frequences, and are reconstructed by your visual cortex into an activation pattern that is strongly correlated with the current shape of your shoelaces.  To gain new information about the territory, you have to interact with the territory.  There has to be some real, physical process whereby your brain state ends up correlated to the state of the environment.  Reasoning processes aren't magic; you can give causal descriptions of how they work.  Which all goes to say that, to find things out, you've got to go look.

Now what are we to think of a scientist who seems competent inside the laboratory, but who, outside the laboratory, believes in a spirit world?  We ask why, and the scientist says something along the lines of:  "Well, no one really knows, and I admit that I don't have any evidence - it's a religious belief, it can't be disproven one way or another by observation."  I cannot but conclude that this person literally doesn't know why you have to look at things.  They may have been taught a certain ritual of experimentation, but they don't understand the reason for it - that to map a territory, you have to look at it - that to gain information about the environment, you have to undergo a causal process whereby you interact with the environment and end up correlated to it.  This applies just as much to a double-blind experimental design that gathers information about the efficacy of a new medical device, as it does to your eyes gathering information about your shoelaces.

Maybe our spiritual scientist says:  "But it's not a matter for experiment.  The spirits spoke to me in my heart."  Well, if we really suppose that spirits are speaking in any fashion whatsoever, that is a causal interaction and it counts as an observation.  Probability theory still applies.  If you propose that some personal experience of "spirit voices" is evidence for actual spirits, you must propose that there is a favorable likelihood ratio for spirits causing "spirit voices", as compared to other explanations for "spirit voices", which is sufficient to overcome the prior improbability of a complex belief with many parts.  Failing to realize that "the spirits spoke to me in my heart" is an instance of "causal interaction", is analogous to a physics student not realizing that a "medium with an index" means a material such as water.

It is easy to be fooled, perhaps, by the fact that people wearing lab coats use the phrase "causal interaction" and that people wearing gaudy jewelry use the phrase "spirits speaking".  Discussants wearing different clothing, as we all know, demarcate independent spheres of existence - "separate magisteria", in Stephen J. Gould's immortal blunder of a phrase.  Actually, "causal interaction" is just a fancy way of saying, "Something that makes something else happen", and probability theory doesn't care what clothes you wear.

In modern society there is a prevalent notion that spiritual matters can't be settled by logic or observation, and therefore you can have whatever religious beliefs you like.  If a scientist falls for this, and decides to live their extralaboratorial life accordingly, then this, to me, says that they only understand the experimental principle as a social convention.  They know when they are expected to do experiments and test the results for statistical significance.  But put them in a context where it is socially conventional to make up wacky beliefs without looking, and they just as happily do that instead.

The apprentice shepherd is told that if "seven" sheep go out, and "eight" sheep go out, then "fifteen" sheep had better come back in.  Why "fifteen" instead of "fourteen" or "three"?  Because otherwise you'll get no dinner tonight, that's why!  So that's professional training of a kind, and it works after a fashion - but if social convention is the only reason why seven sheep plus eight sheep equals fifteen sheep, then maybe seven apples plus eight apples equals three apples.  Who's to say that the rules shouldn't be different for apples?

But if you know why the rules work, you can see that addition is the same for sheep and for apples.  Isaac Newton is justly revered, not for his outdated theory of gravity, but for discovering that - amazingly, surprisingly - the celestial planets, in the glorious heavens, obeyed just the same rules as falling apples.  In the macroscopic world - the everyday ancestral environment - different trees bear different fruits, different customs hold for different people at different times.  A genuinely unified universe, with stationary universal laws, is a highly counterintuitive notion to humans!  It is only scientists who really believe it, though some religions may talk a good game about the "unity of all things".

As Richard Feynman put it:

"If we look at a glass closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imaginations adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the Earth's rocks, and in its composition we see the secret of the universe's age, and the evolution of the stars. What strange array of chemicals are there in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts — physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on — remember that Nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!"

A few religions, especially the ones invented or refurbished after Isaac Newton, may profess that "everything is connected to everything else".  (Since there is a trivial isomorphism between graphs and their complements, this profound wisdom conveys exactly the same useful information as a graph with no edges.)  But when it comes to the actual meat of the religion, prophets and priests follow the ancient human practice of making everything up as they go along.  And they make up one rule for women under twelve, another rule for men over thirteen; one rule for the Sabbath and another rule for weekdays; one rule for science and another rule for sorcery...

Reality, we have learned to our shock, is not a collection of separate magisteria, but a single unified process governed by mathematically simple low-level rules.  Different buildings on a university campus do not belong to different universes, though it may sometimes seem that way.  The universe is not divided into mind and matter, or life and nonlife; the atoms in our heads interact seamlessly with the atoms of the surrounding air.  Nor is Bayes's Theorem different from one place to another.

If, outside of their specialist field, some particular scientist is just as susceptible as anyone else to wacky ideas, then they probably never did understand why the scientific rules work.  Maybe they can parrot back a bit of Popperian falsificationism; but they don't understand on a deep level, the algebraic level of probability theory, the causal level of cognition-as-machinery. They've been trained to behave a certain way in the laboratory, but they don't like to be constrained by evidence; when they go home, they take off the lab coat and relax with some comfortable nonsense.  And yes, that does make me wonder if I can trust that scientist's opinions even in their own field - especially when it comes to any controversial issue, any open question, anything that isn't already nailed down by massive evidence and social convention.

Maybe we can beat the proverb - be rational in our personal lives, not just our professional lives.  We shouldn't let a mere proverb stop us:  "A witty saying proves nothing," as Voltaire said.  Maybe we can do better, if we study enough probability theory to know why the rules work, and enough experimental psychology to see how they apply in real-world cases - if we can learn to look at the water.  An ambition like that lacks the comfortable modesty of being able to confess that, outside your specialty, you're no better than anyone else.  But if our theories of rationality don't generalize to everyday life, we're doing something wrong.  It's not a different universe inside and outside the laboratory.

Addendum:  If you think that (a) science is purely logical and therefore opposed to emotion, or (b) that we shouldn't bother to seek truth in everyday life, see "Why Truth?"  For new readers, I also recommend "Twelve Virtues of Rationality."

347 comments

Comments sorted by oldest first, as this post is from before comment nesting was available (around 2009-02-27).

comment by Joseph_Hertzlinger · 2007-01-21T05:06:06.000Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But when it comes to the actual meat of the religion, prophets and priests follow the ancient human practice of making everything up as they go along. And they make up one rule for women under twelve, another rule for men over thirteen; one rule for the Sabbath and another rule for weekdays; one rule for science and another rule for sorcery...

???

I thought those rules were the outcome of competition between different factions. The factions with the better rules were more likely to win. For example, a century or two ago, part of the Jewish community decided to try ignoring the requirement to not eat shrimp etc. It looks like that isn't working very well. As far as Jews are concerned, God really does hate shrimp.

comment by justinrb · 2010-03-11T08:13:30.002Z · score: -21 (29 votes) · LW · GW

I see that you mention these "RULES". I understand from an outsiders point of view that they seem that they are rules. But to a person that is Christian like me. They are not rules, they are standards that we set our life to. You know how our American culture has basic morals, no killing or steal and etc. Well the Christians culture also has moral standards set by Jesus Christ. The "RULES" are our moral standards and are not rules but they are our way of life. Also God doesn't hate shrimp, He loves everything He has created. I don't mean to offend, I just wanted to let you know, they are not just rules. =)

comment by Carinthium · 2010-11-14T01:49:29.834Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How you define a 'rule'?

comment by Spectral_Dragon · 2012-01-23T23:31:37.645Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Not only competition, but what seemed logical. I'm only 5 years late to this, but I figure I'll add this regardless: Shrimp made people sick, so it only made sense to make rules against eating shrimp, regardless of the reason behind it making people sick. A lot of the old testament is pretty much a survival guide.

That link is however a church, and as far as I can tell does not represent the Jewish faith. From what I know, it's not that shrimp were bad, and hated by God, but that since people got sick, it was not a great idea to eat it. Same logic that founded rules about washing your hands before dinner - they didn't think God hated your hands, they just figured out some correlation between sickness, and filth.

That said, it's not all good, but it seems to me that at least SOME rules were based on logic. And that whoever had the worse rules DID die more frequently.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-01-24T00:35:56.831Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Eh, I see this as a purely selective / survivorship-bias process:

All the little minority groups that didn't have weird rules got assimilated into the mainstream culture and lost their identity as little minority groups. They became Persians or Greeks or Romans or Christians or Muslims, when those empires were in ascendancy. Therefore, all the little minority groups that have remained distinct for thousands of years have weird rules.

It's not that the weird rules were good for individuals' survival. Pretty often, you're better off individually if you join the mainstream. But weird rules are good for maintaining group identity.

comment by Spectral_Dragon · 2012-01-24T21:01:53.755Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. I've not thought of it like that, but it would make sense - groups would drop their weird rules if they didn't fit the larger group which they were integrated into.

However, in this case at least, it IS so that the weird rules increased survival. Rules about keeping clean were seen as weird, but were generally beneficial for the individual. Example linked to the discussion: During the Black Plague fewer Jews got infected, mainly due to the weird rules. Only negative was that this was suspicious, and these Jews were believed to be the cause... A bit of a lose-lose situation, with good intentions.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-01-24T23:08:13.152Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What I hear there is that in one particular circumstance, the weird rules may have increased survival from disease, but decreased survival from persecution. Net result probably nil for the individual. But persecution also maintains the minority group's distinct status.

comment by Spectral_Dragon · 2012-01-24T23:55:45.306Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

True. In this case, it most likely did harm in the long run, but the intentions behind were good, and logical. It's not always rational to generalize, but you make a good argument. Though I'm not sure - for the most part, weird rules in religion seem to be based on public opinion as much as group identity or logic. In short: Can be good or bad depending on circumstances, no matter what it is based on.

But it's late and I'm beginning to fear for my mind. I'll stop before I embarrass myself too much.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-01-21T05:22:12.000Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Joseph, how did they get these "competing rules" in the first place? By making them up as they went along. So, in accordance with human psychology, they make up lots of different rules for different occasions that "feel different". Both sides (or all sides) of any religious battle do this, and it doesn't matter who wins, they still won't come up with a unified answer.

comment by Carinthium · 2010-11-14T01:51:56.508Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Shouldn't that lead to at least some (if very poor) "testing" of rules over time? Some (such as taboos which strengthen social cohesion or which inadvertently help avoid dangerous behavior) would help the ground adapt, whilst others (which do neither) would be unlikely to continue.

comment by Doug_S.2 · 2007-01-21T05:40:34.000Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Hmmm...

Q) Why do I believe that special relativity is true? A) Because scientists have told me their standards of evidence, and that the evidence for special relativity meets those standards.

I haven't seen anything contract when moving close to the speed of light. I haven't measured the speed of light in a vacuum and found that it is independent of the non-accelerating motion of the observer. I haven't measured a change in mass during nuclear reactions. I simply hear what people tell me, and decide to believe it.

George Orwell put it far more elegantly, and you can read what he wrote at http://www.newenglishreview.org/blog_direct_link.cfm?blog_id=4274

I can try to apply filters to determine who I can regard as a legitimate authority on various topics. Anyone whose arguments are logically inconsistent is obviously right out. I can check credentials. I can ask people why they accept a claim, and if I disapprove of their standard of evidence, I can give their claims less credence. I can see if the topic is controversial among those whose standards of evidence I respect, and if it is, I can refrain from judgment on the grounds that if there were strong evidence either way, there would be no controversy.

Many things tend to be such that we have to act without anywhere near the amount of evidence that even the social sciences demand. How should I invest my money? What will make me more attractive to potential mates? Who should I vote for? Is (insert enemy here) really a dire threat that my country needs to fight and defeat? What career should I pursue? Which person should I hire? It's really hard to design and perform experiments to answer questions like this. Heck, we still don't even know what kind of food is best to eat!

comment by Peacewise · 2011-10-26T02:27:04.694Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Seems to me that a lack of patience is part of the problem. Some people would like to be able to really understand why special relativity is true and go through the argument and experiments but they'd have to invest quite some time doing so, before they'd find out for themselves. So too various other things people would like to know, but believe they haven't got the time to deeply examine. Couple that with a compressed curriculum in education where students now need to know more than ever before and know it in less time. Couple that with our society that puts information into increasingly small packets, that spends vast amounts of advertising dollars on convincing people in the shortest optimum time to buy some item, and it's revealed that people are time poor when it comes to deeply understanding and investigating what it is they want to know.

Now with regards to "we still don't even know what kind of food is best to eat!" That is a question that we do know! But you probably won't find it in advertising material, you probably won't find it one particular book, and you most certainly won't find it in one particular eatery/restaurant. You will find the answer from a professional dietician/nutritionist (whatever your country calls them) that's spent about 3 years studying to find out the answer in all its complexity. Shall we trust that professional, shall we have faith in that professional? Or do we want to find out the answer for ourselves... whilst we struggle with paying the mortgage, getting the kids to school and meeting our work commitments?

When we dismiss "faith" and "trust", and I don't mean in a deity, I mean when we dismiss faith and trust in other humans, we are left in a very precarious position of having to work it all out for ourselves.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-26T02:52:20.297Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I can see if the topic is controversial among those whose standards of evidence I respect, and if it is, I can refrain from judgment on the grounds that if there were strong evidence either way, there would be no controversy.

Now with regards to "we still don't even know what kind of food is best to eat!" That is a question that we do know! ... You will find the answer from a professional dietician/nutritionist (whatever your country calls them) that's spent about 3 years studying to find out the answer in all its complexity.

Are you asserting that there is no controversy among credentialed nutritionists about what kind of food is best to eat?

comment by Peacewise · 2011-10-26T03:46:41.412Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I assert that suitably diligent nutritionists do make a series of measurements of a particular individual and then offer accurate advice on what are the best kinds of food to eat in that circumstance, that they will retest those measurements and refine their advice as appropriate.

It's my opinion that much of the "controversy" with regards to what are the best kinds of food to eat is based in the fact that many people, including some of those who hold a certification in nutrition/diet make no measurements before they make a judgment. My opinion is that it's the generalist answer that is controversial, not the specific.

comment by InsertUsernameHere · 2013-07-22T08:57:20.262Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Are you asserting that there is no controversy among credentialed nutritionists about what kind of food is best to eat?

Nutritionist here. The protected word is "dietician", literally anyone can legitimately call themselves "nutritionists", whereas you actually have to have some relevant credentials before you're a credited dietician.

As a nutritionist, my professional opinion is that bricks are quite healthy, due to their high iron content.

comment by Robin_Hanson2 · 2007-01-21T10:33:23.000Z · score: 19 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, academics largely train people to follow various standard procedures as social conventions, instead of getting people to really understand the reasons for those conventions. Apparently it is very hard to teach and test regarding the underlying reasons. That is the fact that really gives me pause.

comment by Peacewise · 2011-10-26T02:32:00.949Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If you'd like to move past your pause, then study an education degree at a reputable school. "Deep Learning" is something that is very much a part of the subject matter in the units I'm studying at Charles Darwin Universities Bachelor of Teaching and Learning Preservice.

comment by Peacewise · 2011-10-26T04:04:31.371Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What's the -1 for please?

comment by Manfred · 2011-10-26T04:13:41.441Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Probably because you suggested that someone who has their own stuff to do go get a college degree to resolve one problem they think they see in education. Also, your second sentence sounds a bit like an advertisement for Charles Darwin Universities Bachelor of Teaching and Learning Preservice.

To do better, just say "I'm studying education, and they're spending a lot of time on this stuff called 'deep learning,'" and then maybe you could spend a few sentences actually talking about what you're studying and explaining it to Robin, rather than expecting him to sign up for classes to find out.

comment by Peacewise · 2011-10-26T06:48:18.463Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for your response Manfred.

So it's a "9 point" positive to say something that reiterates a commonly perceived problem and offers no solution and also makes a factual error, but to direct someone to a place that actually addresses their problem is a -1. Cool, I'm getting a feel for the website now, cheers.

Let's try this. It's actually pretty easy to test for deeper learning. For example multiple choice questions have previously been considered as examples of shallow learning, or if you prefer shallow testing, and in the past that was accurate and indeed in some still existing multiple choice questions there isn't a path towards deep learning. However consider this question.

The 11 letters in the word PROBABILITY are written on 11 pieces of paper, and a piece of paper chosen at random from a bag. Which of the following statements are true? a)The probability of selecting a "B" is less than the probability of selecting an "I". b)There is a greater chance of obtaining a consonant than of obtaining a vowel. c)A vowel is less likely than a consonant. d)If you repeated the experiment a very large number of times, approximately 63% of the results would be consonants. Make your selection, note that you may select more than zero answers.

Now since "advertising" for CDU might be deemed as somewhat negative, am I permitted to share the details of a book one could read to understand how deep learning for mathematics can be taught to middle school students? Or would that be advertising also?

Elementary & Middle School Mathematics : Teaching Developmentally by John A. Van De Walle, Karen S. Karp and Jennifer M. Bay-Williams, published by Pearson International.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-26T07:14:43.885Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So it's a "9 point" positive to say something that reiterates a commonly perceived problem and offers no solution and also makes a factual error,

If you're Robin Hanson, sure. Also note that the comment is from '07: the voting system wasn't put in place until after the move from Overcoming Bias (Hanson's blog) to LessWrong. If a similar comment was made today it would probably be voted up much higher. Or maybe downvoted, who knows.

but to direct someone to a place that actually addresses their problem is a -1.

Here, I gave you an upvote. Now it's a 0. Karma means too little to stress out over like this.

Cool, I'm getting a feel for the website now, cheers.

Good day to you too.

comment by Manfred · 2011-10-26T07:25:57.891Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Telling someone to read a book is still probably expecting too much of them. An online article is pretty much the limit, and it's even better if you can tell the other person what you want them to learn in your own words. Referencing a book is good, though.

comment by Peacewise · 2011-10-26T07:41:36.980Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Cheers Manfred, Hopefully I've given a glimpse of how one can apply and test for deep learning... and if I a "lowly" first year undergrad in education can do it, seems it's probably not that hard. [smirk]

I'm getting a few mixed signals from the site, and that's to be expected. Some want high detail, others want little. Some will downgrade me for restating something that's been said, others don't seem to be downgraded for saying something that's common knowledge. I'll get the hang of it. I'm well aware that joining an internet site/forum/community involves some amount of fitting in, some amount of taking hits cause you're the new guy or just aren't getting it, and some amount of adjusting to the norms, indeed some good old fashion relationship building too.

I was hoping this might be a place where solutions are discussed more than problems are complained about. Perhaps that's true and I just haven't discovered it yet, don't know.

I remain open minded and am working my way through the sequences, they're good reading.

Disconfirmation bias - love that concept and discovered it on lesswrong, hadn't found that one in the Social Psych or Education Psych textbook yet. Even if I get too peeved off and leave to never return, LW will be remembered fondly for that one concept alone.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-10-26T08:20:58.675Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Could you give an example of "shallow learning" alongside one of "deep learning," and explain the difference? "Deep learning" definitely sounds like something that's better than "shallow learning," but you haven't made if very clear what it actually is.

comment by Peacewise · 2011-10-27T02:30:09.315Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Desrtopa, sure thing mate. Deep learning example : The 11 letters in the word PROBABILITY are written on 11 pieces of paper, and a piece of paper chosen at random from a bag. Which of the following statements are true? a)The probability of selecting a "B" is less than the probability of selecting an "I". b)There is a greater chance of obtaining a consonant than of obtaining a vowel. c)A vowel is less likely than a consonant. d)If you repeated the experiment a very large number of times, approximately 63% of the results would be consonants. Make your selection, note that you may select more than zero answers.

Shallow learning example. The 11 letters of FOUNDATIONS are written on 11 pieces of paper, and a piece of paper chosen at random from a bag. What is the probability that an "O" is selected? a) 3/12. b) 1/11. c) 2/11. d) 2/12. Select only 1 answer.

The Deep learning example uses the word “probability” that’s a way to prime the student to thinking in terms of probability, it is an interconnection, it enhances learning, the word "foundations" doesn't do this. The question is “which of the following statements are true?” – that’s a question that is more open than “What is the probability that an “O” is selected?” - open questions evoke deep learning better than closed questions. The answer selections in the deep learning are worded, they require interpretation, they need an understanding of consonants and vowels – which again provides an interconnection with English, and interconnections are deep learning. Whilst the shallow learning has 4 numbers for options, they require no interpretation and they don’t interconnect with English as much as does the deep learning example. The Deep learning questions “make you selection, note that you may select more than zero answers” gives the reader a pause… how many can I select, what does more than zero mean, it requires some interpretation, could be 1, 2, 3, or 4! The “Select only 1 answer” doesn’t need interpretation, it’s closed – just 1. Now about the answers themselves. Shallow learning multiple choice questions typically have 2 options that are readily visible as incorrect and can be quickly discarded, 3/12 can be quickly discarded because there aren’t 3 O’s nor are there 12 letters. 1/11 can be quickly discarded because there are 2 “O”s. 2/11 is the correct answer and so the person doesn’t even need to assess answer d. Where as in the deep learning each answer needs to be assessed for their truth value, and no answer can be quickly discarded.

comment by Tim_Worstall · 2007-01-21T14:35:59.000Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

"Now suppose we discover that a Ph.D. economist buys a lottery ticket every week. We have to ask ourselves: Does this person really understand expected utility, on a gut level?"

Tricky question. It we look purely at the financial return, the odds, then no. If we look at the return in utility, possibly yes.

Is $1 too much to pay for a couple of days of pleasurable dreams about what one would do if one won? Don't we think that such fleeing from reality has some value to the one entering such a fantasy, a suspension of the rules of the real world?

If we don't agree that that has some value then it's going to be terribly difficult to explain why people spend $8 to do to the movies for 90 minutes.

comment by taryneast · 2011-06-10T09:49:33.288Z · score: 33 (33 votes) · LW · GW

I don't buy lottery tickets.. but I still dream about what I'd do if I won. I realised a while back that i don't actually have to pay to have those dreams.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-15T22:37:30.442Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I agree. Part of my brain does not understand the difference between a small chance of something happening and a really small chance of something happening. Probably the same thing is true of most people, including PhD economists.

It's doesn't seem unreasonable to spend $10 a year to humor one's inner moron.

It might be a different story if those same PhD economists were spending thousands of dollars a year on lottery tickets. But even then, the most likely explanation is that the PhD economist has a gambling problem. And like most addicts, he knows that he's behaving irrationally; he just has a hard time controlling himself.

comment by gwern · 2013-12-15T22:44:04.267Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is $1 too much to pay for a couple of days of pleasurable dreams about what one would do if one won? Don't we think that such fleeing from reality has some value to the one entering such a fantasy, a suspension of the rules of the real world?

Even if that's the justification, you can do better: http://lesswrong.com/lw/hl/lotteries_a_waste_of_hope/ It's not clear that lotteries are a good use of time: you aren't thinking 24/7 about your dreams, you dream for maybe a few minutes total, and from that perspective, $1 is far too much to pay when you can, say, download a totally engrossing movie from the Internet for $0. And that argument still serves to ban more gambling than say $10 a day, which many gamblers routinely violate.

comment by theAkash · 2013-12-15T23:54:06.977Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I partially AWYC, but unless there's some aspect to the experience that I don't get, I don't see why actually buying the lottery ticket is necessary.

Going to a movie helps one escape into fantasy. A lottery ticket seems like a much less helpful prop for this. I can - and have, particularly as a child - fantasize about what I would do with wealth and status (although the means of achieving such, in my fantasies, has generally been the slightly lesser improbability of becoming a famous author or something similar) completely unaided.

In fact, it might be better to do as I did and imagine achieving your incredible wealth by some means other than lottery winnings, precisely because winning the lottery is so improbable. Thanks to a horrifying history of akrasia on that front and some amount of realization that I really want to do science instead, I haven't actually made any effective moves towards becoming an author, but nevertheless it is, I think, an accepted fact that people will be more motivated to do what they fantasize about.

Why not let them be motivated to do something actually useful?

comment by Bob_Knaus · 2007-01-21T15:49:52.000Z · score: -16 (17 votes) · LW · GW

"g = -g" as Voltaire said. Oh, wait, that would put him a bit ahead of his time.

Doesn't Goedel's theorem propose that the set of truths is larger than the set of provable truths? And that the set of falsehoods is larger than the set of provable falsehoods?

If our best logical reasoning concludes there are truths outside the boundaries of rationality, why should we not assign them to the spirit world?

comment by Gordon_Worley · 2007-01-21T17:33:44.000Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

In sum, I agree, but one small issue I take is when you argue that someone acts contrary to their learning it demonstrates that they don't really understand it. I'm sure this is often the case, but sometimes it's a matter of akrasia: the person knows what they should do and why, even deep down inside, yet finds themselves unable to do it.

Humans suffer heavily from their biases. I recall at in middle school I came to the conclusion that no deities existed, yet it took me a long while to act on it because of social pressures, so I continued to behave contrary to my beliefs out of fear. It was only later in life that I gained the self-confidence and bravery to act upon my beliefs, no matter how contrary to the social norm.

You might say that I didn't really understand and that if I did I would have acted differently, but I find this contrary to my own experience, and this is only one such example. The human brain is a mine field, and even when we understand, we may still fail to act correctly.

comment by Carinthium · 2010-11-14T01:53:07.874Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Depending on the circumstances and your priorities, pretending to have religious beliefs might have been the most rational thing to do (not knowing either, I don't know if that's true of course).

comment by donna · 2007-01-21T20:11:00.000Z · score: -4 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Tao was described (I wouldn't say invented...) long before Isaac Newton, and yet expresses Feynman's sentiments almost exactly. But then it isn't a religion, either.

comment by Douglas_Knight2 · 2007-01-22T02:36:54.000Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Apparently it is very hard to teach and test regarding the underlying reasons.

Does "apparently" (in general) mean you aren't using additional sources of information? In this case, are you concluding that it's difficult simply from the fact that it isn't done? That only seems to me like evidence that it's not worth it. Unfortunately, the value driving the system is getting published, not advancing science.

comment by Robin_Hanson2 · 2007-01-22T04:28:22.000Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Douglas, I have found it hard to teach when I have tried, but I'm sure another reason it is rarely done is that academic rewards for it tend to be small relative to the costs.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-01-22T05:23:43.000Z · score: 23 (21 votes) · LW · GW

Tim Worstall, if a PhD economist has pleasurable dreams about winning the lottery, that is exactly what I would call "failing to understand probability on a gut level". Look at the water! A calculated probability of 0.0000001 should diminish the emotional strength of any anticipation, positive or negative, by a factor of ten million. Otherwise you've understood the probability as little symbols on paper but not what it means in real life.

Also, a good economist should be aware that winning the lottery often does not make people happy - though one must take into account that they were the sort of people who bought lottery tickets to begin with.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-15T22:57:44.064Z · score: 9 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Tim Worstall, if a PhD economist has pleasurable dreams about winning the lottery, that is exactly what I would call "failing to understand probability on a gut level"

In that case, wouldn't you say that anyone who suffers from akrasia (which is pretty much everyone at some time) has a failure of understanding on a gut level? My subconscious mind doesn't seem to understand that it's a bad idea to eat a box of pizza every night; so I have to rely on my conscious mind to take charge, or at least try to.

Occasionally even health-conscious people eat stuff like pizza, which is arguably the equivalent of buying the occasional lottery ticket. In each case, the conscious mind is aware that one is doing something counter-productive. In the case of a lottery ticket, one is enjoying the fantasy of being free from his day-to-day financial worries,even though there is essentially zero chance of actually succeeding. In the case of pigging out, one is enjoying the feeling of being stuffed with tasty food, even though there is essentially zero chance that there will be a food shortage next week which will justify his having pigged out.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T15:30:56.824Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Occasionally even health-conscious people eat stuff like pizza

What's wrong with healthy people (in particular, gluten-tolerant) eating pizza?

comment by Laoch · 2013-12-16T16:24:50.272Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's high carb? It gives me heartburn (probably gluten intolerance?). If you are trying to go on a cut i.e. want a six pack it's a bad idea.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T16:29:30.557Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's high carb?

And why is that a problem? You seem to be implying that a low-carb diet is The Only True Way which looks doubtful.

If you are trying to go on a cut i.e. want a six pack

The claim was about "health-conscious" people, not body-image-conscious.

comment by Laoch · 2013-12-16T16:38:02.265Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

And why is that a problem? You seem to be implying that a low-carb diet is The Only True Way which looks doubtful.

Because of the negative effects it has on your insulin response, leading to pancreas fatigue and type 2 diabetes.

The claim was about "health-conscious" people, not body-image-conscious.

I was under the impression that a low body fat percentage was healthier. Perhaps I'm wrong. I must admit my beliefs are influenced by aesthetics. I'd bet on low abdominal fat been the optimal via a low-ish carb diet.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T17:06:48.635Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We know that low-carb is effective at losing weight. The jury is still out on whether low-carb is healthy in the long term.

Similarly, while it is clear that being obese is unhealthy, I don't think that there is any evidence to show that being very thin (having low body fat %) is healthier than being normal.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-16T18:34:07.877Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

See here, though it uses BMI rather than body fat %.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T18:46:18.483Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, and it does show the expected U-shaped curve.

BMI is pretty useless as an individual metric, though.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-16T18:56:20.657Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, and it does show the expected U-shaped curve.

That was the point. (I also incorrectly remembered that the minimum was shifted a bit to the right of what's usually called “normal weight”, i.e. 18.5 to 25, but in the case of healthy people who've never smoked it looks like that range is about right.)

comment by Laoch · 2013-12-17T08:32:50.061Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Depends on what you mean by normal?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-17T16:52:06.838Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The usual: 10-20% BF for men (you can have less if you're actually an athlete), 20-30% for women.

comment by Laoch · 2013-12-17T19:37:06.306Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oh you mean healthy not normal? Few men are at 10-20%.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-17T19:46:28.258Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I mean "normal" in the sense of "not broken", NOT in the sense of "average".

Having said that, about 20% of US men under 40 have less than 20% body fat. Source

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-16T18:39:55.481Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was under the impression that a low body fat percentage was healthier.

In which case you should take “healthy people” to mean those who are not trying to go on a cut because they already have a six-pack.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-16T17:16:37.864Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What's wrong with healthy people (in particular, gluten-tolerant) eating pizza?

The main problem is that for a large percentage of people, pizza is a super-stimulus. i.e. it tastes far better that what was normally available in the ancestral environment so that it's difficult to avoid over-consuming it. Of course the health dangers of over-consumption of food are well known.

If you think pizza is a bad example, feel free to substitute candy bars or coca-cola.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T17:33:33.259Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The main problem is that for a large percentage of people, pizza is a super-stimulus.

I don't think this is true. Or, rather, if you think that pizza is a super-stimulus food, most food around is super-stimulus (with exceptions for things like stale cold porridge).

Super-stimulus foods are ether very sugary or very salty. Pizza is neither.

What pizza is, it's a cheap easily-available high-calorie convenience food. That makes it easy to abuse (=overconsume), but doesn't make it inherently unhealthy.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-16T17:57:59.949Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

most food around is super-stimulus (with exceptions for things like stale cold porridge).

I disagree, depending on how you define "most food around" of course. If you are talking about food that you can go into a restaurant or fast food joint and buy, then I would have to agree with you. If you are talking about the dinners mom cooked back in the 70s, then I would not agree.

Super-stimulus foods are ether very sugary or very salty. Pizza is neither.

Well do you agree that pizza tastes really good? Do you agree that (generally speaking) small children LOVE pizza?

That makes it easy to abuse (=overconsume), but doesn't make it inherently unhealthy.

It's unhealthy for the reasons I stated earlier. But let me ask you this: What is a food or drink which you do consider to be unhealthy?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T18:20:39.597Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

depending on how you define "most food around" of course.

I define it as food I see and eat in my home as well as food in the restaurants. I like yummy food and I see no reason to eat non-yummy food.

You seem to think that any tasty food is super-stimulus food. That's not how most people use the term.

Well do you agree that pizza tastes really good?

Depends. There's a lot of bad pizza out there. You can get very good pizza but you can also get mediocre or bad pizza.

Do you agree that (generally speaking) small children LOVE pizza?

I don't see why this is relevant. Small children in general also like pasta and even you probably wouldn't consider it a super-stimulus food.

What is a food or drink which you do consider to be unhealthy?

The dose make the poison. In small amounts or consumed rarely, pretty much no food or drink is unhealthy (of course there are a bunch of obvious exceptions for allergies, gluten- or lactose-intolerance, outright toxins, etc.).

With this caveat, I generally consider to be unhealthy things like the large variety of liquid sugar (e.g. soda or juice) or, say, hydrogenated fats (e.g margarine, many cookies).

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-16T18:43:38.715Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Super-stimulus foods are ether very sugary or very salty

Or fatty.

You seem to think that any tasty food is super-stimulus food.

Shouldn't pretty much any cooked food be a super-stimulus considering the relevant ancestral environment and why we intricately cook food in the first place?

Small children in general also like pasta and even you probably wouldn't consider it a super-stimulus food.

Super-stimuli could be different for different age groups. I've never seen anyone love plain pasta, they like their ketchup and sauce too.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T18:50:30.130Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Or fatty.

Not sure about that. Fat makes food more tasty (mostly through contributing what's called "mouth feel"), but it doesn't look like a super-stimulus to me.

Shouldn't pretty much any cooked food be a super-stimulus

Well, depends on how do you want to define "super-stimulus". I understand it to mean triggering hardwired biological preferences above and beyond the usual and normal desire to eat tasty food. The two substances specifically linked to super-stimulus are sugar and salt.

Again, super-stimulus is not the same thing as yummy.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-16T18:58:14.270Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The two substances specifically linked to super-stimulus are sugar and salt.

I'm not sure it's that simple -- chocolate is more of a super-stimulus than fruits for most people.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T19:03:30.128Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

True. On the other hand, take away the sugar and see how many chocoholics are willing to eat 99% dark chocolate :-/

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-16T19:18:48.311Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ever seen a child lick butter off a slice of bread? Don't tell me they would lick off just salt too.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T19:25:36.256Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've seen both. In the case of salt it's lick finger, stick it into the salt bowl, lick clean, repeat.

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-16T19:27:31.998Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, now that you reminded me I've seen the latter too, dammit.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-17T08:31:16.508Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Dunno about 99% (though if you set the bar as low as "willing to eat" I probably would), but I do find 85% dark chocolate quite addictive (as in, I seldom manage to buy a tablet and not finish it within a couple days). But I know I'm weird.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-17T16:50:25.591Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

buy a tablet and not finish it within a couple days

A couple of days! :-) That's not what "addiction" means.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-18T08:35:49.846Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I meant it in the colloquial ‘takes lots of willpower to stop’ sense, not the technical ‘once I stop I get withdrawal symptoms’ sense. (Is there a technical term for the former?)

(OK, it does seem to me that whenever I eat chocolate daily for a few weeks and then stop, I feel much grumpier for a few days, but that's another story, and anyway it's not like I took enough statistics to rule out it being a coincidence,)

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-18T08:47:53.033Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I meant it in the colloquial ‘takes lots of willpower to stop’ sense, not the technical ‘once I stop I get withdrawal symptoms’ sense. (Is there a technical term for the former?)

Addiction vs physical dependence.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-18T16:06:13.036Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I meant it in the colloquial ‘takes lots of willpower to stop’ sense, ... (Is there a technical term for the former?)

The verb "like" and a variety of synonyms :-D

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-19T07:30:14.852Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not quite -- I'm talking about the upper extreme of what Yvain here calls “wanting”, though that word in the common vernacular has strong connotations of what he calls “approving”.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-19T16:12:55.382Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I know some chocoholics. Trust me, if it takes you a couple of days to finish a chocolate bar, you're not addicted :-D

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-19T16:32:34.811Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is there something wrong with binging or compulsion? Withdrawal symptoms would imply dependence, but not necessarily addiction.

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-16T19:16:09.393Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Did our preferences mostly evolve for "tasty food" or for raw meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts etc? I thought super-stimulus usually means something that goes beyond the stimuli in the ancestral environment where the preferences for the relevant stimuli were selected for.

I don't understand how you draw the line between stimuli and super-stimuli without such reasoning.

I guess it's possible most our preferences evolved for cooked food, but I'd like to see the evidence first before I believe it.

ETA: I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with super-stimuli, so let's drop the baggage of that connotation.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T19:45:04.938Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand how you draw the line between stimuli and super-stimuli

Well, I actually don't want to draw the line. I am not a big fan of the super-stimulus approach, though obviously humans have some built-in preferences. This terminology was mostly used to demonize certain "bad" things (notably, sugar and salt) with the implication that people can't just help themselves and so need the government (or another nanny) to step in and impose rules.

I think a continuous axis going from disgusting to very tasty is much more useful.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-12-16T20:02:41.328Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, sure. Similarly, a continuous axis designating typical level of risk is more useful than classifying some activities as "dangerous" and others as "safe." Which doesn't mean there don't exist dangerous activities.

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-16T20:13:08.030Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So you disagreed with the connotation. I disagree with it too, and edited the grandparent accordingly. I still like the word though, and think it's useful. I suppose getting exposed to certain kind of marketing could make me change my mind.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-12-17T04:56:26.688Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Shouldn't pretty much any cooked food be a super-stimulus considering the relevant ancestral environment and why we intricately cook food in the first place?

According to what I read in Scientific American, the human digestive system has evolved to require cooked food; humans can't survive on what chimpanzees and other primates eat.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-17T08:49:32.312Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've never seen anyone love plain pasta, they like their ketchup

Oh God! Please never utter those two words in the same sentence where an Italian can hear you. I was about to barf on the keyboard! :-)

and sauce too.

Then again, people (other than me, at least) don't usually binge on flat bread without toppings, either.

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-17T09:02:58.281Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Are you saying that plain pasta and bread without toppings are super-stimuli for you? Are you not even using oil? :)

I can understand the bread part if it's fresh, but as far as I'm concerned pasta doesn't taste much like anything. Perhaps I've just eaten the wrong kind of bland crap.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-12-17T10:30:45.156Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When I was a kid, my grandmother had some trick that caused her bland spaghetti (possibly with some oils and stuff, but mostly things that weren't visible after it was prepared) to be the best food that I knew of. If not superstimuli, then close to it.

Unfortunately she's no longer alive, and she never passed the trick on to anyone else, so I can't say whether I would get the same pleasure out of it as an adult.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-12-18T16:58:35.665Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you know if it was fresh? I hear that fresh pasta is comparable to fresh bread.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-18T17:31:11.202Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I hear that fresh pasta is comparable to fresh bread.

Interesting. Links or stories? I am very much aware of the difference between fresh-baked bread and "plastic bread" from the supermarket. It's huge. Are people claiming freshly-made pasta is different to the same degree?

comment by Vaniver · 2013-12-18T18:19:54.933Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are people claiming freshly-made pasta is different to the same degree?

It appears not. [1] [2] [3] Fresh pasta has a more pronounced flavor, and is generally made with a superior variety of flour (that doesn't keep as well), which means less of the flavor work is done by the sauce.

(I don't think I've ever had fresh pasta, and so don't have any first-hand reports. I do think fresh bread is worlds better than supermarket bread, though.)

Also, in America at least, making fresh pasta is a very grandmothery thing to do, and so my prior was high enough to be remarkable.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-18T18:49:36.064Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm... I am getting curious. Not yet to the degree of making fresh pasta myself, but I recall that there is WholeFoods nearby that sells it...

On the other hand pasta is basically boiled wheat dough and I generally find dough as bread to be yummier than dough as pasta.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-12-18T19:47:56.452Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No, unless I misremember terribly it was ordinary market spaghetti.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-12-18T20:02:39.823Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. Well, you can vary the taste by throwing salt into the pot, but I've never found a level of salt that I thought would raise the quality more than a point on a ten point scale. Adding spices while boiling, like powdered garlic, will alter the taste somewhat but I think they're more effective in sauces / applied afterwards, and are often visible.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-18T20:09:37.234Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If someone wants to experiment, my starting point would be this:

Take some good olive oil (extra-virgin, first cold press, etc.) and grate fresh garlic into it. Stir and let it stand covered for an hour or so. Once your pasta is ready, drain it, and then toss with the garlic-infused olive oil.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-12-18T20:17:43.505Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Apparently my mother tried to make some spaghetti according to my grandmother's instructions, but it never tasted the same to me. So either it was something really subtle, or there was a placebo effect involved (or both).

ETA: Though now that I think of it, I'm not entirely sure of the "bland" thing anymore - there might have been a sauce involved as well. Damn unreliable memories.

comment by joaolkf · 2013-12-30T17:17:10.015Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Olive oil, lots and lots of it. Thank me later. I have been drenching food with it and getting compliments on my cooking skills for years, and I also use to say it's a secret given my GF would freak out due to high calories. (disclaimer: I weight 260 pounds)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-18T08:41:42.917Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No, I eat pasta with sauces other than ketchup. And I do eat much more plain bread than the average person e.g. when I'm at the restaurant and I'm waiting for the dishes to arrive, but I think it's more got to do with boredom and hunger than anything else -- it's not like I have to refrain from keeping any bread at home whenever I'm trying to lose weight lest I binge on it, the way I do with cookies.

Anyway, my general point was that comparing pizza with toppings to pasta without toppings (in terms of how much people, in particular small children, enjoy them) isn't a fair comparison.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-12-17T09:10:06.272Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I binge on (fresh) bread without toppings, but I find pasta much more enjoyable with ketchup or some sort of spice.

comment by Laoch · 2013-12-17T10:26:54.438Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yuck!

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-17T15:24:46.344Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oh God! Please never utter those two words in the same sentence where an Italian can hear you. I was about to barf on the keyboard! :-)

It's ok! I'll prepare a tomato, garlic, and basil sauce with some Merlot cooked in, stat!

comment by Laoch · 2013-12-17T10:19:51.038Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you still believe that fatty equals not good for you? Plus who the hell puts ketchup anywhere near pasta?

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-17T10:43:32.783Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you still believe that fatty equals not good for you?

No. Why would you think that?

Plus who the hell puts ketchup anywhere near pasta?

People who torture kittens for fun. Both are an acquired taste.

comment by Laoch · 2013-12-17T11:06:46.469Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No. Why would you think that?

I suppose I just expect from people, even intelligent people on LW.

People who torture kittens for fun.

The reverse correlation doesn't work because I torture kittens too.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-12-17T14:59:38.775Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you still believe that fatty equals not good for you?

It doesn't?

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-19T05:36:55.850Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Probably depends on how much you eat it, and what kind. Let's not oversimplify things.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-16T21:00:49.267Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I define it as food I see and eat in my home as well as food in the restaurants.

I'm not sure what kind of food you keep in your home, but thinking on the fact that a huge percentage of American adults are overweight or obese, I would probably agree that "most food around" is super-stimulating.

You seem to think that any tasty food is super-stimulus food. That's not how most people use the term

Well you asked me why I consider pizza to be a problem. If you don't want to use the word "super-stimulus," it doesn't really affect my point. Pizza tastes good enough to most people that it's difficult to resist the urge to over-eat. That's my answer.

Depends. There's a lot of bad pizza out there.

Oh come on. Please use the Principle of Charity if you engage me. When I assert that "pizza tastes really good," you know what I mean.

I don't see why this is relevant. Small children in general also like pasta

Well small children are naive enough to come right out and express a strong preference for the foods they love. And they don't beg their parents for pasta parties.

The dose make the poison. In small amounts or consumed rarely, pretty much no food or drink is unhealth

Well let me put the question a slightly different way: Do you agree that there exist certain foods which taste really good; which a lot of people have a problem with, which in many ways are like an addiction?

comment by Nornagest · 2013-12-16T21:18:53.194Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well small children are naive enough to come right out and express a strong preference for the foods they love. And they don't beg their parents for pasta parties.

From what I remember, I did occasionally beg for pizza around that age, but if I'm modeling my early childhood psychology right that had as much to do with cultural/media influence as native preference. Pizza is the canonical party food in American children's media, and its prominence in e.g. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles probably didn't help.

Media counts for a lot! Show of hands, who here found themselves craving Turkish delight after reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe without actually knowing what it was?

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-16T21:29:43.689Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

From what I remember, I did occasionally beg for pizza around that age, but if I'm modeling my early childhood psychology right that had as much to do with media influence as native preference

Do you agree that part of the reason kids beg for pizza is that it tastes really good?

Let me ask you this: If you gave lab rats a choice between pizza and oatmeal, which do you think they would choose?

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-12-16T21:54:13.170Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Let me ask you this: If you gave lab rats a choice between pizza and oatmeal, which do you think they would choose?

I don't know the answer to this, but I'd caution against using lab rats, which, keep in mind, have quite different dietary needs, as an indicator of human dietary preferences.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-17T04:29:35.570Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know the answer to this, but I'd caution against using lab rats, which, keep in mind, have quite different dietary needs, as an indicator of human dietary preferences.

Well you are capable of estimating some probabilities, no? I agree that caution is in order, but I feel pretty confident, perhaps 90% probability, that lab rats will choose pizza over oatmeal.

Here's a study which might affect your probability assessments:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0060407

Exposure to a palatable diet had long-term effects on feeding patterns. Rats became overweight because they initially ate more frequently and ultimately ate more of foods with higher energy density.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-21T08:11:41.333Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well you are capable of estimating some probabilities, no? I agree that caution is in order, but I feel pretty confident, perhaps 90% probability, that lab rats will choose pizza over oatmeal.

I'd take the other side of the bet. Anybody willing to test this?

comment by Nornagest · 2013-12-16T21:54:29.336Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you agree that part of the reason kids beg for pizza is that it tastes really good?

I think pizza, at least in the United States and during the years around my own childhood, occupied a cultural position that's not fully describable in terms of its nutritional content. Stimulus concerns are sufficient to explain favoring it over something like (plain) oatmeal, but not over something like spaghetti and meatballs or chicken-fried steak.

I'm told curry occupies a similar position in Japan. Other cultures probably have their own equivalents.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-17T04:22:02.967Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think pizza, at least in the United States and during the years around my own childhood, occupied a cultural position that's not fully describable in terms of its nutritional content. Stimulus concerns are sufficient to explain favoring it over something like (plain) oatmeal, but not over something like spaghetti and meatballs or chicken-fried steak.

Ok, I guess I read your first post too quickly. You don't seem to dispute my basic claim that pizza tastes really good. You also don't seem to dispute my claim that children's preference for pizza is evidence of this. Because whatever food children beg for -- whether it's pizza, hot dogs, or curry -- is probably going to be something that tastes good.

I do agree that children ask for pizza -- as opposed to other tasty foods -- for cultural reasons. But I don't think that contradicts any argument I have made.

comment by EHeller · 2013-12-16T22:35:55.483Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you agree that part of the reason kids beg for pizza is that it tastes really good?

My kids didn't want pizza (pretty much ever), until they started school, and then they wanted pizza primarily when having friends over. I think its more social/cultural then anything else.

Also, they are pizza snobs- I'm not allowed to order from a local place because its "too salty, and too greasy." They'd prefer no pizza, or a usual dinner (stir fry or something) to the wrong pizza.

Also, I'm not sure if "super stimulus" food are super stimulus consistently. I hate fast food burgers, and have since I was little (but sit me down in a hole-in-the-wall mexican place and I'll eat until I wish I was dead).

Just adding a few anecdotes.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-17T04:44:29.257Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well do you agree that despite your experiences, there do seem to be certain foods which are considered tasty and difficult to resist by large numbers of people?

comment by EHeller · 2013-12-17T04:56:29.504Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I actually live in a fairly healthy "bubble," I don't know many significantly overweight people. I know the stereotypes, I guess, that fat people guzzle sodas and pound mcdonalds.

I guess the one example of someone who eats typical bad-for-you foods is my wife's sister who basically grew up only eating burgers (an extremely picky eater with very permissive parents. She still pretty much only eats burgers). But she weighs 125 lbs and runs marathons.

But again, these are my selective anecdotes. I don't claim representative knowledge.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-17T08:26:54.185Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And the overweight people you know don't seem to have any specific foods or types of foods which they have trouble resisting?

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2015-01-23T17:41:29.491Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Anecdote time! There was a period when I loved pasta but wouldn't eat pizza because I had not yet grasped that Tomatoes Are Awesome. Also that book made me classify Turkish Delight as a drug, and Drugs Are Bad don'tcha know. And then when I finally got some I realized it also tastes bad.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-03-07T17:17:43.427Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Turkish Delight isn't just one thing. I've had mediocre bright-colored (and probably artificially flavored) turkish delight, and delicious fresh transparent turkish delight flavored with rose water. If you care about the subject, you should see if you have access to a middle eastern shop where you can get the good stuff.

Tentative theory: the good stuff isn't packaged, so it has to be fresh. If it wasn't fresh, it would have dried out.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2015-03-09T00:07:14.724Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the tip! The only Turkish delight I remember having was bright-colored and came in a box.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T21:38:00.516Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

thinking on the fact that a huge percentage of American adults are overweight or obese, I would probably agree that "most food around" is super-stimulating.

Sigh. So you really think that the cause of obesity is that food is just too yummy, too attractive?

Before you answer, think about different countries, other than US. Japan, maybe? France?

Pizza tastes good enough to most people that it's difficult to resist the urge to over-eat. That's my answer.

Please use the Principle of Charity if you engage me. When I assert that "pizza tastes really good," you know what I mean.

Please try to avoid the typical mind fallacy. People around me don't seem to have the urge to overeat pizza. A lot of them just don't like it, others might eat a slice once in a while but no more. Nobody is obsessed with pizza and I doubt many will agree that "pizza tastes really good" -- they'll either say "it depends" or shrug and say that pizza is basic cheap food, to be grabbed on the run when hungry.

No one -- not a single person around me -- shows signs of having to exert significant will power to avoid stuffing her face with pizza.

Do you agree that there exist certain foods which taste really good; which a lot of people have a problem with, which in many ways are like an addiction?

Presumably there is a logical "AND" between you sentence parts. Depends on what do you mean by "taste really good" (see above about pizza) and by "a lot".

People generally overeat not because the food is too yummy. People generally overeat for hormonal and psychological reasons.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-12-16T21:47:00.076Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

People generally overeat not because the food is too yummy. People generally overeat for hormonal and psychological reasons.

What is your hypothesis for why obesity rates have exploded to such an extent in the last several decades?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T22:17:34.308Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What is your hypothesis for why obesity rates have exploded to such an extent in the last several decades?

Oh, dear. There are what, a few dozens of books on the topic, not to mention uncountable papers and articles?

I think it's complicated and not attributable to a single easy-to-isolate factor.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-17T15:31:08.323Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, here's an easy one that I've even got some empirical evidence for: refined sugars being added to common foods where you simply don't expect sugars to be.

I know that when I'm here in Israel, I have an easy time controlling my eating (to the point that skipping meals sometimes becomes my default), but when I'm in the States, I have a very hard time controlling my eating. I've noticed that when I even partially cut refined sugars from my diet, I get through the day with a much clearer mind, particularly in the realm of executive/self-disciplining functions. It's to the point that I'm noticeably more productive at work without refined sugar.

There are lots of differences in diet between Israel and the USA, but the single biggest background factor is that in Israel, sweets are sweets and not-sweets are not sweetened. Whereas in the US, everything but the very rawest raw ingredients (ie: including sliced bread) has some added refined sugars.

With a large background level of "derp drug" in your basic foodstuffs, it's probably quite easy to suffer blood-sugar problems, get cravings, and lose a degree of focus and self-control. It's certainly what I experience when I'm there.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-18T11:11:52.852Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've noticed that when I even partially cut refined sugars from my diet, I get through the day with a much clearer mind, particularly in the realm of executive/self-disciplining functions. It's to the point that I'm noticeably more productive at work without refined sugar.

ISTM that for me in the short run it's the other way round, but that's probably got to do with the fact that most of my sources of refined sugars are sources of caffeine and water as well.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-18T12:55:43.669Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Try unsweetened black tea or coffee. Seriously: it works wonders.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-16T22:17:21.962Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So you really think that the cause of obesity is just that food is just too yummy, too attractive?

Absolutely. (And too available.)

Before you answer, think about different countries, other than US. Japan, maybe? France?

I've been thinking about this question pretty intensely for a couple years now.

Please try to avoid the typical mind fallacy.

Where did you get the impression that I am going just by my own experiences?

People around me don't seem to have the urge to overeat pizza

Roughly what percentage of the people around you are overweight or obese? Of those who are overweight or obese, do they seem to have the urge to eat any foods or types of foods to excess?

Presumably there is a logical "AND" between you sentence parts. Depends on what do you mean by "taste really good" (see above about pizza) and by "a lot"

For purposes of this exchange, I will define "taste really good" as being at the high end of "yummy." Since you used the word "yummy" before, you presumably know what you meant.

I will define "a lot" as more than 5 million Americans.

Ok, now do you agree that there exist certain foods which (1) are considered to be very yummy by a majority of Americans; (2) which a lot of Americans have a problem with (in the sense that they have difficulty controlling their consumption of these foods); and (3) which are like an addiction (in the sense that some people feel compelled to overconsume such foods despite knowing or having received professional advice that they are consuming too much food)

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T22:29:32.102Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Absolutely.

Well then, you have an unusual viewpoint :-) Any evidence to support it?

Where did you get the impression that I am going just by my own experiences?

Because you didn't offer any data or other evidence. It looked just like a classic stereotype -- look at all these fat Americans who can't stop shoving pizzas into their pieholes!

Roughly what percentage of the people around you are overweight or obese?

10-15%, maybe?

Of those who are overweight or obese, do they seem to have the urge to eat any foods or types of foods to excess?

Nope, not to my knowledge. Of course some might be wolfing down bags of cookies in the middle of the night, but I don't know about it :-)

Ok, now do you agree that there exist certain foods...

I will still say no because I don't think food is addictive. But let me try to see where to do you want to get to.

Let's take full-sugar soda, e.g. Coca-Cola. There certainly has been lots of accusatory fingers pointed at it. The majority of Americans drinks it, so I guess (1) is kinda satisfied. Do people have difficulty controlling their consumption of it? Yep, so (2) fits as well. On the other hand, these people tend to have difficulty controlling a lot of things in their lives, for example credit cards, so I'm not sure there is anything food-specific going on here. Is it like an addiction? Nope, I don't think so. "Knowing professional advice" is way too low an incentive for people to change their ways.

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-17T03:22:13.641Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Because you didn't offer any data or other evidence.

You're not doing it either, y'know.

I think you have now (re?)defined at least two words, super-stimulus and addictive, to fit your purposes. Tobacco doesn't fit your definition of addictive either.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-17T03:27:13.427Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You're not doing it either, y'know.

I'm neither proposing nor defending a hypothesis.

I did define "super-stimulus", but I don't think I tried to define "addictive" (and that's a slippery word, often defined to suit a particular stance).

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-17T03:37:27.612Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Have you read this relevant article? It's confusing when you say you're disagreeing with a definition, when you actually mean you're disagreeing with the connotation.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-17T04:21:46.202Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's confusing when you say you're disagreeing with a definition, when you actually mean you're disagreeing with the connotation.

I am not sure what are you referring to...?

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-17T04:43:54.207Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Addiction is "a slippery word, often defined to suit a particular stance".

Super-stimulus is "mostly used to demonize certain "bad" things (notably, sugar and salt) with the implication that people can't just help themselves and so need the government (or another nanny) to step in and impose rules.".

Sure, you finally explicitly said these things but you could have said you disagreed with the connotations in the first place, which would have made the discussion about definitions pointless and perhaps dissolved some disagreement.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-17T04:42:27.017Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Well then, you have an unusual viewpoint :-) Any evidence to support it?

I do, but I prefer to stay focused on the subject at hand.

Because you didn't offer any data or other evidence.

Let's see if I have this straight -- any time someone makes a generalization about human nature without simultaneously volunteering data or other evidence, one can reasonably assume that they are engaged in the typical mind fallacy? Do I understand you correctly?

Nope, not to my knowledge.

And of those 10-15%, roughly what percentage have tried to lose weight and failed?

Is it like an addiction? Nope,

So let's see if I understand your position:

You deny that there are a lot of people who consume certain foods even while knowing that they are consuming too much food?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-17T16:47:57.376Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

any time someone makes a generalization about human nature without simultaneously volunteering data or other evidence, one can reasonably assume that they are engaged in the typical mind fallacy?

If it contradicts one's personal experience then yes, one can reasonably assume. Subject to being corrected by evidence, of course.

And of those 10-15%, roughly what percentage have tried to lose weight and failed?

I don't know. None of them visibly yo-yos. Pretty much everyone once in a while says "I could lose a few pounds", but it's meaningless small talk on the order of "Weather is beastly today, eh?"

You deny that there are a lot of people who consume certain foods even while knowing that they are consuming too much food?

No, I don't deny that, I just think that the word "addiction" is not the appropriate one.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-21T18:16:10.837Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If it contradicts one's personal experience then yes, one can reasonably assume.

Well your personal experience contradicts mine. So please try to avoid engaging in the Lumifer Typical Mind Fallacy. Thank you.

I don't know.

But you do know that none of them have a difficult-to-resist urge to eat certain foods or types of foods?

No, I don't deny that, I just think that the word "addiction" is not the appropriate one.

Well please answer the question I asked and not the question you imagine I had asked.

I asked (among other things) if there were certain foods which "are like an addiction (in the sense that some people feel compelled to overconsume such foods despite knowing or having received professional advice that they are consuming too much food)"

I was careful to say "like an addiction" and to describe what I actually meant.

So it seems you DO agree with me that there exist certain foods which (1) are considered to be very yummy by a majority of Americans; (2) which a lot of Americans have a problem with (in the sense that they have difficulty controlling their consumption of these foods); and (3) which are like an addiction (in the sense that some people feel compelled to overconsume such foods despite knowing or having received professional advice that they are consuming too much food)

Right?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-23T17:25:18.388Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well your personal experience contradicts mine.

Good. Do notice that, as opposed to you, I did not attempt to "make a generalization about human nature" on the basis of my personal experience.

But you do know that none of them have a difficult-to-resist urge to eat certain foods or types of foods?

Of course not.

So it seems you DO agree with me...

I am not inclined to play fisking games (or lets-adjust-this-definition-to-split-the-hair-in-half games) on these forums. No, I do not agree with you. You have enough information to figure out how and why.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-23T19:13:59.754Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Good. Do notice that, as opposed to you, I did not attempt to "make a generalization about human nature" on the basis of my personal experience.

Ummm, here's one thing you said before:

People generally overeat not because the food is too yummy. People generally overeat for hormonal and psychological reasons.

  1. You didn't offer any evidence or data to back this up.

  2. It contradicts my personal experience.

Therefore you have committed the Lumifer Typical Mind Fallacy.

Please try to avoid it in the future.

Of course not.

Lol, then your personal experience doesn't even contradict my basic point.

I am not inclined to play fisking games (or lets-adjust-this-definition-to-split-the-hair-in-half games) on these forums.

Say what? You just redefined my words so that you could answer a different question.

I asked (among other things) if you agreed that there are foods which are "like an addiction (in the sense that some people feel compelled to overconsume such foods despite knowing or having received professional advice that they are consuming too much food)"

You reinterpreted that question as though I was asking whether certain foods are addictive. So that you could easily answer "no" using your own definition of "addictive."

Please answer the question I asked -- not the question you wish or imagine I asked.

No, I do not agree with you. You have enough information to figure out how and why.

Yes, I have enough information to make a pretty good guess as to why you are evading my question.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-12-17T15:05:09.818Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I will still say no because I don't think food is addictive.

Contrary opinion:

Studies of food addiction have focused on highly palatable foods. While fast food falls squarely into that category, it has several other attributes that may increase its salience. This review examines whether the nutrients present in fast food, the characteristics of fast food consumers or the presentation and packaging of fast food may encourage substance dependence, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association. The majority of fast food meals are accompanied by a soda, which increases the sugar content 10-fold. Sugar addiction, including tolerance and withdrawal, has been demonstrated in rodents but not humans. Caffeine is a "model" substance of dependence; coffee drinks are driving the recent increase in fast food sales. Limited evidence suggests that the high fat and salt content of fast food may increase addictive potential. Fast food restaurants cluster in poorer neighborhoods and obese adults eat more fast food than those who are normal weight. Obesity is characterized by resistance to insulin, leptin and other hormonal signals that would normally control appetite and limit reward. Neuroimaging studies in obese subjects provide evidence of altered reward and tolerance. Once obese, many individuals meet criteria for psychological dependence. Stress and dieting may sensitize an individual to reward. Finally, fast food advertisements, restaurants and menus all provide environmental cues that may trigger addictive overeating. While the concept of fast food addiction remains to be proven, these findings support the role of fast food as a potentially addictive substance that is most likely to create dependence in vulnerable populations.

Also, while I don't find pizza to be at all addictive, my experience is that hamburgers are very much so. I've had experiences where I successfully avoided eating any meat for two months in a row, then succumbed to the temptation of eating a single hamburger and then ate some several times a week for the next month.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-17T15:33:40.078Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Also, while I don't find pizza to be at all addictive, my experience is that hamburgers are very much so. I've had experiences where I successfully avoided eating any meat for two months in a row, then succumbed to the temptation of eating a single hamburger and then ate some several times a week for the next month.

Interesting. I just get such consistent meat cravings that I don't even bother trying to not eat meat. I just buy a certain amount and eat it as a basic food group.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-17T16:54:40.112Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Contrary opinion

Yes, I am aware that such exist :-)

It's really a definitions argument, about what one can/should apply the word "addiction" to. As such it's not very interesting, at least until it gets to connotations and consequences (e.g. if it's an addiction, the government can regulate it or make it illegal).

succumbed to the temptation

It's human to succumb to temptations. Not all temptations are addictions.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2013-12-17T21:25:38.251Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Succumbing to a temptation occasionally is one thing. But even a single case of that happening leading to a month-long relapse? That's much more addiction-ish.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-12-17T21:41:15.770Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's really a definitions argument, about what one can/should apply the word "addiction" to. As such it's not very interesting, at least until it gets to connotations and consequences (e.g. if it's an addiction, the government can regulate it or make it illegal).

The government can regulate or ban things as public health risks which are not deemed addictions though, and things which are recognized as addictive are not necessarily regulated or banned.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-17T21:52:57.261Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

All true, but if you look at it from a different side: if you want to regulate or ban something, would you rather call it an addiction or an unfortunate exercise of the freedom choice? :-)

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-12-17T21:58:33.637Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the latter characterization would certainly not aid me in my attempts to get it banned, but if calling it an addiction were likely to result in semantic squabbling, I'd probably just call it a public health risk.

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-18T05:11:06.653Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you're liberal enough about what people are allowed to do, should you call anything an addiction? I'm not sure if politics connotatively hijacking scientific terminology is a good reason to change the terminology. Would you suggest something like that?

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-18T06:13:45.219Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you're liberal enough about what people are allowed to do, should you call anything an addiction?

Sure. I would call things which change your personal biochemistry in the medium term (e.g. opiates) addictive. I think it's a reasonable use of the term.

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-18T08:35:31.996Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are opiate receptors in the brain because your brain produces transmitters that bind to those receptors. You should expect certain behaviours you engage to change your personal biochemistry in various time spans as well.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-18T16:04:42.216Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A fair point. I should add probably the necessity of a positive feedback loop to the definition.

comment by ephion · 2013-12-23T18:32:49.316Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I will still say no because I don't think food is addictive.

Casomorphins in dairy have opioid effects, as does chocolate. Overconsumption of high-sugar high-fat foods alters opioid receptors in the brain. Naloxone, a drug for treating opiate overdose, is effective in reducing binging.

It also seems that food scientists specifically try to make food as addictive as possible, which seems like an expected outcome from a capitalist food market -- whatever encourages the most consumption will win greater market share.

Is it an addiction on par with heroin, alcohol, or tobacco? I doubt it, but using an addiction model might be helpful in treating overeating.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-23T18:44:29.387Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

using an addiction model might be helpful in treating overeating.

Don't have links handy but my impression is that this was tried, lots of times, and failed badly.

As to the general question of food being addictive, this is mostly an issue of how you define "addictive". I find it useful to draw boundaries so that food (as well as, say, sex or internet) do not fall within them.

On the other hand, I don't see a sharp divide between "food" and "drugs". Eating certain kinds of food clearly has certain biochemical consequences.

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-23T19:44:45.646Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I find it useful to draw boundaries so that food (as well as, say, sex or internet) do not fall within them.

What word would you use for people who eat so much they can't move, get HIV from prostitutes, or play WoW with such dedication they die? These people clearly have something in common, and it's definitely more specific than stupidity.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-23T19:49:08.291Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

clearly have something in common, and it's definitely more specific than stupidity.

That is not self-evident to me.

What word would you use for people who eat so much they can't move

Sick (in the medical sense, I bet their hormonal system is completely screwed up).

get HIV from prostitutes

Regular guys with bad judgement and worse luck.

play WoW with such dedication they die

Guys who do not know their limits.

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-23T20:41:50.820Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

An unlucky choice of examples, I guess. Switch the question to "could brains that can't seem to be able to regulate their behaviour to the point they're severely damaged by it have something in common in their basic physiology that predisposes them to dysregulation when exposed to certain sensory stimuli?" This is still vague enough there's room for evasion, so if you want to continue that way, I suppose it's better we forget about this.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-23T20:51:41.510Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, as I have said several times it's a matter of definition and how wide you want to define "addiction" is arbitrary.

Sure, you can define it as positive-feedback loops that subvert conscious control over behavior or something like that -- but recall that all definitions must serve a purpose and without one there is no reason to prefer one over another. What's the purpose here?

Note that the purpose cannot be "Can we call eating disorders addictions?" because that's a pure definition question -- however you define "addiction" will be the answer.

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-23T21:12:00.171Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What's the purpose here?

The purpose is to recognize harmful behaviours that people could benefit from fixing and that those behaviours might have similarities that can be exploited. If you browse porn 12 hours a day, it's quite probable you realize you have a problem, but have significant difficulty in changing your behaviour. If you want to browse porn 12 hours a day, then that's fine too, and nobody should try to fix you without your permission.

"Can we call eating disorders addictions?"

I don't care what you call them, it suffices that the above purposes are fulfilled and that people understand each other.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-24T01:05:36.941Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

those behaviours might have similarities that can be exploited.

I am highly suspicious of calling a variety of behaviors "addiction" as it implies both the lack of responsibility on the part of the subject and the justification of imposing external rules/constraints on him.

I don't know of any successful attempts to treat obesity as if it were a true-addiction kind of disorder. One of the problems is that the classic approach to treating addiction is to isolate the addict from the addictive substance. Hard to do that with food and hard to avoid yummy stuff outside of a clinic.

comment by hyporational · 2013-12-25T06:05:28.642Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Taboo responsibility.

I don't know of any successful attempts to treat obesity as if it were a true-addiction kind of disorder.

What does this mean? That some people need bariatric surgeries to limit their eating is a pretty clear indicator they can't control their eating. The kind of isolation rehab you're talking about is an extreme measure even when treating drug addictions, and comprises a marginal proportion of addiction treatment.

Think nicotine replacement and varenicline for tobacco addiction or naltrexone and disulfiram for alcoholism and we'll start to be on the same page. Note that I'm not implying these are hugely successful either. All addictions are difficult to treat.

Also certain addiction vocabulary and self awareness techniques like identifying triggers could be relevant for treating compulsive behaviour.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-21T08:19:55.623Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

thinking on the fact that a huge percentage of American adults are overweight or obese, I would probably agree that "most food around" is super-stimulating.

I'd guess it's got to do with affordability and convenience as well as taste. If I had to cook my own food or spend a sizeable fraction of my monthly wage on it, I would be much less likely to eat it unless I'm really hungry, no matter how good it tasted.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-21T19:13:10.572Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd guess it's got to do with affordability and convenience as well as taste

I would agree, but the same thing could be said about pretty much any super-stimulating good or service. If a dose of heroin were available for a nickel at any convenience store, then probably a lot more people would abuse heroin.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-17T11:59:02.743Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well do you agree that pizza tastes really good?

There are foods which, even when I'm not particularly hungry, once I start eating them it'd take a sizeable amount of willpower for me not to eat inordinate amounts of; these include chocolate, certain cookies, certain breakfast cereals, but not pizza. This doesn't mean I don't like pizza: I'm generally very happy to eat pizza for dinner, unless I've had copious amounts of pizza in the last few days.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-17T13:05:29.230Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I do agree that problem foods are not the same for everyone. However if you talk to people who have difficulty controlling their eating, the same foods and kinds of foods seem to come up pretty regularly . Chocolate is one of them.

As a side note, I get the sense that among people who have difficulty controlling their eating, some tend to have more difficulties with sweet foods like chocolate, cookies, cake, etc. Others seem to have more problems with foods which are fatty but not sweet, like potato chips, hot dogs, bacon, nachos, french fries, lasagna, and yes, pizza. Even so, the tastiness of all of these types of foods seems pretty universal.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-12-16T21:43:57.675Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Super-stimulus foods are ether very sugary or very salty. Pizza is neither.

I don't think this is at all accurate as a generalization. Insofar as any food can be said to qualify as a superstimulus, some of the best contenders are savory foods which are high in fats and starches, which in our ancestral environment would have been valuable sources of calories, calorie overabundance being far too rare a problem for us to be evolutionarily prepared against.

Peanut butter is a good example of a food which would have been an extreme outlier in terms of nutrient density in our ancestral environment (not for nothing is it the main ingredient in a therapeutic food to restore bodily health to people afflicted by famine) which is extremely moreish, despite not being especially high in either sugar or salt. Cheese is a similar case.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T22:15:24.479Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Peanut butter is a good example of a food which would have been an extreme outlier in terms of nutrient density in our ancestral environment

Not an outlier at all. Paleo hunter-gatherers certainly ate nuts. And meat (not the lean muscle meat, but the whole-animal meat including organs and fat) is probably higher in nutrient density.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-12-16T22:37:17.963Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Nuts would have been one of the richest sources of macronutrients by density in our ancestral environment, and they wouldn't have been available in great quantity, which is probably in large part why they're such an addictive food.

(My girlfriend has a nut allergy, and since I've started having to keep track of nut content in foods, I've noticed that the "snack" aisles in grocery stores can be divided, with fairly little remainder, into chips, pretzels, and nut-based foods.)

Liver is higher in micronutrients than nuts, or just about anything else for that matter, and I suspect that it avoids being a superstimulus to our senses because it would be one of the few food sources in our ancestral environment that it's actually possible to get a nutrient overdose on (many species' livers contain toxic concentrations of vitamins, not to mention the various toxins it's filtered out of its host's blood.) In terms of macronutrients, nuts have a higher calorie concentration than any animal tissue other than lard (a cut of flesh which is as calorie dense as nuts would have to be about two thirds fat by weight.)

Lard of course is not known for being a very tasty food on its own (it's also very incomplete nutrition,) but is used extensively in cooking foods which people have a pronounced tendency to overeat.

comment by shminux · 2013-12-16T23:04:58.245Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Lard of course is not known for being a very tasty food on its own

It can be: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lardo and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salo_(food).

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-17T15:23:27.358Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Except that, empirically speaking, there are lots and lots of people who actually can and do consume candy bars, soda pop, or pizza in moderation.

Which makes me wonder about the actual mind-mechanisms behind "superstimulus", since we seem to be so very good at learning to deal with it.

(Yes, I do have a hypothesis regarding obesity epidemics that's more complex than "Everyone in whole countries is getting caught in a superstimulus feedback loop with their eating habits.")

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-17T16:47:56.720Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Except that, empirically speaking, there are lots and lots of people who actually can and do consume candy bars, soda pop, or pizza in moderation.

Which makes me wonder about the actual mind-mechanisms behind "superstimulus", since we seem to be so very good at learning to deal with it.

It strikes me as an overstatement to say that "we" seem to be very good at dealing with it. In most Western countries, the rates of overweight and obesity are quite high and/or rising. Surely a large majority of those people are failing to eat some kinds of food in moderation. And I doubt those people are overconsuming fresh vegetables and oatmeal.

Anyway, do you agree that there is a problem with a decent percentage of people overconsuming foods which tend to be far richer in calories/salt/fat/sugar/etc. than what was typically available in the ancestral environment? And if you agree, what do you think is the cause of the problem?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-18T12:48:55.412Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Anyway, do you agree that there is a problem with a decent percentage of people overconsuming foods which tend to be far richer in calories/salt/fat/sugar/etc. than what was typically available in the ancestral environment?

I think that "decent percentage" is imprecise, but there's definitely something going on that's making people fatter.

It could be bad habits. It could be superstimulus effects (though I'm suspicious regarding the lack of professional literature on a concept that primarily seems to be LessWrongian rather than empirically studied). It could be food additives.

I don't know yet; I need to see some actual studies to make a judgement.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-21T18:21:26.504Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It could be bad habits. It could be superstimulus effects (though I'm suspicious regarding the lack of professional literature on a concept that primarily seems to be LessWrongian rather than empirically studied). It could be food additives.

Putting aside the "why" question, do you agree that if you look at people who are overweight or obese, their overconsumption problems tend to focus on certain types of foods, which tend to be very high in calories?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-21T19:18:23.093Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Overconsumption means "high in calories" almost (if not quite) by definition. Someone who eats raw cabbage nonstop simply isn't going to get to overconsumption levels.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-21T19:27:45.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Overconsumption means "high in calories" almost (if not quite) by definition. Someone who eats raw cabbage nonstop simply isn't going to get to overconsumption levels.

So that means your answer is "yes"?

Also, it sounds like you are saying that among people who have difficulty resisting the urge to eat, there is no particular preference for foods like ice cream, french fries and cookies over foods like cabbage, tomatoes, and broccoli, it's just that the former foods are more likely to cause obesity because they are higher in calories.

Do I understand you correctly?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-21T20:32:15.433Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm saying that I don't know of particular preferences within the set of high-calorie foods. There is also the problem of consuming mid-calorie foods like bread or pasta (which humans did for millenia without getting too damn fat until about the 1990s) in completely excessive amounts, for instance.

So basically, I don't think you can yell "COOKIES ARE SUPERSTIMULUS, REDUCE COOKIE PRODUCTION NOW!" when in fact lots of fat people are consuming massive amounts of pasta while plenty of thin people consume small amounts of cookies. The picture is much more complicated than simply assuming some arbitrarily constructed reference class of "things not in the ancestral environment" (besides, ancestral hunter-gatherers often got plenty more calories than ancestral peasant farmers, despite coming earlier: which one is our "ancestral environment" here?), which we choose to label as "superstimulus" (does that term have a scientific grounding?), will automatically short-circuit people's decision making.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2013-12-21T21:16:10.048Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

besides, ancestral hunter-gatherers often got plenty more calories than ancestral peasant farmers, despite coming earlier: which one is our "ancestral environment" here?

This bears repeating. Also keep in mind, many people with western European ancestry have a much higher threshold for diabetes, due to that ancestry's post-agricultural dietary habits. After several thousand years, agriculture becomes part of the evolutionary environment.

(In the long view, I often stop and ponder whose ancestral environment and population we are, and how the cultural and environmental choices we're making today will shape the genetic predispositions of our 61st century descendants.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-22T01:17:32.058Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

(In the long view, I often stop and ponder whose ancestral environment and population we are, and how the cultural and environmental choices we're making today will shape the genetic predispositions of our 61st century descendants.)

Maybe our 61st century descendants will have genes, but if we haven't managed to beat the crap out of evolution and impose our own life-optimization criteria by the year 6000, I will be extremely disappointed.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-21T21:19:06.534Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm saying that I don't know of particular preferences within the set of high-calorie foods.

That doesn't seem to contradict my point. It sounds like you do agree with me that there are certain foods or types of foods which (generally speaking) tend to be difficult for obese people to resist eating.

Right?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-22T01:13:03.961Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Once again, no. Please attempt to understand my view here instead of trying to force your own. I do not necessarily believe, in the absence of evidence, that the obesity epidemic arises from certain foods (tasty, unhealthy, or otherwise) drugging people into addiction just by being more intense than prehistoric foods.

No, food is not in and of itself a drug that can magically alter our decision-making apparatus in some way that doesn't wash out when placed next to the other elements of individual lifestyle.

Some foods may contain drugs. Chocolate, for instance, contains theobromide, a mild stimulant and euphoric I find quite enjoyable. Beer contains alcohol, a fairly strong depressant. Some cheeses are said to contain opiates, which supposedly explain the "addictive" quality of cheeseburgers (though studies don't seem to indicate very much evidence beyond that expected of motivated reasoners). Yet nobody eats or drinks chocolate-laced beer with cheese in it.

I think that attempting to talk about the obesity epidemic as a failure of rationality due to superstimulus in foods is an attempt to kick a sloppy variable and turn it into a stiff one. I think we need a competing alternate hypothesis.

For one thing, it's not as if healthy foods are all dull! A simple chopped-vegetable salad made with fresh ingredients is tasty and healthy, for instance. (Of course, this assumes you live somewhere in which fresh, nutritious veggies are affordable in bulk.... hmm, another contributing factor to the obesity problem?)

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-22T11:01:55.699Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Once again, no. Please attempt to understand my view here instead of trying to force your own.

I am trying to understand your view, and you are not helping things by evading my questions. The question I asked you said nothing about the obesity epidemic or the causes of obesity. You read that into the question yourself.

I will try one last time: Put aside the causes of obesity and the obesity epidemic.

I'm simply asking if you agree with me that for obese people, there tend to be certain foods or types of foods which are difficult to resist eating. It's an extremely simple yes or no question.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-22T12:47:39.082Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm simply asking if you agree with me that for obese people, there tend to be certain foods or types of foods which are difficult to resist eating. It's an extremely simple yes or no question.

And, to the best of my knowledge, the answer is no. Obese people don't have a hard time not-eating some foods, they have a hard time not eating in general.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-22T15:16:19.735Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And, to the best of my knowledge, the answer is no. Obese people don't have a hard time not-eating some foods, they have a hard time not eating in general.

Here's some research which may change your mind:

http://jn.nutrition.org/content/133/3/835S.full

Food cravings are extremely common, particularly among women. Cravings are frequently reported for specific types of foods, including chocolate and foods high in both sugar and fat

One cannot discuss cravings, sugar and fat without discussing the role of chocolate. Chocolate is the most frequently craved food in North America

By the way, is it a surprise to you that chocolate holds the spot as the most craved food as opposed to, say, raw cauliflower?

Here's another big surprise for you:

Women in particular report extreme liking of or craving for foods that are both sweet and high in fat (e.g., candies, cakes or pastries, ice cream)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-22T19:11:57.930Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

By the way, is it a surprise to you that chocolate holds the spot as the most craved food as opposed to, say, raw cauliflower?

Since chocolate contains a stimulant/euphoric drug, no, this is not surprising, and I even mentioned it.

What would be surprising is if we could see a correlation between obesity and cravings for specific non-chocolate items, or even some way of showing that people who don't eat chocolate are massively less likely to be obese.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-22T20:08:17.310Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Since chocolate contains a stimulant/euphoric drug, no, this is not surprising

So are you conceding that at least chocolate is a specific food or type of food which many obese people tend to have difficulty resisting?

And what of the claim that "Women in particular report extreme liking of or craving for foods that are both sweet and high in fat (e.g., candies, cakes or pastries, ice cream)"

Do you dispute it? Is it a surprise to you?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-22T23:25:44.517Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So are you conceding that at least chocolate is a specific food or type of food which many obese people tend to have difficulty resisting?

No, I'm saying that people have some difficulty resisting chocolate. That includes thin people.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-23T08:45:33.459Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, I'm saying that people have some difficulty resisting chocolate. That includes thin people.

And "people" includes "obese people," agreed?

Also, please answer my other question:

Do you dispute the claim that "Women in particular report extreme liking of or craving for foods that are both sweet and high in fat (e.g., candies, cakes or pastries, ice cream)"?

Is it a surprise to you?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-23T12:49:42.491Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Are we trying to find things out anymore, or are you just trying to hammer home "HA! OBESITY IS CAUSED BY SUPERSTIMULUS! THERE'S SOME MINOR EVIDENCE OF THINGS THAT SOUND KINDA LIKE SUPERSTIMULUS BEING SUBJECT TO CRAVINGS! TAKE THIS, YOU IGNORAMUS!"?

Because this is sounding like the latter.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-23T13:22:22.034Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are we trying to find things out

Yes, I am trying to nail down your position so that I can figure out exactly where we disagree.

You keep trying to change the subject to the causes of obesity. Which is an important question but not the question I have been addressing.

The threshold question is whether there are certain foods or types of foods which are particularly difficult to resist.

If we agreed on that, then we could go on to discuss why such foods or types of foods are difficult to resist -- is it because they are super-stimulus foods or some other reason? We could also discuss the role such foods play in obesity at an individual or societal level. But those are different questions.

You seem to have denied that there exist certain foods or types of foods which are difficult to resist. However, you seem to have made an exception for chocolate.

I have presented evidence that there are other foods which are difficult to resist "foods that are both sweet and high in fat (e.g., candies, cakes or pastries, ice cream)" -- at least for women.

You refuse to tell me if you dispute this evidence. Why are you playing hide the ball with your position?

Trust me, the sky won't fall if you simply admit that you were wrong.

Do you dispute the claim that "Women in particular report extreme liking of or craving for foods that are both sweet and high in fat (e.g., candies, cakes or pastries, ice cream)"? (And if not, is it a surprise to you?) This is the last time I will ask.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-23T13:32:27.249Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If we agreed on that, then we could go on to discuss why such foods or types of foods are difficult to resist -- is it because they are super-stimulus foods or some other reason? We could also discuss the role such foods play in obesity at an individual or societal level. But those are different questions.

Ok, I've spotted the issue. I thought you were linking the two things: "These foods are hard to resist because they are superstimuli. Here, let me prove there are foods that are 'hard to resist' (whatever that means). Now that I've done so, it must be because they are superstimuli."

My problems with this are: you need to separate the experience of cravings in absence of food (ie: I can crave chocolate but not have chocolate) from the actual "difficulty to resist" (that needs definition) when the food item is in front of you. You then also need to define "superstimulus" such that the definition makes predictions, and justify belief in such a concept via showing that it applies to your examples of craved foods.

You seem to have denied that there exist certain foods or types of foods which are difficult to resist. However, you seem to have made an exception for chocolate.

I've made an "exception" for actual drugs, as separate from the other content of food.

To show what I mean, it should be plain that if I lace a pitcher of water with morphine, you will slowly develop an addiction to the water in my pitcher. This is not because water is difficult to resist, it's because I drugged the water. The fact that theobromide or caffeine occur naturally doesn't make the food "hard to resist", it makes it contain a drug.

I have presented evidence that there are other foods which are difficult to resist "foods that are both sweet and high in fat (e.g., candies, cakes or pastries, ice cream)" -- at least for women.

I don't see a working definition of "difficult to resist", is the issue. Lots of people get cravings and don't act on them, so getting a craving is not evidence that these women actually display less power of self-control when confronted with, say, cake, versus a control group.

In the same fashion, lots of people might say, "I need a damn drink!" when they're stressed-out, but the overwhelming majority of them don't become alcoholics, and most don't even actually take a drink!

Basically, you seem to my eyes to be failing to differentiate between "People like X" and "People can't control themselves around X".

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-23T13:53:11.809Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see a working definition of "difficult to resist", is the issue.

It's reasonable to believe that if people report "extreme liking of or craving," for certain foods or types of foods, then a large percentage of people will find such foods difficult to resist. No reasonable person would dispute this without very strong evidence.

But anyway, we can't even get to that point because you won't even concede that people (or at least women) report "extreme liking of or craving" for certain foods or types of foods. I asked you three times if you you disputed this claim and you ignored my question each time.

Instead, you have decided to strawman me:

Basically, you seem to my eyes to be failing to differentiate between "People like X" and "People can't control themselves around X".

There's a difference between "extreme liking or craving for X" and "liking X." There is also a difference between "people have difficulty resisting X" and "people can't control themselves around X."

Sorry, but I have no interest in engaging with people who insist on playing hide the ball with their position. Nor do I engage with people who exaggerate my position to make it sound unreasonable.

This exchange is concluded.

Goodbye.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-23T23:47:18.442Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There is also a difference between "people have difficulty resisting X" and "people can't control themselves around X."

So... what is it?

Sorry, but I have no interest in engaging with people who insist on playing hide the ball with their position.

Why do you think I have a definite position? My "position" here is that the vocabulary for hypotheses is ill-formed. We have effectively spent an entire conversation saying nothing at all because the terms were never defined clearly.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-12-23T15:50:36.306Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To show what I mean, it should be plain that if I lace a pitcher of water with morphine, you will slowly develop an addiction to the water in my pitcher. This is not because water is difficult to resist, it's because I drugged the water.

The Rat Park experiments suggest otherwise, at least as regards morphine.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-12-21T22:03:01.313Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

which humans did for millenia without getting too damn fat until about the 1990s

That's the really mysterious bit to me.

I don't think excessive quantities are likely to be the problem, though. I read a caloric breakdown once of the lifestyle of a 10th-century Scandinavian farmer; the energy requirements turn out to be absurd by modern standards, something like six thousand kcal just to stay upright at the end of the day in peak season. (Winter life was a bit more sedentary, but still strenuous by modern standards.) If you're consuming that much food regularly, an extra five hundred kcal here or there is a rounding error; it's implausible that everyone back then just happened to manage their consumption to within a few percent. Nor was the civilization as a whole calorie-bound, as best we can tell. But judging from skeletal evidence, they didn't suffer from many of the diseases of civilization that we do.

The obvious diff here is exertion, but the nutritional literature I've read tends to downplay its role. Or you could blame portion sizes relative to exertion, but larger portions are only fattening because of the excess calories, which brings us back to the original mystery. So either some novel aspect of the post-1900 diet is making modern Westerners fat, or the archaeology or the nutritional science is wrong, or I'm missing a step. And I don't think I'm missing a step.

If I had to venture a guess, I might blame lots of simple sugars in the modern diet -- honey was the only sweetener available for most of human history, and it was rare and expensive. But that's extremely tentative and feels a little glib.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-22T01:20:51.957Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So either some novel aspect of the post-1900 diet is making modern Westerners fat

The really creepy part? Whatever it is, it's making Western animals fat. Including the ones that aren't fed scraps of human food.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-12-22T12:40:17.850Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The really creepy part? Whatever it is, it's making Western animals fat. Including the ones that aren't fed scraps of human food.

That is remarkably interesting-if-true. Data?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-22T12:52:13.253Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This article contains links to several peer-reviewed research studies on the matter.

[e]xamined samples collectively consisting of over 20,000 animals from 24 populations of animals representing eight species living with or around humans in industrialized societies. In all populations, the estimated coefficient for the trend of body weight over time was positive (i.e. increasing). Surprisingly, we find that over the past several decades, average mid-life body weights have risen among primates and rodents living in research colonies, as well as among feral rodents and domestic dogs and cats.

comment by passive_fist · 2013-12-21T20:53:15.198Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The main problem is that for a large percentage of people, pizza is a super-stimulus. i.e. it tastes far better that what was normally available in the ancestral environment so that it's difficult to avoid over-consuming it.

I like to know how you'd justify this claim. Remember that pizza has been available in the United States since the beginning of the 20th century and has been popular since at least the 1950's, yet the obesity epidemic has ony happened relatively recently.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-21T21:15:11.641Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I like to know how you'd justify this claim. Remember that pizza has been available in the United States since the beginning of the 20th century and has been popular since at least the 1950's, yet the obesity epidemic has ony happened relatively recently.

Also, potato chips were invented in the 19th century; ice cream has been around for ages; ditto for french fries. Of course, obesity has also been growing as a problem over the years too.

I think what's changed is that these types of foods have become much more easily available in terms of cost, convenience, and marketing.

comment by passive_fist · 2013-12-21T21:33:46.558Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think cost has changed much. Reportedly, in the 1950's a burger cost 15 cents (about $1.3 in today's money) and a slice of pizza cost 25 cents (about $2.2 in today's money). Convenience might have changed but not by a lot, and that may just be because people now just go out for food more often than making it at home.

However, marketing could be the big factor here.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-22T09:07:15.478Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

in today's money

What do you mean by that exactly? How many burgers could the median worker in 1950 buy with their hourly wage, and how many can the median worker today buy with theirs?

comment by passive_fist · 2013-12-22T09:35:11.707Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's a very very complex (and controversial!) topic because 'median worker' or 'median household' is not well-defined. Many households during that era were single-income (not nearly as many as popular opinion would suggest, but still far more than today). There's also the fact that there were more married couples and more children than today. You also have to consider that food hasn't made up the bulk of household expenditures during modern times. Today food accounts for 10-15% of the average family's living expenses, and from the limited information I was able to find, it was about 30% in 1950.

To answer your question, I honestly don't know.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-22T11:15:49.895Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think cost has changed much

Just based on my general observations, I would have to disagree. Just walking down the street in New York, there are lots of places where you can get a large slice of pizza for $1.00. That's about 8 minutes of work at the minimum wage. Back in 1985, I remember the minimum wage was $3.35 per hour, so 8 minutes of work would have been about 45 cents. I don't recall ever seeing a large slice of pizza for 45 cents back in the 80s.

Also, during the 80s, I remember spending about $5.00 for a typical deli lunch consisting of a turkey sandwich and a can of soda. Twenty-five years later, it costs about $6.00 and there are still places where you can get it for $5.00. Or less.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-22T14:53:08.191Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Besides that, EITC has increased the effective wage.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-24T12:02:43.978Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It also occurs to me that portion sizes have perhaps increased. If you a Google image search for "portion" "sizes" "over" "time," you get all kinds of charts making this claim. I wasn't around in the 1950s, but it does seem that, at a minimum, soda sizes have increased. I vaguely remember that it was common to get a 10 ounce bottle of soda 30 or 40 years ago. I haven't seen a 10 ounce bottle in years; it seems that 16 ounces is the standard single serving bottle size and 20 ounces is pretty common too.

Here's an article which seems to agree:

http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=129685

Hamburgers have expanded by 23 percent; A plate of Mexican food is 27 percent bigger; Soft drinks have increased in size by 52 percent; Snacks, whether they be potato chips, pretzels or crackers, are 60 percent larger.

So if you look at things in terms of dollars per calorie, the decline in the price of prepared foods may very well be even more dramatic than it seems on the surface.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-16T18:46:04.343Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I guess it depends on whether you eat it for dinner, or as a snack in addition to whatever else you'd normally have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I suspect he's thinking of the latter.

(Likewise, I guess that so long as you're not lactose-intolerant a large cone of ice cream isn't particularly unhealthy as modern foods go, if it's all you're having for lunch.)

comment by V_V · 2013-12-16T17:21:12.254Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Occasionally even health-conscious people eat stuff like pizza, which is arguably the equivalent of buying the occasional lottery ticket.

Bad analogy. Eating pizza (or any other high-energy food that you happen to like) is intrinsically rewarding. You don't do it all the time because you trade off this reward with other rewards (e.g. not being fat and hence ugly and unhealthy). Buying a lottery ticket is not intrinsically rewarding if you don't win, which happens with a negligible probability.
Well, buying a lottery ticket may be intrinsically rewarding if you suffer from gambling addiction, which means that you've screwed your reward system and by gambling you are doing a sort of wireheading. That's pretty much like doing drugs.
At the level of conscious preferences, you don't want to do that.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-16T17:43:11.617Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Bad analogy. Eating pizza (or any other high-energy food that you happen to like) is intrinsically rewarding.

I don't know about you, but when I buy a lottery ticket, I usually end up having a few nice daydreams about hitting the $400 million jackpot or whatever. So I would say that for me (and probably many other people), it's intrinsically rewarding.

Well, buying a lottery ticket may be intrinsically rewarding if you suffer from gambling addiction,

FWIW I'm not a gambling addict.

by gambling you are doing a sort of wireheading. That's pretty much like doing drugs.

Agree, that's pretty much the point. Of course some forms of wireheading are so dangerous that even occasional indulgence is a bad idea, for example heroin and cocaine. Other forms are less dangerous so that occasional indulgence is safe for most people.

comment by V_V · 2013-12-16T18:32:08.235Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know about you, but when I buy a lottery ticket, I usually end up having a few nice daydreams about hitting the $400 million jackpot or whatever.

I don't know, I've never bought lottery tickets, I may only gamble token amounts of money at events where it is socially expected to do so.

So I would say that for me (and probably many other people), it's intrinsically rewarding.

Maybe I'm wired differently than most people, but what do you find rewarding about it?
We are not talking of something like tasty food or sex, which your ancestors brains were evolutionary adapted to seek since the time they were lizards, gambling opportunities did not exist in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, you need some high-level cognitive processes to tell a lottery ticket from any random piece of paper.

It's true that people have difficulties reasoning informally about low-probablity high-payoff (or high-cost) events, which explains why gambling is so popular, but gambling is also one of the few high-uncertainty scenarios where we can apply formal methods to obtain precise expected (monetary) value estimations. Once you do the math, you know it's not worth the cost.

But obviously you knew that already, so my question is, how can you still daydream about winning the lottery without experiencing cognitive dissonance?

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-16T18:48:15.315Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe I'm wired differently than most people, but what do you find rewarding about it?

As mentioned above, the pleasant daydream of hitting the big jackpot.

gambling opportunities did not exist in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness

I disagree; for example one can easily envision a hypothetical caveman deciding whether to hunt for a big animal which may or may not be in the next valley.

how can you still daydream about winning the lottery without experiencing cognitive dissonance?

I don't know. But I can tell you that it's a pleasant feeling. Let me ask you this: Do you ever daydream or fantasize about things which (1) you wish would happen; and (2) are extremely unlikely to happen?

comment by V_V · 2013-12-16T18:57:53.431Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree; for example one can easily envision a hypothetical caveman deciding whether to hunt for a big animal which may or may not be in the next valley.

Sure. But would this hypothetical caveman still decide to hunt if he was pretty much certain that the animal was not there?

Do you ever daydream or fantasize about things which (1) you wish would happen; and (2) are extremely unlikely to happen?

Uh, sexual fantasies aside (which I can blame my "reptile brain" for), I don't think so.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-16T20:46:40.555Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But would this hypothetical caveman still decide to hunt if he was pretty much certain that the animal was not there?

I'm not sure, it would probably depend on his assessment of the costs, benefits, and risks involved. In any event, I don't see the point of your question. You asserted that gambling opportunities did not exist in the ancestral environment; that's not so.

Uh, sexual fantasies aside (which I can blame my "reptile brain" for), I don't think so.

I think you are pretty unusual; my impression is that most people daydream as far as I know.

But let me ask you this: Do you agree that there a decent number of people like me who are not gambling addicts but still occasionally buy lottery tickets? If you agree, then what do you think is the motivation?

comment by V_V · 2013-12-20T00:54:26.055Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure, it would probably depend on his assessment of the costs, benefits, and risks involved. In any event, I don't see the point of your question. You asserted that gambling opportunities did not exist in the ancestral environment; that's not so.

That's just decision making under uncertainty. I was talking about proper gambling, such as buying lottery tickets. My point is that you need some high-level ("System 2") processing to associate the action of buying a ticket to the scenario of winning vast riches, since these are not the sort of things that existed in the ancestral environment.
But if you understand probability, then your System 2 should not make that association.

Given army1987's comment I suppose it is possible to get that association from social conditioning before you understand probability.

I think you are pretty unusual; my impression is that most people daydream as far as I know.

On further reflection I think I overstated my claim. I do speculate/daydream about fictional scenarios, and I find it rewarding (I used to that more often as a child, but I still do it).

Therefore I suppose it is possible to counterfactually pretend to having won the lottery using suspension of disbelief in the same way as when enjoing or creatiing a work of fiction. But in this case, you don't actually need to buy a ticket, you can just pretend to have bought one!

But let me ask you this: Do you agree that there a decent number of people like me who are not gambling addicts but still occasionally buy lottery tickets?

Yes.

If you agree, then what do you think is the motivation?

Habit created by social conditioning looks like a plausible answer.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-20T07:37:41.283Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My point is that you need some high-level ("System 2") processing ... since these are not the sort of things that existed in the ancestral environment.

You either are using "System 2" with a narrower meaning than standard or are making a factually incorrect assumption. (There were no cars in the ancestral environment, and some people have driven cars while sleepwalking.)

comment by V_V · 2013-12-20T08:38:02.786Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Once you learn how to drive a car, you can do it using only System 1, but you need System 2 to learn it.

comment by brazil84 · 2013-12-21T19:05:33.805Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's just decision making under uncertainty. I was talking about proper gambling, such as buying lottery tickets.

I still have no idea what your point was. "proper junk food" didn't exist in the ancestral environment; "proper pornography" did not exist in the ancestral environment either. So what?

My point is that you need some high-level ("System 2") processing to associate the action of buying a ticket to the scenario of winning vast riches

Do you need System 2 processing to associate an erotic story with sexual release? To associate the words "Coca Cola" with a nice sweet taste?

I do speculate/daydream about fictional scenarios, and I find it rewarding (I used to that more often as a child, but I still do it). Therefore I suppose it is possible to counterfactually pretend to having won the lottery using suspension of disbelief in the same way as when enjoing or creatiing a work of fiction. But in this case, you don't actually need to buy a ticket, you can just pretend to have bought one!

Well when you were a child, did you play with toys, for example toy trucks ? And was the play more enjoyable if it were a somewhat realistic toy truck as opposed to, say, a block of wood?

Habit created by social conditioning looks like a plausible answer.

It's not very plausible to me. For example, if it were credibly announced that all of the winning tickets for a particular drawing had already been sold, I doubt that occasional lottery players would buy tickets for that drawing.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-18T14:10:56.411Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I used to daydream a lot, in particular of winning the lottery, when I was a child, but I'm pretty sure it's something I was taught to do by family, teachers and mass media. (The first lottery with really big jackpots in my country had just been introduced, and everybody was talking about what they would do with all that money.)

We are not talking of something like tasty food or sex, which your ancestors brains were evolutionary adapted to seek since the time they were lizards, gambling opportunities did not exist in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, you need some high-level cognitive processes to tell a lottery ticket from any random piece of paper.

It's not like everything is either evolved or relies on cold emotionless System 2 only. I mean, it's easy for people to get hooked on TVTropes, but it's not like it fulfils any obvious ancestral desire.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-16T18:28:26.731Z · score: -2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Eating pizza (or any other high-energy food that you happen to like) is intrinsically rewarding.

For what value of ‘intrinsically’? It sure isn't rewarding for a paperclip maximizer, and IIUC you seem to be implying that doing drugs isn't intrinsically rewarding for non-addicted people.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T18:31:16.387Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For what value of ‘intrinsically’?

I think for the value of "biologically hardwired into humans".

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-16T18:51:06.975Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(I was going to say ‘then so is alcohol’ (specifically, the feeling of being tipsy), then I remembered of this claim and realized I was probably about to commit the typical mind fallacy.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-16T18:59:33.881Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not quite sure about this; there are certainly humans who find pizza inedible for cultural reasons. I suppose you could argue that the composition of pizza is such that it would appeal to a hypothetical "unbiased" human, but that might still be problematic.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-12-16T19:04:54.629Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think the argument is really for "any ... high-energy food that you happen to like", not for culture-specific things like pizza.

comment by V_V · 2013-12-16T18:48:53.479Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It sure isn't rewarding for a paperclip maximizer

Do I have to specify that I was talking about humans?

IIUC you seem to be implying that doing drugs isn't intrinsically rewarding for non-addicted people.

Non-addicted people generally understand that addictive drugs like heroin or cocaine can give them short-term rewards but potentially hamper the satisfaction of their long-term preferences, hence they assign a negative expected utility to them.
On the other hand, eating pizza in moderate amounts is consistent with the satisfaction of long-term preferences.

comment by tc · 2007-01-22T06:30:30.000Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

A calculated probability of 0.0000001 should diminish the emotional strength of any anticipation, positive or negative, by a factor of ten million.

I don't play the lottery, but I sometimes have pleasurable daydreams about what I'd do if I were some great success - found the cure for cancer, proved P=NP, won a Nobel prize... objectively speaking, the probability is extremely low, but it doesn't scale my pleasure down by a million times.

comment by John_Thacker · 2007-01-22T18:45:06.000Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

A calculated probability of 0.0000001 should diminish the emotional strength of any anticipation, positive or negative, by a factor of ten million.

And there goes Walter Mitty and Calvin, then. If it is justifiable to enjoy art or sport, why is it not justifiable to enjoy gambling for its own sake?

if the results are significant at the 0.05 confidence level. Now this is not just a ritualized tradition. This is not a point of arbitrary etiquette like using the correct fork for salad.

The use of the 0.05 confidence level is itself a point of arbitrary etiquette. The idea that results close to identical, yet one barely meeting the arbitrary 0.05 confidence level and the other not, can be separated into two categories of "significant" and "not significant" is a ritualized tradition indeed perhaps not understood by many scientists. There are important reasons for having an arbitrary point to mark significance, and of having that custom be the same throughout science (and not chosen by the experimenter). But the actual point is arbitrary etiquette.

The commonality of utensils or traffic signals in a culture is important, even though the specific forms that they take are arbitrary. The exact confidence level used is arbitrary; it's important that there is a standard.

Nor is Bayes's Theorem different from one place to another.

No, but the statistical concept of "confidence" depends on how an experimenter thinks that a study was designed. See for example this discussion of the likelihood principle.

If Alice conducts 12 trials with 3 successes and 9 failures, do we reject the null hypothesis p = .5 versus p < .5 at the 0.05 confidence level? It turns out that the answer depends in the classical frequentist sense on whether Alice decided ahead of time to conduct 12 trials or decided to conduct trials until 3 successes were achieved. What if Alice drops dead after recording the results of the trials but not the setup? Then Bob and Chuck, finding the notebook, may disagree about significance. The "significance" depends on the design of the experiment rather than the results alone, according to classical methods.

How many scientists understand that?

comment by Earnest_Iconoclast · 2007-01-22T18:51:11.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The vast majority of scientist, by your standard, don't really understand science. Humans have certain built-in biases and consistently make certain kinds of bad judgements. Even statisticians and mathematicians make common errors of judgement. The fact is that people are often not rational and are driven by emotion, biases, and other non-rational factors.

While it's useful to study and understand these biases and it's healthy to try to avoid commoon errors of judgement, it's not accurate to declare that anyone who acts irrationally is not truly a scientist or doesn't actually understand science. You are merely observing that they are human.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-07-01T16:12:01.532Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

I apologize for responding to this where you are highly unlikely to see ... but you seem to be missing an essential point. It is not necessary to understand science to do science any more than it is necessary to understand control theory to balance on one leg. What is disappointing is that even the population of scientists - who would appear the most likely to understand science - make errors that demonstrate that they do not.

Even so, we rationalists ought not to be deterred from improving our minds by their failure to. That would be an improper use of humility.

comment by thomblake · 2010-07-01T16:52:16.981Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Comments like the parent are the reason I'm glad we don't have a norm against responding to ancient comments.

comment by John_Thacker · 2007-01-22T19:03:31.000Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Probability theory still applies.

Ah, but which probability theory? Bayesian or frequentist? Or the ideas of Fisher?

How do you feel about the likelihood principle? The Behrens-Fisher problem, particularly when the variances are unknown and not assumed to be equal? The test of a sharp (or point) null hypothesis?

It does no good to assume that one's statistics and probability theory are not built on axioms themselves. I have rarely met a probabilist or statistician whose answer about whether he or she believes in the likelihood principle or in the logically contradicted significance tests (or in various solutions of the Behrens-Fisher problem) does not depend on some sort of axiom or idea of what simply "seems right." Of course, there are plenty of scientists who use mutually contradictory statistical tests, depending on what they're doing.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-01-22T19:57:32.000Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

John, I consider myself a 'Bayesian wannabe' and my favorite author thereon is E. T. Jaynes. As such, I follow Jaynes in vehemently denying that the posterior probability following an experiment should depend on "whether Alice decided ahead of time to conduct 12 trials or decided to conduct trials until 3 successes were achieved". See Jaynes's Probability Theory: The Logic of Science.

The 0.05 significance level is not just "arbitrary", it is demonstrably too high - in some fields the actual majority of "statistically significant" results fail to replicate, but the failures to replicate don't get into the prestigious journals, and are not talked about and remembered.

comment by TimFreeman · 2011-05-28T20:18:00.075Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I follow Jaynes in vehemently denying that the posterior probability following an experiment should depend on "whether Alice decided ahead of time to conduct 12 trials or decided to conduct trials until 3 successes were achieved".

I'm sorry, that seems just wrong. The statistics work if there's an unbiased process that determines which events you observe. If Alice conducts trails until 3 successes were achieved, that's a biased process that's sure to ensure that the data ends with a least one success.

Surely you accept that if Alice conducts 100 trials and only gives you the successes, you'll get the wrong result no matter the statistical procedure used, so you can't say that biased data collection is irrelevant. You have to either claim that continuing until 3 successes were achieved is an unbiased process, or retreat from the claim that that procedure for collecting the data does not influence the correct interpretation of the results.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-28T20:46:56.655Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

The universe doesn't care about Alice's intentions. The trials give information and that information would have been the same even if the trials were run because a rock fell on Alice's keyboard when she wasn't watching.

Surely you accept that if Alice conducts 100 trials and only gives you the successes, you'll get the wrong result no matter the statistical procedure used

Yes, he does.

so you can't say that biased data collection is irrelevant.

Here is where the mistake starts creeping in. You are setting up "biased data collection" to mean selective reporting. Cherry picking the trials that succeed while discarding trials that do not. But in the case of Alice the evidence is all being considered.

You have to either claim that continuing until 3 successes were achieved is an unbiased process, or retreat from the claim that that procedure for collecting the data does not influence the correct interpretation of the results.

The necessary claim is "continuing until 3 successes are achieved does not produce biased data", which is true.

This is a question that is empirically testable. Run a simulation of agents that try to guess, say, which of a set of weighted dice are in use. Pit your 'care what Alice thinks' agents against the bayesian agent. Let them bet among themselves. See which one ends up with all the money.

comment by Cyan · 2011-05-28T21:11:02.621Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

If Alice decides to conduct 12 trials, then the sampling distribution of the data is the binomial distribution. If Alice decides to sample until 3 successes are achieved, then the sampling distribution of the data is the negative binomial distribution. These two distributions are proportional when considered as functions of the parameter p (i.e., as likelihood functions). So in this specific case, from a Bayesian point of view the sampling mechanism does not influence the conclusions. (This is in contradistinction to inference based on p-values.)

In general, you are correct to say that biased data collection is not irrelevant; this idea is given a complete treatment in Chapter 6 (or 7, I forget which) of Gelman et al.'s Bayesian Data Analyses, 2nd ed.

comment by faul_sname · 2012-11-19T03:31:29.230Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I thought the exact same thing, and wrote a program to test it. Program is below:

 from random import random

p_success = 0.10

def twelve_trials(p_success = 0.25):
>>>># Runs twelve trials, counts the successes
>>>>success_count = 0
>>>>num_trials = 0
>>>>for i in range(12):
>>>>>>>>if random() < p_success:
>>>>>>>>>>>>success_count += 1
>>>>>>>>num_trials += 1
>>>>return success_count

def trials_until_3(p_success = 0.25):
>>>># Runs trials until it hits three successes, counts the trials
>>>>success_count = 0
>>>>num_trials = 0
>>>>while success_count < 3:
>>>>>>>>if random() < p_success:
>>>>>>>>>>>>success_count += 1
>>>>>>>>num_trials += 1
>>>>return num_trials

for i in range(100):
>>>>num_tests = 10000
>>>>twelve_trials_successes = 0
>>>>for i in range(num_tests):
>>>>>>>># See how often there are at least 3 successes in 12 trials
>>>>>>>>twelve_trials_successes += (twelve_trials(p_success) >= 3)
>>>>
>>>>trials_until_3_successes = 0
>>>>for i in range(num_tests):
>>>>>>>># See how often 3 successes happen in 12 trials or less
>>>>>>>>trials_until_3_successes += (trials_until_3(p_success) <= 12)
>>>>print '{0}\t{1}'.format(twelve_trials_successes, trials_until_3_successes)

Turns out they actually are equivalent. I tested with all manner of probabilities of success. Obviously, if what you're actually doing is running a set number of trials in one case and running trials until you reach significance or give up in the second case, you will come up with different results. However, if you have a set number of trials and a set success threshold set beforehand, it doesn't matter whether or not you run all the trials, or just run until the success threshold (which actually seems fairly obvious in retrospect). Edit: formatting sucks

comment by Mqrius · 2013-01-31T16:16:02.472Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for actually testing the theory :)

Obviously, if what you're actually doing is running a set number of trials in one case and running trials until you reach significance or give up in the second case, you will come up with different results.

I don't believe this is true. Every individual trial is individual Bayesian evidence, unrelated to the rest of the trials except in the fact that your priors are different. If you run until significance you will have updated to a certain probability, and if you run until you're bored you'll also have updated to a certain probability.

Sure, if you run a different amount of trials, you may end up with a different probability. At worst, if you keep going until you're bored, you may end up with results insignificant for the strict rules of "proof" in Science. But as long as you use Bayesian updating, neither method produces some form of invalid results.

which actually seems fairly obvious in retrospect

Ding ding ding! That's my hindsight-bias-reminder-heuristic going off. It tells me when I need to check myself for hindsight bias, and goes off on thoughts like "That seems obvious in retrospect" and "I knew that all along." At the risk of doing your thinking for you, I'd say this is a case of hindsight bias: It wasn't obvious beforehand, since otherwise you wouldn't have felt the need to do the test. This means it's not an obvious concept in the first place, and only becomes clear when you consider it more closely, which you did. Then saying that "it's obvious in retrospect" has no value, and actually devalues the time you put in.

formatting sucks

Try this:

To make a paragraph where your indentation is preserved and no characters are treated specially, precede each line with (at least) four spaces. This is commonly used for computer program source code.

(From the Comment Formatting Help)

comment by faul_sname · 2013-02-01T05:36:30.944Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't believe this is true. Every individual trial is individual Bayesian evidence, unrelated to the rest of the trials except in the fact that your priors are different. If you run until significance you will have updated to a certain probability, and if you run until you're bored you'll also have updated to a certain probability.

You have to be very careful you're actually asking the same question in both cases. In the case I tested above, I was asking exactly the same question (my intuition said very strongly that I wasn't, but that's because I was thinking of the very similar but subtly different question below). The "fairly obvious in retrospect" refers to that particular phrasing of the problem (I would have immediately understood that the probabilities had to be equal if I had phrased it that way, but since I didn't, that insight was a little harder-earned).

The question I was actually thinking of is as follows.

Scenario A: You run 12 trials, then check whether your odds ratio reaches significance and report your results.

Scenario B: You run trials until either your odds ratio reaches significance or you hit 12 trials, then report your results.

I think scenario A is different from scenario B, and that's the one I was thinking of (it's the "run subjects until you hit significance or run out of funding" model).

A new program confirms my intuition about the question I had been thinking of when I decided to test it. I agree with Eliezer that it shouldn't matter whether the researcher goes to a certain number of trials or a certain number of positive results, but I disagree with the implication that the same dataset always gives you the same information.

The program is here, you can fiddle with the parameters if you want to look at the result yourself.

formatting sucks

Try this:

I did. It didn't indent properly. I tried again, and it still doesn't.

comment by Kindly · 2013-01-31T16:23:26.732Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, it's quite interesting what happens if you run trials until you reach significance. Turns out that if you want a fraction p of all trials you do to end up positive, but each trial only ends up positive with probability q<p, then with some positive probability (a function of p and q) you will have to keep going forever.

(This is a well-known result if p=1/2. Then you can think of the trials as a biased random walk on the number line, in which you go left with probability q<1/2 and right otherwise, and you want to return to the place you started. The probability that you'll ever return to the origin is 2q, which is less than 1.)

comment by Mqrius · 2013-01-31T16:44:32.423Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, but that's not what it means to run until significance -- in my interpretation in any case. A significant result would mean that you run until you have either p < 0.005 that your hypothesis is correct, or p < 0.005 that it's incorrect. Doing the experiment in this way would actually validate it for "proof" in conventional Science.

Since he mentions "running until you're bored", his interpretation may be closer to yours though.

comment by y81 · 2007-01-22T20:02:36.000Z · score: -2 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't follow this. If we meet a scientist who is a Marxist, or a Democrat, or a libertarian, or a Republican, or whatever, we don't point out that there is no empirical proof that any of those political programs would achieve its desired aims, and that no true scientist would hold political beliefs. We accept that political decisions are made on different (some would say weaker) evidence that scientific decisions. More generally, there are many questions that the methods of science can't be used to answer.

comment by Carinthium · 2010-11-14T01:55:52.006Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming consistent priorities it should be possible to empirically determine (assuming sufficent ability to experiment and proper procedures) what policies will best achieve those objectives. It should also be possible to predict empirically (to a degree of accuracy superior to intuition) if a policy will achieve its goals.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-11-14T02:22:35.126Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps. But how do you decide empirically what goals to pursue?

comment by John_Thacker · 2007-01-22T20:20:21.000Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I consider myself a 'Bayesian wannabe' and my favorite author thereon is E. T. Jaynes.

Ah, well then I agree with you. However, I'm interested in how you reconcile your philosophical belief as a subjectivist when it comes to probability with the remainder of this post. Of course, as a mathematician, arguments based on the idea of rejecting arbitrary axioms are inherently less impressive than to some other scientists. After all, most of us believe in the Axiom of Choice for some reason like that the proofs needing it are too beautiful and must be true; this is despite the Banach-Tarski paradox and knowing that it is logically independent of the other axioms of Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory.

it is demonstrably too high

Hmm. I lean towards agreeing that it may be too high, but at the same time there would be problems introduced from a lower standard as well. In particular, one such silly problem is that from testing many relationships at the same time, and one then inevitably finding that (from random chance) one is "significant," another thing that many scientists are not aware of, particularly when doing demographic studies. I shudder at the idea of ridiculous demographic data dredging and multiple comparisons being even more widespread.

That said, I, being largely a Bayesian, question the entire concept of null hypotheses. If you are truly "vehemently denying that the posterior probability following an experiment should depend on whether Alice decided ahead of time to conduct 12 trials or decided to conduct trials until 3 successes were achieved," then you must logically reject the entire concept of point hypothesis testing, not merely believe that it's arbitrary or too high, and favor something like Bayes factor.

Of course, it's hard for any of us to be completely consistent in our statistical tests or even understand them all or understand all the completely arbitrary axioms that go into our reasoning.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-01-22T20:50:26.000Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, ambiguous wording. 0.05 is too weak, and should be replaced with, say, 0.005. It would be a better scientific investment to do fewer studies with twice as many subjects and have nearly all the reported results be replicable. Unfortunately, this change has to be standardized within a field, because otherwise you're deliberately handicapping yourself in an arms race. This probably deserves its own post.

In my head, I always translate so-called "statistically significant" results into (an often poorly-computed approximation to) a likelihood ratio of 0.05 over the null hypothesis. I believe that experiments should report likelihood ratios.

I am an infinite set atheist - have you ever actually seen an infinite set?

I am a "subjective/objective" Bayesian. If we are ignorant about a phenomenon, this is a fact about our state of mind, not a fact about the phenomenon. Probabilities are in the mind, not in the environment. Nonetheless I follow a correspondence, rather than a coherentist, theory of truth: we are trying to concentrate as much subjective probability mass as possible into (the mental representation that corresponds to) the real state of affairs. See my "The Simple Truth" and "A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation".

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-12-26T15:24:28.301Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, ambiguous wording. 0.05 is too weak, and should be replaced with, say, 0.005. It would be a better scientific investment to do fewer studies with twice as many subjects and have nearly all the reported results be replicable.

I'd rather prefer two studies with 0.05% on the same claim by different scientifists to one study with 0.005%. Proving replicable of scientific studies with actually replicating them is better than going for a even lower p value.

comment by gwern · 2012-12-26T20:06:49.225Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'd rather prefer two studies with 0.05% on the same claim by different scientifists to one study with 0.005%.

I wouldn't. Two studies opens the door to publication bias concerns and muddles the 'replication': rarely do people do a straight replication.

From Nickerson in http://lesswrong.com/lw/g13/against_nhst/

Experiments that are literal replications of previously published experiments are very seldom published - I do not believe I have ever seen one. Others who have done systematic searches for examples of them confirm that they are rare (Mahoney, 1976; Sterling, 1959)....PhD committees generally expect more from dissertations than the replication of someone else's findings. Evidence suggests that manuscripts that report only replication experiments are likely to get negative reactions from journal reviewers and editors alike (Neuliep & Crandall, 1990, 1993)

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-12-27T02:20:00.481Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't. Two studies opens the door to publication bias concerns

Agreed. It's much easier for a false effect to garner two 'statistically significant' studies with p < .05 than to gain one statistically significant study with p < .005 (though you really want p < .0001).

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-12-27T16:23:34.490Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't. Two studies opens the door to publication bias concerns and muddles the 'replication': rarely do people do a straight replication.

If you put the general significance standard at P<0.005 you will even further decrease the amount of straight replications. We need more straight replication instead of less.

A single study can wrong due to systematic bias. One researcher could engage in fraud and therefore get a P<0.005 result. He could also simply be bad at blinding his subjects properly. There are many possible ways to get a P<0.005 result by messing up the underlying science in a way that you can't see by reading a paper.

Having a second researcher reproduce the effects is vital to know that the first result is not due to some error in the experiment setup of the first study.

comment by pdf23ds · 2007-01-22T21:00:34.000Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"And there goes Walter Mitty and Calvin, then. If it is justifiable to enjoy art or sport, why is it not justifiable to enjoy gambling for its own sake?"

You don't have to believe (at any level) that there's a higher chance of you winning than there actually is to enjoy gambling. You just have to consider that the "thrill" payoff inherent in the uncertainty itself is high enough to justify the money that will be statistically spent. I think exactly the same argument could be made about sport.

comment by pdf23ds · 2007-01-22T21:05:53.000Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

OT: Eliezer, what do you think about null hypotheses? E.g. what's the correct null hypothesis regarding the probability distribution of the size of (cubic) boxes produced by the box factory, where a flat distribution over the length would produce a polynomial distribution over surface area and volume, for instance?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-01-22T21:22:36.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

pdf, that gets into the issue of ignorance priors which is a whole bagful o' worms in its own right. I tend to believe that we should choose more fundamental and earlier elements of a causal model. The factory was probably built by someone who had in mind a box of a particular volume, and so that, in the real world, is probably the earliest element of the causal model we should be ignorant about. If the factory poofed into existence as a random collection of machinery that happened to manufacture cubic boxes, it would be appropriate to be ignorant about the side length.

comment by John_Thacker · 2007-01-23T00:07:08.000Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, ambiguous wording. 0.05 is too weak, and should be replaced with, say, 0.005. It would be a better scientific investment to do fewer studies with twice as many subjects and have nearly all the reported results be replicable. Unfortunately, this change has to be standardized within a field, because otherwise you're deliberately handicapping yourself in an arms race.

Ah, yes, I see. I understand and lean instinctively towards agreeing. Certainly I agree about the standardization problem. I think it's rather difficult to determine what is the best number, though. 0.005 is as equally pulled out of a hat as Fisher's 0.05.

From your "A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation":

Similarly, I wonder how many betters on horse races realize that you don't win by betting on the horse you think will win the race, but by betting on horses whose payoffs exceed what you think are the odds. But then, statistical thinkers that sophisticated would probably not bet on horse races.

Now I know that you aren't familiar with gambling. The latter is precisely what the professional gamblers do, and some of them do bet on horse races, or sports. Professional gamblers, unlike the amateurs, are sophisticated statistical thinkers. (And horse races are acceptable for sophisticated gamblers because there's only the small vigorish involved, and there's plenty of area for specialized knowledge.)

I think you've made a common statistical fallacy. Perhaps "someone who bets on horse races is probably not a sophisticated statistical thinker." But it does not necessarily follow that "someone who is a sophisticated statistical thinker probably does not bet on horse races." Bayes's Theorem, my man. :)

I know plenty of math Ph.D.s and grad students who do gamble online and look for arbitrage in a variety on ways. Whether they're representative I don't know.

comment by John_Thacker · 2007-01-23T00:30:00.000Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To add to the comment about gambling-- professional gamblers are well aware of the term Dutch book, if not necessarily with arbitrage (though arbitrage is becoming more commonly used).

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-01-23T01:03:58.000Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Heh. Fair enough, John, I suppose that someone has to arbitrage the books. I'll add it to Jane Galt's observation regarding the genuine usefulness of salad forks.

I agree that 0.005 is equally pulled out of a hat. But I also agree on your earlier observation regarding there being some necessity for standardization here.

Personally, I would prefer to standardize "small", "medium", and "large" effect sizes, then report likelihood ratios over the point null hypothesis. A very strong advantage of this approach is that it lets someone do a large study and report a startling likelihood advantage of 1000 for "no effect" over "small effect", rather than just the boring old phrase "not statistically significant". This is probably worth its own post, but I may not get around to writing it.

comment by Randy_Miller · 2007-01-23T01:22:29.000Z · score: -10 (11 votes) · LW · GW

"Outside the laboratory, scientists are no wiser than anyone else."

My doctor can't program his VCR. My accountant can barely dress himself. My mechanic can't operate a computer. This may seem like a problem to some people, but I recognize that specialization is a good thing. I am not surprised when Nobel winners wear mis-matched socks. The degree of specialization required to excel at that level requires sacrifices in other areas of life. Said another way, a generalist who is equally good at everything will never win a Nobel, or bat .300 in the majors, or release a platinum record.

That's not an excuse for ignoring basic logic outside of laboratory. But I'm not going to ask you, mister scientist, to babysit my kids or do my taxes. I'm going to hire specialists in those fields when I need those services.

I must admit that I did not follow all of the comments about the application of this experiment standard or that mathematical hypothesis of probability. I'm a BA, not a BS, for a reason. I understand that there is a place for the rigors of scientific investigation. I am pleased that you folks know that stuff, and I'm glad that you openly debate when and where it is applicable. But that is not how I want to spend my time.

Do you recognize that you are an animal? You have emotions and drives that are not subject to logical argument. Some people have more logical control than others. You are arguing in favor of total logical control--no emotions, no whims, no taste, no fun for it's own sake, no mistakes.

But a goal of 100% logical control is not desirable. Such a person would be less than a robot. They would have no vices, except unbridled selfishness. But they would have no real virtues either. They would have no compassion that wasn't clearly calculated to benefit themselves. They would be the ultimate free-rider, using all available resources to please only themselves.

Don't tell me that you choose to recycle based upon logical reasons alone. You can't possibly believe that the ecological damage caused by your household waste will generate greater than zero impact on your appreciation of nature throughout your life.

Outside of the laboratory humans live in community. We interact with and effect each other. We don't get to make perfect decisions designed for our own optimal outcomes because there are other people involved. People have needs and wants that just aren't easily quantifiable. The group often has needs that the individual should accept as overriding, for the sake of living in community. And there is no accounting for taste. These things are a large part of what makes us human.

Having said all of that, I'm not going to bother arguing the value of spirituality or the possibility of the existence of God. I may be a touchy-feely-type, but I recognize when I would be wasting my time.

comment by Alan_Gunn · 2007-01-23T02:08:33.000Z · score: -10 (11 votes) · LW · GW

So how do you account for Newton's faith? And--perhaps--Einstein's?

comment by Mark_Amerman · 2007-01-23T02:55:49.000Z · score: -7 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer,

You're ignoring the logic of evolution. When Feynman looked at the wine glass and saw the whole universe implied therein, he was of course looking through the lens of physics. Further, he was, I think, making two distinct observations.

First, the greater part of what we actually know about the universe is reflected in the behavior of that glass and its content. That is you take all the concise formula of which we so far know then some part of the behavior of the wine glass will show evidence of most of those formula either directly or by artifact.

Second, there are still a great many things about the behavior or the nature of that wine glass that we do not understand. If we understood all the mysteries, extracted all the formula, then a major hunk of the rest of the universe would suddenly become clear.

It's that second point that is at the root of my queaziness about your judgement of others for their irrational beliefs. For the reality is that logic and the scientific method will only take one so far. Most of the world we live in we do not understand. Most of it. Most of the things -- unfactored by even a proper name -- that affect you and me and determine the quality or even the existence of our lives are not understood and certainly show no immediate prospect of becoming comprehensible.

So what do we do with all this vast darkness that figuratively surrounds us on all sides? Naturally we focus on what we do understand: the fire. But the darkness is still there and we have to somehow deal with it.

We deal with it by guessing. Or by believing what we prefer to believe. Or by believing the same things that our parents believed. The virtue in these things is not that they are correct; because they are almost certainly not, but instead that people believing similar things have repeatedly survived. The only logical screening here is the evolutionary one. Some beliefs are fatally wrong. This is not to say that people don't continually rediscover fatally wrong ideas but the tendency is simply because we are the descendents of the survivors to not adopt beliefs that leave no children behind.

Thus you are looking at these irrational beliefs through the wrong lens. They are not really about truth. They are about beliefs that help people to survive.

comment by zoopy · 2007-01-23T04:16:08.000Z · score: -9 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Why not let scientists believe whatever they want? Why worship the scientist as a perfect unbiased hero dredging against the sins of falseness? Seems too much to ask from a single human. And not very accurate: science is a social institution. It relies on convincing others that not only your interpretation of the data is correct but that your technique for getting the data is kosher and that you aren't outright making things up. There are checks and balances (even if fallible in the short-term) in science - but no scientist is an island of truth. That notion doesn't begin to make sense. There really wasn't much science until people wrote back and forth to each other asking "Can you confirm this?" and "Does this make sense?".

Mentioning Isaac Newton should itself disprove the current post's hypothesis - 90% of his writing was about alchemy and conspiracy theories and other beliefs even his contemporaries didn't bother with. We can only trust his good ideas because the good ideas were confirmed by others. That's the best we can ask scientists to do. Have ideas, throw them on the fire of like-minded folks, see what sticks. Likewise when Dawkins goes off about the psychology of religion - well, it's really opinion that wouldn't get (or hasn't been) published in a peer-reviewed journal. That's how we know not to take it too seriously. But we can still take his work on molecular biology seriously enough.

To expect a scientist to be statistically perfect in any sphere their mind wanders -- politics, religion, relationship with their spouse, child-rearing, literature,music, art -- is to ask them to be very, very quiet.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-01-23T05:05:18.000Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

The point is not that scientists should be perfect in all spheres of human endeavor. But neither should anyone who really understands science, deliberately start believing things without evidence. It's not a moral question, merely a gross and indefensible error of cognition. It's the equivalent of being trained to say that 2 + 2 = 4 on math tests, but when it comes time to add up a pile of candy bars you decide that 2 + 2 ought to equal 5 because you want 5 candy bars. You may do well on math tests, when you apply the rules that have been trained into you, but you don't understand numbers. Similarly, if you deliberately believe without evidence, you don't understand cognition or probability theory. You may understand quarks, or cells, but not science.

Newton may have been a hotshot physicist by the standards of the 17th century, but he wasn't a hotshot rationalist by the standards of this one. (Laplace, on the other hand, was explicitly a probability theorist as well as a physicist, and he was an outstanding rationalist by the standards of that era.)

comment by Peacewise · 2011-10-26T03:27:25.933Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What makes you think it's a deliberate act to start believing things without evidence?

What if it's somewhere along a spectrum of time required to make a rational decision. On x-axis on the far left we've got no time, on the far right we've got all the time of our lives. On the y-axis we've got the effectiveness of decision making, the higher it is the better the performance. Looks like the Yerkes-Dodson inverted "U" relationship.

If we spend very little time on making the decision, then it's likely an ineffective decision. If we spend heaps of time making the decision, then it's possible the decision is over analysed and could well be a less effective decision than one where we've spent some optimum amount of time making the decision.

How much time could we spend on deciding to eat an apple? We could just grab it off the shelf and eat it - that might be ok, or it could result in us taking a bite of an rotten apple.

We could examine the apple for rottenness, we could examine the shop for their overall health standards, we could trace the journey of the apple back through the transport system, all the way back onto the tree, we could do a soil and pest analysis of the environment the apple grew in - this is probably over analysis.

Instead we could have an optimum decision with only 30 seconds of observing the apple, squeezed it and it didn't squish, looked over it's surface and there are no obvious holes or yucky markings.

The scientist does increase their time spent on making a decision within their field, they believe that their optimum amount of decision making process is moved to the right in the aforementioned graph, because that's their field, their job and reputation. When they turn off their "work" processes they will move back to the left on the graph. Are they now being irrational, or have they simply acknowledged that their optimum decision making no longer needs to be so strict.

How much evidence is required to decide that the apple is safe?

What standard is reasonable for deciding to believe in something, and is context relevant to that standard?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-01-23T05:34:54.000Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, there have been many great scientists who believed in utter crap - though fewer of them and weaker belief, as you move toward modern times.

And there have also been many great jugglers who didn't understand gravity, differential equations, or how their cerebellar cortex learned realtime motor skills. The vast majority of historical geniuses had no idea how their own brains worked, however brainy they may have been.

You can make an amazing discovery, and go down in the historical list of great scientists, without ever understanding what makes Science work. Though you couldn't build a scientist, just like you couldn't build a juggler without knowing all that stuff about gravity and differential equations and error correction in realtime motor skills.

I still wouldn't trust the one's opinion about a controversial issue in which they had an emotional stake. I couldn't rely on them to know the difference between evidence versus a wish to believe. If they can compartmentalize their brains for a spirit world, maybe they compartmentalize their brains for scientific controversies too - who knows? If they gave into temptation once, why not again? I'll find someone else to ask for their summary of the issues.

comment by zoopy · 2007-01-23T07:50:59.000Z · score: -9 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Great example, Eliezer. 2 + 2 = 4. This is one of those rituals that scientists go through every time the analyze data. Do they sit down and prove 2 + 2 = 4? No, they don't. They stand on the shoulders of greater men (to use Newton's phrase I believe), and use their computers to move on. Requiring every working scientist to reexamine every assumption - is well, philosophical (which is fine) and uneconomical (which is less so).

I'm beginning to think that the blogger at hand doesn't understand science. Was there anything we could call science before peer review? Isn't science not only the repeatablility of the experiment but also the validity of its method? How do you know your experiment's method is valid? Isn't the majority of the method based on tried and true techniques learned in school, ie, tradition? Whenever a chemist uses a pipet load a chemical to into a test tube, how does he know it's the correct quantity? Etc, etc.

The criterion is too high. Too many of today's scientists -- personally, I bet, all of them -- would have to pack up their bags and go home if they couldn't hold any unprovable beliefs (as last year's Edge.org essays demonstrated, most people believe something they cannot prove). Certainly we'd have to discard Newton, Einstein, Godel from the pantheon for their metaphysics.

comment by Zhong_Lu · 2007-01-23T08:30:20.000Z · score: -6 (7 votes) · LW · GW

So what if a scientist has the "wrong" mentality towards lotteries? So what if he believes in the "spirit world?"

Why should anyone care what a scientist believes in as long as he comes up with results? When scientists peer-review another, they ask questions like: "did you follow the correct procedure?" or "Did you interpret the data correctly?" They do not ask silly questions like "Do you know what the experimental method is?" and rightly so. Publishing scientists are pragmatic people who care about results more than anything else. It shouldn't matter what a scientists believe in; as long as he gets results and he publishes, then he's a "good scientist." This is the only criteria we should judge scientists by.

comment by anony-mouse · 2007-01-23T09:18:17.000Z · score: -4 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If 'spirituality' is a catch-all dumpster for 'a common explanation toward things I cannot show empirically at this very moment,' then the criticism is correct: this is a useless discarding of knowledge.

On the other hand, if you don't start with an assumption of first principles, you have no science at your disposal. Certainly, new knowledge can build upon established knowledge; but what did that knowledge build upon? Sooner or later, we must come up with a blank. No question can be asked, and tested, unless it starts with something to build upon. The scientist who says "I believe God did it; so how is it put together, and what can cause its condition to change?", is hardly incapable of making honest and useful observations about what s/he finds, nor -- at that broad of a level -- is s/he particularly different from the scientist who says "I have no God; so I'll investigate it, and ascribe its origin and operation to a chain of mechanisms that I was not around to observe, and which must ultimately go backwards to infinity."

It is also worth reiterating, as others have noted, that no man on earth has empirically proven everything he believes to be accurate (unless, perhaps, he is of an extraordinarily shallow and uncurious intellect). Time is on no-one's side; sooner or later, you must take someone else's word for it. The moment you are clutching your chest in agony is not the time to go enroll in a medical school's cardiology program, for example. You have a good-faith reason to trust in the surgeon's knowledge. Nor is the surgeon obligated to explain all of his knowledge and proofs to you at that moment, and you won't get past the mortuary by demanding otherwise. You can accept or decline the offered help on the basis of what you do know about your predicament; the wise man simply accepts the help and sets aside all other questions until a better time.

Which could be extended into a very interesting discussion of 'religious' faith, or more correctly who or whom you place your faith in (Jesus Christ? Buhdda? Mohammad? Someone else?), and what that person's credentials are to require it of you. Even better, it would be a discussion that does not plead to the rationality of being willfully ignorant of things that one cannot personally, empirically prove right now. No human really lives that way, nor can anyone do so. Death will come first.

comment by Matthew · 2007-01-23T14:46:44.000Z · score: -12 (11 votes) · LW · GW

What has not been mentioned yet here is that there is an extraordinary amount of evidence FOR phenomena that Eliezer dismisses as a "spirit world".

Those not willing to examine this evidence are following in the footsteps of Cardinal Bellarmine with his refusal to look through Galileo's telescope. And the refusal is for the same essential reasons: sociology and arrogance.

For those who do not wish to seal themselves off from all evidence that contradicts their assumptions on the nature of reality, I offer the following:

Rupert Sheldrake's research papers, both conventional work published in magazines like Nature and Scientific American, and his more controversial research on telepathy:

http://www.sheldrake.org/Articles&Papers/papers/

Dean Radin's popular book summarizing psi research, Entangled Minds:

http://www.amazon.com/Entangled-Minds-Extrasensory-Experiences-Quantum/dp/1416516778/sr=8-1/qid=1169561660/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/104-1724254-3375900?ie=UTF8&s=books

The Gift, a collection of anectdotes from the Rhine Research Center files, describing psi phenomena "in the field"

http://www.amazon.com/Gift-Extraordinary-Experiences-Ordinary-People/dp/0312997760/sr=8-1/qid=1169561821/ref=sr_1_1/104-1724254-3375900?ie=UTF8&s=books

That's just a scratch on the surface of the evidence for these kinds of phenomena. . . For those who have not actually read the research on this subject, I invite you to get out of your sociological fishbowl and read something new. There are dozens more peer-reviewed, published papers on psi-type phenomena available online for free, email me if you want links to them.

comment by John_Thacker · 2007-01-23T15:06:56.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

have you ever actually seen an infinite set?

Wait, are you an finitist or an intuitionist when it comes to the philosophy of mathematics? I don't think I've ever met one before in person?

Clearly you have to deal with infinite sets in order to apply Bayesian probability theory. So do you deal with mathematics as some sort of dualism where infinite sets are allowed so long as you aren't referring to the real world, or do you use them as a sort of accounting fiction but always assume that you're really dealing with limits of finite things but it makes the math and concepts easier?

Do you believe in the Axiom of Choice? Would the Banach-Tarski paradox make you less likely to?

Does the two envelopes problem make you less likely to believe the Bayesian theory of probability?

Can you justify your acceptance of the Bayesian theory of probability or the other mathematical axioms to which you hold through pure evidence?

Does it bother you that (as shown by Godel) no theory which contains elementary arithmetic (addition and multiplication of the natural numbers) can be both consistent and complete, and that no theory that contains elementary arithmetic and the concepts of formal provability can include a statement about its own consistency without being inconsistent? Does this evidence cause you to reject elementary arithmetic, based on the importance of consistency, rational logic, and the need for all true statements to be proved?

comment by John_Thacker · 2007-01-23T15:23:15.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you also an empiricist in mathematics, akin to Quine and Putnam?

comment by John_Thacker · 2007-01-23T15:26:11.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, posted too soon. I'm a little confused because you said that you rejected coherentist views of truth, but most mathematical empiricists these days use the idea of coherence to justify mathematics. (Mathematics is necessary for these scientific theories; these theories must be taken as a whole; therefore there is reason to accept mathematics, to grossly simplify.)

comment by Mustafa_Mond,_FCD · 2007-01-23T21:14:00.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Q) Why do I believe that special relativity is true? A) Because scientists have told me their standards of evidence, and that the evidence for special relativity meets those standards.

I also know that GPS satellites work with high precision, and that they wouldn't if they didn't correct for relativity.

comment by Douglas_Knight2 · 2007-01-24T00:45:26.000Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

GPS? You can do better than that! I believe special relativity because it's implied by Maxwell's equations, which I have experienced. Normal human speeds are enough to detect contraction, if you do it by comparing E&M.

comment by TimFreeman · 2011-05-28T20:26:17.931Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I believe special relativity because it's implied by Maxwell's equations, which I have experienced. Normal human speeds are enough to detect contraction, if you do it by comparing E&M.

Does anyone know how to do this?

Looks like Douglas_Knight2 hasn't been here for a while, so he probably isn't going to say. I don't think the path ahead of me is going to have its colors shift as I run faster, so the simplest approach isn't going to work. This would be a really cool science experiment if it were really possible.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-28T20:54:51.227Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I believe special relativity because it's implied by Maxwell's equations, which I have experienced. Normal human speeds are enough to detect contraction, if you do it by comparing E&M.

Does anyone know how to do this?

That seems rather bizarre. Was he making some kind of joke? Humans aren't fast, heavy, small or sensitive enough to notice anything that that advanced happening to ourselves.

comment by johnlawrenceaspden · 2012-11-02T18:20:12.212Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It takes very low speeds to see macroscopic magnetic effects from electric charges. I'm not sure that that 'implies special relativity', because it's also consistent with the previous theory. But from a relativistic point of view, that's a relativistic effect of much the same kind as time dilation/length contraction.

comment by johnlawrenceaspden · 2012-11-02T18:12:53.140Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I have a vague memory from an electrodynamics course more than twenty years ago that the electromagnetic field is a four-vector that transforms the same way that spacetime vectors transform under boosts.

So what in Victorian physics were two separate things became components of one thing, in the same way that space and time merged into spacetime. And Maxwell's four equations in three dimensions + time became two equations in spacetime.

With the old physics, if you had two stationary charged things, they'd attract each other by means of the electric field and there would be no magnetism involved.

But two things moving side by side (i.e. the same situation but you've changed your idea of what it means to stop), attracting each other in exactly the same way, had to be explained by saying things like 'a moving charge generates a magnetic field, and the other charge, moving in a magnetic field, feels a force.

Another way of saying that is that by moving, you can turn electric fields into magnetic fields.

In relativistic physics, there's just the one thing, 'the electromagnetic field', and your motion affects your measurements of the two different components, in much that same way that there's only 'spacetime', and your motion affects your measurements of space and time.

Because the electric and magnetic fields are so strong, this interchange is perceptible with simple instruments at low speeds.

It was all a long time ago. Perhaps a passing physicist can explain better or correct my flailings?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-01-24T02:30:02.000Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

John Thacker:

I consider myself a finitist, but not an ultrafinitist; I believe in the existence of numbers expressed using Conway chained arrow notation. I am also willing to reject finitism iff a physical theory is constructed which requires me to believe in infinite quantities. I tentatively believe in real numbers and differential equations because physics requires (though I also hold out hope that e.g. holographic physics or some other discrete view may enable me to go digital again). However, I don't believe that the real numbers in physics are really made of Dedekind cuts, or any other sort of infinite set. I am willing to relinquish my skepticism if a high-energy supercollider breaks open a real number and we find an infinite number of rational numbers bopping around inside it.

I consider the Axiom of Choice to be a work of literary fiction, like "Lord of the Rings".

Bayesian probability theory works quite well on finite sets. Real-world problems are finite. Why should I need to accept infinity to use Bayes on real-world problems?

The two-envelopes problem shows the necessity of having a finite prior.

Godel's Completeness theorem shows that any first-order statement true in all models of a set of first-order axioms is provable from those axioms. Thus, the failure of Peano Arithmetic to prove itself consistent is because there are many "supernatural" models of PA in which PA itself is not consistent; that is, there exist supernatural numbers corresponding to proofs of P&~P. PA shouldn't prove itself consistent because that assertion does not in fact follow from the axioms of PA. (This view was suggested to me by Steve Omohundro.) Now, I don't believe in these supernatural numbers, but PA hasn't been given enough information to rule them out, and so it is behaving properly in refusing to assert its own consistency.

I have no desperate psychological need for absolute certainty or proof, which, even if PA proved itself sound, I couldn't have in any case, because I would have to believe in PA's soundness before I trusted its proof of soundness. Or maybe I'm in the grips of a Cartesian demon playing with my mathematical abilities.

Correspondence, not coherence, very easily justifies mathematics. Math can make successful predictions, ergo, it's probably true. No one has ever seen an infinite set, ergo, they probably don't exist, and at any rate I have no reason to believe in them.

comment by xrchz · 2009-11-02T21:08:50.028Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I tentatively believe in real numbers and differential equations because physics requires (though I also hold out hope that e.g. holographic physics or some other discrete view may enable me to go digital again). However, I don't believe that the real numbers in physics are really made of Dedekind cuts, or any other sort of infinite set.

Shouldn't you add probability theory to the list [physics, differential equations]? Only because probabilities are usually taken to be real numbers. I'm curious what you think of real numbers... how would you construct them? I guess it must be some way that looks a limit of finite processes operating on finite sets, right?

comment by XiXiDu · 2010-12-18T20:21:42.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No one has ever seen an infinite set, ergo, they probably don't exist, and at any rate I have no reason to believe in them.

Does this mean that infinite sets are not logical implications of some general beliefs you already have?

comment by whowhowho · 2013-01-31T17:20:14.159Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

. Math can make successful predictions, ergo, it's probably true.

So if someone (A) pubishes a proof of theorem T in a maths journal, it isnt actually true until someone else shows that it corresponds to reality in a lab, and publishes that in a science journal?

Or maybe (B) all we need is for some theorems of it to work, in which case we can batrack and suppose the axioms are correct, and then foreward-track to all the theorems derivable from those axioms, which is a much larger set than those known to corresopond to reality?

No one has ever seen an infinite set, ergo, they probably don't exist,

I havent seen e, i, pi or 23 either.

comment by Nick_Bostrom2 · 2007-01-24T04:12:31.000Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer wrote: "Godel's Completeness theorem shows that any first-order statement true in all models of a set of first-order axioms is provable from those axioms. Thus, the failure of Peano Arithmetic to prove itself consistent is because there are many "supernatural" models of PA in which PA itself is not consistent; that is, there exist supernatural numbers corresponding to proofs of P&~P."

This is getting far from the topic but... I really don't see how Completeness entails anything about PA's failure to prove itself consistent (much less how it suggests an explanation in terms of "supernatural models", whatever that is supposed to mean). PA is not expressible as a first-order statement, so Completeness has nothing to say about PA or its limitations.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-01-24T04:58:21.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"PA is not expressible as a first-order statement." Countable sets of first-order statements still count. But, yes, this is getting rather far off-topic.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6del%27s_completeness_theorem

comment by Doug_S.2 · 2007-01-24T07:08:13.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Those not willing to examine this evidence are following in the footsteps of Cardinal Bellarmine with his refusal to look through Galileo's telescope. And the refusal is for the same essential reasons: sociology and arrogance."

From the Crackpot Index: "40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on."

Anyway, based on what I've read, Sheldrake's experiments do return statistically significant results, but there tend to be problems with the experiments themselves that suggest the results are not caused by anything currently unknown to physics. For more details, just check out www.randi.org and search for Sheldrake's name.

comment by Robin_Hanson2 · 2007-01-24T11:13:32.000Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Alot of these comments are getting pretty far off topic. Why not create new posts on these interesting topics?

comment by Matthew · 2007-01-24T15:30:07.000Z · score: -2 (5 votes) · LW · GW

From the Crackpot Index: "40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on."

Are you seeking truth, or seeking to confirm your current beliefs? Do you deny that the mainstream of the scientific establishment has sociological parameters and taboos, and that these are extremely hostile to the possibility of telepathy and related topics? In that case, you might find this essay by the editor of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, of interest (JCS is a mainstream journal a mainstream journal that publishes material from scholars like Daniel Dennett, in addition to a recent issue discussing some of Sheldrake's research):

http://www.imprint.co.uk/Editorial12_6.pdf

Rather than reading apologia from self-proclaimed guardians like Randi (who is not a scientist, but rather a successful entertainer and propagandist for an official version of truth, the very idea of which is anathema to science), why not read Sheldrake's papers for yourself and come up with your own criticisms? Sheldrake discusses some of Randi's attacks, which turn out to be totally off base or even fabricated. For example:

http://www.sheldrake.org/controversies/randi.html

I can only suggest that you read Sheldrake's published papers with an open mind, not prejudging that their results are "impossible" without reading his research methods and results. The papers are quite accessible, generally clearly written and straightforward, with a general lack of the masses of domain-specific jargon that mars so much journal writing.

comment by blogospheroid · 2010-09-20T08:29:15.570Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that Randi and Shermer, leave alone investigate Sheldrake's claim, did not even give it a primary reading, reminded me too much of Prof's Verres's pseudo rationality in HPMOR . In particular, they don't seem to follow this little dictum

I will use the scientific method even if it makes me feel stupid.

comment by Joel · 2007-01-25T18:21:48.000Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I know for a fact that some scientists, even some world-renowned scientists, are morons outside of their own field. I used to manage construction at a Big 10 University, and had many conversations like this one:

BRILLIANT SCIENTIST, looking over my estimate for a remodelling project on his floor: "What the heck is this, $4000 for a door? A door? I just replaced the front door of my house for $500!"

ME: "Sir, your house is made of wood, and the doors don't have to meet any particular fire code. This building is concrete and steel, and the doors have to be 90-minute fire-rated. This means, among other things, that the door slab has to be hollow metal, which means it is heavy, which means that the frame, hinges, latch, and handle all have to be much sturdier than the hardware on wood doors. Also, the carpenter who will install this door is probably getting paid more than carpenters who work residential, and he's going to have to spend more time on it because it is more complicated. Finally, the lock core has to match all the rest of the cores in this building, so as not to mess up the keying system."

BS: "Don't give me that! This is ridiculous!"

I wish I had a dime for every time this happened . . . .

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-07-12T14:18:33.345Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have any idea of whether the first flash of stubborn anger (probably status driven) ever gets undercut by later reflection?

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2011-08-29T12:12:10.336Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't seen anyone complain about the doors, but the chairs.... oh my, the chairs. They have to be certified as both totally fireproof/acid proof/base proof and highly ergonomic. Unlike the above case, you can see why, and if it didn't cost 100 times as much, I'd agree. But it does. One certified blessed fireproof / corrosionproof / rustproof / knidproof +5 ergonomics chair costs multiple thousands of dollars. A nice chair satisfying all of the first set of criteria costs multiple tens of dollars. It just won't be +5 ergonomic.

Okay… but…

We don't sit in one place for 20 minutes, let alone 8 hours! Give us reasonably comfortable metal chairs and stools! Sigh.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-11-07T14:33:14.536Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But the proverb does appear true to some degree, and I propose that we should be very disturbed by this fact. We should not sigh, and shake our heads sadly. Rather we should sit bolt upright in alarm. Why? Well, suppose that an apprentice shepherd is laboriously trained to count sheep, as they pass in and out of a fold. Thus the shepherd knows when all the sheep have left, and when all the sheep have returned. Then you give the shepherd a few apples, and say: "How many apples?" But the shepherd stares at you blankly, because they weren't trained to count apples - just sheep. You would probably suspect that the shepherd didn't understand counting very well.

A very, very belated note: there's an interesting scene in the first season of The Wire where one protagonists is running his kid brother through some math homework - some problem with people boarding and getting off buses. The kid brother is completely lost. Then the protagonist restates the problem in terms of the drugs being sold outside, and the kid brother gets the answer perfectly.

comment by nick012000 · 2010-07-12T11:10:26.365Z · score: -4 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. Personally, as a Christian and a student of science (doing a Bachelor of Aviation Technology), I have to say that my thought processes were entirely different from what you described in your article.

I went with Pascal's Wager, or at least a modified version of it. Any sort of existence is infinitely better than not existing at all; this eliminates atheism, Buddhism, and Hinduism from consideration, along with other reincarnation-oriented religions. Judaism is almost impossible to convert into, so it's out of the running. Of the religions that remain, most of the pagan ones have relatively mediocre afterlives compared to the heavens of Christianity and Islam, and similarly mediocre punishments if I'm wrong as long as I live virtuously. If I do follow a pagan religion, and Christianity or Islam is correct, I'll suffer eternal hellfires. Therefore, I will be either a Christian or a Muslim. Since Christianity doesn't require me to attempt to overthrow Western civilization, has generally easier requirements to attain Heaven, and will probably allow me to avoid Hell if Islam is correct, I chose to be a Christian.

Of course, simply believing something to be true does not neccessarilly make it true, so I plan to put off testing that belief as long as humanly possible. Or, more accurately, as posthumanly possible, considering I plan to become a posthuman robot god and live forever.

comment by Roko · 2010-07-12T11:44:23.318Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

WISHFUL THINKING ALERT!

Any sort of existence is infinitely better than not existing at all; this eliminates atheism

SIREN SOUNDS

comment by nick012000 · 2010-07-12T13:16:25.332Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm? If Atheism is correct, I cease to exist after I die no matter what I believe in. If it isn't, I'll either wind up burning in Hell, going to a relatively mediocre afterlife, or ceasing to exist, depending on which religion is correct.

What incentive could I possibly have to decide to be an atheist? It seems to be more likely to be true judging by most present science, but that doesn't automatically make it the most rational decision to make. The best-case scenario is that I'm wrong and I wind up as a minor functionary in the Celestial Bureaucracy or something.

comment by Roko · 2010-07-12T13:44:20.886Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You are an atheist. You just said so. If you verbally self-identify as a Christian, then you'll be a lying atheist.

EDIT: And if the reason that you verbally self-identify as a Christian is because you are enticed by Pascal's Wager, then you've made a (subtle) mistake. I can explain the subtle mistake if you want.

comment by nick012000 · 2010-07-12T14:18:24.289Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Care to tell? If it's "Pascal's Wager is insufficiently broad" I believe that I have stated I examined a more generalized version of Pascal's Wager before deciding.

I don't believe that I'm an atheist; basically, what I was saying was that it's impossible to know anything to be true with 100 percent certainty; science can only disprove things. The physical evidence indicates atheism is probably true, but the optimal decision for what belief to choose might well to be to ignore that and believe something else.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-07-12T14:46:50.695Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

the optimal decision for what belief to choose might well to be to ignore that and believe something else.

Can you describe what you mean by "choosing to believe" in something? Right now it's raining where I am, and I don't seem to be able to choose to believe otherwise. I have the same difficulty in choosing to believe things I don't know the truth of, like whether it will stop raining by the time I go home.

On the other hand, I know someone who became interested in paganism, tested it by believing in it, and found it worked, so continued to believe. I would have been fascinated to probe him further on the matter, but I didn't think I could manage to not sound like an anthropologist inquiring somewhat condescendingly into the strange superstitions of tribal savages.

comment by AlexM · 2010-07-12T17:04:56.406Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
On the other hand, I know someone who became interested in paganism, tested it by believing in it, and found it worked, so continued to believe. I would have been fascinated to probe him further on the matter, but I didn't think I could manage to not sound like an anthropologist inquiring somewhat condescendingly into the strange superstitions of tribal savages.

how exactly paganism worked for him? pagan rituals were cool and pagan chicks were hot ;-) or it was pagan magic that really worked?

comment by AlexM · 2010-07-12T17:29:35.684Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, I know someone who became interested in paganism, tested it by >believing in it, and found it worked, so continued to believe.

how paganism worked for him? pagan rituals were cool and pagan chicks were hot, or something more? :P

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-07-12T20:29:10.667Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Worshipping the Goddess that infuses Nature made a difference in his life, or something like that. As I say, I didn't feel comfortable about pressing him on the subject. It would have been like asking what sex is like.

comment by Roko · 2010-07-12T15:11:58.288Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you define "atheist" to be someone who believes, with probability 1, that there is no God, then I am also not an atheist. I think you would struggle to find any sane person who believed, with probability 1, that there is no God.

Perhaps I should bring up a point about probabilistic reasoning here. If you believe that a proposition is true with probability 1, then you cannot rationally change your belief away from probability 1. This is a consequence of Bayes' theorem. So really, nobody believes any empirical fact with a probability of 1 or 0.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-07-12T15:15:18.396Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps I should bring up a point about probabilistic reasoning here. If you believe that a proposition is true with probability 1, then you cannot rationally change your belief away from probability 1. This is a consequence of Bayes' theorem. So really, nobody believes any empirical fact with a probability of 1 or 0.

The last sentence shouldn't be "nobody" but "no Bayesian rationalist."

comment by Roko · 2010-07-12T16:00:42.666Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

what interpretation of the word "probability" does allow you to think that the probability of something is 1 and then change to something other than 1?

As far as I know a frequentist could never do this. They'd need an infinitely long sequence of experiments to think that the probability of an event was 1?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-07-12T16:07:22.168Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

what interpretation of the word "probability" does allow you to think that the probability of something is 1 and then change to something other than 1?

They need to have inconsistent attitudes about how they calculate probability, or estimate probabilities by inherently irrational means such as assigning likelyhood based on what hypothesis they want to be true the most and acting like that belief is certain. Empirically, I've met individuals who claim that no amount of evidence would alter some of their beliefs so something like this may be going on. It is however possible that trying to model these beliefs as probabilities implies a degree of rationality that they simply lack. The human mind is not generally a good Bayesian.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-07-12T16:41:28.180Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It may be a matter of language use--- if I assign something a probability of 1, it means that everything I know now points in that direction, but I leave the possibility open that I might come to know more.

I think my underlying premise is "no evidence could ever convince me otherwise" is so ridiculous that it doesn't need to be included in the schema.

comment by cupholder · 2010-07-17T07:07:51.376Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

what interpretation of the word "probability" does allow you to think that the probability of something is 1 and then change to something other than 1?

Any interpretation where you can fix a broken model. I can imagine a conversation like this...

Prankster: I'm holding a die behind my back. If I roll it, what probability would you assign to a 1 coming up?

cupholder: Is it loaded?

Prankster: No.

cupholder: Are you throwing it in a funny way, like in one of those machines that throws it so it's really likely to come up a 6 or something?

Prankster: No, no funny tricks here. Just rolling it normally.

cupholder: Then you've got a 1/6 probability of rolling a 1.

Prankster: And what about rolling a 2?

cupholder: Well, the same.

Prankster: And so on for all the other numbers, right?

cupholder: Sure.

Prankster: So you assign a probability of 1 to a number between 1 and 6 coming up?

cupholder: Yeah.

Prankster: Surprise! It's 20-sided!

cupholder: Huh. I'd better change my estimate from 1 to 6/20.

comment by Roko · 2010-07-12T15:55:29.346Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So the mistake that I think is inherent in Pascal's Wager is the assumption that there is some outcome (heaven, existence, whatever) that is infinitely good.

Why is this mistaken?

Well, for heaven to be infinitely good, it must be the case that you value a 1/N probability of heaven more than you value a certainty of some extremely good outcome (like becoming a billionaire, curing all disease in the world, etc), for any N, no matter how large. Even N=Graham's number.

Now there are good scientific reasons to think that heaven couldn't really be "that good". For example, there is a limit to how long you can exist without going into a cycle (Poincare Recurrance Theorem), a limit to how much joy you can feel (limited response of neurons) etc.

But even if you stipulated that your utility is infinite for a state that is only finitely good in the usual sense (this is perfectly logically consistent, it's just mad), you still run into problems.

A reasoning system that has infinite utilities would sacrifice any finite possession for even a minuscule increase in the probability of the infinite utility outcome.

For example, if one read the bible with the assumption that getting into heaven is infinitely good, one would try to find the most likely interpretation of every rule and follow it exactly. Someone actually tried to do this -- see A year of living biblically. The result of actually trying to follow those rules exactly would inevitably be Jail. But an idealized reasoning system that assigned an infinite utility to heaven would recommend that Jail in this life is a small sacrifice to make for infinite utility.

It seems extremely unlikely that you would actually act on the stated preference of infinite utility for heaven.

comment by AlexM · 2010-07-12T16:38:37.904Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The bigger problem is that accepting Pascal wager is just first step on the road to faith. And walking the road means to live and pray as if you had faith.

Somewhat, I do not see this guy doing it...

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2015-01-23T18:05:48.870Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The physical evidence indicates atheism is probably true

Only atheists can honestly assert that statement.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-01-23T18:15:38.139Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That assertion may depend on how one unpacks atheism, physical evidence, and probably.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-23T18:39:12.069Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It would take an awful lot of contortions to make the grandparent statement look reasonable and I'm not even sure it's possible.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-01-23T19:02:35.032Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, I was simply referring to the isolated quote in question: comment that Normal_Anomaly was replying to had a lot of problems, but I don't think that the sentence in question was the one that deserved criticism.

comment by Furcas · 2010-07-12T14:21:06.889Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

What incentive could I possibly have to decide to be an atheist?

To avoid being punished by the God of Rationality. Since there's no evidence for gods, It sends all theists to Hell.

comment by nick012000 · 2010-07-12T14:26:17.090Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And I'd thank him for it, since it's better to spend eternity burning in Religious Hell than ceasing to exist. At least in Religious Hell, I'm still me. ;)

Also, I should probably be going to bed since I live in Australia and it's half-past midnight and I have university tomorrow.

comment by Furcas · 2010-07-12T14:47:30.554Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If Atheism is correct, I cease to exist after I die no matter what I believe in.

And I'd thank him for it, since it's better to spend eternity burning in Religious Hell than ceasing to exist. At least in Religious Hell, I'm still me. ;)

That belief in an afterlife tends to go with belief in a deity doesn't make disbelief in an afterlife a logical consequence of atheism.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-07-12T15:00:47.482Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That belief in an afterlife tends to go with belief in a deity doesn't make disbelief in an afterlife a logical consequence of atheism.

Yes, but it seems fair to say that P(Afterlife|A deity exists) > P(Afterlife|~ A deity exists).

comment by AlexM · 2010-07-12T15:38:59.615Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

why? how do you measure that P of caring personal god who saves human souls from extinction is higher that P of unthinking mechanism ("akashic chronicle", "reincarnation wheel") doing the same?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-07-12T15:43:06.299Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

why? how do you measure that P of caring personal god who saves human souls from extinction is higher that P of unthinking mechanism ("akashic chronicle", "reincarnation wheel") doing the same?

I don't, but something like a reincarnation wheel or an akashic chronicle is not inconsistent with the existence of a deity so I don't need to.

comment by AlexM · 2010-07-12T15:37:41.982Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For real life example: one Russian kook preaches exactly this doctrine - strong atheism combined with strong belief of immortality of souls. Add holocaust denial, moon landing denial and admiration of Stalin as greatest hero that ever lived and you have something that sells dozens of books and gains many dedicated followers. Any more about him would belong to "irrationality quotes" thread if one existed...

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-07-12T15:43:39.658Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. Never head of this guy. Link?

comment by AlexM · 2010-07-12T16:34:25.412Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

|Interesting.

as interesting as picking up rocks and observing insects crawling under them, IMHO

|Never head of this guy. Link?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yury_Ignatyevich_Mukhin

most of his works are online, in Russian of course, links from Russian wiki page

comment by Randolf · 2011-11-14T21:27:07.094Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

as interesting as picking up rocks and observing insects crawling under them, IMHO

What, insects are fascinating!

comment by Sniffnoy · 2010-07-12T11:59:25.715Z · score: 8 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This seems far from exhaustive.

Edit: To clarify, my objection is not that you've ignored certain current religions; my objection is that you've restrained the field to current religions in the first place, as if they were somehow inherently more plausible than the vast unexplored majority of religionspace.

comment by AlexM · 2010-07-12T12:34:08.219Z · score: 0 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Good for you. Now you only have to renounce all pride, glory and luxury and spend your life praying for the gift of faith. It will eventually come, as Pascal reassures us.

http://www.indepthinfo.com/extended-quotes/necessity-of-the-wager.shtml

(scroll down to note 233 for Pascal's famous wager argument in its full context)

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-07-12T13:35:52.127Z · score: 10 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious if you actually put as much thought into this as you claim to. I'm also curious if you grew up in a largely Christian environment. This entire piece sounds a bit like motivated cognition. In particular, I have to wonder whether your justification for throwing out Judaism as being "almost impossible to convert into" reflects an actual attempt to investigate this matter. Depending on the denomination/movement, the time it takes can vary from a few weeks or months (in some Reform versions) to as long as 2-3 years (in Orthodox forms). It also seems like you didn't do much research because under your framework there are much stronger reasons to reject Judaism. In particular, the vast majority of forms of Judaism don't believe in eternal damnation, and those that do generally severely limit the set of people whom it applies to. You seem to have an associated problem in generalizing about Christianity and Islam in that there are universalist or close to universalist forms of both those religions. Not only that, but even among non-universalists there is a chance for members of other religions to go to heaven. (If one were just looking at the Abrahamic religions for example and trying to minimize one's chance of hell, Judaism might make the most sense since many forms of Christianity and Islam are ok with that). But you seem to have also simply avoided thinking about many religious traditions, such as Mormonism and the Ba'hai.

comment by nick012000 · 2010-07-12T14:11:14.114Z · score: -1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to think I put as much thought into it as I think so! :P I don't think I wrote down the answer first and then filled in the proof, but I suppose I can't be totally sure I didn't. I did get raised in a Christian environment, but we were hardly the type who'd go to Church every week.

One of my friends as a teenager had his mother converting into Judaism; apparently people who convert into the religion have to go through the diet strictures and whatnot extra-strictly. That's what I meant by "almost impossible to convert into". My understanding of the Jewish view of the afterlife is that they either go to Heaven or cease existing (Sheol) which is infinitely worse than eternal hellfire, and a decent Christian will still get into Jewish heaven since we'd follow the Noahide laws, so that way I'm covered.

Mormonism was rejected because the guy who founded it was a known con man, and the nature of the Book of Mormon is such that if it is true, you can't not believe in it and go to Heaven, and if it isn't, then you can't believe in it and go to Heaven. Since he was a con man and therefore it probably isn't true, it's probably not a good idea to believe in it.

I'll admit that I don't think I did much looking into Bahai, other than seeing that they were basically a religion that splintered off of Islam. Looking it up on Wikipedia, though, it looks like they believe in reincarnation? Bleh. My mind is who I am; if it gets deleted when I go onto the next world, there's no point.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-07-12T14:24:00.544Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

One of my friends as a teenager had his mother converting into Judaism; apparently people who convert into the religion have to go through the diet strictures and whatnot extra-strictly. That's what I meant by "almost impossible to convert into". My understanding of the Jewish view of the afterlife is that they either go to Heaven or cease existing (Sheol) which is infinitely worse than eternal hellfire, and a decent Christian will still get into Jewish heaven since we'd follow the Noahide laws, so that way I'm covered.

This remark makes it sound even more like you didn't do much research. The belief that one ceases to exist was historically floating around in some sects but wasn't a prominent viewpoint from about 100 CE to 1800 CE where it again got picked up by the most weak theistic and deistic strains of Judaism (such as some Reform and Conservative types). Most Orthodox for example believe in a heaven and (temporary) hell pretty similar to that of Christianity (although even this is complicated by the lack of any strong doctrinal statements. There's a lot more fracturing without anything like the statements of faith or catechisms found in many forms of Christianity). Also, while it is clear that Muslims follow the Noachide laws by most approaches it is actually far from clear that Christians count as such. In particular, the belief in the divinity of a human, Jesus, according to many opinions runs afoul of the prohibition on idolatry. Islam doesn't have this problem when running into the Noachide laws because no claim is made that Muhammad is divine, indeed quite the opposite.

ETA: Also the thing about converts keeping laws extra strictly is only true in some strains also. Note also that this simply amounts in some strains to actually requiring converts to keep the rules (for example in the United States only about half of all Conservative Jews keep kashrut but it is expected that converts keep some form. The Conservative Movement leaders believes that everyone should keep Kashrut but in practice they can't get most of their members to actually do so).

Mormonism was rejected because the guy who founded it was a known con man, and the nature of the Book of Mormon is such that if it is true, you can't not believe in it and go to Heaven, and if it isn't, then you can't believe in it and go to Heaven.

That's not true. Many Mormons believe that non-Mormons can go to heaven. The only caveat is that non-Mormons don't progress as much as Mormons.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-07-12T14:43:19.646Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Also, keeping kashrut only seems almost impossible if it's something you don't want to do. Obviously, there are a great many people who do it, though the feasibility depends greatly on where you live.

The sort of conversion which seem to be extremely difficult is one which will get you Israeli citizenship.

comment by stripey7 · 2015-03-09T14:50:02.682Z · score: -1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Especially since Mormons are in the habit of converting non-Mormons after their deaths.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-07-12T21:38:06.567Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

One other thought: If you are as concerned about continuing to exist as you say you are then you should be much more worried about religions in which believers don't stop existing and non-believers do stop at death. In that case, your options become a bit more limited. I take it you aren't either a Jehovah Witness or a classical Karaite?

comment by stripey7 · 2015-03-09T14:43:24.760Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My value system is just the opposite. To me eternal hellfire is the worst thing possible, hence infinitely worse than nonexistence. But since the chances for it appear infinitesimal, I easily assign greater expected utility to the freedom from cognitive dissonance that consistent empiricism affords me.

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2010-09-28T03:23:59.296Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"everything is connected to everything else". (Since there is a trivial isomorphism between graphs and their complements, this profound wisdom conveys exactly the same useful information as a graph with no edges.)

This seems like it is somehow connected to the fact that pantheism and solipsism are identical beliefs with different terminology for that which provides sensation.

comment by MoreOn · 2010-12-18T04:03:44.171Z · score: -1 (4 votes) · LW · GW

And yes, that does make me wonder if I can trust that scientist's opinions even in their own field - especially when it comes to any controversial issue, any open question, anything that isn't already nailed down by massive evidence and social convention.

Not all scientists go around tallying up the expectations payed by their beliefs. If they have a freeloading belief they hadn't examined, one that doesn't affect their science, so what of it?

There's something fundamentally different between a gambling economist and a theist scientist: the thinking required for economics constantly forces you to acknowledge that gambling is dumb (although...). The thinking required for most sciences barely ever runs into the problem of God / spirit world / other wacky nonsense.

Most scientific reasoning treats God as a non-agent while never actually claiming atheism. A scientist who's never evicted a freeloading belief isn't necessarily a bad scientist. Theism is a warning flag only when it causes real-life expectations.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-18T04:25:03.605Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Theism is a warning flag only when it causes real-life expectations.

To use slightly different language I would suggest it is always a warning flag but only an actual problem when it causes real-life expectations or field related claims. I say always a warning flag because the kind of brain that can maintain religious belief despite scientific education and experience tends to have traits that I distrust.

comment by MoreOn · 2010-12-18T06:04:17.716Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Placing a warning flag onto a theist scientist's work would only be justified if you had evidence in support of the claim: P ( good science | scientist is theist ) < P ( good science ) .

Less Wrong provides many excellent philosophical examples in support of that claim. But what about real world examples? Do theist scientists actually tend to do lower-quality science?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-18T08:15:35.877Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Your a priori warning flag

Don't confuse a prior with a priori. ;)

comment by MoreOn · 2010-12-18T16:28:33.523Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Fixed. Thanks. I didn't realize that my statement read, "A priori reasoning can only be justified if it's a posteriori."

Edit: so what about my actual statement? Or, are we done having this discussion?

comment by Perplexed · 2010-12-18T17:37:42.532Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Do theist scientists actually tend to do lower-quality science?

I've see statistics showing that scientists tend to be less theistic than the general population and that the best scientists (National Academy members, for example) tend to be less theistic than scientists in general. So that provides the correlation you are asking for. But, I strongly suspect that in this case, correlation does not imply causation.

I have seen numerous examples, though, in which scientific enquiry with the choice of subject matter motivated by theism is of lower quality than science done without that motivation. However, the same kinds of bad results can arise from motivation by social activism or personal animosity or simply prideful intransigence.

comment by MoreOn · 2010-12-18T18:52:13.839Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

scientific inquiry with the choice of subject matter motivated by theism is of lower quality than science done without that motivation.

Absolutely. Hence, the warning flag. A scientist expecting to find the evidence of God doesn't just have freeloading beliefs, but beliefs that pay rent in wrong expectations. That's akin to a gambling economist.

best scientists ... tend to be less theistic.

I'd say it's good evidence in favor of P ( good science | scientist is theist ) < P ( good science ) . Of course, your point about correlation not causation is very valid, too.

Someone in the discussion once said that atheism on average adds ~40 to IQ (I might be remembering incorrectly). I suppose high IQ is correlated with both excellence as a scientist and an ability to reconsider and abandon theism if the question ever arose.

My specific interest is whether or not atheism alone makes scientists better.

comment by datadataeverywhere · 2010-12-18T09:45:33.607Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW

the kind of brain that can maintain religious belief despite scientific education and experience tends to have traits that I distrust.

Buster, that's the kind of brain you have. We're not built well, and not built too differently either. Even if you don't believe in a big dude in the sky who will preserve your identity after your physical form is destroyed, you have a brain that is completely suited to believing that, and your non-belief is a sign of the particular experiences you have had.

The question is whether you believe that the set of experiences required to become a good scientist necessarily include those experiences that force one to adopt atheism. I think the number of important discoveries made by theists throughout history, and even in the modern day, indicates otherwise.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-18T10:25:03.060Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Buster, that's the kind of brain you have.

Do not refer to me as buster.

and your non-belief is a sign of the particular experiences you have had.

You may note that in the very sentence you quote I refer to experiences, a rather critical part of my claim.

While I am not inclined to go into detail on personality research right now there is, in fact, a relationship between the strength of a person's compartmentalisation ability and other important traits. Genetics plays a critical part in the formation of beliefs from stimulus and there is some information that can be inferred from the expression of said beliefs.

comment by datadataeverywhere · 2010-12-18T10:35:58.710Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do not refer to me as buster.

I apologize, but I am also confused. Is this an issue with gender, formality, or something else? I feel like I should be able to generalize you taking issue with that to other things, and also avoid all of those, but it would be helpful for you to explain.

I still feel that, in MoreOn's terms, P ( good science | scientist is theist ) is close enough to P ( good science ) that starting from the position of distrust is probably over-filtering. I don't think that resorting to explaining the personality traits that might explain that relation are important, unless we know an individual's traits well enough to use those to estimate the kind of science she will produce.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-18T11:50:38.743Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There is a positive correlation between an individual thinking well in one area and thinking well in another area, a relationship which I do not consider terribly controversial. A (loosely) related post is the Correct Contrarian Cluster.

comment by XiXiDu · 2010-12-18T12:17:39.264Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There is a positive correlation between an individual thinking well in one area and thinking well in another area...

Like being able to judge if some knowledge is dangerous and public relations?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-18T12:44:17.909Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Correlations. Not deductive certainties. A correlation that has perhaps been fully accounted for and then some in that case.

And do we really need to bring that up? Really, it's all been said already...

comment by Manfred · 2010-12-18T06:28:37.028Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(although...)

AAaand the graph gives me a coughing fit. Good job.

comment by MoreOn · 2010-12-18T06:34:40.861Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, trust me, I wouldn't defend this one.

Some profs showed it as an example of a utility function for which gambling would make sense, rationally. I'd say if your utility function looks like this, you have problems far worse than gambling.

comment by jsalvatier · 2010-12-18T06:54:46.833Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That depends on whether you think a propensity to compartmentalize is a good thing or not.

comment by RobertMason · 2011-05-08T05:23:41.108Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In learning we have two drives, to find truth and to avoid error. These rarely do come in conflict, and even more rarely do they come into any major kind of conflict, but there still are times that we have to decide whether we consider it to be more important to find truths or to avoid errors. Religion, for instance.

Let us imagine that a time traveler arrives from some distant point in the future and teaches me five facts which are not currently known to the world. Four of these facts can be explained with current scientific knowledge, and when they are tested they are proven correct. The fifth is as far beyond our current scientific knowledge as quantum mechanics is beyond the state of science as it was in the first dynastic period of Egypt. We not only are unable to understand the explanation or how to test it, but we are unable to understand the information that would let us understand the explanation, and so on and so forth for a great many regressions.

Nevertheless, because I am more concerned with finding truth than I am with avoiding error, and because the time-traveler's first four facts were true, I would conclude that it is reasonable for me to believe the fifth fact until I am proven to be in error or at least have sufficient reason to doubt it.

This same process applies to religion. The concept that there is some kind of higher being or beings is a concept which causes the universe to make more sense to me in several ways. Some of these ways are ones which I cannot even express well if at all, making it even more difficult to find possible alternatives, but I am not very distressed by this situation. There are concepts which you yourself no doubt believe and which similarly fulfill and answer things which I cannot express to my satisfaction.

Where there would be issue is in knowingly believing an error. While certain interpretations of Deity have been proven wrong either by history or mere logic, I do not believe that theism as a whole has been proven utterly incorrect. Perhaps this is straying into the territory of "Religion cannot be proven incorrect and is an entirely different magisterium," but in the end, if your concept of God is flexible enough, God actually can't be proven to not exist. Some hypotheses can't be tested. It makes them utterly useless for scientific purposes, true, but I've never thought that we can prove that God exists or not, only that we can prove that a particular religious concept is incorrect.

Knowing this, I revise my religious beliefs in accordance with scientific knowledge. I consider evolution to be true, and I am well aware of such things as the craziness of our retinas, and so I do not believe that the Divine created everything in six days, or even that the Divine did anything at all to guide evolutionary processes. I am aware that there are studies which raise interesting questions about consciousness, free will, and the relationship between the two, and I have had to redefine my conception of the soul as a result.

I do not believe that there is any issue with a scientist who has religious beliefs. The problem lies with scientists who have religious beliefs which are incompatible with science and basic reason.

Good day, sir. I look forward to continuing my reading of your site and can hope only that, whether you agree or disagree, I have at least managed to state my case in a way that does not, through its ludicrousness, lend support to the idea that some people shouldn't be allowed to reproduce or even talk to other people.

comment by hankx7787 · 2013-03-21T16:09:37.813Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

sadfsdf

comment by hankx7787 · 2013-03-21T16:10:18.434Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

.....

comment by Qwake · 2014-08-05T08:19:48.905Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This article reminds me of a question one of my favorite teachers asked his classes. Are you learning to enrich your life or to avoid pain? What he wanted us students to question was our motivations for sitting in his class and taking notes and memorizing curriculum. Was it because we wanted to do what society tells us we need to do (get good grades, go to college, make a lot of money) or because we genuinely wanted to learn? Obviously the answer for the vast majority of student is the former. The same could be said of the scientists who operate differently outside the lab. Society tells them the right way to act inside a lab to avoid pain (ie the scientific method, control groups) but when they leave the lab they leave all the scientific stuff behind.

comment by themusicgod1 · 2015-07-05T04:32:46.012Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Looks like somewhere along the transition to lesswrong, the trackback to this related OB post appears to have been lost. It's worth digging a step deeper for the context, here.

comment by HungryHobo · 2015-12-15T17:13:06.891Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm an athiest but I never particularly liked the assumption that anyone religious is some kind of idiot or isn't really a scientist.

A great many physicists in particular were theists. Half the terms you'd find yourself using in physics are the names of theists. Leaving out lots of people with less well known names:

Antoine Becquerel,

Guglielmo Marconi,

Gustav Hertz,

Werner Heisenberg ("“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you”"),

Max Planck (was really quite disdainful of atheists),

Victor Hess,

Albert Einstein,

Michael Faraday.

outside of physics even EY's favorite historical figure expressed similar sentiments to Heisenberg.

Francis Bacon ("It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy brings about man's mind to religion: for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.")

These are not stupid people. These people were real scientists, many with a deep understanding of the fabric of the universe.

This horrible little trope that theists can't also be good scientists is both demonstrably wrong and little more than unpleasant Applause Lights within sections of the atheist community.

comment by Jiro · 2015-12-16T16:31:36.821Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Einstein: "I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings."

"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

It's easy to find scientists using the word "God", but that doesn't make them theists in the sense that most people making the reference are trying to imply.

Also, it's hard for even scientists to overcome being indoctrinated in something from the age of 2.

comment by HungryHobo · 2015-12-16T18:03:26.845Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

To add 2 more.

"Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics, and it springs from the same source . . . They are creatures who can't hear the music of the spheres."

"In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognise, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support for such views."

Belief in a personal god vs ... shall we say a sysadmin who hit enter to set the physics engine running are 2 different things. I'm willing to bet that physicists are over-represented in belief in the latter.

But my main message is that there's really no call to be a dick about it.

Scientists are perfectly capable of having theistic beliefs while being both extremely intelligent and good scientists.

Anyone claiming that they can't is ignoring reality, is being irrational and has probably been mind-killed by tribalism.

comment by Jiro · 2015-12-16T19:28:03.402Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Scientists are perfectly capable of having theistic beliefs while being both extremely intelligent and good scientists.

In the case of Einstein, they are not theistic beliefs in the sense intended by most of the people who bring them up. You can bet that almost nobody quoting Einstein about God is doing so to get you to think "oh, scientists can believe there is order in the universe". They want you to think that scientists believe in the kind of God who answers prayers, performs miracles, and gives out moral commandments. Einstein didn't believe in that.

comment by HungryHobo · 2015-12-16T19:48:46.621Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I'm sure some of the other tribe will use such quotes very very slightly out of context. That doesn't make Einstein an atheist or any less of a scientist.

comment by Jiro · 2015-12-16T20:07:27.139Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Claiming that Einstein believes in God as most people would think of that term isn't "slightly" out of context. It's hugely out of context. That's why Einstein had to make the "lie" comment in the first place.

That doesn't make Einstein an atheist

It doesn't make him an atheist according to the dictionary. it makes him an atheist according to what people actually mean by that.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-16T20:59:59.361Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

it makes him an atheist according to what people actually mean by that.

You seem to be awfully confident about what "people" actually mean.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-12-16T20:55:58.164Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Another name to add is Robert Aumann.

comment by gjm · 2015-12-18T22:51:51.311Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Who has been assuming "that anyone religious is some kind of idiot or isn't really a scientist"? Certainly not, e.g., the author of this article; take a look at another he wrote a bit later.