A few questions on International Rationality

post by Locke · 2012-04-30T22:27:13.442Z · score: 17 (21 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 86 comments

Disclaimer: I'm still fairly new here, and though I did use the search bar it's entirely possible this has been discussed before. Just point me in the right direction if this is so.

 

While reading about 4chan's Japanese progenitor website, it occurred to me that I know nothing about the state of rationality in the non-English-speaking world, and more specifically the non-English-speaking internet. Is there a Russian version of SIAI? A Japanese Less Wrong? What about Korean Robin Hansons and Eliezer Yudkowskys?

If we take Religion as any indication of irrationality then America should be one of the least rational countries in the world. So if there are like-minded individuals out there speaking in languages we don't know, are we doing anything to collaborate with them? Do they have their own sequences and their own HPMORs which we could be reading?

And if there are no Singularitarian, Cryonics-Supporting, Utilitarianism-Advocating websites for the majority of the human race, isn't that a huge deal? Aren't Europeans and Asians more likely to be open to rationality, if only because of their atheism? If we want Friendly-AI to be developed, should we be translating the sequences into Chinese and Hindu as quickly as possible?

86 comments

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comment by gwern · 2012-04-30T23:16:10.164Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a Russian version of SIAI?

No, although Russia is interesting for other reasons: they are still unusually atheistic, have old proto-transhumanists and rocketry enthusiasts, and recently have begun efforts into SENS-style life extension and cryonics. (Russian scientists apparently did a lot of investigation into nootropics, and there are multiple interesting substances I've seen where all the info was basically in Russian.)

As far as I know, there's little to no real transhumanism in Japan. This is weird and I do not understand it. The ideas are certainly in circulation, through SF, the leisure & wealth are also there (as proven by the infinite works of the otaku), and there is tolerance of robots and software (eg. Vocaloid) you don't see even in America.

China may not be important: they're still busy getting wealthy, their nonprofit/philanthropy is non-existent (thanks in part to Communist Party paranoia about non-commercial organizations), and Chinese intellectuals worth reaching quite possibly speak English already.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2012-04-30T23:29:18.445Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

tangential: have you compiled a list of interesting substances where the info is in Russian?

comment by gwern · 2012-05-01T01:00:07.512Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-01T03:55:57.103Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It could be quite valuable to translate that material.

comment by C9AEA3E1 · 2012-05-01T21:17:39.565Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can someone recommend good Russian learning material? Preferably something that could be found online (books count).

comment by Yuu · 2012-05-07T12:01:05.571Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could you clarify, what do you want to learn, and for what reason? I think I may help you with specific book or manuals.

comment by juliawise · 2012-05-03T12:45:01.432Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I bet a lot of medical terms are borrowed from Western European languages, so just learning the alphabet might get you a good way.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-11-02T07:34:17.170Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One political party (the one currently in goverment) ''auctions'' 111,000 dollar dinners with the party's leader (prime minister). This year only one-non Chinese person bought it, and those Chinese people bought it impulsively at random events

comment by Yuu · 2012-05-07T12:12:08.689Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can add, that there are more at least slightly religious people in Russia today, than 10-20 years ago. Transhumanism may be supported by people, who was graduated in USSR, but now Russia Orthodox Church becomes more influential and helps to support irrationality and biases. Science fiction in Russia is dominated by the fantasy book, which can't support any rational ideas and transhumanism.

But, there are also people, who have studied natural sciences in colleges and may want to become more rational and support, for example, cryonics.

I have also met some Japanese people, and I can say, that they prefer to be practical and even utilitarian in their life, and this can be seen as rational approach. Comparing with Russia, they have much more "user friendly" things in their daily life, for example, remote controlled WCs.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-02T08:40:51.268Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we take Religion as any indication of irrationality then America should be one of the least rational countries in the world.

A ridiculous statement to make. America is moderately religious on a global scale. I think it is a mistake made for similar reasons as the mistake of thinking conservative American Protestants are roughly equivalent to conservative Muslims.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-07T14:51:42.601Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The US is less religious than Africa, South America or the Middle East but more religious than pretty much everywhere else. IIRC there's an absurdly large percentage of Americans who says they would never vote for an atheist president -- higher than for any other group of people they asked the question about.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-07T15:59:40.466Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The US is less religious than Africa, South America or the Middle East but more religious than pretty much everywhere else.

You forgot tiny irrelevant places like Indonesia, Bangladesh and India. Your statement only works if you define "pretty much everywhere" else as Europe and East Asian, about 2.5 billion people, a lot but not the majority on our world of 7 billion. Oh sure there are a few demographically irrelevant pockets in addition to that like say Australia or Canada, but thinking a bit about them and adding their populations together one has a hard time matching just Indonesia.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-07T17:48:00.794Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(I was initially going to type "southern Asia" instead of "Middle East", which would have included those places too. Dunno why I switched.)

comment by aelephant · 2012-05-01T01:19:42.578Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As someone living in China, I feel pretty confident saying that most Chinese are not skeptical or interested in rationality. Even "Science" in China is deficient. We think we have a problem with publication bias in the West; I heard a terrifying statistic that there are ZERO negative studies published in the field of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). And while the country is atheist, huge numbers of people still go the Buddhist temples, bang their heads on the ground and worship statues with blue skin.

comment by Sarokrae · 2012-05-03T10:51:38.629Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Having grown up in China, it took a LONG time to shake off all the belief in belief that primary school instilled in me (if you read the singing and dancing article recently: I marched together with the entire school every day from the age of 6. Infer about my personality what you will.) Deconstructing the ridiculous amounts of blatantly untrue cached thoughts I have takes a lot of mental willpower, even now. Indoctrination doesn't have to be about religion.

The problem with TCM is that it's just not been scientifically researched. There's bound to be lots of good stuff, especially in the herbal stuff (it's not homeopathy, there's at least active ingredients in there), and there's bound to be lots of bs, especially in the chi stuff, but it needs a significant western pharmaceutical team to dig through everything, find the useful chemicals and isolate the effects, with the expertise but without the biases of Chinese researchers. Unfortunately, that's a massive undertaking that I don't see happening any time soon. I mean, the success story of artemisinin in malaria treatment should be encouraging, and I personally assign a 90%+ probability that somewhere in TCM there are useful treatments/cures for things that western medicine don't cope with very well yet, but isolating them could be a difficult task.

comment by Plasmon · 2012-05-01T11:11:36.039Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

the field of TCM

This nature article on TCM shows a similar lack of scepticism.

comment by aelephant · 2012-05-02T00:28:03.850Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

From the article you linked:

Within Asia, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is the system with the longest history. TCM was developed through thousands of years of empirical testing and refinement.

I cringed. Not only do I question what they are calling "empirical testing" but this Time Fallacy (I don't know what else to call it, perhaps there is a better name) is everywhere in China. "Well, we've been doing it the wrong way for over 2000 years so it must be the right way!"

No, actually if you tell me 2+2=5 for 6 billion years, you will still be wrong and 2+2 will still equal 4.

The Economist recently had a much better, much more skeptical piece on TCM:

Medicine & its rivals

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-05-02T03:33:38.945Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, actually if you tell me 2+2=5 for 6 billion years, you will still be wrong and 2+2 will still equal 4.

Except the belief that 2+2=5 isn't going to survive for 6 billion years.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-04-30T22:50:14.589Z · score: 13 (19 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Americans being more willing to be weird could explain both rationality as a project and religiosity.

comment by djcb · 2012-05-01T16:26:23.071Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But in what way is being religious considered 'weird' in the US?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-05-01T17:46:14.694Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, it depends on which religion and where you are. Any new religion (or new variant on a religion, and that happens a lot) is going to be considered weird.

Also, a person's amount of religiousness can easily be considered weird.

comment by juliawise · 2012-05-03T12:48:40.623Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hare Krishna? Shakers? Mormons? Hasidic Jews? America mostly tolerated these religions, but the neighbors still considered them weird.

comment by Locke · 2012-04-30T22:51:59.541Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What reason do you have to believe we're more inclined to weirdness?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-05-01T01:11:31.738Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was a commonality between rationality as a project and religiosity. I was intending a very weak form of "could explain".

What I actually believe is that Americans have a default of "doing something". Thinking about whether the something makes sense is permitted but optional.

comment by atucker · 2012-05-02T00:27:47.801Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The fact that Americans are almost entirely descended from people who decided to uproot themselves and move to a foreign country where they don't have the same institutions, culture, or friends.

This is pretty not normal.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-05-02T00:44:22.316Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This assumes a large genetic aspect of being "weird".

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-05-02T03:19:54.295Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not necessarily, this was recent enough that it could be cultural.

comment by Jesper_Ostman · 2012-05-02T12:19:20.925Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not unreasonable. Eg personality traits like openness have a decent heritability and are closely related to weirdness.

comment by hankx7787 · 2012-05-01T14:11:46.878Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is the best answer I've seen so far. At the risk of losing karma, I'll point out nevertheless that America is the land of libertarian individualism like no other, which in my opinion explains everything.

comment by Jesper_Ostman · 2012-05-02T12:15:46.765Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Weirdness" is closely related to a high score in the psychological trait openness in the big5.

According to this meta-analysis the correlations between religiosity and openness are somewhat mixed:

"while Openness is negatively related to religious fundamentalism (weighted mean r=−0.14, P<0.01) and, to some extent, intrinsic-general religiosity (r=−0.06, P<0.01), it is positively related to measures of open or mature religiosity and spirituality (r=0.22, P<0.0001)."

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-05-02T15:43:18.303Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Weirdness" is in the mind of the beholder.

Also, I bet they didn't check the openness level of people who start or join new religions-- such people are pretty rare, but they're the ones who keep the religious landscape lively.

comment by Jesper_Ostman · 2012-05-02T17:23:59.033Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was assuming you meant something like "willing to go against the dominant norms in one's society" by it, which is close related to Openness.

I'd expect those people joining/starting new religions to be more open, thus the operalization of your hypothesis in terms of big5-Openness. There should probably be studies on smaller religions, such as new age, which might aptly be called new.

comment by prase · 2012-05-01T19:41:58.425Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

state of rationality in the non-English-speaking world

And if there are no Singularitarian, Cryonics-Supporting, Utilitarianism-Advocating websites for the majority of the human race, isn't that a huge deal?

Please don't equate rationality with Singularitarianism, cryonics support, utilitarianism and AI. Even better, consider all these topics separately. Outside the English speaking world, there are Singularitarians, there are (of course!) utilitarians, there are cryonics supporters (however cryonics subscribtion is not available in most countries), there are AI researchers, but you would have much harder job seeking a cluster isomorphic to LW with all its idiosyncrasies together.

comment by Nisan · 2012-05-01T01:00:33.464Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've been wondering about this. A related thought: Much of the sequences are an antidote to various memes that make their way into educated minds in our culture. Do those memes exist outside of the West? Would a non-Anglophone Chinese person find any value in "The Simple Truth"? Are there universities that only teach quantum physics without wavefunction collapse?

(Of course, the sequences are also an antidote to defects of thinking that are part of our shared genetic heritage. Then again, how much research has been done into cross-cultural variation of cognitive biases?)

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-05-01T01:32:37.020Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

how much research has been done into cross-cultural variation of cognitive biases?

Some research has been done, but not that much. The resources required for such studies is generally pretty intensive. But most of the literature suggests that cognitive biases don't change that much between cultures. For example, the literature on the Monty Hall problem shows that the the answer rates look nearly identical in all tested cultures (which include the US, Britain, China and Brazil among others). This is discussed with further references in Jason Rosenhouse's book "The Monty Hall Problem." I'm under the impression that there's similar literature for confirmation bias, but I don't have any citations off hand.

comment by Athrelon · 2012-05-01T18:29:01.801Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"If we take Religion as any indication of irrationality then America should be one of the least rational countries in the world."

Strongly disagree with this premise. Religion is one non-rational meme, but it is one of many and is neither the highest-status nor the most prevalent of the many popular irrational belief systems. Atheists may well be more rational on the one issue of religion, but can and frequently do subscribe to even more irrational belief systems, whether political ideologies, spiritual-but-not-religiousness, or delusions around their life strategy.

Many smart people are indeed atheists,but evidence is very much mixed as to whether atheists in general are more intelligent than the religious (1). In the same way, many people may come to atheism through rationality, but among the general population I don't see any evidence that atheism vs. belief corresponds strongly with rationality.

1.http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2010/06/half-sigma-asserts-that-church.html

comment by Incorrect · 2012-04-30T22:38:05.838Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we take Religion as any indication of irrationality then America should be one of the least rational countries in the world.

If you consider America homogenous but then you're probably using an insufficient model.

comment by Locke · 2012-04-30T22:50:39.230Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I realize that even a small percentage of English-speakers is still a huge number of people, but I don't think it's more than half of all the potential rationalists in the world.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-05-01T12:29:25.995Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, about 30% of the population of the OECD is in countries where the majority of the population is a native-born English speaker, and I would be unsurprised if at least two sevenths of the population of the remaining countries speaks English well enough to interact on the internet. I'm pretty sure English connects you to at least half of the developed world.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-01T02:15:19.870Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hindu is not a language. Did you mean Hindi?

comment by Locke · 2012-05-01T03:41:05.365Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe I do.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-05-02T06:25:29.278Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

An online resource in English is much more international in effect (as in "facilitating communication across national borders") than one in just 1 or 2 or 3 other languages. English is a decent language to use for any number of third parties who can't be bothered to translate from each others' languages. Therefore, setting up something with many sections in various languages is prohibitively expensive by contrast (unless your project is language-centered in the first place, maybe).

comment by djcb · 2012-05-01T16:41:53.684Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we take Religion as any indication of irrationality then America should be one of the least rational countries in the world.

There are parts in Europe where there are many more non-believers, but those are not necessarily more rational. To a large extent it is environment, parents, friends etc. that determine religiosity or lack thereof. It seems that when people are gradually getting more rational, religion is not the first thing that gets thrown out the window. I notice that superstition, medical quakery and various supernatural beliefs are alive and well in secular Europe.

It'd be great if there were some survey comparing the degree to which such ideas flourish in different parts of the world.

comment by beoShaffer · 2012-04-30T23:29:50.324Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is a sequence translation project but it does not seem to be going to well. Fairly few pages translated, almost no comments on the translated posts.

comment by C9AEA3E1 · 2012-05-01T11:58:54.219Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing quite like SIAI or lesswrong in continental western Europe. People aren't into AI as much as in the US, and if there's rationality thinking being done, it's mostly traditional rationality, skepticism, etc.

Atheism can score high in many countries, as a rule of thumb countries to the north are more atheistic, those to the south (Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc.) are more religious.

There are a few scattered transhumanist as well as a few life-extension organizations, which are loosely starting to cooperate together.

The European commission itself started prioritizing small-scale healthy life extension a year or two ago. This could help focus more people on such questions in the years to come.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-05-02T01:37:46.409Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

as a rule of thumb countries to the north are more atheistic, those to the south (Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc.) are more religious.

Is that just the historical Catholic-Protestant divide?

comment by Cthulhoo · 2012-05-02T13:19:51.412Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing quite like SIAI or lesswrong in continental western Europe. People aren't into AI as much as in the US, and if there's rationality thinking being done, it's mostly traditional rationality, skepticism, etc.

This is true, at least in Italy. Most of the concept of LW version of rationality are simply not known.

Atheism can score high in many countries, as a rule of thumb countries to the north are more atheistic, those to the south (Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc.) are more religious.

While Spain and Italy are nominally quite religious (i.e. most people would classify themselves as christian), the majority of people are definitely not fervent believers . Nothing to do with what I understood is the situation in the U.S.: most people never go to church if not for weddings and funeral, and even fewer people follow the (catholic) religious orthodoxy. It's usually a classic case of belief in belief/cached thought: it has happened to me more than once to have a discussion with a "religious" person, only for her to realize in the end that she was more likely agnostic or mildly theist.

Religion has still his enormous political and social weight, of course, but it's mostly inertia.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-07T14:53:17.360Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Religion [in Italy] has still his enormous political and social weight, of course, but it's mostly inertia.

No, it's more than inertia. Think about lobbies instead.

comment by Cthulhoo · 2012-05-11T09:40:54.408Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, it's more than inertia. Think about lobbies instead. Sure, the whole picture is rather complicate, and my purpose wasn't to fully analyze it. I was mostly focusing on the bottom view, i.e. most people without any specific economical/political interest in supporting religion. For them it's mostly inertia.

At the higher levels, for sure, there's an intricate web of relationships that has to be balanced, and religion is still a powerful instrument for some power groups.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-11T09:48:35.526Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(You need to put a blank line after a quotation, otherwise the rest of the paragraph is shown as if it were part of the quotation too.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-11T10:00:24.039Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was mostly focusing on the bottom view, i.e. most people without any specific economical/political interest in supporting religion.

Since the second-last paragraph of your post was indeed about such people, I assumed that the last (one-sentence) paragraph was about the higher levels for contrast.

comment by Jesper_Ostman · 2012-05-02T12:24:37.785Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the scandinavian countries SIAI-style thinking seems at least as common to me as in the US (eg comparing Sweden to New York, which I believe is of similar size).

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-05-02T13:30:55.176Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a google map of LW users? I think we could use the number of LW users in different countries as a proxy for LW-style rationality, together with information how many people in given country are able to discuss in English.

(By "LW-style rationality" I mean trying to be rational even outside the laboratory, both epistemically and instrumentally, and trying to become even stronger.)

In Slovakia, it's pretty much me and Barbara, although I am still trying to spread information around me. But when we went to a meetup in Rome, that was even worse -- the only people who came were foreigners. Thus a hypothesis: traditionally Catholic lands are not friendly to LW-style rationality.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-07T14:59:01.299Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But when we went to a meetup in Rome, that was even worse -- the only people who came were foreigners. Thus a hypothesis: traditionally Catholic lands are not friendly to LW-style rationality.

It's more due to the fact that very few Italians (or southwestern Europeans generally) have fluent English. I mean, in my experience the average English teacher in Italy has worse English than the average bartender or policeman in Prague. I don't think religion wouldn't have a large effect, at least not around Rome (though it possibly would further south and east).

Have LW meetups been held in the Republic of Ireland (an English-speaking “traditionally Catholic land”)?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-07T15:02:14.746Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess that most of the people who would be interested in LW-style rationality already have functional written English.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-05-07T16:07:16.884Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you expand on your reasons for believing that? It's my intuition as well, but I mostly disregard that intuition because it's so obviously distortable by the fact that the vast majority of my interactions with such people have been on English-language forums.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-07T18:05:35.066Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The first reason which springs to my mind is that, in the last survey,

In order of frequency, we include 366 computer scientists (32.6%), 174 people in the hard sciences (16%) 80 people in finance (7.3%), 63 people in the social sciences (5.8%), 43 people involved in AI (3.9%), 39 philosophers (3.6%), 15 mathematicians (1.5%), 14 statisticians (1.3%), 15 people involved in law (1.5%) and 5 people in medicine (.5%).

and I think it'd be very difficult to become a computer scientist or a hard scientist without learning to at least read English. (For example, graduate-level physics textbooks, when they're translated in Italian at all, are, like, five times as expensive as the English originals. And good luck finding translations of (say) arXiv preprints -- I don't think I've ever seen any such thing.)

ETA: See also Weber (1995):

From, a certain level upwards, in business, sport, politics, science and many other fields, a knowledge of English has become not a matter of prestige but of necessity. Also: the level at which this occurs is moving ever downwards.

In science and technology the grip of English is complete. With growing computer sophistication it is becoming easier to put even the most awkward languages and script on screen but that does not alter the big picture. The Chinese trader, scientist, manufacturer who wants to talk to his foreign contacts is not helped much by even the most carefully presented Chinese characters on his screen. He has to tell his non-Chinese customers - in English.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-05-07T18:18:39.751Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK. Thanks for clarifying.

comment by hankx7787 · 2012-05-01T14:05:25.590Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Evidently your premises are wrong. Good question though!

comment by Thomas · 2012-05-02T16:39:47.000Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see the necessity to talk that much about rationality.

It's only the correct way of thinking, nothing less and nothing more. Everybody should do it, but the majority refuses. What is very stupid, but nothing new.

You have to follow the path of arithmetic also and there is no need to declare yourself as "arithmetically rational". The same should be with the (classical!) logic and the probability based reasoning. Just do it and do no fuss about.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-05-04T11:30:57.128Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is a difference -- while most people don't do math, at least they don't invent and spread alternative math. People who don't do rationality usually spread their preferred version of irrationality.

This is why trying to be rational in a society of irrational people is more difficult than trying to do good maths in a society of mostly math-illiterate people. The math person cannot cooperate with most of his neighbors, but also does not have to fight them. Also, the math-illiterate people usually don't pretend that they are great in math. Learning math can be difficult, but learning rationality is more difficult when so many people are trying to deceive you.

comment by shminux · 2012-04-30T23:10:32.920Z · score: -9 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aren't Europeans and Asians more likely to be open to rationality, if only because of their atheism?

Assuming you consider believing in zero gods rational... Why privilege one number out of infinitely many? On the other hand, maybe you meant agnostic.

People without the need to believe in supernatural, whether organized or not, whether called God or Communism or Dear Leader or Fair Universe, have always been a small minority, a tail of the Bell curve of belief strength. Thus I would not expect the mainstream beliefs to affect the fraction of people looking for non-mysterious answers. Of course, this model might be bad, I have not done any research in the area.

If we want Friendly-AI to be developed, should we be translating the sequences into Chinese and Hindu as quickly as possible?

One could just as easily argue that exposing more people to EY's ideas could lead to more dangerous AI research by rogue groups, so maybe they should be kept under wraps!

comment by moridinamael · 2012-04-30T23:32:39.877Z · score: 13 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

While I think I see why the parent was downvoted, I would add that in my experience atheism doesn't correlate very strongly with rationality, insofar as rationaltiy can be said to mean anything. I know plenty of successful scientists who are Christian. I know plenty of atheists who repeatedly make poor life choices. Telling me someone is religious does not help me predict whether I will be able to beat them on any practical contest of wits or reasoning.

The majority of Chinese I have encountered both inside and outside of China believe in traditional Chinese medicine, including the healing powers of chi and all the other aspects that are no better than homeopathy. Of course all of these individuals have claimed to be atheists. There are many flavors of systematic irrationality.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-05-01T00:42:39.340Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

While I think I see why the parent was downvoted, I would add that in my experience atheism doesn't correlate very strongly with rationality, insofar as rationaltiy can be said to mean anything. I know plenty of successful scientists who are Christian. I know plenty of atheists who repeatedly make poor life choices. Telling me someone is religious does not help me predict whether I will be able to beat them on any practical contest of wits or reasoning.

It should do so but it is only a weak predictor. See for example,the GSS data which shows a correlation between vocab (as measured by WORDSUM) and lack of belief in God. Vocabulary is a predictor of general intelligence (high correlation with IQ and Wonderlic for example) whether or not one one corrects for education level (although some complicated things happen in terms of parental education level). The GSS is not the only data set which shows this sort of pattern. The result is weak but statistically robust.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-05-01T03:29:49.265Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

BTW, correlation is not an equivalence relation, especially weak correlation.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-05-01T03:31:14.404Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Er, of course not. What's your point?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-05-01T03:33:45.394Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your argument was atheism is weakly correlated with vocab. Vocab is weakly correlated with intelligence. Therefore, atheism is weakly correlated with intelligence.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-05-01T03:41:44.423Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, I see your point. However, a) vocab is highly correlated with intelligence, not weakly so, b) vocab is not just highly correlated with a single intelligence metric, but is correlated with such in a variety of different metrics of intelligence. While it is possible to construct variables such that A and B are correlated, with B and C correlated, and A and C anti-correlated, it is quite difficult to do so with a large set of distinct variables that all have such correlations with each other and have a single pair be anti-correlated, especially when one has the same set of correlations even when one controls for a variety of other variables. Moreover, as a probabilistic matter if one as three variables with two pairs correlated, it is much more likely that the remaining pair will be correlated than anti-correlated, assuming that variables don't have too pathological a distribution.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-05-01T06:23:51.633Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Moreover, as a probabilistic matter if one as three variables with two pairs correlated, it is much more likely that the remaining pair will be correlated than anti-correlated, assuming that variables don't have too pathological a distribution.

Where you you get that? The intended probability space isn't clear, but if I take three random directions in N-dimensional space for large N, I find that the chance of two pairs having an angle less than pi/2 and the third an angle greater than pi/2 is about 1.4 times the chance of all three being less than pi/2. The ratio rises to about 3 if I add the requirement that the corresponding correlations are in the range +/- 0.8 (the upper liit of correlations generally found in psychology).

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-05-01T13:57:28.101Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm, that's a good point. I'm aware vaguely of theorems that say what I want but I don't have any references or descriptions off hand. It may just be that one is assuming somewhat low N, but that would be in this sort of context not helpful. I do seem to remember that some version of my statement is true if the variables match bell curves, but I'm not able at the moment to construct or find a precise statement. Consider the claim withdrawn until I've had more time to look into the matter.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-02T01:42:37.959Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would add that in my experience atheism doesn't correlate very strongly with rationality, insofar as rationaltiy can be said to mean anything. I know plenty of successful scientists who are Christian. I know plenty of atheists who repeatedly make poor life choices. Telling me someone is religious does not help me predict whether I will be able to beat them on any practical contest of wits or reasoning.

Refuting a statistical claim with anecdotal data is usually not very helpful.

Not necessarily saying you're wrong, though.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-05-02T03:23:55.025Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Refuting a statistical claim with anecdotal data is usually not very helpful.

Depends on the quality of statistical evidence supporting the claim.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-04-30T23:58:01.781Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Assuming you consider believing in zero gods rational... Why privilege one number out of infinitely many?

Occam's razor. Deity hypotheses are both very complicated and don't offer much in the way of useful predictions.

comment by Nisan · 2012-05-01T01:02:54.927Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was going to make a joke about zero being the additive identity of the rational numbers, but enh.

comment by shminux · 2012-05-01T01:14:08.537Z · score: -8 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Arguably, not caring about divine existence is even simpler.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-05-01T01:18:59.935Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Caring about a hypothesis isn't an aspect of simplicity for evaluating the hypotheses. Obviously some questions are more or less interesting. But the idea that questions concerning the existence or nature of deities as uninteresting doesn't make much sense. If any form of classical deity exists then the deity has serious concerns about how we act and it will impact our lives in this life or the next life. At the same time, if such a deity does exist then issues of existential risk are either irrelevant or minimal. But if no such deity exists then existential risk becomes a severe concern. Acting like these questions don't matter is irrational for almost any goal-set.

comment by shminux · 2012-05-01T05:16:27.674Z · score: -7 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Existence or non-existence of a deity is not a question that can be answered experimentally, so arguing either way is a waste of bits.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-05-01T05:34:00.861Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Existence or non-existence of a deity is not a question that can be answered experimentally

That's wrong for at least three reasons.

First, while certain deific claims that are so vague as to be close to meaningless cannot be falsified, most deities don't fall into that category. For example, all the classical Abrahamic religions make testable claims. Religions have only adapted to more generic, harder to test claims when those claims failed. There's a relevant bit in the sequences about this.

Second, even weaker claims like vaguely just deities who watch over everything easily lead to essentially testable consequences. Indeed, some of these, like the existential risk issue mentioned earlier are not only testable but are highly relevant to society: if a deity is watching over in any way then we don't need to worry nearly as much about existential risk. If there is no such entity, things become a lot more serious. So actual allocation of resources is impacted by this.

Third, many deity claims also are connected to specific claims about the afterlife, which makes the claims testable if one simply waits a while. Moreover, many of those claims have far reaching consequences. If Jack Chick is correct about how reality works then it is quite worth figuring that out before one is subject to eternal torment.

It may be true that the entire superset of deity hypotheses may be so broad as to be not really falsifiable, but that's largely due to the more vague terms that are classified as deities like people saying things like "God is the transcendent morality inside us all" or something like that.

As an aside, I'm mildly curious if you've downvoted the comment that I made above as well as the comment two above. I don't particularly care about karma, but I did notice that both comments received a downvote within a few seconds of your reply. There's no particular rule about downvoting comments made by people one is talking to, but if one is having an extended disagreement, downvoting is probably not a good idea since, given standard cognitive biases (especially issues of cognitive dissonance), it will likely make one more set in one's opinion. So downvoting in such contexts is probably not a great idea if one wants to have productive discussion.

comment by shminux · 2012-05-01T15:07:53.434Z · score: -8 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As an aside, I'm mildly curious if you've downvoted the comment that I made above as well as the comment two above.

Yes, I did, based on a 5-sec negative reaction that I immediately rationalized for myself, so now it seems like a perfectly rational action to me (now I think I did it because you totally missed my point). I don't feel like addressing your argument point-by-point, though, as it clearly failed the first two times.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-05-01T15:23:11.949Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I did, based on a 5-sec negative reaction that I immediately rationalized for myself, so now it seems like a perfectly rational action to me (now I think I did it because you totally missed my point).

Huh? Are you saying that they you are completely aware of your rationalization but are still sticking to that belief despite knowing it is a rationalization?

I don't feel like addressing your argument point-by-point, though, as it clearly failed the first two times.

None of your replies have been longer than a sentence, so I'm not sure where you think you've addressed any points earlier. A longer reply might help clear up confusion or point out why I'm wrong.

comment by shminux · 2012-05-01T16:02:40.319Z · score: -6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Huh? Are you saying that they you are completely aware of your rationalization but are still sticking to that belief despite knowing it is a rationalization?

At least I'm aware of my thought process. Quite a few replies I get to my comments bear all the hallmarks of the same cognitive dissonance, but without the poster being aware of it.

Anyway, here is my point, again, since you insist: given that faith is largely belief-in-belief, it cannot be refuted experimentally. The simulation argument gives one model where supernatural influence may well be "real", so hard atheism fails there. Realizing that worrying about whether God is real is a waste of time lets you concentrate on more pragmatic matters, including existential risks. And yeah, Laplace said it better.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-05-02T00:01:49.873Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anyway, here is my point, again, since you insist: given that faith is largely belief-in-belief, it cannot be refuted experimentally.

Ok. This isn't true for everyone and isn't true for quite a few people. For example, Eliezer, myself and Dr. Manhattan are all former Orthodox Jews who (at least by our descriptions and best knowledge) left in part due to actual evidence issues. So people really do care about evidence. Moreover, most humans are pretty complicated so even if someone has some amount of belief-in-belief they often also care about evidence issues.

The simulation argument gives one model where supernatural influence may well be "real", so hard atheism fails there

I'm not sure what you mean by "hard atheism" in this context and wonder if differences in meaning are relevant here. Most atheists aren't going to claim that there's a 100% chance that there is no deity (even Richard Dawkins won't do that). So if that's what you mean then there's no disagreement. Do you mean that or do you mean something else?

Realizing that worrying about whether God is real is a waste of time lets you concentrate on more pragmatic matters, including existential risks

And if Jack Chick turns out to be correct, not only will all that effort put into existential risk be a complete waste, but you will have wasted a tremendous amount of resources that could have gone to prevent eternal torture. And this applies to less sadistic or less interventionary deities also. If you are worried about existential risk, then one is already operating on a framework that assigns a low probability to most notions of "God".

And yeah, Laplace said it better.

It may help to reread what Laplace is saying. Laplace isn't saying that he's not thinking about the hypothesis, he's saying he doesn't need it. The God-of-the-gaps created by Newton to explain planets not falling drastically out of orbit is something Laplace doesn't need. That's not at all the same thing as saying one isn't thinking about the issue.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-05-01T23:03:10.378Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

given that faith is largely belief-in-belief, it cannot be refuted experimentally.

To me you seem as if you're trying to find clever ways by which you may allow yourself to be stupid.

Something being even worse than wrong isn't something to brag about.

comment by shminux · 2012-05-01T23:17:47.539Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To me you seem as if you're trying to find clever ways by which you may allow yourself to be stupid. Something being even worse than wrong isn't something to brag about.

No idea what you mean...

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-02T06:33:54.597Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think he's saying that beliefs that by their nature can't be refuted empirically are worse than wrong, so there's plenty reason to be concerned not to have such beliefs.

comment by shminux · 2012-05-02T14:44:56.107Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought that was my point about faith...