A Rational Education

post by wedrifid · 2010-06-23T05:48:20.854Z · score: 12 (19 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 149 comments

Contents

  1. Which subjects and courses can make the best contribution to Epistemic Rationality?
  2. Which subjects and courses provide the most Instrumental Rationality benefits?
  3. Given all available information about the universe and what inferences can be drawn about my preferences and abilities what course structure should I choose?
    Now, assuming that I am going to be studying an undergraduate course, which course maximizes the expected benefit?
  4. Which course do you just happen to like?
None
155 comments

Within the next month I will be enrolling in an(other) undergraduate university course. This being the case I must make a selection of both course and major. While I could make such decisions on impulsive unconscious preference satisfaction and guesswork on what subjects happen to provide the most value I could also take the opportunity to address the decision more rationally and objectively. There are some relevant questions to ask that I know LessWrong readers can help me answer.

  1. Which subjects and courses can make the best contribution to Epistemic Rationality?
  2. Which subjects and courses provide the most Instrumental Rationality benefits?
  3. Given all available information about the universe and what inferences can be drawn about my preferences and abilities what course structure should I choose?
  4. Which course do you just happen to like?

1. Which subjects and courses can make the best contribution to Epistemic Rationality?

I happen to care about Epistemic Rationality for its own sake. Both for me personally and in those whom I encounter. It is Fun! This means that I like both to add new information to my Map and to develop skills that enhance my general ability to build and improve upon that map.

Not all knowledge is created equal. While whole posts could be dedicated to what things are the most important to know. I don't want to learn gigabytes of statistics on sport performances. I prefer, and may be tempted to argue that it is fundamentally better, to learn concepts than facts and in particular concepts that are the most related to fundamental reality. This includes physics and the most applicable types of mathematics (eg. probability theory).

For some types of knowledge that are worth learning university is not a desirable place to learn them. Philosophy is Fun. But the philosophy I would learn at university is too influenced by traditional knowledge and paying rent to impressive figures. The optimal  behavior when studying or researching philosophy is not to Dissolve the Question. It is to convey that the question is deep and contentious, affiliate with one 'side' and do battle within an obsolete and suboptimal way of Carving Reality. My frank opinion is that many philosophers need to spend more time programming, creating simulated realities, or at least doing mathematics before they can hope to make a useful contribution to thought. (I'm voicing a potentially controversial position here that I know some would agree with but for which I am also inviting debate.)

There are some subjects that are better served for improving thinking itself as well as merely learning existing thoughts. I'll list some that spring to mind but I suspect some of them may be red herrings and there are others you may be able to suggest that I just haven't considered.

2. Which subjects and courses provide the most Instrumental Rationality benefits?

Fun is great, so is having accurate maps. But there are practical considerations too. You can't have fun if you starve and fun may not last too long if you are unable to contribute directly or financially to the efforts that ensure the future of humanity. Again there are two considerations:

3. Given all available information about the universe and what inferences can be drawn about my preferences and abilities what course structure should I choose?

This is an invitation to Other-Optimize me. Please give me advice. Remember that giving advice is a signal of high status and as such is often an enjoyable experience to engage in. This is also a rare opportunity - you may be patronizing and I will not even respond in kind or with a curt dismissal. You can even be smug and condescending if that is what it takes for me to extract your insights!

Now, I should note that my decision to do another undergraduate degree is in no way based on a belief that it is just what I need to do to gain success. I already have more than enough education behind me (I have previously studied IT, AI and teaching).

(Call bullshit on that if you think I am rationalizing or believe there are better alternatives to give me what you infer from here or elsewhere that I want.)

Now, assuming that I am going to be studying an undergraduate course, which course maximizes the expected benefit?

Something I am considering is a double major Bachelor of Science(pharmacology, mathematical statistics). Recent conversations that I have participated in here give an indication as to my existing interest in pharmacology. I have some plans in mind that would contribute to furthering human knowledge on non-patented pharmaceutical substances. In particular life-extension drugs and nootropics. This is an area that I believe is drastically overlooked, to the extent of being species wide negligence. Consider this to be a significant goal that I want my studying to contribute to.

The most effective contribution I can make there will likely involve leveraging financial resources that I earn elsewhere but I mostly have financial considerations covered. I also want to ensure I know what is going on and know what needs to be done at a detailed level. That means learning pharmacology. But it also means learning statistics of some sort. What statistics should I learn? Should I focus on improving my understanding of Bayesian statistics or should I immerse myself in some more ad-hoc frequentest tools that can be used to look impressive?

4. Which course do you just happen to like?

What other subjects are relevant to the sort of concepts we like discussing here? Perhaps something from sociology or psych? I have breadth subjects I need to fill, which gives me the chance to look at some topics in somewhat more depth than just a post (but sometimes possibly less depth than a whole post sequence!) I'm also rather curious which subjects like-minded people just wish they had a chance to study. If you were trapped in the SGC in a groundhog day time loop which topics would you want to learn?

149 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2010-06-23T08:47:10.461Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I kept having nightmares for about a decade after completing my last university course, so I find it hard to understand anyone wanting to go back to school. Ok, now that I've gotten that off my chest...

When I visited SIAI a few months ago, I participated in drafting a list of study topics for visiting fellows. I think it's now being used by SIAI internally, but perhaps eventually a version will be produced for public consumption. For now I'll just try to answer 2 and 4.

What learning actually facilitates achieving something useful or otherwise fulfilling one's CEV?

It seems to me that an important but easily overlooked step to fulfilling one's EV is to figure out what it is. Philosophers haven't found the answer yet, but studying philosophy at least gives you some idea of what kinds of answers people have already considered and found unsatisfactory. I would prefer to do this by reading/skimming books, but if you must take a course...

Which course do you just happen to like?

My favorite university courses were:

My favorite self-taught topics are:

  • micro- and macro-economics
  • cryptography
  • algorithmic information theory
  • decision theory
  • philosophy of science/mind/mathematics/etc.

By "favorite" I mean courses/topics that I had the most fun learning, but these also turned out to be quite useful for my purposes. I might just have been lucky, but you should perhaps consider the possibility that your "impulsive unconscious preference satisfaction" knows what it's doing, and put some thought into what courses would be fun for you.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-23T09:01:19.163Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

When I visited SIAI a few months ago, I participated in drafting a list of study topics for visiting fellows. I think it's now being used by SIAI internally, but perhaps eventually a version will be produced for public consumption.

That would be a handy document to have access to. I wonder who I would need to bribe to acquire a copy.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2010-06-24T14:14:49.143Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I also find algorithmic information theory (and especially algorithmic probability) to be a really fun and rewarding topic. Hutter has an excellent article on Scholarpedia here, and Hutter, Legg, and Vitanyi have another good article here.

I haven't looked at cryptography much, is there anything in particular in the field that is useful for thinking about e.g. decision theory or game theory for AGI?

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-06-24T14:34:40.282Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To think about AGI, study mathematics.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2010-06-26T01:41:50.118Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

First, you should take the minimum number of classes necessary for graduation because school is so much less efficient than other learning methods. (For example, you can watch videolectures from the best professors in the world for free at your convenience. Then download the lectures + VLC, change the playback speed, and learn everything 50% faster.)

As long as you are taking classes, you might as well try to learn things that are a good fit for them.

  • Public speaking and acting are good fits for classroom learning.
  • Chemistry classes and some others give you a chance to use materials that would be hard to find on your own.
  • IMO classes involving computers are an awful fit for classroom learning--it's always easier for me to figure out stuff myself. This includes programming. Only take these if you're going for a compsci degree (but, it is a pretty good degree to have as far as I can tell).
  • Take classes by professors that are well-reviewed (see ratemyprofessors.com), especially those with a reputation for high levels of class participation or interesting personalities.
  • Also, it's worth choosing classes based on the classmates you expect to have. So consider taking classes full of smart people like physics and game theory.

As for subject matter, I think I became smarter learning physics and economics basics because I became more comfortable applying math and thinking about things in simple, non-intuitive ways. Economics is particularly great for rationality--microeconomics is essentially an extended description of what the world would be like if we were all rational. It's great to have a cheat sheet. Programming was definitely my biggest ever mindfuck, but as I mentioned it's best learned outside school.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-06-24T17:42:51.098Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

My guess is that for instrumental rationality the optimal courses are dance, yoga, and above all acting. Just don't try to use them as credentials.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-07-20T16:50:17.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(I only recently saw this comment, hence the tardy response to it.)

My guess is that for instrumental rationality the optimal courses are dance, yoga, and above all acting.

What is the relevance that you see in these? I've done yoga for a long time, and apart from mens sana in corpore sano no particular connection with rationality has ever occurred to me. Given that dance and acting are mentioned in the same breath, I suspect that your reasons for including them are something other than the social aspect of dancing in nightclubs or using acting skills for deception. How would the practice of these things assist in, say, solving a scientific research problem, negotiating a house purchase, negotiating the possibility of an intimate relationship, or raising public support for cryonics?

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-07-21T05:31:43.475Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

By making you more aware of and more able to deal with, compensate for, control and use emotions, healthier, more energetic, less gullible, etc. Also, in the case of yoga, a better materialist who would propose better hypotheses in mind related subjects and some mechanics related subjects and would be more likely to use analysis and experiment in the right cases.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-07-21T06:28:54.159Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is there any evidence that merely pursing yoga causes people to have better materialistic theories of mind? I am very skeptical that it leads to experiment!

I think you are saying that these are all good avenues to know thyself, but people compartmentalize so much that I think you really have to say that explicitly.

comment by Blueberry · 2010-06-24T18:08:45.183Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why? Do you mean acting is useful for Dark Arts-style deception? It strikes me that acting would be useless without a lot of psychology as well; you need to know what to act as well as how to act.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-06-25T00:52:39.608Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

The Dark Arts only look dark from the outside. Reality is more complicated, predictably less black and white. Also, the main defense against dark arts IS dark arts. Also, there's little virtue in not using abilities you don't have on moral grounds. Finally, we all have a lot of psychology here, but acting out behaviors you don't understand will help you to understand them.

Very seriously, those who relinquish the known dark arts will invent their own path to the abyss, a path without the protective guard-rails and warning signs worked out by billions of predecessors. We're much better in this crowd at overcoming the surface manifestations of self-deception promoting processes than we are at resisting self-deception. We end up self-deceiving in unusual ways, but predictable ways for someone who has met enough rationalists.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-25T01:57:47.365Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Also, there's little virtue in not using abilities you don't have on moral grounds

There's some virtue in not acquiring those abilities if you think there's no decent use for them.

Very seriously, those who relinquish the known dark arts will invent their own path to the abyss, a path without the protective guard-rails and warning signs worked out by billions of predecessors. We end up self-deceiving in unusual ways, but predictable ways for someone who has met enough rationalists.

Examples for both?

Do you find that all influential people use what rationalists would call Dark Arts? Do you think that there's such a thing as influence which tends to make people more clear-headed?

comment by prase · 2010-06-25T11:24:00.791Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Examples for both?

I second the question. If the unusual deception patterns are predictable, there are certainly lot of examples.

If there are actual examples, some overview thereof would be great topic for a top level post.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-06-25T14:44:19.243Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The most obvious is that beliefs and values are not that distinctly represented in the human brain. If you can't tweak your beliefs to be self-aggrandizing the default outcome is for your values to become self-aggrandizing instead. In practice, this also leads to low salience for those virtues where you are deficient so that the successes that come from the possession of virtues other than your own looks like 'luck' to you, even when such successes happen repeatedly and even when you know that luck is a synonym for probability favoring someone and probability is in the map not in the territory. This problem is particular severe when the virtues in question are framed by your culture as passive, treated as simply being the absences of vices which your culture pretends people should be able to routinely eliminate and which your culture morally blames people for not eliminating.

comment by prase · 2010-06-25T16:32:02.493Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Let me give an example to test whether I understand correctly. I am lazy. Laziness belongs to the described category of vices that are expected to be routinely eliminated. Now I can't value hard work too high and simultaneously be aware of my laziness, since that would violate the self-aggrandising axiom. I am too rational to deceive myself that I am actually not lazy, so I have to adjust my values instead and accept laziness as normal. Perhaps this makes me less virtuous.

Well, if this is what you have meant, I agree that (for me) it actually works like that, but I wouldn't call it self-deception.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-06-26T06:46:06.357Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Deceiving yourself about how much you would value hard work in the absence of your laziness leads to predictable mistakes when you then model others with your value of yourself and don't understand why the others don't like you (because you are tacitly modeling them as not considering laziness very bad).

These predictable mistakes add up to much worse life performance in aggregate than if they didn't occur.

comment by prase · 2010-06-26T08:03:03.316Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't said that I suppose my values in the absence of laziness would be the same. I also don't expect others to have the same values as myself. Even if I did, that would be example of the "mind projection fallacy" or "false agreement fallacy" which was discussed here several times. Do you think that the lesswrongers are in tackling these biases substantially worse than they (we) think?

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-06-26T17:46:29.757Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that we even think that we are avoiding using ourselves as our default model of other people in many situations, nor that we can do so in principle, but I wasn't of the impression that people though that they could.

comment by Mass_Driver · 2010-06-25T06:29:16.289Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

We're much better in this crowd at overcoming the surface manifestations of self-deception promoting processes than we are at resisting self-deception.

Yet another example of Goodhart's Law, no? How does one defend against that? If self-deception usually operates below our conscious radar, then you usually have to shine conscious attention on it in order to notice it, and I assume you have to be able to notice it in order to fight it. But if rewarding oneself for successfully focusing conscious attention on self-deception, over time, inevitably makes one aware primarily of only the surface manifestations of self-deception, then attempting to increase one's focus on self-deception is largely futile. I really don't know what to suggest, but I urgently want a strategy.

for instrumental rationality the optimal courses are dance, yoga, and above all acting.

Let's say acting is a useful dark art. What on earth does that have to do with yoga or dancing? Yoga tends to improve my posture and breathing and calm, but those aren't dark arts; those are purely defensive light arts. They make me less susceptible to stress and panic, but not necessarily better able to mislead or manipulate people. Dancing, on a very, very, very good day makes me more sexually attractive, but surely you're not suggesting that the key to epistemic rationality is to seduce one's ideological opponents on the dance floor? I'm more than a bit confused, here.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-06-25T09:47:41.081Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Great point about Goodhart's Law. Our eternal and tireless enemy. The best defense, I think, is internal cooperation. Stop self-deceiving by giving elements of yourself reasons that matter to them not to deceive other elements, and by giving them reasons to cooperate.

I almost say just that; the dance floor is only where the most overt type of dancing takes place. Did you really just say that its not a dark art to stretch your neck further than you voluntarily could by using an imaginary hook to pull your head up?

Good heuristic; if pot makes you better at it, its a 'dark art' in the sense of drawing on non-deliberate thought but not in the sense of moving you towards less accurate beliefs, and it won't feel evil but will feel aesthetically right. If pride motivates or empowers it its a dark art in the latter, worse sense of moving you away from truth. If deliberative thought helps the performance, not just the training, it won't corrupt you but it will feel cunning/tricky/evil even when you are good at it.

comment by xamdam · 2010-07-18T17:28:24.488Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Drawing on non-deliberate thought but not in the sense of moving you towards less accurate beliefs, and it won't feel evil but will feel aesthetically right

Something sounds like Waitzkin.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-07-20T15:58:33.057Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am a fan of Waitzkin, but I don't think I got this from him. As far as I can tell, things pretty much have to be this way in any plausible psychological theory.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-25T11:23:26.390Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But if rewarding oneself for successfully focusing conscious attention on self-deception, over time, inevitably makes one aware primarily of only the surface manifestations of self-deception, then attempting to increase one's focus on self-deception is largely futile. I really don't know what to suggest, but I urgently want a strategy.

Tentative suggestion: Aim for self-reward for increased awareness and checking for truth, not for any particular finding.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-06-25T14:38:52.775Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hell yeah.
And if you can fully pull That One off, you are now non-attached... a Bodhisattva.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-25T14:45:48.568Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Fortunately, even partial success is very useful.

I suppose that what I offered was a meta-strategy, and getting it down to strategy and tactics is the hard part.

And "self-reward" has its own problems, of course.

comment by xamdam · 2010-07-12T16:33:52.997Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And "self-reward" has its own problems, of course.

'Hell yeah' as Michael would put it. Did you have any concrete strategies of self-rewarding that worked at all?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T03:21:49.877Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't say dancing, yoga or acting classes qualify for the 'dark arts' title. If I want to see the dark arts I'll study debating, law or PR.

Also, the main defense against dark arts IS dark arts.

What gets even more interesting is that the most powerful counters to dark arts are not dark arts but are what will usually be described as 'evil' (things like murder, for example).

comment by sark · 2011-05-15T09:34:17.770Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

One predictable way I have seen many rationalists (including myself) deceive themselves is by flooding their working memory and confusing themselves. They do this via nitpicking, pursuing arguments and counter-arguments in a rabbit hole depth-first fashion and neglecting other shallower ones, using long and grammatically complex sentences, etc. There are many ways. All you have to do is to ensure that you max out your working memory, which then makes you less able to self-monitor for biases.

How do you counter this? Do note that arguments are not systematically distributed wrt. their complexity. So it's just best to stick to simple arguments which you can fully comprehend, and with some working memory capacity to spare.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-13T23:45:54.323Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And let's not forget that the Dark Arts were originally just "Battle Magic," a lot more practical and less ominous-sounding...

comment by MichaelVassar · 2011-05-14T15:14:27.145Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yep.
By the way, I should have included improve in particular in that list of things to study, with singing and music as a lower priority but also valuable.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T03:17:04.058Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There is something to that guess. I take the first two of those classes.

comment by magfrump · 2010-06-24T00:32:56.754Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I just graduated from undergrad in mathematics, so perhaps I have less perspective, or perhaps I have a "fresher" perspective! I don't know.

A few classes that I enjoyed without expecting it:

-a class called "Feminism and Science." I would be very surprised if there were classes in feminist science studies at your school, but they have a perspective on rationality and science studies that is unique and valuable.

--relatedly, I wish that I had taken courses in feminism. It wasn't until the last year that I realized how much of feminism deals with things like resolving hidden inferences (first link NSFW!)

--also, science studies classes will almost certainly benefit from having someone from LessWrong in them. So will feminism classes!

-"Politics and Religion," a class about the stale religious metaphors that get used in modern politics. Again you may not have a perfect analog, but a cursory class or two in politics or religion could give a lot of insight about how other people operate, and also expose them to how you operate, if you care about other people's rationality as well. (whereas math classes will be much more homogenous.)

-a topical course from the linguistics department. Linguistics is very, very interesting. When I say a "topical course" I mean I took a course for non-majors which was more of a class in "why people study linguistics" and less in "how people study linguistics." I learned a lot about what makes questions of linguistics important in questions of rationality (again, see hidden inferences above!)

-language classes. I took Japanese, and it was enjoyable, stretched my mind a bit (for reasons detailed in the above class!) and kept my work ethic going. Also let me interact with people from various backgrounds, instead of only math majors.

-Playwriting. I actually expected to enjoy this. Whether it's good for rationality... well there are some applications of behavioral psych, and some ability to learn about how much of the theory of writing actually has a foundation.

classes I wish I had taken but didn't:

-any psychology classes, especially evolutionary psych!

-more linguistics

-more than one computer science course (though I wouldn't want to major in it)

-evolution and ecology

-science fiction-themed literature classes

-I mentioned feminism and science studies earlier

-lots of different languages. Having a designated place and time to speak different languages (at least in my experience) makes it a lot easier to learn, and college is a great opportunity for that that won't come back.

-bioethics, legal studies

-game theory

classes I didn't enjoy as much as I expected:

-real analysis. But that's because I like algebra.

-economics. I once had a TA tell me, when I asked about a question on a test, "well I was grading that problem, and I thought what you had was okay, but the answer key said it was (c) so I marked it off."(sic). I never took another econ class again. Not sure if that would be a problem in other places.

-history. Too much reading and not enough real knowledge.

Repeating stuff I think is important

I think that both feminist studies and linguistics have a lot more potential for carving reality at the joints than, say, mathematical physics. Of course, the background that mathematical physicists have is better for actively doing this, and you might have to fight some cultural battles in feminist studies classes. But rationalists and feminists have a lot in common and I think more crossover is important there.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2010-06-24T22:05:24.769Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

magfrump:

[C]lasses in feminist science studies [...] have a perspective on rationality [...] that is unique and valuable. [...] It wasn't until the last year that I realized how much of feminism deals with things like resolving hidden inferences...

That's interesting. In my experience, when one attempts to study human mating behavior -- and the human behavioral sexual dimorphism in general -- in a completely detached manner, as if one were a space alien without any agenda or preconceptions, the resulting insights tend to sound shockingly evil from a feminist perspective, and regularly elicit instinctive condemnation with little actual understanding from feminist authors.

Of course, it could be that my view of what constitutes neutral and detached observations is skewed by various biases, or that I am oblivious of more intellectually competent and honest feminist authors. Therefore, I think it would be interesting to see a top-level post, or at least an open thread comment, elaborating on your insights in this area. This with all the usual caveats that apply to politically and ideologically charged topics, of course.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-06-25T00:41:57.272Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The thing is, "space alien" thought experiments are very hard to do, given that we're not space aliens, and they have come out both ways -- read Joanna Russ for speculative, "alien's-eye" fiction about gender that comes out very feminist.

The closest thing to a genuine "alien's-eye" view of gender and society would have to come from people who perceive both gender and society very differently: perhaps autistics or the transgendered or intersex. Even there it's shaky.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T03:46:59.197Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The closest thing to a genuine "alien's-eye" view of gender and society would have to come from people who perceive both gender and society very differently: perhaps autistics or the transgendered or intersex. Even there it's shaky.

The transgendered or intersex have more reason to be biased, not less. The very core of their identity is at stake!

comment by [deleted] · 2010-06-25T03:55:46.039Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Biased, yes. I thought of that. But I don't think "bias" is really the issue here.

If you want to know what the corpus callosum does, find some people who don't have one. If you want to know what gender does, find some people whose gender is different than the rest of us. Natural experiments.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T04:19:21.811Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Are we investigating the guy without the corpus callosum here or are we taking on faith what he says about the population at large?

comment by [deleted] · 2010-06-25T05:00:04.224Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think you take anyone's word on faith -- we don't have genuine "space aliens," neutral and unbiased. But, because these are social questions, you "investigate" different kinds of people not by cutting their brains open but by listening to them tell their side of the story.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T05:29:12.278Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That is a good start and we must take care not to stop there. The risk with social questions is the temptation to give social answers. To look at 'sides of a story'. As well as absorbing social perspectives it is necessary to look at the raw science. To look at the behaviors of mammals in general and in particular those of the apes that have mating patterns similar to ours. To compare and contrast the expected outcome of game theoretic models with our observations of human behaviour. The answers those investigations give are not always popular. They also don't always match the stories that we like to tell ourselves!

comment by Vladimir_M · 2010-06-25T04:05:04.298Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

SarahC:

The thing is, "space alien" thought experiments are very hard to do, given that we're not space aliens,

That is undoubtedly true. I certainly don't claim that my views on these matters are entirely free of bias and emotional investment. However, a claim that I would be ready to defend is that there are particular conclusions that would be made, or at least considered plausible, by an ideal detached observer, but whose mere mention provokes virtually unanimous hostility from feminists. At least in principle, one doesn't have to be an ideal detached observer across the board to form correct judgments of this sort in particular cases.

and they have come out both ways -- read Joanna Russ for speculative, "alien's-eye" fiction about gender that comes out very feminist.

I am curious about this. Which particular works would you recommend?

comment by [deleted] · 2010-06-25T04:55:56.308Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The Female Man as a novel, "When it Changed" gets roughly the same idea across in short story form.

comment by magfrump · 2010-06-24T22:21:53.416Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Basically the great insight of feminism is that when you charge into a politically and ideologically charged topic and try to study it like a space alien in a totally detached manner, you loose all sorts of relevant information.

For example, when you try to ask in quantum physics, is this a particle or a wave, it stops making any sense because your question is bad. The experience I have, which may not be everywhere because I took a feminism class where the professor was a quantum physicist, is that asking questions like "are women less intelligent than men" or "are women more vengeful than men" carry implicit value judgments which lead to generally bad decisions among politicians.

So while being "detached" from your context may help when doing math problems, it gives you a certain perspective on, say, affirmative action. If you're supposed to forget about context...

Anyway I'm rambling. I have been meaning to write a top-level post about it all, but it's a bit intimidating given the high quality of posts in general and I've been really busy. Probably in a couple of weeks I will have more time and hopefully get around to it.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-25T05:10:43.137Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How sure are you that you have a handle on human mating behavior in general, rather than a subset which is relatively easy to hack?

Feminism isn't just about mating behavior.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T03:24:03.101Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

a class called "Feminism and Science." I would be very surprised if there were classes in feminist science studies at your school, but they have a perspective on rationality and science studies that is unique and valuable.

I believe they do. I would not recommend anyone attend them unless they are already well versed in sociology and evolutionary psychology. That allows them to put what is really going on into the right perspective.

comment by magfrump · 2010-06-25T04:26:12.090Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This post seems hostile toward the subject of feminist studies. In general, I shared this perspective (which I interpret as: skeptical of feminism, thinking of it as identity politics) before: (a) meeting feminist studies majors and (b) taking feminist studies classes.

While feminist rhetoric can seem anti-scientific, or be used in anti-scientific ways, I have found that feminist theory is more often in league with applied rationality. I am currently composing a post on the subject.

comment by HughRistik · 2010-06-25T09:06:03.864Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

magfrump said:

In general, I shared this perspective (which I interpret as: skeptical of feminism, thinking of it as identity politics) before: (a) meeting feminist studies majors and (b) taking feminist studies classes.

I share wedrifid's opinion on feminism and feminist studies. Yet I have also taken feminist studies classes, and my experiences also overlap with yours, though I had significant experience with feminism prior to taking those classes which undoubtedly colored my judgment. I will briefly outline the development of my views around gender politics:

  • As a teenager, I started out with feminist intuitions, believing that feminism could do no wrong.

  • I got into pickup, and I read Why Men Are The Way They Are by Warren Farrell. My experience as a shy, romantically-challenged, gender non-conforming young man, combined with Farrell's book and the arguments of the pickup and seduction community, led to a perspective on gender politics that became increasingly different from feminism. Feminists emphasized the oppression of women and "male privilege." I could see these phenomena, but I also say phenomena that looked pretty clearly like male oppression and "female privilege," which feminists didn't seem to talk about.

  • I read more books, such as Spreading Misandry and Legalizing Misandry by Nathanson and Young, and Heterophobia by Daphne Patai. I started discussing feminism on the internet, yet my interactions with feminists on blogs taught me very fast that many feminists have trouble defending certain ideas in feminism, and have a low tolerance for criticism of their ideas. My agreement with a larger segment of feminist positions didn't matter; unless I accepted certain concepts (e.g. "male privilege") and embedded assumptions, I was treated like an outgroup member, regardless of how civil or reasonable I tried to be.

  • I came to believe that ideological and biased thinking was highly prevalent in feminism. Yet I found that many critiques of feminism, were also biased and wrong. For example, the Men's Rights Movement criticizes feminism in many areas, yet it also sometime replicates some of the errors of feminism, such as playing fast and loose with the facts to support ideological positions. I started a blog on feminism with a couple other people to have a critical, but fair evaluation of the movement: FeministCritics.org.

In college, I took several feminist studies courses. Although I had a lot of negative experiences with feminism prior to these courses, I tried to counteract my biases. I tried really hard to like feminism.

My experience with feminism in real life was much more positive than my experience with feminists on the internet. I had a lot of fun, and made several new friends. I got one B+, and several As, in these courses (these grades serve as evidence that I understand a lot of the basics of feminist theory). I voiced a lot of agreement with certain feminist positions, and I also managed to raise a few objections to feminist ideas in classes and in papers. Most of these objections were heard and treated respectfully, though I did not try to insist on them in a way that would take up lots of class time. I did get one D on a paper in one class, where the professor didn't seem to understand my objection to some ideas in the reading, and said that I had "failed to engage with the reading" (I toed the party-line better in subsequent assignments, and got an A in the class). Other papers I wrote were on the similarities between misogyny and misandry, and the seduction community. I recently posted one of my old feminist studies papers that I got on A on to my blog.

Feminists I encountered in real life seemed a lot more open to new ideas. Perhaps real life led to less polarized communication than the internet. Also, feminists who are motivated to talk about it on the internet may be more convinced by it and treat it more as an ideology. "Real life" feminists seemed a lot more open to considering notions-that-should-be-compatible-with-feminist-theory-but-are-treated-as-politically-incorrect, like the oppression of men, sexism towards men, and female privilege; they haven't yet learned that these things aren't supposed to exist, according to academic feminism. (Though I did have a brief disagreement with another student during a feminist studies class who claimed that women are oppressed, but that bad stuff that happens to men does not qualify as "oppression.") I also found that some feminist students were open to hearing about men's experiences and perspectives, and consider them evidence of problems in society, just as feminism treats women's experiences as evidence of problems in society.

Even though I had a better experience with "real life feminists" in women's studies than with "internet feminists," my conceptual criticisms of feminism weren't alleviated by experiences in feminist studies, and some were intensified. I've read several books which criticize women's studies and academic feminism, such as Professing Feminism by Daphe Patai, the aforementioned Spreading Misandry and Legalizing Misandry by Nathanson and Young, Fashionable Nonsense by Sokal and Bricmont (an excellent rationality text), and Higher Superstition by Gross and Levitt. My experiences with feminist studies weren't quite as bad as what they describe, but there was definitely overlap. Here are a couple examples that stand out in my memory:

  • On the first day of Feminist Studies 101, the professor handed out the syllabus, and said that this class would proceed from the assumption that (1) women are oppressed in society, and (2) this oppression is unjust and should be remedied. Here's how the syllabus put it:

This course embarks from a few key feminist assumptions: women’s and men’s lives are thoroughly gendered, gendered dynamics of power and inequality are reproduced in and through other forms of difference (class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, religion, disability and so on), and such social inequality is unjust.

Whenever I debated feminists online, couldn't defend their foundational terms and assumptions, and would resort to saying "go take Feminism 101." So I did... yet, the premises of feminist thought were really explained and justified there either, but rather assumed.

  • I saw denials of biology several times. In a couple classes, I heard the claim that not just gender, but sex (i.e. division into male and female) and sexual orientation were socially constructed. The notion that sex is a social construction can only be created by a lot of sleight of hand that I won't get into right now (but see this critique of Anne Fausto-Sterling).

As for sexual orientation being socially constructed, I have a funny story. The queer professor in my masculinity and feminist theory class claimed that sexual orientation is "socially constructed." A student objected, saying something like "well, I'm queer, and I've heard a lot of queer people say that they feel like they are born that way... isn't biology a factor?" The professor brushed off this objection and maintained that homosexuality is socially-constructed, marginalizing the experience of this student, many queer people, not to mention a lot of scientific research and queer history. During the break in the class period, the student thanked the professor and walked out of the class never to return, but not before I befriended her at the water fountain and told her she was my hero.

...continued

comment by HughRistik · 2010-06-25T09:17:19.253Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

...continued

Some of the biggest problems with feminist studies from an epistemological standpoint were not things that feminists said, but what they didn't say. Feminist professors and writing just start throwing around all these terms like "patriarchy," "male privilege", "oppression", "power", "dominance", and "sexism." Yet the conceptualization of these terms was never explained or defended. I view them as a castle built on sand.

Nowadays, you can find some 101 explanations of feminism, such as Finally Feminism 101, but I wonder if anyone else finds the quality of reasoning to be pretty bad. For example, try to figure out why there is no such thing as "female privilege":

Since the concept of privilege inherent in the term “male privilege” expresses a hierarchy (ie. an in-group/out-group dynamic), the placement of men in the in-group (because of the power that their class holds) necessitates placing women and other non-men in an out-group (because of the lack of power). Thus, “female privilege” doesn’t work as a counterpart to “male privilege” because it doesn’t fit into that dynamic.

This argument assumes that there is a linear hierarchy of men over women. This is a persistent claim of feminism. While it is plausible that the people at the top of the hierarchy of a certain type of status are disproportionately male, this doesn't mean that males in general are ranked higher than females in general; there could be more men at the bottom, also: a greater variance of advantage in men.

This argument assumes a metric by which we can discover a hierarchy of men over women, but the metric is unspecified. Another assumption is that hierarchy is unidimensional. To me, it seems plausible that males are advantaged over females on some dimensions of power, while females are advantaged over males on other dimensions of power; who is on top of this hierarchy depends on what dimension we are looking at, or on some way of aggregating measurements on different dimensions. A multi-dimensional model of power is unexplored by feminists, who simply assume that the dimensions of power and status that women rank lower on are the only dimensions that exist or matter. From this biased assumption, feminists declared a hierarchy of men "as a class" (whatever that means) over women "as a class," self-servingly defined "institutional privilege" as only held by the class at the top of the hierarchy, and denied that women have gender privilege.

As far as I can tell, most of feminist theory isn't about rational arguments, it is a morass of biased and self-serving reasoning. Feminist theory is highly foundationalist with its dependence on ubiquitous terms like "male privilege" and "patriarchy" that are loaded with unexplained and unexamined assumptions. If you believe in gender equality, but you don't believe in the concept of patriarchy, and you think female privilege and male oppression exist, then you can still be a feminist, right? Not in the feminist blogosphere or academia you can't, at least not if you argue for these opinions at length. Ironically, many "real life" feminists who haven't been inducted into the higher forms of feminist dogma on the internet and in academia probably believe at least the last two things, because they have not yet been taught to subordinate their sense of fairness and empathy (being open to the idea that the other gender has disadvantages, too, not just advantages) to the convoluted sorts of reasoning that I criticize above.

There are forms of feminist thought that are better than others. Some feminist philosophers, such as Helen Longino, do have insightful ideas and seem epistemically responsible (even though I don't always agree with them). Many feminists are empathetic and interested in learning about men's experiences with gender in ways the broader culture is not, which I view as the human capacity for empathy rising above the limiting conceptual framework of ideological feminist thought (the typical response of blogosphere feminists to male experiences of oppression is "patriarchy hurts men, too" used as a dismissal). For an example of what feminist theory could be (but unfortunately isn't most of the time), see this discussion of a feminist paper that I like.

So magfrump, I do agree that there is potential for learning stuff about applied rationality from feminism. It's kind of a needle in a haystack, but if you've found the needle, I would love to see it, and I look forward to your post on the subject. As I've written, I like a look of the analytical tools developed by feminists, and I wish feminists would use them more often, and in an unbiased and consistent way.

Don't take my word for any of this. Read Finally Feminism 101. Read feminist blogs. Participate on feminist blogs, call out ideas that seem fishy to you (general you), and see what kind of response you get. Read The Gender Knot. Take some feminist studies courses. Then get back to me.

comment by magfrump · 2010-06-25T22:17:57.102Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A couple of things stand out that I would like to reply to. For the most part, you seem vastly better-informed than I feel, and I have a lot of reading to do, so I will save a longer-form reply for the post itself.

Things that stood out:

Saying that something is socially constructed, to me, is about the map/territory distinction. Thus in the case of queerness, I would say that things such as "gay" and "straight" are socially constructed, and our concepts of sexual orientation are socially constructed, which does not at all contradict that they may be biologically based. For example, I would also say that a table is socially constructed (why is it a table vs a bed vs a chair?). The set of people that you may or may not be attracted to is not socially constructed, but the labels you apply to communicate that information are.

In regards to the response to Fausto-Sterling; I don't agree that (as they claim) her claims about a continuum rely on her claims of abundance. I also noticed that when discussing vaginal agenesis they did not discuss consent or comfort, although the comparison to a cleft palate makes that implicit. Finally, they conclude by defending pathology only with an example, and by saying that her theories are "not helpful to clinicians," whereas I feel that her intended audience was not so limited. I also feel very strongly that on page five about "these...individuals deserve the same care..." is pure window dressing, for reasons that I will mention but not in detail. On the other hand, purely in terms of statistics, I feel somewhat betrayed by my Professor who is, for the most part as far as I can tell, of a feather with Longino (we had assigned reading from Longino, for example).

I agree with you that feminism includes specific political ideals at its roots, including fairness and inclusivity, and while I don't mean to say that this means everyone should "tow the party line" I do think that effort put into, for example, reasserting the sexual dimorphism or discussing female privilege could be better used in other ways and lead to self-images which create artificial conflict. Of course this somewhat assumes epistemological hygiene on the part of feminists which may not exist...

I'm cutting myself off because this is at least five times the length I intended and I need to go to a barbecue.

comment by Alicorn · 2010-06-25T23:03:49.770Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

my Professor who is, for the most part as far as I can tell, of a feather with Longino (we had assigned reading from Longino, for example).

I don't deny that your prof holds similar views, but in general this isn't an accurate indicator. Some things are just stuff everybody has to assign or they're accused of not covering the material, and I've also had teachers assign things specifically to complain about how awful they were in the next class.

comment by magfrump · 2010-06-26T00:07:29.050Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pretty sure that our professor said we should read the Longino assignment twice, because we probably wouldn't get it and it was very important. But that is of course extra information that convinced me that I didn't provide, and I do see your point.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-25T12:24:45.860Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I have a notion that oppression is done by the most dominant/aggressive people in each group. Sometimes groups have historical advantages over other groups, but you really have to keep an eye on what individuals are doing.

comment by Mass_Driver · 2010-06-25T06:12:31.062Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Looking forward to your post, magfrump! As a person who doubts that most social scientists have the inclination and ability to practice their craft from an ideologically-neutral vantage point, I am always interested in projects that attempt to correct the biases of scientists. Feminist theory sometimes holds itself out as such a project, but, as you point out, some feminist rhetoric simply comes off as anti-science, and not as "anti-scientism." Thus, I eagerly await your identification of some parts of feminist theory that do not share this flaw.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T05:21:26.091Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I should add that I would never recommend anyone attend feminism classes until they have developed the psychological maturity required to resist threat of shaming as a dominant factor in forming their beliefs about reality.

Expanding on my earlier suggestion that it is best to form an understanding of evolutionary psychology before immersing oneself in to feminist studies, I suggest that the critical indicator of whether you are ready to extract the most insight from the "Feminism and Science" subject is when you are able to explain the evolutionary psychological reasons why there is no male counterpart for the 'feminist' movement. If you will, why there is a "her" but neither a "him" nor an "er".

I mentioned that I have done previous studies in education. As one would expect in a postgraduate teaching degree there was a disproportionate number of Arts graduates among my peers, including not a few feminism majors. (What else does an Arts degree with one of the non practical majors qualify you for?) In my experience I was able to get along well with that subset who a) had left behind the raw idealism of a first year student and b) appreciated the fact that I had the same pride in my own masculine identity that they had in their femininity. In such cases I was able to have sometimes heated but always respectful and informative conversations on their course related ideas.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-06-25T08:04:49.940Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I suggest that the critical indicator of whether you are ready to extract the most insight from the "Feminism and Science" subject is when you are able to explain the evolutionary psychological reasons why there is no male counterpart for the 'feminist' movement.

To me, it seems obvious that there hasn't previously been a male counterpart to the feminism movement because men haven't been institutionally lower-status the way that women have been. And now that the situation is in some respects reversing, we are seeing the beginnings of an equivalent movement for men, although it isn't anywhere near as organized yet. Also, because some strands of feminism do work to improve mens' rights as well as womens' rights, there's been less of a need for a separate movement for men.

Bringing evpsych to this seems superfluous to me. What am I missing?

comment by HughRistik · 2010-06-25T10:15:06.513Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

To me, it seems obvious that there hasn't previously been a male counterpart to the feminism movement because men haven't been institutionally lower-status the way that women have been.

What does it mean to say that women are "institutionally lower-status" than men, and what is the metric for institutional status? This notion is counter-intuitive to me, because I think there are multiple institutions and multiple dimensions of status. Although I think it's plausible that men were indeed institutionally higher-status in many cultures throughout history, specifying why is actually a nontrivial philosophical problem that I don't feel feminists have thoroughly confronted.

For example, in Colombia, institutions may grant males more prestige, yet grant women more protection. Which gender has more "status" depends on whether your metric of status is something like "who is more likely to be in charge of the household," or "who is more likely to die horrible deaths to chainsaws or machetes." I'm not sure how we we can aggregate these metrics, considering how dramatically different the units are; it's kind of like adding up feet and pounds. Do dead men have status?

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-06-25T18:34:22.404Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

My preferred definition for status is "the ability to control (or influence) the group", which as a special case includes the ability to control yourself. Children are in general far more protected than adults, but a lot of that protection comes at the cost of having harsh restrictions on your freedom, so under this definition children would be considered to be low-status. (You could also word this as "status is the amount of optimization power you are allowed to exert". Hmm. I wonder this would be worth a top-level post.)

Women have historically had a number of restrictions on their ability to control themselves and the broader group. They didn't always have the right to vote or to spend money without their husband's permission, and to some degree they persist in having less sexual freedom, a smaller pay than males, be less likely to be found in positions of authority or to be taken seriously when in authoritative positions, be less likely to be found in prestigious occupations, and so on.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-06-28T17:47:22.124Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

My preferred definition for status is "the ability to control (or influence) the group"

Rather, it's godshatter counterpart of that. You can have status without ability to influence the group, or ability to influence the group without status. The pattern is explanatory, but doesn't quite work as definition.

comment by Sniffnoy · 2010-06-28T23:48:16.497Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, I think you've stated what I was trying to more clearly than I did. Its godshatteriness/proxiness is why we need a characterization rather than a definition.

Edit: Made less ambiguous.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-28T17:06:45.473Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

My preferred definition for status is "the ability to control (or influence) the group",

That is a great measure of status but at as a definition it is just wrong. While strongly correlated these two concepts are not the same. I can think of ways to influence a group while still having low status. And I can think of situations in which it is better to stay low status even though group influence is still desirable.

Examples that are not necessarily practical but which unambiguously demonstrate that the two concepts are different:

  • Sabotage media sources (which can be either in group or out of group) that do not support whatever policy you prefer.
  • Poison people.
  • Plant bombs.
  • Essentially anything that can kill or influence the behavior of other people without being traceable to you.
  • Advanced techniques of influence that maximise the desirable alteration of the brain state of others without raising your state. (Optimal use of priming and suggestion, etc.)
  • Be the example. If five people are littering that encourages other people to do it. If one person is littering and getting visibly punished socially for it that is an extremely strong way to discourage other people from littering. (Has been studied. Reference probably in Cialdini.)
  • Pay prostitutes. (In general, pay people to do stuff when to do so lowers status.)
  • Make (apparent) attempts to influence the group. If you do so when you have low status then other people (typically those from the middle of the pack) will take the excuse to crush you and in so doing demonstrate their dominance. This can be used to exploit the influence of others but actually lowers your status.

There are examples that are much less extreme than the above (which means less useful as definitive demonstration). I will say that I routinely sacrifice dominance in order to win. Most people focus more on dominance than winning. This can be exploited. This winning is obviously integrally tied up with influence.

Conclusion: Make a post on the ability to influence the group and perhaps show how it relates (both ways) to status. But definitely do not waste the insights you would be expressing in the post by premising them on a false definition.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-28T17:31:52.190Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It's also common, if low status people attempt to influence a group, for their ideas to not be heard until the idea is picked up by a higher status person. The low status person never gets credit, but has influenced the group.

I was in a pagan group for a while which met at somewhat irregular times and places. A high status person in the group would call people to tell them about when and where.

I later found out that one of the reasons the group eventually dissolved was that the low status person who'd been reminding the high status person to do the phone calls had moved out of the area.

I don't know how common that sort of thing is, but it wouldn't surprise me if it's an important but almost invisible feature of how things work.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-28T17:36:02.045Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know how common that sort of thing is, but it wouldn't surprise me if it's an important but almost invisible feature of how things work.

I suspect extremely high. Social dominance independent of domain knowledge and competence is common and in a subset of such cases the group still functions.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-06-29T04:44:49.508Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you; these are good examples. You and the other commenters are right, my definition was inadequate. I need to think about it some more.

comment by Morendil · 2010-07-01T23:33:54.244Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On reflection, I think your original insight is basically correct, but acquires explanatory capacity only when supplemented with what I'm going to call a theory of conversions.

I've actually been aware of "power conversions" for several years (the topic is discussed in Jerry Weinberg's Becoming a Technical Leader), but I only thought to apply that to that frustratingly elusive "status" notion tonight as I was turning in. (And had to get up to take some notes; so much for a good night's sleep.) Something went click; the two seem to be a very nice fit, and to make sense of a whole bunch of things that were previously perplexing to me. It has interesting implications, for instance it suggests that "raising your status" is meaningless. It neatly incorporates Vladimir's observations of "godshatteriness". I could go on.

Would you be interested in collaborating on a top-level post on this idea? My plan would be to send you a draft of the core ideas and some implications, have you turn a critical eye on it, and if it still stands after that, incorporate your own take on it.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-07-01T23:58:40.107Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd love to. :)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-28T17:33:20.279Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's also common, if low status people attempt to influence a group, for their ideas to not be heard until the idea is picked up by a higher status person. The low status person never gets credit, but has influenced the group.

I was in a pagan group for a while which met at somewhat irregular times and places. A high status person in the group would call people to tell them about when and where.

I later found out that one of the reasons the group eventually dissolved was that the low status person who'd been reminding the high status person to do the phone calls had moved out of the area.

I don't know how common that sort of thing is, but it wouldn't surprise me if it's an important but almost invisible feature of how things work.

comment by xamdam · 2010-06-28T17:35:53.999Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

the ability to control

Did Hitler have high status in the concentration camps?

(or influence) the group

Warmer

which as a special case includes the ability to control yourself.

Are you serious? So Robinson Crusoe can actually be high or low status, even without Friday?

I think you're defining something like "power", not status.

comment by WrongBot · 2010-06-27T18:49:02.719Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to see that top-level post. Your definition of status is the only one I've seen on LW that is clear and testable.

comment by Sniffnoy · 2010-06-28T00:50:14.316Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is a definition really the appropriate way to handle the concept? I was under the impression that the word "status" refers to some collection of internal variables in the human brain, where by "internal" I mean intermediate, not necessarily corresponding to individual features of the outside world; what might be a called a hanging node if not for the fact our actions depend on it and other people care about it. In such a case, attempting to define it makes no sense, only to describe how it interacts with the rest of the system, as it's not even meaningful on its own.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-06-28T01:02:00.741Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure if I understand what you mean.

A definition for "status" is simply an answer to the question "what do you mean by status". If we frequently use the word, then we should have some relatively agreed-upon definition for it, or at least give our own definition whenever someone asks. If we everyone means something else when they say "status", then we'll never succeed in communicating to others the things we want to communicate to them.

If you say the term "status" refers to some collection of internal variables in the human brain, and then describe how those variables interact with other things, then that's a definition of status as well.

comment by Sniffnoy · 2010-06-28T01:36:57.183Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, you are using the word "definition" in a more inclusive way than I am. I would call that a characterization, not a definition.

comment by Blueberry · 2010-06-27T23:43:58.952Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would also like to see the top-level post, but there are a couple problems with this definition. First of all, if we're talking about how much influence people have, it would be clearer to use a word like, say, "influence". Second, status usually suggests some element of what people think of you, which is related to though not the same as influence. One can be highly influential but poorly-regarded, and vice versa. Note that in this sense status can be multi-dimensional: for instance, people can regard you as a good person to spend time with, but think poorly of your intelligence.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-06-28T01:20:11.205Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is a good point, thank you. I have an intuition that while status is the ability to control the group, you can have influence without having status, although you cannot have status without having influence. That points to an flaw in my definition, one which I should resolve somehow before making that post.

I should probably note that I think that there are actually two different terms to which we refer when we say "status". Status1 (or "influence") is the ability to control the group, so it's the one I was talking about above. Status2 is stuff like official titles or other considerations that cause a situation where it's expected that people grant you Status1. I believe that people liking you would fall under Status2.

comment by Morendil · 2010-06-28T06:05:59.837Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

you can have influence without having status

See here for a recent mention of an example.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-06-28T06:08:53.070Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's a good example, especially since it's different from the one I was thinking about. Thanks.

comment by ata · 2010-06-28T06:14:06.785Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

you cannot have status without having influence

Is that true? A few counterexamples come to mind, such as figurehead monarchs and Paris Hilton. Or is the assumption that their status is such that they could 'control the group' to some degree if they so chose, even without any formally recognized authority?

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-06-28T06:53:52.148Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good point, let me reword: you cannot have status1 without having influence.

(I need to find better names for these. Status1 could be I-Status, for "Influence". Status2... P-Status for "Position", maybe.)

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T13:24:18.596Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Do dead men have status?

I think they do. People often seem to care a lot about how they die. Often they will much prefer the 'honour' of beheading by a sword rather than the gallows like a common thief. Even 'sword' vs 'axe' matters rather a lot. Ordering someone to commit ritual suicide is in some cases a kinder act than having them killed.

The desire for men to keep their status when they die is also rational, not just an outcome of having status seeking mechanisms that aren't calibrated to care that you're about to die anyway. The status of a parent, grandparent or in some cases even more distant ancestor significantly influence reproductive potential.

comment by Morendil · 2010-06-25T14:58:05.005Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What does it mean to say that women are "institutionally lower-status" than men

GIWIST. (*)

I would buy "there hasn't previously been a male counterpart to the feminism movement because males as a social class have (almost) never been disenfranchised" as an argument. (Not necessarily a correct one, but a testable one. My possibly flawed assumption, prior to any fact-checking, is that the feminist movement has its roots in the women's suffrage movement.)

Once more, "status" here seems to only muddy the waters, and invite a definitional argument starting here which goes nowhere close to answering the original query.

(*) Explanatory link for the acronym-impaired

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-25T12:31:39.180Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If men work very hard to keep women out of male roles (which seems to be the case), and women don't work especially hard to keep men out of female roles (which also seems to be the case), what do you think is going on?

comment by MichaelBishop · 2010-06-25T21:33:08.880Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For many people, their gender is an incredibly important aspect of their identity. One can think of a given subculture as having an ideal performance of masculinity. Men and women both respect that ideal. Certain occupations have been traditionally seen as very good ways of achieving that ideal. If women enter into such an occupation, the occupation is no longer seen as validating mens' manly virtues.

I oppose sex-discrimination in hiring, but there is no denying that this is a very serious loss for some men. Eventually, norms and ideals evolve in a way which allows men to continue to have their masculinity validated, and/or de-emphasizes gender as a component of one's identity, but this is a slow process. Moreover, with any change in values, there will always be winners and losers.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-25T21:51:15.665Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think that's part of what's going on, but (if it matters), do you think people just happen to have gender performance as a major part of their identity, or are they trained into it?

comment by HughRistik · 2010-06-25T22:24:47.446Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Both, I'd guess. While there is a lot of socialization around gender performance, there also seem to be biological factors the predispose people towards gender performance. To the extent that biological factors influence gender expression, I'm not even sure it is correct to say that gender is "socially constructed," at least not entirely.

For one example, look at the experience of some trans people as experiencing a strong gender identity as long as they remember (just one at odds with their socially assigned gender). I doubt that all of those feelings can be explained by social factors.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-25T22:35:36.631Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to be common for boys to feel that they have to earn the right to consider themselves men, but I don't know how universal it is.

comment by MichaelBishop · 2010-06-26T21:59:09.826Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think we should push too hard on the dichotomy of boy vs. man. I would emphasize that there is individual variation in how well men they can perform/achieve masculinity in their sub-culture. Women face the issue as well.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-26T07:03:22.694Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On a related note some psychological theorists suggest that not having a ritual process (with a significant element of 'trial by ordeal') to mark the transition from boyhood to manhood fundamentally impairs the psychological maturity of many males in western civilisation. Such ceremonies are nearly ubiquitous across tribal cultures.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-26T12:20:43.772Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've heard it. However, how common are such ceremonies in non-tribal cultures?

Alternate hypothesis: having responsibility delayed for years beyond what's normal causes lack of psychological maturity. Or, maybe there isn't less maturity, maybe there's just more complaining about the lack of it.

Also, I was hoping to hear from from some of the men here about whether they personally feel this need to be definitively accepted as men.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-25T20:12:59.029Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A hypothesis: Men are more aggressive than women, and more apt to defend territory. This doesn't prove anything about which territory is more valuable.

comment by cousin_it · 2010-06-25T12:50:12.209Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If men work very hard to keep women out of male roles (which seems to be the case)

Whaaaa? I don't remember ever doing such a thing. It seems your standards for accepting blanket statements as truth are pretty relaxed. Maybe even to the point where you should readily agree with statements like "Jews control banks and mass media".

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T13:09:04.820Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Your observations about reality differ to mine. In fact, in some cases the reverse seems to be the case.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-25T13:33:30.984Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was thinking specifically about the efforts to keep women out of the military, and complaints from women that other women give too much credit to men for doing child care.

What have you got in mind?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T13:43:40.107Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I was thinking specifically about the efforts to keep women out of the military

That one I can see. Bizarre too... as far as I can see every woman who is out getting shot puts me one dead body further away from being conscripted. (Mind you I feel instinctively uncomfortable writing that statement. In many circumstances I would censor myself because I estimate it would lower my sexual attractiveness in the eyes of females.)

nd complaints from women that other women give too much credit to men for doing child care.

Really? There are men that get too much credit for doing child care? What I would expect is women getting criticism from other women for being with a man who is low status (perhaps not in so many words). It is the kind of role that men are encouraged to take on but in most cases penalised socially for submitting to that pressure.

What have you got in mind?

My own occupation/training (IT).

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-25T14:03:43.676Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Really? There are men that get too much credit for doing child care? What I would expect is women getting criticism from other women for being with a man who is low status (perhaps not in so many words). It is the kind of role that men are encouraged to take on but in most cases penalised socially for submitting to that pressure.

I've seen the complaints.

Men also lose status for being stay-at-home dads, so it's complicated.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T08:43:28.577Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I perhaps have a more cynical outlook on human nature than you. I don't think low status helps a movement become popular ever. There is always something deeper at play. I recall reading relevant posts on overcomingbias on the topic. Along the lines of "anti-discrimination is never about equality". But I cannot find a reference. Can anyone help me out?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-06-25T11:29:24.636Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I can't find it, but Steve Barnes has said that no political movement is ever for equality, which I take to mean both that political movements aim for an advantage rather than equality and that the leaders of a political movement aren't looking to be equal with their followers. Neither of these imply that political movements are never trying to address actual injustices.

comment by mindviews · 2010-06-25T10:06:45.935Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Were you thinking of "Affirmative Action Isn’t About Uplift"?

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/07/affirmative-action-wasnt-about-uplift.html

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T13:04:52.097Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks mindviews. That is one of them.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-06-25T18:17:56.424Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think low status helps a movement become popular ever.

Low status might not help, but that's a different claim from saying that a movement for improving the rights of a lower-status group can't become popular for other reasons. We're not talking about a small low-status minority, or even a low-status phase that's generally thought to be transitory the way childhood or having no sexual experience is. Nor is it something that can be thought of being the person's own fault, like some people view poverty or alcoholism. We're talking about group that consists of 50% of the population and needs to implement society-wide changes if they want to improve their position. Feminism has certainly been unpopular among many men, but there were also enough women to make it succeed regardless.

comment by Mass_Driver · 2010-06-25T06:13:54.985Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

when you are able to explain the evolutionary psychological reasons why there is no male counterpart for the 'feminist' movement.

If I promise not to take more classes on feminism and science, will you PM me the answer? [grin]

comment by xamdam · 2010-06-25T13:41:17.003Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think the problem is not with feminism, but with noisy feminists: the ones that you hear about the most are often highly irrational. My source of info in this is largely Blank Slate by Pinker.

It's a type of availability bias where the biased person is largely not at fault. Pinker did point to quite a few feminists of very apparently sound mind.

comment by nerzhin · 2010-06-24T14:26:47.389Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This comment is great, an unexpected but interesting perspective.

both feminist studies and linguistics have a lot more potential for carving reality at the joints than, say, mathematical physics.

This claim sounds obviously wrong to me. But I suspect we're working with different ideas of what "reality" is.

comment by magfrump · 2010-06-24T21:43:56.712Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When I say "reality" I mean "situations you will encounter in life" not "some objective notion of the world around us on a fundamental level" which is often the sort of thing people mean when they say reality.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T03:16:59.823Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'll allow any definition of 'reality' in most cases. But when you say "carving reality at it's joints" you are engaging with a specific concept, one that you cannot merely redefine away. This difference is exactly the sort of thing that studying linguistics can help one understand. It's the difference between "just my point of view" and "wrong".

comment by magfrump · 2010-06-25T04:21:34.750Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I meant to engage with that specific concept. You seem to agree with my usage with respect to linguistics, so I assume you have some hostility towards feminist studies. I did reference that concept purposefully, please allow me to explain why.

The professor in my feminism course was a particle physicist, so she used quantum mechanics to draw metaphors for social circumstances.

For example, when establishing some idea such as "gender," we often consider only two options; male and female. These are unusually dense points in "genderspace," though by no means the only points, and they are bounded by our maps, not by the territory. Similarly, when dealing with Newtonian mechanics, we often refer to "position" and "momentum" as inherent properties of objects. This is not how things work, but it is helpful for our maps. Unfortunately, as we attempt to build smaller and smaller things, this ends up driving us crazy, because our maps have the wrong symbols written on them and don't make sense anymore. As our society becomes more diverse and more accepting, and as we attempt to raise the quality of life of its inhabitants, it becomes the case that the male/female dichotomy starts being harmful. Around 1% of the general population (I don't have a citation on me but I could find one) does not meet (every part of) the standard definition for male or female. Among other things, it may be difficult for these people to decide which bathroom to enter in a restaurant. By expanding our notions of gender, we can carve reality in more detail, but by studying gender we may find higher-definition joints.

If you can think of any other class in which that sort of analysis happens (and it almost certainly doesn't happen in every feminism class, although probably in more than you might expect), I would be very interested to hear about it.

comment by HughRistik · 2010-06-25T09:25:48.301Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Around 1% of the general population (I don't have a citation on me but I could find one) does not meet (every part of) the standard definition for male or female.

You probably ran into Anne Fausto-Sterling's claim that 1.7% of human births are intersex. But it looks like Fausto-Sterling got the science wrong. Yet her work is widely cited by feminist academics.

comment by cousin_it · 2010-06-25T12:35:16.404Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The professor in my feminism course was a particle physicist, so she used quantum mechanics to draw metaphors for social circumstances.

This raises a big red flag. All the analogies I ever heard drawn between fuzzy people issues and quantum mechanics have been wrong and idiotic. The analogy you gave higher up in the thread (women are neither more nor less intelligent than men just like light isn't a particle or a wave) is also wrong and idiotic. Are you sure your professor was an actual physicist, rather than some kind of "quantum feminist" or "quantum postmodernist"? Cthulhu knows I've seen a lot of those on the Net. Sorry about the scornful tone, but there seems to be no other way to get the message across.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T04:36:26.887Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I had to mostly disengage from this reply when you used "you must be hostile to X" as an excuse to not understand my comment. In fact, my point is completely irrelevant to feminism.

The definition you have declared for 'reality' is a completely incompatible with the 'carve reality at its joints' concept that you are appealing to.

Some of the other points that you make are ones that I would address in a different context (perhaps in reply to my other reply in this tree) and with a different introduction.

comment by Emile · 2010-06-25T16:59:40.857Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The definition you have declared for 'reality' is a completely incompatible with the 'carve reality at its joints' concept that you are appealing to.

Sorry, but I haven't seen that either. magfrump's concept ("situations you will encounter in life") seems quite compatible with "carve reality at its joints".

(I agree that saying "I assume you have some hostility towards feminist studies" is not very useful at this point)

comment by magfrump · 2010-06-25T21:47:31.243Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am sorry about the hostility comment, I had a a lot of replies to sort through so I assumed you referred to the original comment rather than the later comment where I introduced the definition.

As Emile notes, however, I don't see any incompatibility between my definition and the concept outlined in the post he links.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T03:36:31.270Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

-lots of different languages. Having a designated place and time to speak different languages (at least in my experience) makes it a lot easier to learn, and college is a great opportunity for that that won't come back.

Evidently I have concluded that college is a great opportunity that can come back whenever I choose. ;)

I am considering doing a concurrent Diploma in Languages (German). If leverage the breadth component of my course efficiently and achieve the required marks I could finish the diploma in the same time it takes to finish the rest of the degree (with a little overloading). The motivation for learning a language would be very similar to the motivation for learning dance, yoga or acting.

comment by prase · 2010-06-23T07:27:06.860Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I can't really speak about other specialisations, but mathematical physics seems to me not too beneficial for general thinking skills. I know at least two mathematical physicists who think that the main task in the job is to suppress your intuitions (which isn't itself bad) at any cost (this is worse). So any heuristic argument they dismiss until you have find the correct way to prove it. The obsession with proofs makes mathematical physics (and mathematics in general) in my eyes closer to what is here called Traditional rationality than to Bayesian approach, and a little bit legalistic. Subjects like theoretical physics rely more on intuitions, but still firmly based in reality (well, string theory not so much, but still), and so closer to everyday thinking.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-23T09:09:25.190Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Theoretical physics is more intuitive and more practical for everyday use". It seems true in this case (since you explained it) but it is certainly not something I would usually expect to be told!

comment by prase · 2010-06-23T10:24:50.639Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In comparison to mathematical physics, that is. I would expect the general rational thinking profit most from studying subjects like biology or even psychology - those are empirical sciences with opportunities for relatively cheap experiments - but one can fear the presently established level of rationality there is not enough high.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2010-06-23T14:12:17.737Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If the school has some "big names" who teach about their area of specialty, consider taking their classes. One of the very important researchers in my field was a professor at my university while I was there, but I had no idea at that time what he did, so I missed out.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-23T14:27:08.793Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If the school has some "big names" who teach about their area of specialty, consider taking their classes. One of the very important researchers in my field was a professor at my university while I was there, but I had no idea at that time what he did, so I missed out.

How would I go about finding that out? Sort by Karma? Perhaps compare a table of teachers with a citation database. Has someone created such a system that you know of? (I could also ask people but that may give answers too late!)

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2010-06-23T17:21:00.001Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How would I go about finding that out?

Searching scholar.google for a person's name, and counting the number of citations, should work pretty well. Eminent researchers are also likely to be full professors, and to be a bit older. I hate to endorse the use of cheap heuristics like citation counts, but since you're looking for fast answers, that may be the best route.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-06-23T21:05:31.973Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But note that being a good researcher does not automatically translate to also being a good teacher. I'd put less emphasis on how many citations they have and more on how good they are at actually teaching.

To find out how good someone is at teaching, you can use a resource like http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ (if you live in the right country, which I don't) or simply ask around.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-06-24T00:32:46.982Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This paper is widely reported as saying that student evaluations anti-correlate with performance in later classes. I haven't read the paper, but I think that might be oversimplify the claim.

You might expect this result, if popular teachers are easy and don't push the students, but that's definitely not what's happening in this military academy with a uniform curriculum. But if what's popularly perceived as the dominant force in (american) evaluations has been eliminated, it's not clear whether this tells us much (about other american schools).

comment by magfrump · 2010-06-24T14:09:47.972Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A casual glance at the abstract leads me to read the paper's conclusion more as "Teachers who have easy classes and teach to the test provide worse foundations and get better evaluations." This seems like a pretty likely hypothesis that would explain some of the correlation. Some evidence could be gathered for it from ratemyprofs.

I'll read it further when I have time to check for things like linear regression.

ETA: that study looks really good. I am curious with how the data would be effected if students consciously rated easiness separately.

comment by Kazuo_Thow · 2010-06-23T21:54:38.520Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've gotten into the habit of pointing out, whenever other students at my university make reference to ratemyprofessors.com, that the selection bias on that site is huge. It's not uncommon to see professors with dozens of extremely positive reviews, dozens more highly negative reviews, and very few - if any - neutral reviews. Naturally, the negative reviews appear most frequently because "grr, I feel like this professor graded too harshly" provides the strongest motivation for posting a disgruntled comment.

I don't know of any other place that does this, but the University of Washington maintains a course evaluation system (with data made available to all students), to gather quarterly feedback on the performance of professors and TAs in such a way that at most ~5% students fail to fill out the questionnaires.

comment by magfrump · 2010-06-24T14:00:31.743Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

CSUs and UCs do this (or at least where I've been they do); while these evals might be less biased they are more than proportionately less accessible.

Also ratemyprofessors.com has different ratings for "easiness" "enthusiasm" etc., so instead of looking at "highest rated" professors looking at the actual reviews would be a bit more informative.

comment by Kazuo_Thow · 2010-06-24T17:52:02.043Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

while these evals might be less biased they are more than proportionately less accessible.

How so?

comment by magfrump · 2010-06-24T21:41:00.904Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Compared with ratemyprofessors, which is available to everyone online, I don't think the evaluations written by students (at least in California) are publicly available at all. I could be wrong, but I don't know anyone who has ever seen one (other than the person being evaluated).

comment by thomblake · 2010-06-23T13:53:22.923Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

1 . Really there are two things you need to get good at. First, there's "rationality" itself, for which you should learn the math and learn about cognitive bias etc. Second, there's the content of your beliefs; in other words, learning everything there is to know. So my answer for #1 is: find a big gap in your knowledge, and fill it.

2 . This is a very complicated question. In the big picture sense, the things that would be of most benefit to you would be things that have a huge impact on the future, like topics relevant to FAI or Transhumanism. You could work on improving the human lifespan and quality of life, or create something that will do that for you.

3 . If you've already done an undergraduate degree in AI, computing, or a field like that, you really should be able to just jump into a master's degree program in fields like Mathematics. Another bachelor's degree in a particular field doesn't make a lot of sense, partially because the main point of a bachelor's degree is to make you a well-rounded person and give you access to a wide variety of perspectives, and you've presumably already done that.

That said, some fields do expect you to have done a lot of specific work during your undergrad, so if you wanted to (say) go into a biotech-related field, you might need to do a bachelor's in a related field first.

4 . Computer science is always fun. Mostly, it's a long stream of interesting toy problems. Ditto for philosophy, but you really need to be at the right school for that to work. (Your generalizations aside, I must agree that philosophers who have done some programming seem superior, though I'm not a good choice for an unbiased opinion).

comment by [deleted] · 2010-06-24T17:38:54.937Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't got enough time perspective to know what's useful in the long run. I also just graduated in math.

Fun/easy: a class in ethics and public policy. I find that it's much easier to deal with contemporary debates from the perspective of political philosophy.

Fun/not so easy: Fourier analysis, complex analysis, random processes.

Classes I wish I had taken: any computer science. I had an irrational fear that I'd be blown out of the water by "hacker kids" -- now that I realize there are things I want to do that require more advanced programming, I'll have to self-teach.

Classes that changed how I see the world: intro econ, Fourier analysis

comment by Blueberry · 2010-06-24T18:10:38.227Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I had an irrational fear that I'd be blown out of the water by "hacker kids"

Totally rational. If you take a CS course at a major university, you will be, even if you think you're a good programmer. But you'll still learn a lot.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-14T00:19:27.574Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Depends on what is meant by "hacker kids," I suppose, but I took plenty of CS courses without substantial prior programming knowledge or hacking experience and was not blown out of the water by anyone.

Being a good general problem solver / logic puzzle solver / game manipulator (3 innocent spells/items = infinite wishes) seems more important to programming than being a l33t hax0r with prior experience. Maybe these goes away with sufficient experience, but not for the level found in experienced college students.

comment by twanvl · 2010-06-24T18:01:53.759Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Could you explain how Fourier analysis has changed the way you see the world? I can't imagine how it would change anything.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-06-24T18:25:22.821Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

well, looking at things in terms of a decomposition into frequencies is kind of a universal insight. At least to me. And it inspires different kinds of bases and dictionaries for signal processing. "What's the best basis to expand this in?" is a question I find myself asking about just about everything these days. Getting meaning from observations is, to me, finding a sparse basis representation.

In other words: it kind of only changes how you see the world mathematically, but for me that's a big part of the world.

comment by mindviews · 2010-06-24T01:45:41.134Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I got an amazing amount of use out of Order of Magnitude Physics. It can get you in the habit of estimating everything in terms of numbers. I've found that relentlessly calculating estimates greatly reduces the number of biased intuitive judgments I make. A good class will include a lot of interaction and out-loud thinking about the assumptions your estimates are based on. Also or as an alternative, a high-level engineering design course can provide many of the same experiences within the context of a particular domain. (Aerospace/architecture/transportation/economic systems can all provide good design problems for this type of thinking - oddly, I haven't yet seen a computer science design problem example that works as well.)

Also, I'll second recommendations for just about any psychology course. And anywhere you see a course cross-listed between psychology and economics you'll have a good chance of learning about human bias.

comment by xamdam · 2010-06-23T17:35:42.444Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is not a specific advice, more of an algorithm.

My assumptions are that:

  • Out of 6 or so "educational packages" you suggest you're probably more attracted to 2-3.
  • Since you seem to have found your source of income, and music/film is not one of the choices (all of the choices have expected value of "hirable, can make a living"), epistemic considerations should be more important to you than instrumental.

So here is my algorithm:

  • Do some more research on the remaining 3-4 and either discard them or move them into top 2-3.
  • For the top 2-3, find the profs that are supposedly good in that department, and get in their face. Pick the one that's most appealing.

The output of this algorithm is that you're going to be stronger at some aspect of rationality than other. This is inevitable giving your framing of the problem "getting a degree in X". It's also just fine, I think, you can usually leverage strength in one area to good use.

One (last?) thing to consider is that your framing of the problem might get in the way of achieving your goals. If you chose to pursue a degree at a specific institution you are quite limited in your options are to start with. A second alternative might be to construct a curriculum from what's available on line, freely or for a relatively small payment. There is a ton of top-notch material available on

There is also a paid option of taking courses at, for example, Stanford, either auditing (cheap) or taking them for credit (not so cheap, but still cheaper than being a full-time student in the US). The later option might be more suitable if you are using schoold attendence as and anti-akrasia weapon. I took some courses there and can recommend some.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-23T19:09:57.550Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One (last?) thing to consider is that your framing of the problem might get in the way of achieving your goals.

I was very specific, wasn't I? ;) Thanks for the general strategies. I think I may pass on the Stanford. I don't think that's covered by HECS or AUSTUDY. (You know, some days I almost feel patriotic!)

comment by xamdam · 2010-06-23T19:23:32.669Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

iTunes/YouTube is free. I mentioned Stanford because you can get credits/certificates (or even a degree) that might be motivating and instrumentally useful.

I am curious what you are going to choose and how it works out - so reply to this in 2 years!

comment by AlexMennen · 2010-06-23T14:13:51.125Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
  1. I like your list, except that I would not restrict the physics to just mathematical physics. I do understand why you put economics up there, and in fact I would much rather study economics than psychology.

2 and 3. These parts are linked, in fact almost the same thing. The course that will bring you the greatest instrumental rationality really depends what you intend to do with it, which is presumably linked to what interests you. In general, you, or someone who knows you personally, would generally be better at answering this for you than very rational people who only know you online. Given what you mentioned in the section between parts 3 and 4, pharmacology, maybe with a side of statistics, is probably a good call. (as for whether to study Bayesian or frequentist statistics, I'd say both. Frequestist methods can be useful in some circumstances if you remember to think like a Baysian while you use them.)

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2010-06-23T06:12:26.404Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When it's less early in the morning for me I'll come back and say something constructive. For now I'll just say that you can't count to 4.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T03:36:55.925Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

When it's less early in the morning for me I'll come back and say something constructive.

Is it less early in the morning yet? ;)

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2010-06-25T06:17:23.371Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Damn, I knew someone was going to call me on that. Luckily I didn't say which morning (and in fact as I write this it is again in the morning), so I only promised to comment eventually. I'll come back this afternoon and formulate some advice, but given that I haven't gone to university myself yet my advice won't have the most solid evidence behind it.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T07:02:09.488Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

:) I was hoping a gentle jest would extract more free advice out of you.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2010-06-25T14:29:17.324Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Okay here's my advice:

1) Which subjects and courses can make the best contribution to Epistemic Rationality?

I think that here the obvious answer is the right one: Maths and Psychology are the subjects to concentrate on. I have a theory that the purer subjects are harder to self teach, so this would sugest that you enroll in Mathematics courses and continue to teach yourself more about heruistics and biases.

2) Which subjects and courses provide the most Instrumental Rationality benefits?

The BCom is the clear winner here. All of the successful people I can think of have done well because they know how to play the system (getting loans, business deals etc.). With lots of real world cases being analysed, this course seems ideal for learning aplied rationallity.

3) Given all available information about the universe and what inferences can be drawn about my preferences and abilities what course structure should I choose?

You seem to sugest that you're a fast learner, so you'll probably be able to keep good pace in the couses you enroll in. This sugests to me that you should try to enroll in a broad range of subjects, since you'll be able to learn deaply in all of them without being overwhelmed.

4) Which course do you just happen to like?

This is the hardest one for me to judge, but I've always found that subjects too removed from reallity quickly become less fun. An aplied edge helps to suply new ideas and keep things moving. Also, I love that Stargate episode.

So, to me, the BCom with Maths and Stats seems like a great idea. Just enough Maths (with stats being the most useful maths to rationality) and the BCom to apply it too. And hopefully you become rich as well.

comment by gwern · 2010-06-23T13:34:19.486Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's pretty obvious the third section is

Now, assuming that I am going to be studying an undergraduate course, which course maximizes the expected benefit?

since, y'know, it's in bold and all.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-23T13:49:13.035Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

When Oscar commented there were in fact two "3."s. I corrected the typographical error.

comment by Kevin · 2010-06-23T11:24:43.293Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What is it you currently do for income? How many hours a week do you devote to making money and how many hours a week do you plan on devoting to formal lecture attendance+studying?

I think pharmacology+statistics is a great double major. I certainly wish I had a degree in that rather than industrial engineering, but I would have had to have studied a lot harder than I did.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-23T11:42:20.549Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What is it you currently do for income?

The internet pays me for correcting inefficiencies.

How many hours a week do you devote to making money

About 20.

and how many hours a week do you plan on devoting to formal lecture attendance+studying?

I plan on devoting very little time studying outside of formal lectures. (This will mean careful use of my time during lectures and all that I know on optimal learning techniques. My philosophy has always been that you either need to attend or you need to study but never both! (Perhaps I should add in IQ and say 'pick two').

I think pharmacology+statistics is a great double major. I certainly wish I had a degree in that rather than industrial engineering, but I would have had to have studied a lot harder than I did.

If I recall correctly (and have not got you confused with someone else) you earn money on the side selling pharmacologically active herbs online. I must get around to adding some of your leaves to my stockpile. That way when I actually needed them it wouldn't be too late (and I wouldn't be stuck with codeine).

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2010-06-29T19:23:34.487Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The internet pays me for correcting inefficiencies.

Can I hear more about this?

comment by Kevin · 2010-06-23T14:27:18.089Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If I recall correctly (and have not got you confused with someone else) you earn money on the side selling pharmacologically active herbs online.

That's me! The main one I sell is kratom. It's a surprisingly complicated plant; I should probably write a Less Wrong post about it's optimal use, similar to Justin Shovelain's post on caffeine. In short, it's a more effective painkiller than codeine, especially when mixed with ibuprofen. Ibuprofen on its own is as strong of a painkiller as codeine, just without an euphoric side effects. A narcotic painkiller + a non-narcotic painkiller together are much more effective for pain, which is why pharmaceutical narcotics (vicodin, percocet, even codeine, etc.) are most commonly prescribed as such.

Kratom in small dosages is also a stimulant and is a reasonable productivity enhancer. It has been described as similar to coca tea without the side effect of increasing your heart rate.

comment by realitygrill · 2010-07-25T21:07:29.259Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd appreciate this. I've got a family member on a lot of pain meds.

comment by MichaelBishop · 2010-06-23T13:37:08.309Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I plan on devoting very little time studying outside of formal lectures. (This will mean careful use of my time during lectures and all that I know on optimal learning techniques. My philosophy has always been that you either need to attend or you need to study but never both! (Perhaps I should add in IQ and say 'pick two').

Personally, I learn faster studying on my own than by listening to 90% of lectures. I would think this would be especially true for a) classes at the undergraduate level and b) classes where I'm not concerned about my grade so much as I'm concerned about learning what I think is interesting/important.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-23T13:47:02.456Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Personally, I learn faster studying on my own than by listening to 90% of lectures.

Listening? Who said anything about listening? Lectures are just a way to schedule times for independent study, keep tabs on any critical announcements and complete assignments for unrelated subjects as necessary.

comment by MichaelBishop · 2010-06-23T20:39:40.966Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So you want to do an undergraduate degree but you don't care about earning a helpful credential and you'll attend lectures but not listen to them.

...and I thought I had unusual tastes.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-23T21:49:05.709Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So you want to do an undergraduate degree but you don't care about earning a helpful credential

Pardon? I will be earning at least one useful credential.

and you'll attend lectures but not listen to them.

Personally, I learn faster studying on my own than by listening to 90% of lectures

You aren't the only person who learns faster studying on their own.

..and I thought I had unusual tastes.

I'm almost certain I have tastes that are more quirky than doing studying on my own in lectures. ;)

comment by MichaelBishop · 2010-06-24T15:37:13.672Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You say almost nothing about long-term career goals, which most people would determine what credentials are most useful, which is many, if not most, people's primary motivation for earning a university degree.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-06-25T04:01:08.806Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The relevant section is the second half of 3. If you (or anyone else) have any suggestions on what credentials could be important for achieving that goal then they would be welcome. I must confess that I think 'money and connections' are the critical factor. Credentials are great but it may be better just to buy someone who has them.

comment by MichaelBishop · 2010-06-25T16:06:44.156Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to be on the cutting edge scientifically, you need to plan on a graduate degree. Find people doing the sort of research you are interested in and ask them for advice. Better yet, try to get a job in their lab. You'll have to get very specialized and the biggest discoveries will probably be using a different approach than whatever approach you're attempting. But hey, that's life, its honorable to give it a shot.

If you're more interested in the business, legal, or public policy, and/or education issues, then the hard science education probably isn't so important.

Bottom line: I suggest you say much more about the careers that interest you.