Several Topics that May or May Not deserve their own Post

post by EphemeralNight · 2011-11-29T01:59:20.969Z · score: 9 (21 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 70 comments

Contents

  Topic the First - Asking "Why?"
  Topic the Second - The Behavior of Hope
  Topic the Third - Abuse of the word "Love"
None
70 comments

Topic the First - Asking "Why?"

There is a certain cliche of a young child asking "why?", getting an answer, asking "why?" to that, and so on until the adult finally dismisses them out of frustration. And we all smile and laugh at how ignorant the child is and pat ourselves on the back for being so grown up.

But I don't think this story is very funny. This story, told in countless variations, has the rather repugnant moral that it is rude and childish to ask that most important of questions. "Why?"

So why do parents near-universally admonish their children when they persist with the questions? What is motivating parents all over the world to teach their children not to ask "why?"? Do parents simply not want to admit to their ignorance? I thought so at first, but I suspect it is deeper than that.

It seems more likely to me, that this practice is a defense against acknowledging that one's answers are mysterious. It is easier for a parent to attribute a young child's lack of understanding to a lack of intelligence, than to comprehend that their own answer is a curiosity stopper and not an answer at all.

In essence, children are being trained to accept curiosity-stoppers without hesitation, by being reprimanded for continuing to ask "why?" I find this more than a little alarming; it would seem that for parents in particular, it is especially dangerous not to notice when they're confused.


Topic the Second - The Behavior of Hope

Is tenuous hope more emotionally taxing than certain doom?

I wouldn't think so, but whenever the subject of death comes up (among those who don't believe in an afterlife) I've noticed a very curious pattern.

I have only a guess, but it seems possible that when doom is certain, when there's no escape for you or anyone, it is easier to numb the emotions. Accepting the possibility of escape makes the doom not-certain, which forces fear of the doom to the surface.


Topic the Third - Abuse of the word "Love"

On another site I happened to be perusing, someone posted a bit of a rant about teenagers not knowing the difference between love and lust, to which I gave this response:

The word "love" is abused so much because we live in a society that looks down on pursuing relationships based on lust. A society that goes out of its way to make us feel bad about ourselves if we want to be intimate with someone we don't love. So of course the emotionally vulnerable try to convince themselves that love is involved even when it isn't, because they don't want to feel that misplaced guilt.

It's kind of sick, when you think about it. Real love
* is quite rare, so believing that it is only proper to form a sexual relationship with someone you love, causes all kinds of problems. It is simply not healthy for the human animal to form sexual relationships that rarely, so due to this erroneous belief, you get people thinking they're SUPPOSED to be in love, or ASSUMING they're in love, or just TELLING themselves they're in love, because they've had it drilled into their heads that it's wrong to feel otherwise, and that what they're doing doesn't actually feel wrong so it MUST be love.

You want kids to stop abusing the word "love"? Stop teaching them that they need love as a justification for acting on their lust.

* I define "real love" as the state of valuing another's quality of life more than your own quality of life.


Topic the Fourth - A "Good" Parent

Let's take a moment to think about how modern parents are generally expected to treat the subject of their offspring's sexuality. This is one of those things that I firmly believe any good future for humanity will look back on in horror.

With alarming commonality, adults with maturing offspring go out of their way to stunt their children's sociosexual development, due primarily, I think, to a desire to conform to the current societal archetype of Good Parent. Despite ambiguous-at-best psychological evidence, parents fight to keep kids ignorant, unequipped, and chaste due to the social consensus that having sexually active children makes one a Bad Parent.

I would even go so far as to call such deliberate impediment of sociosexual development a form of abuse, despite its extreme prevalence and acceptableness in today's world.

70 comments

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comment by jimrandomh · 2011-11-29T05:09:02.922Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is a certain cliche of a young child asking "why?", getting an answer, asking "why?" to that, and so on until the adult finally dismisses them out of frustration.

Simple miscommunication. Kids figure out that saying "why?" causes people to tell them interesting, related things. So they keep doing that. The adults who hear this, however, are applying an additional constraint - the things have to be related in a particular way - which the child probably doesn't care much about. Unfortunately, that constraint sometimes leads to dead ends; there are many concepts where all the answers to "why" are either unknown, or uninteresting, or built on prerequisite knowledge not available to small children. The graceless way to handle this is to get frustrated and dismiss them. The right way is to segue the conversation to something that isn't related by an is-cause-of or is-purpose-of relation, but which is interesting and worth talking about.

comment by billswift · 2011-11-29T13:14:49.162Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Definitely true. Also, once kids figure out they can frustrate adults, an element of "game playing" enters the picture and they do it on purpose. For adults, though, I see "Why?" as the lazy question. It throws all the effort of actually formulating an answerable question on whoever tries to answer it. Young children don't know enough to be more precise, so "Why?" is a general-purpose question simply asking for more information.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-11-29T18:02:18.450Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For adults, though, I see "Why?" as the lazy question. It throws all the effort of actually formulating an answerable question on whoever tries to answer it.

I think this touches on something huge. Asking why, and seeking to answer it yourself, is not childish or annoying or looked down upon - it's science! Asking why, and expecting someone else to figure out the particular question and find an answer for you is absolutely childish. It may in fact be appropriate for a child, but it does hit a point where the work being demanded is far more than is appropriate to the interaction, and difficulty in dealing with this leads to frustration; it is not easy to explain to a child why asking "why?" and expecting the adult to provide a response in the context of a short interaction was reasonable the past 4 times and now is unreasonable.

Note that while I would say, "answer this for me" is generally childish, "come answer this with me" is more often not - I don't mean to exclude involvement by others. In all cases, though, it depends somewhat on circumstance.

comment by billswift · 2011-11-29T20:07:56.724Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed that asking yourself why isn't childish, nor as in my earlier post is it "lazy" to ask it of yourself, but I don't think it is particularly useful either. "Why?" is too big a question to answer. You need to break it down into answerable bites, as science does as a practical matter in requiring testable hypotheses.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-11-30T02:21:34.480Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right. "Why?" is a starting point.

comment by khafra · 2011-11-29T14:53:16.249Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is it possible/valuable to tackle the question of causality versus correlation versus coincidence with a young child? I think people are built to see causality in an agent-oriented way; explaining a more Judea Pearl-ish view of causality might be too complicated for most kids, but if it isn't it could provide a way of explaining why some answers to "why" are unsatisfying to their intuition.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-11-29T17:54:56.067Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Why?"

"I'll tell you when you've finished reading 'Causality'"

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-11-29T13:24:28.293Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As the parent of a child who's in the "why?" stage, the above seems about right. The other thing is when she doesn't actually listen to the answer at all, already thinking about something else ...

comment by play_therapist · 2011-11-29T18:33:56.544Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that some times children really want to know why, but your idea should usually work well in those cases, too. You're basically suggesting distracting the child so that they forget the undesirable thing they were asking or doing, and move on. That is a basic parenting technique.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2011-11-29T08:40:47.847Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I define "real love" as the state of valuing another's quality of life more than your own quality of life.

I think this is a weird definition. As far as I can tell, "love" is an actual emotion. If you knew about hormones and endorphins and stuff you could probably measure it. Defining it in terms of someone's utility function misses that. Besides, it doesn't seem uncommon at all to value other people's quality of life more than your own. Doesn't this happen every time someone sacrifices something for the sake of politeness?

comment by billswift · 2011-11-29T13:20:07.195Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Valuing someone else more than yourself is problematic, as in "you have problems"; see Peter Breggin's discussion in The Psychology of Freedom. A better way of putting what I think you are trying to say is from Heinlein, "where the other person's happiness is essential to your own" (paraphrase from multiple sources, especially Stranger and Time Enough for Love).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-11-29T15:27:23.536Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Doesn't this happen every time someone sacrifices something for the sake of politeness?

Not if they believe that the costs to them of being impolite in that instance would be higher than the cost of sacrificing whatever it was.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-11-29T18:06:21.210Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And further, it may be that the cost of the sacrifice is much, much smaller than the gain to the other person. To say that I value my quality of life more highly than yours is not to say I place no value on yours at all.

comment by RomanDavis · 2011-11-29T09:39:21.137Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What people call emotions, I would say are actually two things, "feelings" and "attitudes." The emotion of feeling or being sad causes a kinesthetic experience. The attitude of being or something making you sad causes you to avoid that thing, and to avoid that thing from happening.

The feeling of love is a warm kinesthetic experience. The attitude of love is at least a degree of what the OP was talking about.

Remember, thoughts happen on a chemical level, too. Our brains are made out of matter

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-11-29T13:20:04.682Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As the parent of a 4yo, the annoying thing about "Why?" is that my daughter doesn't actually listen to the answer at all, so the chain of answers don't build up. This is when it just gets irritating. That and when "why?" doesn't make sense, e.g. "Why is it dinner?"

A lot of the time it seems to just be her saying something to achieve interaction with the parent, because she likes interaction even if it's meaningless. At which point I ideally try to get her actually thinking in some more meaningful way.

I have found "Why do you think?" to be an occasionally useful response, often producing an actual thoughtful response in turn (if one exists).

Have you had experience of parental responsibility for a small child? (not that such is required to post these questions, I'm just curious as to your perspective.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-11-29T15:22:21.960Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My usual response to these sorts of questions, both from children and adults, is "twelve".

comment by dlthomas · 2011-11-29T17:52:48.696Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't that just a curiosity stopper?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-11-29T18:21:41.363Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depends. I've gotten a wide range of answers, but "Why twelve?" is pretty common, which sometimes segues into a whole discussion about whether "twelve" is or isn't a legitimate move in the conversational turn-taking game, which allows me to raise the question of whether "Why?" is. (Of course, depending on the age of my interlocutor, this exchange takes different superficial forms.)

But, sure, sometimes it just brings the exchange to a crashing halt.

comment by Grognor · 2011-11-29T07:05:12.603Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On "Why?":

It would be better to teach children that this is a wrong question. After enough levels, this question simply stops having an answer and starts being an example of the mind projection fallacy (thinking the universe has a "reason" for X or somesuch, like a person would in that situation.) That's pretty clear-cut.

On accepting doom:

It is absolutely less psychologically painful to accept certain doom than to have a twinge of false hope. That is why non-transhumanists are okay with death; they think it is inevitable. The trouble here is that accepting something that isn't actually inevitable is far more harmful, for non-psychological reasons. Edit: I have a short essay about this now.

On abuse of the word "love":

There are many things to blame for this, but I'm going to point the finger at how many entirely distinct concepts this word points to in the English language, that other languages have individual words for, but ours doesn't. The love between friends, combat allies, pets and owners, family, romance, et cetera, are all very different feelings, but they get muddled together when you think about them. In other words, thinking about "love-in-general" makes no sense and is a compression fallacy.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-29T18:02:30.841Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are many things to blame for this, but I'm going to point the finger at how many entirely distinct concepts this word points to in the English language, that other languages have individual words for, but ours doesn't. The love between friends, combat allies, pets and owners, family, romance, et cetera, are all very different feelings, but they get muddled together when you think about them. In other words, thinking about "love-in-general" makes no sense and is a compression fallacy.

Indeed, I see the difference between English and my own language. I really miss the casual word "rad" as the normative "not-just-lust-but-not-love-either" relationship descriptor, it sort of translates to "being fond of someone" and can be used in reference to a family member too.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-11-29T03:41:13.059Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sometimes with small children, I get the impression they're asking "why?" for the social interaction rather than to actually get answers. I'm not sure I'm right about this, but it can be very tiresome to give serious answers to questions under those circumstances.

Any thoughts about how to tell whether a child wants real answers? If it is for the social interaction, what's a graceful way to handle it without squelching real curiosity?

I agree about the comfort of giving up hope , or at least that's a plausible explanation for why I'm seeing people so sure of their pessimism being correct when the future is so hard to predict.

comment by Nisan · 2011-11-29T04:44:34.255Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sometimes with small children, I get the impression they're asking "why?" for the social interaction rather than to actually get answers.

The story I tell myself about this is that at some point every child learns that there is a magic word, "why", that always keeps a conversation going. I will test this hypothesis the next time a kid does this to me by responding with nonsense.

"Why?"

"Because zebra donkey tomatillos."

"Why?"

"See, you're not even listening."

"Why?"

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-11-29T07:22:35.689Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Because zebra donkey tomatillos."

I predict the answer is:

"No, that's silly!"

(I've tried something similar to this with a friend's kid.)

comment by bradm · 2011-11-29T14:56:58.704Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This reminds me of Louis CK's bit about kids asking "why?"

Louis C. K.: Because some things are and some things are not!

Daughter: Why?

Louis: Because things that are not can't be!

Daughter: Why?

Louis: Because then nothing wouldn't be! You can't have nothing isn't! Everything is!

Daughter: Why?

Louis: Because if nothing wasn't, there would be all kinds of shit that we don't like. Giant ants with top hats dancing around. There isn't room for that shit!

comment by gwern · 2011-11-29T21:06:27.790Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

...You know, that dialogue is disturbingly like ancient and Pre-socratic discussions of Parmenides.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-11-29T19:11:11.960Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that they'd be much more likely to notice if the sentence doesn't make grammatical sense. In the grammatical but nonsensical versions they might be listening and even then just lack the ability to understand fully if they've been given a good explanation. In some cases "why" might even be shorthand for not understanding the previous explanation.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-11-29T13:26:00.093Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You appear to have an audio bug in my house.

comment by TimS · 2011-11-29T04:57:41.126Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just because I'm curious, what probability would you assign to your hypothesis being correct?

comment by Nisan · 2011-11-29T05:05:04.661Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

50%. And I'd only do it when I'm irritated. The irritation means they don't care about the answer.

EDIT: Sorry, I mean 50% probability that they won't notice I'm talking nonsense. I don't want to assign a probability to the underlying hypothesis.

comment by TimS · 2011-11-29T03:54:38.076Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any thoughts about how to tell whether a child wants real answers? If it is for the social interaction, what's a graceful way to handle it without squelching real curiosity?

My intuition is that figuring out whether the child wants a "real answer" is not a good use of your time. Instead, you should treat every question as a real question and try to come up with a rule about when to answer them. Reasons to stop answering might include (1) your lack of interest in answering, (2) the answer is beyond the child's ability to comprehend - I can easily image a conversation with a 4 year old that basically resolves to "Go learn calculus," which isn't a useful answer.

And if you decide to stop answering, you can just tell the child that you don't want to answer more questions. If the response to that is "why," then it's pretty safe to say that falsifiable statements are not where the conversation is located.

comment by tetsuo55 · 2011-11-29T09:05:23.066Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my limited experience with children i have found that children will only do this when they are being ignored. I have only experienced it once myself and you quickly see the child is teasing you by their eyes and uneasy movement. The benchmark I use is repeating the same question again at a later time, that means they either did not understand or are teasing.

comment by play_therapist · 2011-11-29T16:03:25.917Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Re: The why questions- I am both a child therapist and the mother of jimrandomh. I don't remember him ever doing that and the children I work with ( I see about 18 on a regular basis) never do it to me. I think tetsuo55 is right in his observation that children tend to do it when they are being ignored. As an only child of older parents, jimrandomh was virtually never ignored, and, of course, the children I see for individual therapy sessions already have my attention.

Re: "Good parents"- A few observations- The age of puberty has been dropping, the average age of marriage (or settling into committed relationships) has been rising. Not too long ago people got married shortly after they reached puberty.

There were no birth control pills until the 1960's. The early birth control pills were of higher doses and had more side effects. Condoms existed but were not as reliable as they are today. Abortions were not legal in the U.S. until the early 1970's. Aid to Families of Dependent Children, otherwise known as welfare, now modified into Transitional Assistance, didn't exist in most states until the 1960's. In other words, prior to the late 1960's, the chances were good that if you were sexually active, you would get pregnant. If you did, your options were much more limited.

Then came the sexual revolution. There were birth control pills. Abortions became legal. Visitation restrictions in dorms were eliminated. Herpes Simplex 2 was pretty much unknown until the late 1970's, AIDS was first identified in the U.S. in 1981. I had the good fortune to turn 18 in 1970- except for the Vietnam War, it was a great time and I had fun.

Parents today, however, worry about their teens not only getting pregnant, but AIDS, herpes and other venereal diseases that weren't around in my youth. In addition, with younger puberty, the worries come at a younger age, when teens are less able to handle it. (I had a 12 year old girl tell me that she was thinking of having sex with her boyfriend, a Caucasian 4th or 5th generation American girl from a working class community.) I don't think it's just to conform to the societal archetype of Good Parent, there are real things to worry about.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-11-29T05:16:40.960Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

With alarming commonality, adults with maturing offspring go out of their way to stunt their children's sociosexual development, due primarily, I think, to a desire to conform to the current societal archetype of Good Parent. Despite ambiguous-at-best psychological evidence, parents fight to keep kids ignorant, unequipped, and chaste due to the social consensus that having sexually active children makes one a Bad Parent.

I would even go so far as to call such deliberate impediment of sociosexual development a form of abuse, despite its extreme prevalence and acceptableness in today's world.

If you look at history you will find that the current time period is one of, if not the, most sexually permissive in history. So are you arguing that all children who grew up before say the 1960s were "abused"? Given that most of them seem to have turned out alright, I'd like to know how this could qualify as "abuse" under a reasonable definition. If you have a personal definition of "abuse" under which it does, I would question why something falling under it obviously qualifies as bad.

comment by magfrump · 2011-11-29T07:04:20.130Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Turned out alright" is different from "turned out optimally."

I definitely think a case could be made (and in fact it would be my default hypothesis) that the way things have been run since the beginning of time are largely suboptimal, specifically in that they cause vast amounts of unnecessary suffering. This seems like a perfectly good definition of abuse to me. It is also the case that almost everyone raised before, say 1900 was malnourished and subject to significant child labor and often physical abuse. These are unquestionably abuse by today's standards, but a lot of people managed to "turn out alright" despite all that.

It is and should be the case that as time progresses, things get better. The sexual permissiveness of our current age is (I believe likely to be) one facet of that.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-11-30T01:03:03.472Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I definitely think a case could be made (and in fact it would be my default hypothesis) that the way things have been run since the beginning of time are largely suboptimal, specifically in that they cause vast amounts of unnecessary suffering.

Really? My default assumption is that if something has been around forever it's at least a local optimum, since otherwise it would have been changed a long time ago. Seriously what are the odds that you've noticed an actually improvement that nobody else in it's history has noticed. To quote Chesterton

There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease.

Seriously, the fact that a tradition has survived a long time is evidence that it is doing something right.

It is also the case that almost everyone raised before, say 1900 was malnourished

[citation please]

subject to significant child labor

This is not obviously a bad thing. See this essay by Paul Graham for a good discussion for why our modern school system is arguably worse.

often physical abuse

Are you conflating spanking with abuse here? If so, we really need to taboo the word "abuse".

comment by magfrump · 2011-11-30T01:36:01.319Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My default assumption is that if something has been around forever it's at least a local optimum, since otherwise it would have been changed a long time ago.

A local equilibrium is different from a local optimum. It's not that nobody has noticed it, it's that the Nash equilibrium is to worry more about signalling than improving. The traditions are doing something right; they're enforcing a meme which is successful in the ancestral environment. That's just not what I want them to be doing. I can't make a Cadillac a better luxury car, but I can make it much better at catching rain water.

I agree that my claims could use citations, and the date of 1900 was certainly arbitrary; I don't have good references off hand per se but the fact that nutritional science is STILL so controversial and unsettled suggests to me that people have not been properly nourished and will continue not to be until someone figures out what proper nourishment is. I would also guess that it is the case that most people today in Africa, India, and much of China are malnourished, though again I don't have citations offhand. I will try to find some tomorrow when I have more time if you like.

This is not obviously a bad thing. See this essay by Paul Graham for a good discussion for why our modern school system is arguably worse.

I don't think that I actually disagree with you very much here. The modern school system is awful in a great many ways. On the other hand, some people (myself included) have good experiences which I don't think would be possible working ten hours a day at a factory, for instance. I also think that people get vastly more access to knowledge at a public school than working on a farm. The system sucks terribly but I think "worse" is a bit of a stretch.

Are you conflating spanking with abuse here? If so, we really need to taboo the word "abuse".

I would say that much if not most of the time spanking causes significant and unnecessary suffering, so yes that counts as abuse in my book.

I suspect that we have wildly different moral intuitions here, but my basic premise is that significant and unnecessary suffering is bad, and should be avoided, and has happened a lot to most people. This hasn't necessarily caused them to be worse people, but it hasn't helped them be better people so I'd say it is bad.

I hope that I have sufficiently taboo'd abuse; I have tried to use it only when I explicitly define it, and in my previous post only to reference things which I believe would fit the legal definition.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-11-30T06:56:20.355Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A local equilibrium is different from a local optimum. It's not that nobody has noticed it, it's that the Nash equilibrium is to worry more about signalling than improving.

Keep in mind that unilaterally deviating from a Nash equilibrium doesn't work. Furthermore, even if you successfully convince other people to also deviate unless the new state is also a Nash equilibrium, you'll ultimately wind up loosing to the defectors. In any case, I tend to find the "modern" approaches are frequently much heavier on signalling than the traditional ones.

[Spanking] hasn't necessarily caused them to be worse people, but it hasn't helped them be better people so I'd say it is bad.

I don't really agree with the last point. Furthermore, the modern solution to misbehaving children appears to be to drug them with Prozac or something similar which almost certainly does more harm then spanking.

comment by magfrump · 2011-11-30T10:07:10.646Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that finding Nash equilibria is important to society, but I think there is great benefit, especially among LWers, to individuals who sacrifice status for values like honesty and truth. Creating ways for these to be Nash equilibria is the only way to make the world more rational, but not the only way to make oneself more rational.

Suggesting a specific alternative method for dealing with misbehaving children does not make the option you first presented better. Not being a parent or a developmental psychologist, I do not know what the best methods would be, but I do sincerely doubt that either spanking or Prozac are among them with rare exceptions.

It seems to me, especially with your specific comparison of Prozac versus spanking (in which you misinterpret my final sentence, which was intended to be a general statement about suffering not a specific statement about spanking), that you have specific political ideas wrapped up in this discussion, entirely separate from the factual issue of whether or not people are better off raised in a sexually repressive or permissive environment. I suspect that continuing this conversation will not be very productive.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-11-29T07:21:12.328Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you look at history you will find that the current time period is one of, if not the, most sexually permissive in history. So are you arguing that all children who grew up before say the 1960s were "abused"? Given that most of them seem to have turned out alright, I'd like to know how this could qualify as "abuse" under a reasonable definition.

If you look at history you will also find that the current time period is also the least violent, on a per-capita basis. See Steven Pinker's latest for details. I'm not asserting a correlation; rather, it's the case that all sorts of things that were once considered perfectly normal are now not, and in at least some cases we consider that to be a pretty significant positive change. To say "our ancestors did it, and they turned out okay" seems like a general argument against any sort of moral progress.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-29T18:06:07.247Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To say "our ancestors did it, and they turned out okay" seems like a general argument against any sort of moral progress.

I really should get the top level post based on this finished soon.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-11-29T22:21:32.496Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but I think these are on different themes.

Yours seems to be more about "Can we tell whether 'moral progress' is a meaningful description of historical social change?"

Mine is more along the lines of "It is proposed that we ought to do thus-and-so. The rebuttal is offered that we can't be obliged to do that since our ancestors didn't, and they got on okay. But this rebuttal is a fully general counterargument against any moral change, including changes that seem obviously correct; indeed, it would have been a counterargument to the abolition of all sorts of things that we today consider atrocities."

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-29T22:33:14.287Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The rebuttal is offered that we can't be obliged to do that since our ancestors didn't, and they got on okay.

Sounds a reasonable, if a bit overly careful, strategy if one is seeking to maximise virtue (in the sense of desirable traits) rather than trying to avoid harm. We currently seem to believe many of the things that are virtuous are brought about by not doing harm or being benevolent to the child, there obviously exist sets of virtues for which this is not true. Also, we may be wrong.

But this rebuttal is a fully general counterargument against any moral change, including changes that seem obviously correct; indeed, it would have been a counterargument to the abolition of all sorts of things that we today consider atrocities

History is not homogeneous when it comes to norms. All sorts of practices where adapted then later abandoned. There are plenty of things people practice that made them turn out great or ok that we or our great-grandparents didn't practice.The argument can thus pretty consistently be used to change the status quo and create something like "moral progress" or rather a process of "moral change". You can't really mine out history, since we may have faulty ideas about what was done and all processes of upbringing will be imperfect. Thus we'll be trying "new stuff" without knowing it, if it becomes known that we did, congratulations we have just expanded the space of possible approaches on which we have empirical results.

I don't think this works as a general counterargument to all moral progress. I think it just maps to a different systematised morality than the one you or I might come up with.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-11-30T01:12:51.053Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To say "our ancestors did it, and they turned out okay" seems like a general argument against any sort of moral progress.

Not really. It merely means that one's prior should be in favor of the way with a long tradition behind them. This is no more paradoxical then the fact that even though all progress depends on mutations, most mutations are bad. In fact this is merely that principal applied to memetic evolution.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-11-29T02:36:42.960Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Topic the fourth is very US-centric, or at least, non-Scandinavia-centric.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2011-11-29T04:19:12.160Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. A noninterference policy seems to be standard in Britain (at least among the relatively educated/liberal). However this doesn't necessarily include open discussion.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-11-30T05:00:57.296Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Related to the first topic: people will do anything to avoid saying "I don't know" to someone they see as socially below them, whether it's a parent/child, boss/employee, customer/worker, or just a social hierarchy. Sometimes this gets patently ridiculous, which is one of the reasons I enjoy Not Always Right.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-29T21:28:20.575Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On love: I agree that a lot of people are too narrow minded about what counts as an valid reason to engage in an relationship/sex, so they end up deceiving everyone (including themselves) - but what I would like to point out though, is that intense romantic love only rarely lasts more than 2-3 years (I at least would find it quite sad that our definition for real love only last up to about 3 years), But that relationship bonds can consist of feelings of deep attachment. So maybe you could specify. Must "real love" be intense romantic love or any love as long as "the state of valuing another's quality of life more than your own quality of life.".

I'm basing this on Helen Fisher's work.

comment by jefftk (jkaufman) · 2011-11-29T18:55:03.750Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I define "real love" as the state of valuing another's quality of life more than your own quality of life

Is this a common definition? I've not seen it before, and it seems both very strong and very limited.

Wikipedia notes:

In English, love refers to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from pleasure ("I loved that meal") to interpersonal attraction ("I love my partner"). "Love" may refer specifically to the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love, to the sexual love of eros, to the emotional closeness of familial love, or the platonic love that defines friendship, to the profound oneness or devotion of religious love. This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states.

Definitions are hard, but often if you look at the underlying phenomena you are trying to explain you don't need them. In this case it seems the whole issue is disagreement and confusion about the meaning of the word "love", in which case I suspect it just doesn't matter to anyone but a lexicographer.

comment by Morendil · 2011-11-29T14:24:41.809Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

With my own kids I try to systematically emulate the attitude of Calvin's dad.

comment by Unnamed · 2011-11-29T05:12:26.637Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On topic the second (behavior of hope), there has been research on how uncertainty amplifies the emotional impact of an event by preventing people from coming to terms with the event and adapting to it. This is true for both positive and negative events. Wilson and Gilbert (2008) have a review article on their model of adaptation which incorporates this effect. The abstract:

We propose a model of affective adaptation, the processes whereby affective responses weaken after one or more exposures to emotional events. Drawing on previous research, our approach, represented by the acronym AREA, holds that people attend to self-relevant, unexplained events, react emotionally to these events, explain or reach an understanding of the events, and thereby adapt to the events (i.e., they attend less and have weaker emotional reactions to them). We report tests of new predictions about people’s reactions to pleasurable events and discuss the implications of the model for how people cope with negative events, experience emotion in different cultures, and other topics.

You can search their paper for the keyword "certain" to find the relevant portions. Gilbert, Wilson, and their colleagues also have several recent studies on the emotional impact of uncertainty, although they have tended to focus on relatively minor events and on positive emotions more than negative ones. Here are the references for their recent articles; you can find the papers on Google Scholar or Gilbert's website.

Wilson, T. D., Centerbar, D. B., Kermer, D. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2005). The pleasures of uncertainty: Prolonging positive moods in ways people do not anticipate. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 5-21.
Kurtz, J. L., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert. D. T. (2007). Quantity versus uncertainty: When winning one prize is better than winning two. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 979-985.
Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2008). Explaining away: A model of affective adaptation. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 370-386. pdf
Bar-Anan, Y., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2009). The feeling of uncertainty intensifies affective reactions. Emotion, 9, 123-127.
Whitchurch, E. R., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2011). He loves me, he loves me not: The effects of uncertainty on romantic attraction. Psychological Science, 22, 172-175.

comment by Michelle_Z · 2011-11-29T03:32:08.958Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was that child constantly asking why, and getting substandard answers, or made-up stories, in place of real answers. For instance, when I asked about thunder and lightning, my parents told me that god was angry. Of course, that had me asking why he was angry, and how the newscaster knew when god was angry. That was when my parents lied again, explaining that was why the newscaster was wrong so often. Naturally, I was pretty confused. Then what is the point of a newscaster?

I think that if parents do not know the answer to a question, they should look it up and learn it with the child. The whole internet is at their fingertips. It can become a learning experience for both the child and the adult.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-11-29T03:45:31.473Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that if parents do not know the answer to a question, they should look it up and learn it with the child. The whole internet is at their fingertips. It can become a learning experience for both the child and the adult.

I realize it's no longer a concern for parents now, but the vast majority of people who ever parented did not have access to the Internet. ARPA has been around since 1969, but the Internet has only been easily accessible to the masses since 1993 (when the Mosaic browser came out). This may seem shocking, but there are, in fact, Lesswrongers who did not have the Internet when they were children.

I recall my parents buying a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica around 1985 or so for a cost of around $400, which is about $840 dollars today -- not an expense everyone can afford.

So while it is, in general, a good idea not to provide mysterious answers to children's questions, it would not have been reasonable to expect parents to run to the library every time their child had a question they did not know the answer to, which is what this would actually have required only 1 generation ago.

Editing to add: Parents should also not be ashamed to answer "I don't know" to children's questions. This is much better than providing fake explanations.

comment by Michelle_Z · 2011-11-29T03:57:58.079Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

True, I did not think of that. Now that I am looking back, attempting to remember, I do not believe we had a computer in the house until 1998.

comment by ahartell · 2011-11-29T02:14:58.632Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree love is an abused term but not for the same reason. Mostly I just think it's a leaky and undefined category of feelings that isn't really distinct from "liking a lot". I agree it's different than lust, but only in that lust doesn't necessarily include anything other than physical attraction. I think it's mostly a waste of time to wonder whether or not you're really in love with your partner in the same way it's a waste of time to wonder whether obesity is really a disease.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-01T05:21:21.220Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I define "real love" as the state of valuing another's quality of life more than your own quality of life.

Interesting. I'd call that insanity. The first thing that popped in my mind when I read that was some poor soul in an abusive relationship sacrificing their quality of life to feed the abuser.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-11-29T04:09:40.534Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Regarding #2, there is a cliffhanger episode of Farscape where Ka D'Argo makes this point quite eloquently (though of course, D'Argo and Crighton end up not dying). Sadly, both Youtube and IMDB have let me down here, so I can't provide a verbatim quote, but it was something to effect of "Fear accompanies the possibility of death; calm comes with its certainty."

comment by buybuydandavis · 2011-11-29T02:49:42.355Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is tenuous hope more emotionally taxing than certain doom?

Yes. Impending, but certain doom has no worries. The suspense is over. The worry is over. The struggle is over. And in general, people adjust to their doom quite nicely, and find the world hasn't come to an end, just as they don't find Shangri-la when they win the lottery.

It's the perception of a coming loss that's horrible. Once the loss is certain, it's no longer a loss, it's a new baseline.

comment by ahartell · 2011-11-29T02:54:23.845Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. Impending, but uncertain doom has no worries. The suspense is over. The worry is over.

Perhaps you mean "certain"?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2011-11-29T08:06:24.528Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah. Thanks.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-11-30T04:01:58.754Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I downvoted this for making self-assured apodictic assertions about difficult and controversial topics, without any supporting argument and in a way that implies that reasonable disagreement is impossible.


[Retracted the second part of the comment, which asserted there was a contradiction between "firmly believ[ing]" and "ambiguous," i.e. not clearly false, evidence. See the discussion below.]

comment by Prismattic · 2011-11-30T04:12:51.987Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that native English speakers are much more likely to use the phrase "firmly believe" idiomatically as shorthand for "I have a very high confidence level in," whereas a non-native speaker may take it literally to mean "I place an unshakeable probability of [asymptotically approaching] 1 on".

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-11-30T04:18:57.698Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It could be that I'm making this mistake. If a native English speaker (including you, if you are one) can confirm that I am misunderstanding the phrase as expressing a higher degree of certainty than it actually is, I will retract that part of the comment.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-11-30T04:23:38.555Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am a native English speaker, and have probably used the phrase idiomatically at some point, but I shall not presume to speak for the author of the post.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-11-30T04:28:44.900Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Looking at the other comments and other examples of the use of the phrase, it does seem like I have made a mistake here, so I am retracting the second part of the comment.

comment by antigonus · 2011-11-30T04:32:10.120Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some proposed measures of degree of confirmation have the property that if the prior for H is high enough, excellent evidence against H is compatible with H having a high posterior probability. For example, the ratio measure P(H|E)/P(H).

comment by TimS · 2011-11-30T04:07:29.799Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read "ambiguous-at-best" as describing the evidence in support of the parental choices.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-11-30T04:13:25.161Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So do I. "Ambiguous-at-best" implies that some of the evidence offered against the proposition is ambiguous, i.e. not provably false. Which in turn implies that believing the proposition firmly is unjustified.

comment by TimS · 2011-11-30T04:22:06.923Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The language is loose. But in a less atheistic forum, I might say the evidence of God is "ambiguous, at best." I'd never say that evidence against God is ambiguous.

Functionally, it's a politeness-induced vagueness, not intended as a precise statement of the OP's confidence in the state of the evidence. Or so I read it.

And calling people out based on politeness-based vagueness is an aggressive stance that does not appear to be justified in this instance. Particularly since:

making self-assured apodictic assertions about difficult and controversial topics, without any supporting argument and in a way that implies that reasonable disagreement is impossible

is a valid, interesting, and totally independent criticism.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-11-30T04:33:34.863Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Point taken. I retracted that part of the comment.

comment by TimS · 2011-11-29T03:45:01.244Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your first point is substantially caused by the issues about sexuality that you highlighted. Sex can reasonably be explained a "special hug" to a two-year-old. But I'm not prepared to give truthful, coherent, useful answers to any followup questions, so I'm ready to say "ask when you're older." I think a young child can understand that their understanding of the world will increase over time. I agree that negative incentives for curiosity is not good child-raising, but that doesn't mean a parent is required to answer every question.

I also think you underestimate the parents' unwillingness to say "I don't know." That answer shows a lack of curiosity. Since curiosity is mostly a virtue, revealing lack of curiosity to a child is drawing back the veil of omniscience and perfection of the parents. Retaining that veil is useful for controlling the child. Many parents lack the capacity to develop a more sophisticated system for controlling their child, so they stick with what works even though it should be obvious that it could stunt their child's intellectual growth.