Gettier walks into a bar, um, barrista 2015-04-30T21:26:31.675Z
Narcissistic Contrarianism 2014-11-21T00:19:14.999Z
Irrationalism on Campus? 2014-11-20T19:17:47.986Z
From Natural (or Naturalized) to Social Epistemology 2014-08-06T00:48:44.425Z
Alternative to Campaign Finance Reform? 2014-08-01T01:32:49.854Z
An even more modest search engine proposal 2014-07-26T02:42:35.955Z
Search Engines and Oracles 2014-07-08T14:27:02.792Z
Philosophical Realism and Fairy Dust 2014-01-14T01:21:51.143Z
To the folks who met in Princeton Saturday 11/16/2013 2013-11-18T13:19:13.208Z
My Best Case vs Your Worst Case 2013-01-03T14:11:10.082Z


Comment by HalMorris on Reason as memetic immune disorder · 2015-08-21T16:19:50.058Z · LW · GW

which exactly part of your worldview would say that Western education and living in a city should be incompatible with religious fanaticism?

Cultural development seems not to follow such orderly laws that we can use the word "incompatible" very often if ever. But going to a western university tends to promote individual thought over blind acceptance of whatever you were taught in childhood, and while someone who spent their live in some valley in Afghanistan or northern Pakistan, never exposed to different people, might imagine westerners as cloven hoofed devils, it is at least a reasonable point of view to suppose that going to school with westerners could lesson that kind of visceral revulsion.

I'm a little take aback, as "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" is an admonition to obey established political authority. And "render unto God what is God's" is the possibly subversive part -- though it's only recommending obedience to a competing authority". Also, Christian Russia, esp around the time of Ivan the Terrible was arguably the most totalitarian major state for its time (the main argument would be over China, I think). I believe Paul's writings give ample admonitions to obey authority, and for slaves to obey their masters.

What would you say in the doctrines of Islam makes it "naturally a totalitarian religion"? I assume you have some analysis that leads you to that conclusion.

Comment by HalMorris on Reason as memetic immune disorder · 2015-08-21T03:13:13.503Z · LW · GW

The OP did write:

The history of religions sometimes resembles the history of viruses. Judaism and Islam were both highly virulent when they first broke out, driving the first generations of their people to conquer (Islam) or just slaughter (Judaism) everyone around them for the sin of not being them. They both grew more sedate over time.

Which I think acknowledges some of that early history. I assume what is said about Judaism has to do with the slaughter of Canaanites, which is possibly more than half legendary, unlike the exploits of Islam which happened in a much better documented time.

In different times and places, Islam has been extremely sometimes fanatical, and at other times received Jews who were driven out of Spain by the Inquisition, and showed toleration of other ideas. The ups and downs have probably been due to many causes, but there really has been an awakening in recent decades of Islamic fanaticism, and in this case, at least, I think the OP's thesis might account for some of that; the thinking was just a bit too loose and brainstorm-ey. It is kind of a puzzle to have so many Muslims combining western education, and the ability to function in a modern metropolitan setting combined with extreme fanaticism.

A peak of Christian holy-warring, torturing and witch-burning came when Protestants set out to rid Catholicism of the many "irrational" (having no basis in the bible) false sacraments, and between the Reformation and the Counter-reformation, both Protestants and Catholics were studying the gospels more rigorously and attempting to weave it into a more logical justifiable structure.

I grew up in the 50s and 60s in a very loose sort of Methodist protestantism that was very unconcerned with issues like the literal 7 days of creation, with hell for sinners, with Satan going around tempting people, or with contesting evolution. It seemed to me only a few fossils insisted on all those sorts of things. For most, a general sort of largely "good Samaritan" morality seemed the most salient thing, and there was not much in society to challenge the general sexual mores of moderate protestantism.

I think it's true generally, that religions, especially if lacking a strong central structure like that of Catholicism or Mormonism, or Islam esp. in times when the idea of a a caliph seemed remote, tend to "mellow" most of the time, especially when not particularly challenged, and to evolve into largely going through the motions, but many different things contribute to a stirring of popular zeal and fanaticism. Both being in close contact with challenges from other belief systems and schooling that trains people to be more logical can contribute, and the result can be a lot of ideas that people half-forgot and certainly didn't apply rigorously start to come to the fore.

I have listened on audio to both the Koran and the Bible, and admit that the Koran has a stronger more consistent version of the meme that God loathes unbelievers and intends to torture them for eternity, but it is a part of Christianity too, and in Islam it has frequently faded into the background. Again, Islam having been established last, is intensely aware of Judaism and Christianity, and rants against them specifically, but at times (esp the 16 and 17 centuries) there were more islands of toleration for Jews in the Muslim world than in Christiandom. Constant assertion that Islam is uniquely inhumane are just the sort of thing that strengthens fanaticism. In criticizing religion, I've come to the conclusion that we should tell believers that to the extent they believe in God's loathing and wanting to torture "Infidels", their beliefs present a real problem to others.

Comment by HalMorris on Rational vs. Scientific Ev-Psych · 2015-04-13T02:11:14.206Z · LW · GW

And if you startle a cat when he's licking his crotch he'll freeze in whatever awkward posture he's in (that's my overgeneralization from one male cat).

Comment by HalMorris on Defeating the Villain · 2015-03-28T01:50:43.504Z · LW · GW

Comment by HalMorris on Rationality Quotes Thread February 2015 · 2015-02-02T16:08:39.312Z · LW · GW

To criticize hypocrisy in debate you don't even have to understand the other's argument -- you only have to be able to find a logical contradiction, and you can always find a contradiction, or something you can plausibly claim is a contradiction.

For the debater, it may be very hard to give up. Many of us can find (or generate plausible arguments for) contradictions with 10% of your brain power, thus keeping the other on the defensive, while using the rest of ones mind to search for a deeper argument. But for this reason it makes for tedious unilluminating debate, and ought to be given less encouragement than it gets - that is, if we want more insightful argument.

Comment by HalMorris on Why do you really believe what you believe regarding controversial subjects? · 2015-01-06T04:57:56.202Z · LW · GW

I wrote as a little part of a comment in the middle of a longish thread:

There is a paper "Experts: Which ones should you trust" addressing this issue by Alvin Goldman -- you need google scholar or JSTOR or something to actually get the article), one of the biggest names in epistemology and specifically social epistemology. Actually I don't think the article does very much to resolve the issue unfortunately.

One article (cited in Goldman "Experts...") that I really like is John Hardwig "The Role of Trust in Knowledge", which gets at the critical need for experts to trust other experts, and illustrates with examples of scientific and mathematical accomplishment that just don't fit in one person's head.

Besides the qualities of individuals, we must ask whether a particular study discipline has anything trustworthy to say. As Dustin said:

My goal ... on subjects on which there truly is not a expert consensus is to acknowledge that there is no consensus and thus not choose one side or another.

DanArmak spoke of the "consensus-making process in the field" which "has to be explicitly rational and truth-seeking" -- a very good point, I think, that I've tried to illustrate in "Global Warming and the Controversy: What is Scientific Consensus? Continental Drift as Example".

One point: An area of scientific study has to be tractable (this is relative to available technology -- medical science remained largely intractable until pretty recently), and there has to be a there there. See cartoon:

I got the impression from some passing reference (if I didn't imagine it) that Stephen Toulmin has had some things to say about this aspect of "what makes (a) science work" (still haven't found something he wrote to confirm this); I've made some attempts at dealing with it myself in "What is A Machine? Natural Machines and Origins of Science" and "Finding Your Invisible Elephant. A Science Requires, and is Shaped by, a Tractable Subject Matter". The articles aren't as polished as I wish they were - my New Years resolution is to do better.

Comment by HalMorris on Why do you really believe what you believe regarding controversial subjects? · 2015-01-04T21:12:53.013Z · LW · GW

This rules out religion, politics, philosophy and most policy proposals as interesting controversies, leaving scientific and epistemological questions.

Slightly problematic unless you don't admit epistemology being part of philosophy. And it seems like almost as big a swamp as the rest of philosophy, though the problems seem much more worth resolving than in most of philosophy.

There is a paper "Experts: Which ones should you trust" addressing this issue by Alvin Goldman ( -- you need JSTOR or something to actually get the article), one of the biggest names in epistemology and specifically social epistemology. Actually I don't think the article does very much to resolve the issue unfortunately. By the way, there are two schools of thought self-described as social epistemology which don't acknowledge each other except mostly to trade deprecations. Actually I don't think the article does very much to resolve the issue unfortunately.

Comment by HalMorris on Friendly UI · 2014-12-29T02:51:41.077Z · LW · GW

I think it is a very good question. Forget ideas you may have had about UX 10 or 20 years ago. Google is a user interface to the rest of the internet. "Unfriendly" might not be the word for it, but the impression that it is there to serve me is an illusion. It is becoming too much like the "friendly" used car salesman.

Whatever we want to access on the internet is increasingly mediated by highly intelligent interfaces that have their own agendas, and I doubt we have thought enough about what constraints it would take to keep these agendas from getting out of hand. In a worst case scenario, these agents might systematically mislead people so as to hide some uncontrollable super-agent being put into place. It is the old agency problem. The attempt to impose ethics and good behavior on those we take to be our agents (doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, finance advisers) raises different questions from those aimed at most fellow beings. "Professional ethics" is a name for one sometimes effective approach to the problem, and it imposes a whole other set of constraints than those we put on peoples treatment of one another generally, so I think it is worth looking at from a special angle which might well be neglected by FAI generally.

Comment by HalMorris on Why "Changing the World" is a Horrible Phrase · 2014-12-29T01:59:59.307Z · LW · GW

I think it's still useful to point out when its done, and that was what I was trying to do here with that point. Just because it's an endemic everywhere doesn't mean it shouldn't be understood and is not a problem towards this one mentality.

Black-and-white thinking is more dangerous the more important the area of thinking is. This area (one's perceived 'purpose' in life) is quite important, so I believed that this was dangerous enough to point out and think about.

I totally agree it's dangerous and worth pointing out. And humankind is is serious danger. I have no idea what the odds are; it's one of my points of agreement with N. N. Taleb that another addiction of human race is thinking we know -- thinking we can calculate the odds.

Have I made you feel defensive? If so, not at all what I intended. I've had enough of those games. If you took my post as saying "Your post is lame and pointless so I'm 1-upping you", I sincerely urge you to question that, and wonder if that was some sort of automatic reaction and if so, where it might have come from.

I was glad to see your post; it's one of the more interesting things to come up here lately -- it just reminded me of my point of view, which is related but somewhat different.

Comment by HalMorris on Why "Changing the World" is a Horrible Phrase · 2014-12-28T21:03:28.424Z · LW · GW

Basically, I am in total agreement, although w.r.t.

Problem 2: ‘Changing the World’ Creates Black and White Thinking

Actually, I think human beings can't help being drawn to black and white thinking of one kind or another. Even while thinking this, an insidious something in my mind is trying to turn it into some kind of black and white thinking: There are two kinds of people in the world: people who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and people who don't.

So I suggest you have the causation backwards, and rather, the reason so many heated arguments fall into some dichotomy between two Schelling points (like "Change the World" <--> "Stop the catastrophe caused by the maniacs trying to change the world") is a tendency so central to our being that we can't ever expect to extinguish it -- we can only learn to be vigilant about it, laugh at ourselves (and others).

At bottom, I think it is something like an instinct for orienting oneself, like "my people" vs "those I'd better beware of", which to me seems right for hunter-gatherers, who are very likely to only know of two groups (or they can easily view it this way): the people I live my life with, cooperate with, who are mostly likely to defend me in some way, vs those other people who don't think, talk, or decorate their bodies in the proper way, who have neutral at best, and frequently hostile intentions towards me and my people.

Ask yourself (ozziegooen) whether it's happened to you to some extent. Was there, in the feelings that motivated you to post, an element of anticipation of the agreement of people you'd like to get to know better, and simultaneous head-shaking over all those silly people to whom "Change the world" seems meaningful? There certainly was for me while reading it.

Comment by HalMorris on Velocity of behavioral evolution · 2014-12-21T00:31:58.716Z · LW · GW

So if I understand what you're suggesting, mice might have inherited a self-gene-modification facility that for smells passing certain criteria (highly associated with a threat somehow), can splice into the genome a representation of a receptor for that smell directly engineered from the molecular structure that "is" that smell. By modifying the genome, it seems we must mean modifying the genome in some or all sperm cells in males, and some or all egg cells in females.

Alternatively, mice sperm or egg cells might contain a previously unknown organelle into which the organism somehow routes samples of really bad smells that would play an active role in structuring the olfactory area of the embryo mouse brain predetermining their reaction to that molecule. This might predict a "washing out" effect over some number of generations.

If such a special case of Lamarkian modification is remotely plausible, it seems impossible to generalize to any sorts of trait other than smell perception.

I vaguely remember some other cases where internal stem cell structure other than the DNA played some role given as an example in Miriam Solomon's Social Epistemology as examples of challenges to Darwinism -- but they also seemed to come down to freakish ungeneralizable phenomena.

Comment by HalMorris on Rationality Quotes December 2014 · 2014-12-05T19:25:44.571Z · LW · GW

Militant atheism is of course more than just not believing in god There is also believing that terrible things are almost sure to happen when people believe in god (largely true with the collection of esp Abrahamic gods we have running around these days) AND believing that getting people not to believe in god will make it so much better

The USSR helped prove that "godless religions" can have all the worst characteristics of the worst religions (of course they didn't truly wipe out religion, but the dominant ideology didn't involve a theistic god -- we could debate whether it made "history" a sort of god.

As with so many things, including "regime change", it is harder than it looks to eliminate something bad without getting something worse.

Of course LW is very conscious of the need to put something better in place of the old thinking.

Comment by HalMorris on Rationality Quotes December 2014 · 2014-12-05T00:47:50.875Z · LW · GW

If atheism is a religion then "OFF" is a TV channel


Comment by HalMorris on Irrationalism on Campus? · 2014-12-02T02:25:43.658Z · LW · GW

Thanks. I appreciate the additional point of view and observations.

Comment by HalMorris on Narcissistic Contrarianism · 2014-12-02T02:20:59.732Z · LW · GW

I'm extremely intellectually compulsive if I do say so perhaps immodestly

To break a little bad news, calling yourself "intellectually compulsive" really isn't complimenting yourself.

Generally I expect (and get) a higher quality of sarcasm than this from LW.

In your prev. post to which I was responding -- headed "Not everything is signaling", you seemed to be reading me as thinking everything is signalling,

In saying

Some people are just intellectually compulsive, and don't spend their days saying or doing things primarily to present an image to others. No doubt that attitude is hard for those who do to comprehend, just as it is difficult for those who don't to get their head around the attitude of those who do.

It seemed like you might be promoting being "intellectually compulsive" with the withering clause "No doubt that attitude is hard for those who do [my interp: mostly preoccupy themselves with presenting an image] to comprehend". I hope you can see why I inferred that the "intellectually compulsive" were a superior fraternity to those who "mostly preoccupy themselves with presenting an image".

But it seems that by your lights, the intellectually compulsive are trumped by those who know that

ideas are a means to accomplishing things in the world. Indulging in a compulsion to tidy them up regardless of any intent or plan to use them is intellectual OCD, mental masturbation, or both, depending on the precise drive/reward structure of the compulsion.

So would that be your characterization of those involved in pure mathematics? To say nothing of those who spent centuries collating tables of apparent (as seen from position x,y on earth on x date/time) positions of the planets against the backdrop of the fixed stars which became the raw data for validating Kepler's and Newton's theses. Were they OCD mental masturbators whose lives were wasted?

I think perhaps you are spending an inordinate amount of effort making other writers seem like silly straw men. I would suggest you primarily read posts that you can respect, and bother to understand and engage with. I am being serious here, trying not to engage in mere putdown-ism.

Comment by HalMorris on [Link] If we knew about all the ways an Intelligence Explosion could go wrong, would we be able to avoid them? · 2014-11-23T16:22:12.746Z · LW · GW

I'm pretty new to this although I've read Kurzweil's book and Bostrom's Superintelligence, and a couple of years worth of mostly lurking on LW, so if there's if there's a shitload of thinking about this I hope to be corrected civilly

If friendly AI is to be not just a substitute for but our guardian against unfriendly AI, won't we end up thinking of all sorts of unfriendly AI tactics, and putting them into the friendly AI so it can anticipate and thwart them? If so, is there any chance of self-modification in the friendly AI turning all that against us? Ultimately, we'd count on the friendly AI itself trying to imagine and develop countermeasures against unfriendly AI tactics that are beyond our imagination, but then same problem maybe.

I've been pondering for some time, especially prompted by the book Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram, how one might distinguish qualities of possible knowledge that make them more or less likely to be of general benefit to humankind. Conflict knowledge seems to have a general problem. It is often developed under the optimistic assumption that it will give "us" who are well-intentioned the ability to make everybody else behave -- or what is close to the same thing, it is developed under existential threat such that it is difficult to think a few years out -- we need it or the evil ones will annihilate us. Hence the US and the atom bomb from 1945-49. Note that this kind of situation also motivates some (who have anticipated where I'm going) to insist "We have this advantage today -- we probably won't have it a few years from now -- lets maximize our advantage while we have it (i.e. bomb the hell out of the USSR in 1946).

Another kind of knowledge might be called value-added knowledge -- knowledge that disproves assumptions about economics being a zero-sum game. Better agriculture, house construction, health measures ... One can always come up with counterexamples and some are quite non-trivial -- the Internet facilitates formation of terrorist groups and other "echo chambers" of people with destructive or somehow non-benign belief systems. Maybe indeed media development falls in some middle-ground between value-added and conflict-oriented knowledge. Almost anything that can be considered "beneficial to humankind" might just advantage one supremely evil person, but I still think we can meaningfully speak of its general tendency to be beneficial, while the tendency of conflict-knowledge seems mostly in the long run to be neutral at best

Boyd, while developing a radically new philosophy of war-fighting got few rewards in the way of promotion and he was always embattled in the military establishment, but he collected around him a few strong acolytes, and did really if inadequately affect the design of fighter planes and their tactics, and his thought grew more and more ambitious until they embraced the art of war generally, and Coram strongly suggests he was as the side of the planners of the first Gulf War, and had a huge impact on how that was waged.

Unfortunately, as the book was being written several years later, there was speculation that people like Al Qaeda had incorporated some of the lessons of new warfare doctrines developed by the US.

It is generally problematic to predict where knowledge construction is going -- because by definition we are making predictions about stuff the nature of which we don't understand because it hasn't been thought up yet -- yet it seems we had better try, and Moore's law gives one bit of encouragement. MIRI seems to be in part a huge exercise in this problematic sort of thinking.

If I have anything more than maybe "food for thought", it may be to look for general tendencies (perhaps unprovable tendencies like Moore's law) in the way kinds of knowledge affect conflict.

Comment by HalMorris on Narcissistic Contrarianism · 2014-11-21T19:11:16.738Z · LW · GW

I am deeply suspicious when people try to explain away their opponents' beliefs, rather than defeat them intellectually

Part of your misunderstanding, I think, is to assume I have an "opponent". I've read 3 of Taleb's books, and will probably read him again -- maybe some of the more technical stuff he puts on his facebook page, when I'm willing to work hard enough to understand it, but sometimes I take him with a grain of salt, or think to myself "Oh I wish you wouldn't do that". I think I've read enough of Paglia (which isn't much) for a lifetime, though maybe I'll be proven wrong some day -- the possibility of proving myself wrong just isn't enough of a priority to make me pick up another article of hers at present.

Neither are you an enemy, and in this whole exchange, I've learned two useful concepts, one of them from you, so thanks.

You are calling for a refusal to engage with arguments you specifically concede are apparently persuasive ("dazzle their fans"),

No, I wouldn't call that ("dazzle...) a concession that the arguments are "apparently persuasive", whatever that means, and "calling for a refusal to engage with arguments" sounds like a sort of high drama that I'd very seldom if ever engage in.

Comment by HalMorris on Narcissistic Contrarianism · 2014-11-21T15:51:27.488Z · LW · GW

Actually I suspect there are a few more self-aware ones who just have a grand old time dazzling people.

In order of decreasing likelihood:

Norman Mailer (and I was trying to think of someone probably living or more recently deceased who's more Norman Mailer than Norman Mailer -- any clues?)

Camille Paglia

Nicholas Nassim Taleb

Comment by HalMorris on Narcissistic Contrarianism · 2014-11-21T15:45:42.906Z · LW · GW

The easiest way to filter out 99 percent of this is to ignore anything that has no impact on your life (ie doesn't pay rent).

Eh? If I was renting, I think that would have an impact on my life -- so maybe this is yet another metaphor I never heard of.

If everyone was processing reality to the best of their analytical (and other) abilities, and honestly passing on the conclusions they reach then virtuosity at recognizing rational fallacies would go a lot further than I think it actually does; I'm afraid much of what we need is a social understanding of others.

Just FWIW, Aspergers types, which many I encounter here are self-proclaimed to be, have a chance to do this better than other people, because they have to do consciously what others have no idea that they're doing. By the way, book recommendation: The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch. Very funny and enlightening, about an Aspergers/non-Aspergers mixed marriage. My wife and I had a good time reading it.

Comment by HalMorris on Narcissistic Contrarianism · 2014-11-21T15:30:57.062Z · LW · GW

I'm extremely intellectually compulsive if I do say so perhaps immodestly; just for example, I read a lot of books by people I expect to disagree with, and in fields I start out with no clue about; but I'm trying to get better and better at knowing where to draw the line -- and to share some of thoughts on on this in part so they can be criticized.

With less diligence, you simply stop when you cease interacting with people who can beat your kung fu.

Well, here I am, still interacting with you. Maybe my kung fu is being beaten, maybe not (by the way, sadly, David Carradine died a few years back in a Bangkok hotel of asphyxiation -- at least that's what Wikipedia says -- I looked it up because I had the notion maybe it was very recent. I used to like Kung Fu, but then when Carradine became such an action/adventure B actor, I was disillusioned - such are the follies of youth).

Comment by HalMorris on Narcissistic Contrarianism · 2014-11-21T15:15:52.589Z · LW · GW

I like that - probably a good rule of thumb, although it a stock-picker starts off saying they're a contrarian, I wouldn't necessarily stop listening. I'd also be more specific and say that labeled "contrarian" in an approving way by someone I trust might be worth paying attention to.

But rules of thumb aren't meant to be so wordy, so I still like yours.

Comment by HalMorris on Narcissistic Contrarianism · 2014-11-21T15:13:11.610Z · LW · GW

That's a much broader (and vaguer) class.

Comment by HalMorris on Narcissistic Contrarianism · 2014-11-21T15:11:56.394Z · LW · GW

Ah, another irregular verb. I am a deep and original thinker, synthesising good ideas from multiple sources without regard to ideology.

I'm going over the verbs trying to locate what you're referring to as an irregular verb. Am I making a mistake? Does "irregular verb" have some metaphorical connotation I'm not aware of?

You seem to follow with 3 likely different interpretations of the same behavior. If I understand it correctly, that is kind of interesting, I'll warrant

I am deeply suspicious when people try to explain away their opponents' beliefs, rather than defeat them intellectually

So you have a criteria for being skeptical of (I won't say "explaining away", which would be presumptuous) my arguments having to do with the style of my argument rather than its content. That is good - I think we all should have such criteria, unless we plan to intellectually take apart all of the thousands upon thousands of assertions that cross our paths.

I have been proposing one such. You just proposed another, one which is generally pretty good.

Once you criticize something as "to explain away" most of what else you say is apt to be redundant.

Comment by HalMorris on Irrationalism on Campus? · 2014-11-21T04:11:40.251Z · LW · GW

Thanks for a good humored response.

Yeah, awesome is one that gets me.

Comment by HalMorris on Irrationalism on Campus? · 2014-11-21T01:19:44.017Z · LW · GW

That was impressively opaque.

By the way, is it really "bog-standard"? I thought it was "hog-standard".

Comment by HalMorris on Narcissistic Contrarianism · 2014-11-21T01:00:33.889Z · LW · GW

Well, now I feel bludgeoned. To refer to your judgement or theory about what is going on with me as simply "seeing", and embed it in a subordinate clause is an old rhetorical trick, which I think we should avoid here.

But really, I am very interested in the problem of knowing (and somehow having that knowledge be transmittable) who it is profitable to listen to, and who will lead one astray, because I see a breakdown of common sense about this in the face of the profusion of "information" sources we have these days. This concern started when I began to get forwarded emails from my mother with proofs that Obama is a Muslim and that sort of thing. I worry that we may be going from a mediocre order of things, like the days of 3 major TV channels, where there is a hell of a lot going on that we don't get (but we're not apt to get all that excited and be stampeded over a cliff like the Germans were in the 1930s) to something worse than mediocre.

Comment by HalMorris on Irrationalism on Campus? · 2014-11-21T00:41:07.205Z · LW · GW

When you call it the "Brahmin class" dismissing it becomes redundant.

I think we need institutions though, in which the "marketplace of ideas" isn't just the marketplace. Lesswrong is one of them, as are universities.

I believe that the rules of the game in academic research can be very productive as long as there is a there there. I tried to model this as "discovering natural machines", which is what I think Newton did, or "Finding your Invisible Elephant" -- if the blind men actually have an elephant then they may be able to map it if they go about it the right way. But if they have no elephant - one is hugging a tree trunk, another has hold of a snake and another is pushing on a wall - no amount of "scientific method" will help them find the nonexistent elephant. This is why I think some disciplines, like literary criticism and some branches of sociology, despite having peer-reviewed journals and all that, simply go round in circles, and lead to distrust of others, which have something to offer.

Comment by HalMorris on Irrationalism on Campus? · 2014-11-20T23:41:07.906Z · LW · GW

I don't rate it highly; it's just that it's typical of what I notice a concerted chorus of people saying insistently, and I can see that it has an effect on public opinion - mostly it reinforces general distrust of "intellectual elites"). Maybe I shouldn't have used that link at all -- anyway, it seems to be detracting some attention from the questions I was asking.

Comment by HalMorris on Irrationalism on Campus? · 2014-11-20T22:54:32.407Z · LW · GW

Actually, I hope someone else will respond to the original question of 'what's been your recent experience', and we don't get totally bogged down in "micro-debates"

Comment by HalMorris on Irrationalism on Campus? · 2014-11-20T22:47:21.976Z · LW · GW

That's a bit snarky, but yes, "correct style" may be arbitrary, but without it, we'd drift towards not being able to understand each other. All told, I think a professor (esp. in a thesis writing prep class) is expected to correct students' grammar, and this one was treated shabbily.

Comment by HalMorris on Irrationalism on Campus? · 2014-11-20T22:30:57.276Z · LW · GW

No contradiction there, in my opinion.

Comment by HalMorris on Irrationalism on Campus? · 2014-11-20T22:30:17.458Z · LW · GW

personal strategies for being more resilient and assertive in the face of perceived slights

I totally agree that we need that.

Comment by HalMorris on Irrationalism on Campus? · 2014-11-20T22:24:49.650Z · LW · GW

I think you're right that a lot of par for the course friction between groups is being cherry-picked and made to look like a broad trend, when it isn't nearly so broad if it is anything.

There's a lot of cherry picking, and a lot of making up out of whole cloth.

An example of the latter: with an addendum:

Note that the mythical "8 levels" were so well established, in a way, that Yahoo is even now, spitting it out matter of factly, 3 months after I wrote my piece. I just tried it (entering: What are the 8 levels of control as outlined by Saul Alinsky?) to

And yet, I warrant very few people have any idea that it's going around, unless they spend quite a bit of time on right wing web sites -- and read the comments, because the site's main author(s) -- at least on the more important blogs, won't be caught telling such flat-out lies.

Comment by HalMorris on Irrationalism on Campus? · 2014-11-20T21:53:06.002Z · LW · GW

I'm 62 and have seen a lot, but what falenas108 describes sounds kind of horrific to me. Also I don't see "cherry picking" in part because he/she's just giving a couple of points of data, not using a couple of points of data to draw broad conclusions. If you haven't looked at the link I suggest you do. It seems to me many people's fears and rages are being played on, and many people find themselves agreeable "echo chambers" where they goad each other into ever more extreme views. I remember in the 1970s working (as a nurses aid in a state mental hospital) with a guy who was as sure as he was of anything that the Moon Landing was a hoax (note - a fellow employee, not a patient) and that seemed pretty remarkable back then, but it seems pretty ordinary now.

Comment by HalMorris on Irrationalism on Campus? · 2014-11-20T21:28:51.036Z · LW · GW

Thanks, a very interesting response. But what do you mean by "SJ" types? Actually the whole sentence "This article is construing actions taken to be issues SJ types are complaining about to be ones that are not serious or concerning" is a bit hard to parse though I think I understand all but "SJ types".

Comment by HalMorris on prediction and capacity to represent · 2014-11-05T23:30:24.091Z · LW · GW

Sometimes a black box approach works, sometimes not. Through neuroscience we are learning many things about how the mind works, and the varieties of human minds that the old black box behaviorist approach never came close to. In the stock market, technical investors (vs the Warren Buffet types) are the black boxers. Sometimes they are going along very nicely when they encounter a big exception to what they think they know and their strategy crashes. Ideally we'd like to know the structure of a thing, but black box analysis can play a big role when the thing is for some reason opaque.

Comment by HalMorris on Today's Extremist "Radical" Professors vs the Old "Red Intellectuals" · 2014-09-01T19:46:10.784Z · LW · GW

I'll take that as constructive criticism. Lately my time is very fragmented and scarce but I've been frustrated by a strong desire to express certain insights that I think/hope I have.

Comment by HalMorris on Today's Extremist "Radical" Professors vs the Old "Red Intellectuals" · 2014-09-01T19:44:11.820Z · LW · GW

Postmodernism is anti-Enlightenment and views Marxism as an unfortunate result of the Enlightenment the same as capitalism.

(ChristianKI) Could you name people that argue that position explicitly?

Here is an article that addresses the issue pretty directly:

It starts off with

*During the Thatcher-Reagan-Bush era, just as critical intellectuals and left political activists had won a small place for the concepts of political economy and class analysis in academia, postmodernism and post-structuralism replaced Marxism as the favored mode of Anglo-American intellectual radicalism.

Strictly speaking, postmodernism and post-structuralism are not the same thing. What I mean by these terms is an array of literary and cultural theory rooted in a Nietzschean -- as opposed to a Marxian -- critique of bourgeois modernity. Postmodernists hold that reason -- the leading principle of European post-Enlightenment modernity -- is not universal, but merely masks relations of power. ... Postmodernists reject the notion that the interests and outlook of the working class or any other group constitute the basis for liberation of all of people (my note: This goes against the heart of Marxism). They are suspicious of abstract categories like class, and deny the existence of unified subjects -- individuals or classes -- with historical agency.*

Further on:

They [postmodernists] often adopt a playful, ironic, self-contradictory style, reflecting their view that there is no correct analysis of anything, but only an infinite variety of “readings.”

It is complicated by the fact that Marxism tends to be bent into pretzels all sorts of ways in order to make it agree with the fashions of the time, be they Freudianism, postmodernism, or the "New (largely Anarchic) Left" of the 60s/70s

It might be arguable that the kernel of truth in postmodernism can be approached via Ainslie (see

Here is another bit from

While [Michel] Foucault himself was deeply involved in a number of progressive political causes and maintained close personal ties with members of the far-Left, he was also controversial with Leftist thinkers of his day, including those associated with various strains of Marxism, proponents of Left libertarianism (e.g. Noam Chomsky) and Humanism (e.g. Jürgen Habermas), for his rejection of what he deemed to be Enlightenment concepts of freedom, liberation, self-determination and human nature. Instead, Foucault focused on the ways in which such constructs can foster cultural hegemony, violence and exclusion.

Habermas has been strenuously engaged with postmodernists like Foucault in defense of the value of Enlightenment rationality).

Postmodernism/Poststructuralism is a complex and confusing stew that I've bumped into in the course of study of history and later history of ideas and epistemology, especially social epistemology. There are two very separate groups who call themselves "social epistemologists". One leans towards postmodernism, headed by Thomas Fuller, which has an online forum at One of the complaints against it is that it is “veriphobic” by Alvin Goldman, the main standard-bearer of the other branch of Soc. Epist. (Knowledge in a Social World, 7ff). This is something akin to saying it is highly relativistic and opposed to any standard of "objective truth", and the postmodernists have tended to treat all religions gingerly and have found favor among some theologists, and they (esp Thos. Fuller and Feyerabend -- a sort of precursor to this school of epistemological thought) have engaged in apologetics for creationism.

Many articles in Fuller's forum have mentioned "enlightenment"

For more on the different approaches to Social Epistemology, see (one of the best articles by far to have appeared in that forum).

Comment by HalMorris on Calibrating your probability estimates of world events: Russia vs Ukraine, 6 months later. · 2014-09-01T02:44:50.516Z · LW · GW

Our estimate of Putin's estimate of Obama's view on the U.S. empire is critical to calibrating our beliefs.

That is true, and how much of Putin's estimate of Obama is due to relentless right-wing propaganda saying he's weak on everything?

I'm not convinced he's failed to do anything useful that say GWB would have done (or any up and coming GOP leader). I think a big problem we have now is we're in umpteen situations in which there's hardly any clear cut winning move.

Comment by HalMorris on Calibrating your probability estimates of world events: Russia vs Ukraine, 6 months later. · 2014-09-01T02:43:34.274Z · LW · GW

Obama clearly wants to pull the U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan, which under Bush were big parts of the U.S. empire.

If Iraq was ever part of the U.S. empire, we might have done what it took to govern it, and would be getting cheap oil from Iraq, which I thought was just a fantasy of the left. Maybe you'd like the U.S. to act as an old fashioned Empire, but nobody except maybe Dick Cheney wants to do that. It might work but I doubt it, but most important it has no chance of happening and if part of your critique of Obama is that he's not an old fashioned imperialist, I think Teddy Roosevelt might have been the last American one.

Putin is former KGB and the KGB had a long history of getting leftwing intellectuals to spy for them because the intellectuals disliked the West.

Today's "left wing" intellectuals are blatherers. Postmodernism is anti-Enlightenment and views Marxism as an unfortunate result of the Enlightenment the same as capitalism. Noam Chomsky calls himself an anarchist. They tend to be anti-everything when it comes to actually doing something. And Obama is certainly nothing like that crowd. There is no international Communist movement, and there's been virtually none since Brezhnev, though the USSR ran around trying to buy a lot of countries. If you want a clear picture of the era of "Red Intellectuals", read Witness by Whittaker Chambers, and then I suggest Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America by Ted Morgan (despite the subtitle, McCarthyism is less than half of what the book covers). Chambers was the star witness for Nixon's "pumpkin papers" trial. Both cover a lot of just how deep the international Communist movement got into America, and Chambers writes beautifully and helps you to see why that was. He also speaks for the many who became deeply disillusioned by the Hitler-Stalin pact. I used to think that was odd because in my view it was a very natural reaction to Chamberlain's Munich, but the Communists really did put up a very good show of defining and opposing the Fascists (I say "a good show" for a reason but it's too complicated to say more), and for as long as that was true, a lot of people put a halo on them for that, then many of them because naively heartbroken.

Comment by HalMorris on Why appearance matters or “to behave as if” · 2014-09-01T01:31:16.472Z · LW · GW

If you thought something like this you confirmed how prejudices dominate our mind.

You might have written "If you thought something like this then you're not reading this line".

There are two kinds of people in the world, people who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and people who don't.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Good luck finding the right image to project to the world. It's not easy.

Comment by HalMorris on Rationality Quotes July 2014 · 2014-08-19T00:42:32.455Z · LW · GW

Thank you for posting that. I like this quote very much, having started thinking about Alinsky when I started noticing references to his supposed "8 levels of control" for turning the world into a totalitarian zombie factory, beginning with "Control healthcare and you control the people". Does this sound like the same Saul Alinsky? No - it's a myth that started circulating in 2013, and I showed just how far it is from the truth (and how widely it is circulated) in

So why is Alinsky getting this "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" treatment? I think because this was the year leading up to full "Obamacare" implementation, and another myth has long been established that Alinsky is Obama's Idol (which I think is almost as bogus as the "8 levels of control" but that is far more difficult to establish -- it's what led me to wonder about this:

Comment by HalMorris on A "Holy Grail" Humor Theory in One Page. · 2014-08-19T00:22:13.591Z · LW · GW

This discussion would surely be incomplete without some mention of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so I am hereby mentioning it.

Comment by HalMorris on [meta] Future moderation and investigation of downvote abuse cases, or, I don't want to deal with this stuff · 2014-08-18T00:28:02.853Z · LW · GW

There's no hard and fast rule, but if you've downvoted someone more than 8 times in one day or read through someone's comment history and downvoted past the first page, you are doing something wrong.

It's not wrong if most of what the user writes is bad.

I tend to agree with the first statement as a rule of thumb. If you're reading and downvoting 8 postings in a day that you think are not worth reading (apparently), it seems like you're taking it upon yourself to punish that person, whereas I think it is better if we try to read what we consider to be valuable, and if we happen across some writing that seems bad, sure, critique it with a -1 if that seems worthwhile, but don't go on a jag reading all the bad (by your standards) writing you can find and downvoting it.

Comment by HalMorris on From Natural (or Naturalized) to Social Epistemology · 2014-08-13T03:24:40.951Z · LW · GW

Having looked at "Some Heuristics for Evaluating the Soundness of the Academic Mainstream in Unfamiliar Fields", I'm not convinced. I am grappling towards my own ideas for heuristics in this essay: Alternatively, I would ask the question whether the blind men are really feeling up an elephant or not. Perhaps one really is caressing a huge floppy leaf and another is hugging a tree trunk, etc. In some disciplines, I would say there really is an elephant, ergo explorations and comparing of notes will tend to converge on some solid picture. In other fields, such as literary criticism, I doubt that there is an elephant at all; people are just grabbing this and that leaf, vine, branch, tree trunk or rock and, and out of them imagining mythological animals. A lot more should be said about why academic disciplines work when they work. I'd say peer review and the other academic machinery do a better job than most any other arrangement (such as think tanks funded by people whose real interest is in promoting ideological points) -- as long as there really is an elephant. Where there is no elephant, or nobody has really found it yet, all the peer review in the world and/or attempts to mimic physics won't prevent it becoming a factory for turning out "fashionable nonsense".

Comment by HalMorris on From Natural (or Naturalized) to Social Epistemology · 2014-08-12T18:35:06.402Z · LW · GW

Thanks. I'll have a look at the links you provided. I haven't found any work in Social Epistemology that was up to my hopes and expectations, but not treating at least half of epistemology in a social context seems like utter blindness. Goldman is good at laying out what should be included in SE, including a "systems oriented" branch, and perhaps less good at realizing the program.

Comment by HalMorris on Every Paul needs a Jesus · 2014-08-12T01:04:28.017Z · LW · GW

BTW I'm sure I've proposed general principals based on things of which I have a tenuous knowledge, but I'd rather somebody tell me how I've gone too far out on a limb than be in some space where everybody nods along -- that tends to be boring.

Comment by HalMorris on The dangers of dialectic · 2014-08-11T19:28:40.686Z · LW · GW

I think it's worth quoting some of the Wikipedia article on Aufhebung that you link to:

Aufheben or Aufhebung[1] is a German word with several seemingly contradictory meanings, including "to lift up", "to abolish", "cancel" or "suspend", or "to sublate".[2] The term has also been defined as "abolish", "preserve", and "transcend".

No Wonder we're confused.

Comment by HalMorris on Every Paul needs a Jesus · 2014-08-11T18:13:56.806Z · LW · GW

I'm afraid it all sounds too pat, and the historic analysis is poor and superficial. I really don't relish being so blunt but I don't see how to avoid it while saying what seems true to me.

Mormonism and Scientology were each also founded largely by a single person who had, let us say, an idealistic exterior and a pragmatic, manipulative interior, combining the two roles in one person.

Mormonism would be perfect for this thesis if only the writer knew something about it. It was founded by Joseph Smith, who conveyed the ideological vision (and presumably forged the Book of Mormom). Smith was lynched long before the Mormons got to Utah, and the movement came into the hands of a brilliant institution builder named Brigham Young, who really built the Mormon establishment of Utah (before it became a state).

Marx taught a radical and highly impractical theory of how workers could take over the means of production and create a state-free Utopia. Lenin and Stalin took control of the organizations built around those theories, and reworked them into a strong, centrally-controlled state.

My reading suggests Marx taught a theory of how history works, and in terms of what to do, made predictions about the kind of moment in which revolution would succeed; he also taught that a certain class, the proletariat, should act in its own best interests and feel no compunction about crushing the previously dominant class, the Bourgeoisie, and his style of debate, completely embraced by Lenin, taught that vitriol, ridicule, and implicit preaching of hate were the weapons of choice in phases leading up to violent struggle, and strongly influenced the tone of political struggle after the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" is established. And then neither Lenin nor Stalin established anything like the end state of affairs imagined by Marx.

In Paul's day, my impression is that Jesus was a set of stories and writings, not all that consistent, but which had started a movement in the Jewish world that was starting to make some headway outside that world. Paul and his successors determined who the Jesus we would remember was.

The French Revolutions illustrates how our recollection of history gets reduced to a few icons with slightly more solidity than "the thrifty Scotsman" -- just sort of canonical images people have in their heads. The French Revolution was a chaotic extremely hard to follow sequence of events. Robespierre dominated events for only a few months of it, ending in the most bloody and out of control phase (the tribunal Robespierre created condemned him in the end), and made people ready for some sort of more orderly autocratic government.

In the American Revolution, many theorists wrote important contributions before Thomas Paine appeared on the scene, and in 1776, I've read from at least one historian that many people were depressed over having lost the "spirit of '75". Paine did much to bring public opinion around to the idea of independence, but independence is just one of many parts of the ideology of the American Revolution. Jefferson with editing help or interference of a committee wrote the Declaration of Independence which distilled and channelled the thought of writers of the previous century reflecting both the general European enlightenment, the British and Scottish branches of the enlightenment and vigorous public discussion that ran from about 1640 to the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, and continued political expressions that were much freer in Britain than anywhere else at the time.

George Washington played a significant role, but no more so than possibly more people than you can count on both hands -- or at least one. He had a very solid character and was a wartime leader spanning a time when things looked hopeless to the victory at Yorktown. After four years of retirement, he lead his prestige to the Constitutional Convention, and out of that he became president. But the cast of the founding of the United States was very much of an ensemble case. Maybe Washington's symbolism helped make that possible by keeping more creative and charismatic people from taking center stage.

Re Che Guevara, it seems to me he was charismatic and wrote some inspiring things, and had movie star good looks which made him a great "poster boy" for people who have almost no idea what it was all about, but he didn't start the Cuban Revolution, but was recruited by Castro. Maybe his influence helped sway Castro to side with the USSR. Che was then able to distance himself from the more sordid reputation of the Cuban government as it ground on, and became accidentally identified with the hope of Communism against itself.

Comment by HalMorris on [deleted post] 2014-08-11T02:55:45.418Z

As we should have learned in Iraq especially, "defeating" another country in the sense of putting the whole existing power structure out of commission is sometimes relatively easy, but "taking over" another country is devilishly difficult. If the country was orderly to begin with, and recently invaded by a vicious enemy, they may abide your trying to restore them to orderliness. If they have recently allowed a vicious government to take over, and you bomb them back into the stone age and much of the population is shocked to realize that their government was far more awful than they realized (Germany post-WWII, and very partially applicable to Afghanistan), and you go in with massive resources and treat them really well (done in Germany, but not Afghanistan), then you might encounter some degree of humility for long enough to leave them with a decent government of law.