Comment by mantis on "3 Reasons It’s Irrational to Demand ‘Rationalism’ in Social Justice Activism" · 2016-06-10T21:41:04.856Z · LW · GW

In case you're still looking, I think you might find Chris Brecheen's "Social Justice Bard" blog edifying, though he doesn't connect social justice ideas to Christianity that I've seen. For that, some of the blogs on the Progressive Christian Channel at might help (Slacktivist is particularly social-justice-oriented), as well as some of the ones on the Atheist Channel whose authors are ex-Christians and still draw inspiration from what they see as Christianity's good points (e.g. Love Joy Feminism, Roll to Disbelieve and An Atheist in Dixie).

Comment by mantis on Meetup : Tempe, AZ (ASU) · 2014-03-04T00:44:49.315Z · LW · GW

Ah, shoot. Finally a meet up at a time I could ordinarily attend, and it happens to be the night I have dinner reservations at SCC Culinary Arts Department dining room. They're not so easy to get, so it's not something I could easily reschedule.

Comment by mantis on Meetup : Tempe, AZ: How to Measure Anything I · 2013-11-20T20:31:31.184Z · LW · GW

I work Monday through Friday, and am generally off between 5:30 and 6:00 PM. I work up in North Scottsdale, so it tends to take half an hour or so to get down to Tempe during rush hour. There are other social events I attend after work most Wednesdays and every other Thursday, but I'm usually free on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday evenings.

Comment by mantis on Meetup : Tempe, AZ: How to Measure Anything I · 2013-10-25T03:50:38.102Z · LW · GW

Does your group ever meet later in the evening? I'd be interested in attending a Less Wrong meetup here in the valley, but I work full-time, so Friday afternoon is no good for me. Would I be right in inferring from the location and time that most of your members are ASU students?

Comment by mantis on A Voting Puzzle, Some Political Science, and a Nerd Failure Mode · 2013-10-11T06:06:39.564Z · LW · GW

Let's leave "intelligent" aside and focus on the "rational" necessary condition for being "intelligent and rational." Also, let's dig down past the label "conservative Christian" (or "conservative Catholic," as Chris actually said) to some of the beliefs that constitute conservative Christianity and conservative Catholicism. For example, in the American context, a conservative Christian who isn't Catholic is probably some variety of creationist, and quite likely a young-earth creationist. Finding out that a person is a YEC would reduce my probability estimate that that person is rational to effectively zero, regardless of what else they had said up to that point; in my experience, it is not possible for a person to know enough about rationality to practice it, and simultaneously be ignorant enough of the natural sciences to believe that the Earth was created in essentially its present form with its present biota less than 10,000 years ago.

Being a conservative Catholic, as I understand that phrase, necessarily entails believing that homosexuality and contraception are morally wrong according to "natural law" which can supposedly be derived without recourse to divine revelation, and also believing that the College of Cardinals, a group of men who conspired to conceal the sexual abuse of children on a massive scale and thus enable it to continue for decades, are the best possible arbiters of morality for the rest of us. (If you don't believe those two things, you may still be a liberal Catholic, but you are not a conservative one.) Those beliefs are likewise not ones that someone can both hold and be a rational person. They do not, however, preclude intelligence; I would note Justice Antonin Scalia as an excellent example of a highly intelligent, deeply irrational conservative Catholic who uses his intelligence in the service of his irrational beliefs and goals.

Comment by mantis on Torture vs. Dust Specks · 2012-11-21T20:54:13.758Z · LW · GW

I think that's probably more practical than trying to make it continuous, considering that our nervous systems are incapable of perceiving infinitesimal changes.

Comment by mantis on September 2012 Media Thread · 2012-10-01T20:31:22.616Z · LW · GW

Thanks! I'll have to get hold of the first book and see how I like it -- unless there's a better place to begin reading the series? Does the publication order match the internal chronology?

Comment by mantis on September 2012 Media Thread · 2012-09-28T00:01:27.779Z · LW · GW

I have not yet read any of the novels in that series, but I did see Peter Weir's film of The Far Side of the World during its theatrical run. If you've seen it, would you say it was a good adaptation of the novel?

Comment by mantis on The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world? · 2012-09-27T20:14:02.334Z · LW · GW

I'll think about that -- from the upvotes, it appears you're not the only Less Wronger interested (at least, I assume an upvote to a one-liner request like that means "I'd like to see it, too"). I wouldn't post an unedited copy, as there are some details in it that I consider very private, as, I think, would my former girlfriend. But I'll take a look at it later and see what would need to be redacted. I would also have to ask her permission before posting any of it, of course, and I'm reluctant to bother her just now -- she has a newborn daughter (as in, born last week), so I expect she's rather preoccupied at the moment.

Comment by mantis on The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world? · 2012-09-26T20:07:37.820Z · LW · GW

The problem was that writing a huge essay on why you're breaking up with someone, including detailed analysis of why there is insufficient attraction is a horrible thing to do to someone without even giving any benefit to yourself.

I don't know that that's necessarily the case. My first serious girlfriend wrote me a very long e-mail before our break-up, laying out her rational analysis of why she believed our relationship was untenable in the long term; she actually succeeded in persuading me to see it her way, which I'd been resisting for emotional reasons. That allowed us to have an amicable parting of ways, and we remain good friends to this day.

Comment by mantis on The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world? · 2012-09-25T16:35:31.292Z · LW · GW

That's the second misunderstanding of what evolutionary psychology means that leads people to reject it on moral rather than factual grounds: if they're not indulging in the naturalistic fallacy, they're indulging in biological determinism, or think the evolutionary psychologists are. "X is a natural part of human behavior that exists because it was favored by natural selection in the past" does not mean "X is good," nor does it mean "X is inevitable" -- evo. psych. is about identifying tendencies, not certainties.

Evolution couldn't build you "to rape nubile young womenfolk," period, because humans are far too behaviorally plastic for that. What it could do, and, judging by the history of human behavior, probably did do to at least a large proportion of the male population, is built you to have an impulse to rape under some circumstances -- when rejected by a woman with whom you're already alone and with whom you had some expectation that you might have sex, for example, or when encountering a female member of an enemy population in war. Whether you act on that impulse or not depends on both the hereditary aspects of your personality and, probably more important, how you were socialized: these factors affect whether you feel any shame, empathy for your potential victim, fear of consequences, etc. that could outweigh the impulse to rape.

It's also important to understand that evo. psych. is not saying that rapists are motivated by a conscious desire to reproduce: the impulse generally takes the form "I want to get my rocks off" and/or "I want to hurt this b!+(#," not "I want to make a baby." That's probably true of the individuals committing the rapes even when rape is organized and officially sanctioned by military or political leaders as a way of "invading" an enemy population's gene pool, as in Bosnia or the Sudan.

It's also notable that evo. psych. tells us nothing about why any particular man committed rape while another man in similar circumstances did not -- nor about why some men prefer large-breasted women and others don't, for that matter. What it does offer is an explanation for why rape is part of the repertoire of human behavior at all. It's entirely possible to imagine a mammal species in which no male ever attempts to copulate with an unwilling female, and female rejection instantly shuts off male desire. As I understand it, it's even possible to identify such species in nature: IIRC, canines and the great cats, at least, have never been observed to engage in the kind of coercive copulation frequently seen in dolphins, chimps, orangutans, ducks, etc. That's pretty much what evolutionary biology would predict, too: the big carnivores are so well-armed that the risk of serious injury either to the male, or to the female (preventing her from successfully bearing and rearing the male's offspring), would most likely outweigh the reproductive advantage of copulating with more females than are receptive to the male's advances.

Comment by mantis on The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world? · 2012-09-24T23:35:06.736Z · LW · GW

people are terrible at separating normative and empirical claims

That's a much broader problem than the misunderstanding and misuse of evo. psych. I think one of the major aims of humanism/transhumanism should be getting more people to understand the difference between descriptive and prescriptive statements -- between is and ought. And, given how pervasive that confusion is across human cultures, the roots of it might be a fruitful area of investigation for evo. psych., along with other branches of cognitive science.

I can't help but notice that at least some radical feminists' aversion to evo. psych. and related fields in biology stems from their failure to distinguish normative from empirical claims. A lot of the firestorm surrounding Thornhill and Palmer's A Natural History of Rape came down to the critics indulging in the naturalistic fallacy (which is a pity, because there are plenty of legitimate criticisms to be made of Thornhill and Palmer's conclusions). Another example that springs to mind is this article by Andrea Dworkin, in which she detracts from an otherwise good argument by inserting a gratuitous slur on Edward O. Wilson's Sociobiology: The New Synthesis that demonstrates a breathtaking failure of reading comprehension on her part.

Comment by mantis on The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world? · 2012-09-24T22:48:18.908Z · LW · GW

I could point to cases like Bradwell v. Illinois for examples of tainted scientific processes,

I don't see evidence of anything resembling a scientific process, tainted or otherwise, behind Justice Bradley's patronizing pontification about "the proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex," especially when the pompous old bastard specifically attributed his view of proper gender roles to "the law of the Creator.”

Comment by mantis on The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world? · 2012-09-24T17:28:34.150Z · LW · GW

I find it interesting that both you and MixedNuts have found it necessary to invoke Nazis in order to construct a marginally convincing case for your interpretations of eridu's position. Your thought experiment boils down to an equation of "the patriarchy" as it exists in present-day Western society with Nazi Germany (which would put eridu in pretty clear violation of Godwin's Law*), and MixedNuts' counterexample to my proposed Generalized Anti-Creationist Principle is a variant on the classic example of when it's not only morally acceptable but morally obligatory to lie: "when hiding Jews from the S.S. in one's basement."

It also seems as though the "certain social contexts" where the results of evo-psych research ought to be suppressed, according to eridu, are pretty much every social context that exists outside of Women's Studies departments and the internal discussions of radical feminist organizations. That seems untenable to me.

  • I just realized that Godwin's Law is meant to prohibit a special case of Yvain's Worst Argument in the World: the case in which the archetypal member of the category into which one places X is Naziism.
Comment by mantis on The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world? · 2012-09-24T16:46:16.884Z · LW · GW

No, but all that requires is adding the qualifier "academic" to the noun "subject" in my principle, so it can't get misapplied to very unusual and extreme situations where knowledge of the specific situation could be more dangerous than the lack of that knowledge.

Comment by mantis on The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world? · 2012-09-22T00:49:45.832Z · LW · GW

If true, that does seem like a very good reason not to trust eridu or take anything he has to say seriously. As an evolutionary biologist, most familiar with this kind of anti-thought from the creationist quarter, I might state it as a Generalized Anti-Creationist Principle: "Any person who advocates ignorance or false beliefs about a subject as morally superior to true and accurate knowledge of that subject is not to be trusted or taken seriously on any subject." (See here for a good example of a creationist who goes every last angstrom of the way to this reductio ad absurdum of his position.)

This recalls Steven Pinker's critique of many aspects of twentieth century radical left-wing thought, including some radical feminist ideas, in The Blank Slate. Radical scholars in the social sciences clung (and, in at least some cases, are still clinging) to the increasingly untenable notion of the human mind as a tabula rasa for fear of what they perceive as disastrous moral consequences of it not being true, and decried every scientific advance that filled in some portion of the slate. Neither side of the political spectrum has a monopoly on pretending things are true because they think the world be better if they were, and there are an awful lot of people who could benefit from reciting the Litanies of Tarsky and Gendlin until they take them to heart.

As an aside, I have to wonder if the upvotes on my previous comment reflect a sober assessment of its quality, or simply the fact that "that which can be destroyed by the truth should be" is a huge, multi-colored, strobing applause light around these here parts. ;-)

Comment by mantis on The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world? · 2012-09-21T23:30:56.580Z · LW · GW

radical feminists believe that the very act of gathering evidence harms their cause

That's an awfully damning assessment. If true, it implies that radical feminists believe that their cause can be destroyed by the truth, and don't think that it should be. I'm not convinced that this indictment, as stated here, is true of any actual radical feminist, though.

Comment by mantis on The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world? · 2012-09-13T21:05:58.120Z · LW · GW

I think it's pretty obvious that evand mean "abortion opponents," not "abortion proponents." Make that correction and the rest of the comment is accurate.

Comment by mantis on Torture vs. Dust Specks · 2012-09-11T04:46:38.308Z · LW · GW

I might have to bring it up to a minute or two before I'd give you that -- I perceive the exponential growth in disutility for extreme pain over time during the first few minutes/hours/days as very, very steep. Now, if we posit that the people involved are immortal, that would change the equation quite a bit, because fifty years isn't proportionally that much more than fifty seconds in a life that lasts for billions of years; but assuming the present human lifespan, fifty years is the bulk of a person's life. What duration of torture qualifies as a literal fate worse than (immediate) death, for a human with a life expectancy of eighty years? I'll posit that it's more than five years and less than fifty, but beyond that I wouldn't care to try to choose.

Let's step away from outright torture and look at something different: solitary confinement. How long does a person have to be locked in a room against his or her will before it rises to a level that would have a non-zero disutility you could multiply by 3^^^3 to get a higher disutility than that of a single person (with a typical, present-day human lifespan) locked up that way for fifty years? I'm thinking, off the top of my head, that non-zero disutility on that scale would arise somewhere between 12 and 24 hours.

Comment by mantis on Torture vs. Dust Specks · 2012-09-11T04:20:20.581Z · LW · GW

Nope, that doesn't follow; multiplication isn't the only possible operation that can be applied to this scale.

Comment by mantis on Beautiful Probability · 2012-09-10T18:19:53.681Z · LW · GW

Old School statisticians thought in terms of tools, tricks to throw at particular problems.

This reminds me of a joke posted on a bulletin board in the stats department at UC Riverside. It was part of a list of humorous definitions of statistical terms. For "confidence interval," it said that the phrase uses a particular, euphemistic meaning of the word "interval;" that meaning could be used to construct similar phrases such as "hat interval," "card interval," or "interval or treat."

Comment by mantis on Torture vs. Dust Specks · 2012-09-10T17:23:34.480Z · LW · GW

True. On reflection, it's patently obvious that the Less Wrong way to deal with Omelas is not to accept that the child's suffering is necessary to the city's welfare, and dedicate oneself to finding the third alternative. "Some of them understand why," so it's obviously possible to know what the connection is between the child and the city; knowing that, one can seek some other way of providing whatever factor the tormented child provides. That does mean allowing the suffering to go on until you find the solution, though -- if you free the child and ruin Omelas, it's likely too late at that point to achieve the goal of saving both.

Comment by mantis on Torture vs. Dust Specks · 2012-09-10T17:08:40.007Z · LW · GW

If dust specks have a value of 0, then what's the smallest amount of discomfort that has a nonzero value instead?

I don't know exactly where I'd make the qualitative jump from the "discomfort" scale to the "pain" scale. There are so many different kinds of unpleasant stimuli, and it's difficult to compare them. For electric shock, say, there's probably a particular curve of voltage, amperage and duration below which the shock would qualify as discomfort, with a zero value on the pain scale, and above which it becomes pain (I'll even go so far as to say that for short periods of contact, the voltage and amperage values lies between those of a violet wand and those of a stun gun). For localized heat, I think it would have to be at least enough to cause a small first-degree burn; for localized cold, enough to cause the beginnings of frostbite (i.e. a few living cells lysed by the formation of ice crystals in their cytoplasm). For heat and cold over the whole body, it would have to be enough to overcome the body's natural thermostat, initiating hypothermia or heatstroke.

It occurs to me that I've purposefully endured levels of discomfort I would probably regard as pain with a non-zero value on the torture scale if it was inflicted on me involuntarily, as a result of working out at the gym (which has an expected payoff in health and appearance, of course), and from wearing an IV for two 36-hour periods in a pharmacokinetic study for which I'd volunteered (it paid $500); I would certainly do so again, for the same inducements. Choice makes a big difference in our subjective experience of an unpleasant stimulus.

50 years of torture for one person is probably not as bad as 25 years of torture for a trillion people.

Of course not; by the scale I posited above, 50 years for one person isn't even as bad as 25 years for two people.

If we keep doing this (halving the torture length, multiplying the number of people by a trillion) then are we always going from bad to worse?

No, but the length has to get pretty tiny (probably somewhere between a millisecond and a microsecond) before we reverse the direction.

And do we ever get to the point where each individual person tortured experiences about as much discomfort as our replacement dust speck?

Yes, we do; in fact, we eventually get to a point where each person "tortured" experiences no discomfort at all, because the nervous system is not infinitely fast nor infinitely sensitive. If you're using temperature for your torture, heat transfer happens at a finite speed; no matter how hot or cold the material that touches your skin, there's a possible time of contact short enough that it wouldn't change your skin temperature enough to cause any discomfort at all. Even an electric shock could be brief enough not to register.

Comment by mantis on Torture vs. Dust Specks · 2012-09-09T19:18:28.707Z · LW · GW

Incidentally, I think that if you pick "dust specks," you're asserting that you would walk away from Omelas; if you pick torture, you're asserting that you wouldn't.

Comment by mantis on Torture vs. Dust Specks · 2012-09-09T18:54:47.021Z · LW · GW

I don't see that it's necessary -- or possible, for that matter -- for me to assign dust specks and torture to a single, continuous utility function. On a scale of disutility that includes such events as "being horribly tortured," the disutility of a momentary irritation such as a dust speck in the eye has a value of precisely zero -- not 0.000...0001, but just plain 0, and of course, 0 x 3^^^3 = 0.

Furthermore, I think the "minor irritations" scale on which dust specks fall might increase linearly with the time of exposure, and would certainly increase linearly with number of individuals exposed to it. On the other hand, the disutility of torture, given my understanding of how memory and anticipation affect people's experience of pain, would increase exponentially over time from a range of a few microseconds to a few days, then level off to something less than a linear increase with acclimatization over the range of days to years. It would increase linearly with the number of people suffering a given degree of pain for a given amount of time. (All other things being equal, of course. People's pain tolerance varies with age, experience, and genetics; it would be much worse to inflict any given amount of pain on a young child than on an adult who's already gone through, say, Navy S.E.A.L. training, and thus demonstrated a far higher-than-average pain tolerance.)

Thus, it would be enormously worse to inflict X amount of pain on one individual for sixty minutes than on 60 individuals for one minute each, which in turn would be much worse than inflicting the same pain on 3600 individuals for one second each -- and if we could spread it out to a microsecond each for 36,000,000 people, the disutility might vanish altogether as the "experience" becomes too brief for the human nervous system to register at all, and thus ceases to be an experience. However, once we get past where acclimatization inflects the curve, it would be much worse to torture 52 people for one week each than to torture one person for an entire year. It might even be worse to torture ten people for one week each than one for an entire year -- I'm not sure of the precise values involved in this utility function, and happily, at the fine scale, I'll probably never need to work them out (the empirical test is possible in principle, of course, but could only be performed in practice by a fiend like Josef Mengele).

There's also the fact that knowing many people can and have endured a particular pain seems to make it more endurable for others who are aware of that fact. As Spider Robinson says, "Shared joy is increased, shared pain is lessened" -- I don't know if that really "refutes entropy," but both of those clauses are true individually. That's part of the reason egalitarianism, as other commenters have pointed out, has positive utility value.

Comment by mantis on The Third Alternative · 2012-09-08T00:37:56.372Z · LW · GW

Here's another Noble Lie: protectionism--that there's somehow a morally and practically important difference between trading inside your borders and trading outside them.

That would depend on whether there are any morally and practically important differences between the environmental, labor, etc. practices found inside your borders vs. those found elsewhere. Protecting the income of free, paid laborers from competition by slaveowners whose victims can produce the same goods less expensively seems pretty morally and practically important to me.

Comment by mantis on Dark Side Epistemology · 2012-08-21T16:46:31.994Z · LW · GW

Probably silly to reply almost four years later, but what the heck. I think that in a lot of cases "I feel that X" is a statement of belief in belief. That is, what the person really means is "I believe that X should be true," or "I have an emotional need to believe that X is true regardless of whether it is or not." Since you're very unlikely to get someone who think "I feel that X" is a valid statement in support of X to admit what they really mean, it is indeed an excellent example of Dark epistemology.

Comment by mantis on Self-Anchoring · 2012-08-16T22:50:41.244Z · LW · GW

Huh. My first thought on comprehending Keysar et. al.'s experiment was that it would make a good test for detecting telepaths trying to conceal their abilities (as, for example, in Babylon 5</>). Not something we're ever likely to need in real life, of course, but it could serve the purpose of a Voight-Kampff test in somebody's B-5 fan-fic.

Comment by mantis on Psychic Powers · 2012-08-15T18:24:28.868Z · LW · GW

Probably silly replying at this late date, but I'm going to do it anyway: Texas Holdem against strangers would be a much more compelling demonstration than RPS with your wife, and lucrative, too, if your powers are real. Surface thoughts should be sufficient to tell you when people are bluffing and when they genuinely have a strong hand, even if they don't tell you exactly what cards they hold. Better yet, they should tell you when your opponents are confident enough to call your bluff, and when they're not. That would give you a devastating advantage in the game. So I won't hold my breath for your lottery wins, but if you genuinely have the abilities you describe I would expect to hear about your World Series of Poker bracelets.

Comment by mantis on Psychic Powers · 2012-08-14T17:24:52.015Z · LW · GW

The SF writer Catherine Asaro came up with a workable explanation of empathy/telepathy that doesn't require non-reductionism, though I don't think it's all that plausible; it's based around quantum entanglement between microstructures in the brains of psions in close proximity to one another (and a lot of hand-waving, of course). In her books, psi powers didn't evolve naturally, but were the result of extensive genetic tinkering by aliens with a far more advanced knowledge of genetics, neurology, and quantum physics than humans presently possess, enabling them to design new brain architecture from scratch, write the genetic code to build it, and insert that code into their subjects' genomes.

Comment by mantis on When Truth Isn't Enough · 2012-08-10T19:39:55.284Z · LW · GW

The first one of these I can remember reading was "I'm erotically open-minded; you're kind of kinky; he's a disgusting pervert."