Comment by Neil on Parapsychology: the control group for science · 2009-12-06T13:59:55.687Z · LW · GW

If parapsychology is studying the patently non-existent, then the fact that parapsychologists don't typically spend their time debunking their own subject might suggest they are not up to par in some way, as a group, with "the rest of" science - unless you concede that other branches of science would also carry on in the face of total collapse in the credibility of their subject.

Comment by Neil on Efficient prestige hypothesis · 2009-11-25T05:03:39.140Z · LW · GW

I wonder if you could in theory separate out part of the prestige value. Part of the prestige value of a product would be related to its exclusivity - things that are easily got don't confer prestige for obvious reasons.

So suppose you were looking at two schools that were equally prestigous but one was smaller, more expensive, required better social connections and higher academic achievement to access, and was more preferred by people in higher circles than the other. Then you might conclude that this smaller school derived more of its prestige from its exclusivity than the other school did, and hence on other indicators which might matter more, the larger, less exclusive school was actually better.

Comment by Neil on Our House, My Rules · 2009-11-02T03:27:15.329Z · LW · GW

For most kinds of persuasive argumentation, especially in complicated and emotionally laden subjects like child rearing, arguments work on us without us ever being able to fully evaluate their merit. And in that world, it does make sense to down-weight arguments that have some bias built into them.

When we are dealing in such topics, we presumably have our own bias on the subject, and in making some assessment of the degree to which another's argument might need discounting due to their bias, we may bring our own bias into play. Are we then risking just ignoring people (at least to a degree) because they disagree with us?

I'd like to turn the question back on itself here, should we distrust your argument that allows us to discount arguments, especially in emotive debates, on the grounds its conclusion is possibly self-serving for you? that it excuses your discounting of people you disagree with in emotive arguments?

Comment by Neil on The continued misuse of the Prisoner's Dilemma · 2009-10-28T13:38:02.050Z · LW · GW

Since a bid's winningness is contingent on other bids you can't use winning as a proxy for understanding. If they all thought and acted like Ashley and broke the pact with 5 cent bids would they all have got a round of applause for their great insight in bidding 5 cents?

Comment by Neil on The Value of Nature and Old Books · 2009-10-27T02:52:47.758Z · LW · GW

The oldest non-fiction book I've read (cover-to-cover) as it happens was a book of Seneca's letters (first century). His Stoic philosophy might hold some interest to people here.

Comment by Neil on The continued misuse of the Prisoner's Dilemma · 2009-10-25T13:03:55.063Z · LW · GW

I think it's odd that he would say that only Ashley understood the game, not because she may actually be the loser in the wider scheme of things, but because the relevance of the Prisoner's Dilemma is that is actually supposed to be a dilemma. His saying only her action showed understanding suggests he doesn't think it's a real dilemma at all. He thinks it's a question with an answer: defect.

Comment by Neil on Rationality Quotes: October 2009 · 2009-10-24T15:24:48.084Z · LW · GW

I think he's saying something more limiting - we cannot tell if we imagine things that cannot exist.

or even as far as - we cannot tell if things cannot exist. :)

Comment by Neil on Let them eat cake: Interpersonal Problems vs Tasks · 2009-10-09T15:40:27.286Z · LW · GW

Arthur C Clarke said it -

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Comment by Neil on Let them eat cake: Interpersonal Problems vs Tasks · 2009-10-09T15:38:07.870Z · LW · GW

I think your description of the alien with the cigarette pack highlights the fact the problem with advice often lies in the fact that it's too chunky. By that I mean the steps are described at too high a level. This can happen when there's a great difference in the levels of experience of the advisor and the advised, and the advisor has become so familiar with the processes they have been conceptually black boxed. In fact the black boxing is a necessary part of the process - you ride a bike well when you no longer think about how to ride a bike, and you socialise well when you're no longer aware of what you're doing to make your socialising successful. If the advisor doesn't realise that the advised has no idea how these black boxes work, the advice isn't worth much to him.

Comment by Neil on Non-Malthusian Scenarios · 2009-09-27T13:45:31.685Z · LW · GW

In the long term (and I mean the very long term) people will evolve to get around the obstacles that stop them producing the children they could.

If contraception decouples sex from reproduction, people will evolve to be less interested in sex and more directly interested in babies.

If entertainment proves more compelling than having kids, people will evolve to be less entertainable.

If being a responsible, well adjusted person is limiting family size, people will evolve to be irresponsible, poorly adjusted people.

Comment by Neil on Rationality Quotes - September 2009 · 2009-09-02T14:49:04.647Z · LW · GW

Puts me in mind of this passage

...philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all: to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow—it is a goldsmith’s art and connoisseurship of the word which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do and achieves nothing if it does not achieve it lento. But for precisely this reason it is more necessary than ever today, by precisely this means does it entice and enchant us the most, in the midst of an age of “work,” that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to “get everything done” at once, including every old or new book:—this art does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read well, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers.

~ Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn

Comment by Neil on Experiential Pica · 2009-08-28T14:53:35.662Z · LW · GW

Yes, the internet, sometimes it's a substitute for company, but I think sometimes I spend a lot of time on the net reading what smart people have written (and there's no end to it) as a kind of substitute for exercising my own creative intelligence. Reading other people's smart stuff pushes a lot of my buttons intellectual-satisfactionwise but not all of them by any means. And that makes it feel like a kind of voyeurism.

Speaking of the net, I guess porn is a good example, in some ways it's very close to something you want, but in other ways it's nowhere near it.

Comment by Neil on How inevitable was modern human civilization - data · 2009-08-22T06:37:56.615Z · LW · GW

There's also some assumption here that civilisations either collpase or conquer the galaxy, but that ignores another possibility - that civilisations might quickly reach a plateau technologically and in terms of size.

The reasons this could be the case is that civilisations must always solve their problems of growth and sustainability long before they have the technology to move beyond their home planet, and once they have done so, there ceases to be any imperative toward off-world expansion, and without ever increasing economies of scale, technological developments taper off.

Comment by Neil on Sayeth the Girl · 2009-07-20T01:26:42.395Z · LW · GW

To that degree, yes, just as they objectify you as 'passenger', or 'customer'.

But even as we interact as 'passenger' and 'bus driver', and probably don't have any desire but to do what we have to do as efficiently as possible, we do generally keep in mind that we are both people with concerns about our respect and we don't casually devalue each other for playing out the roles we have. There's still an assumption of basic personhood going on.

But I think that when people start talking about getting sex from a woman with the same degree of respect and mutuality as is required when getting a can of cola from a vending machine, then they've gone an extra step on the road to objectification. And adding on a "well that's what women want too" as an afterthought when questioned about it doesn't really convince.

I'll concede that the "pick up artist" is to some extent a role that is played by guys who aren't necessarily so entirely cynical in reality, but I'm not sure that means it's non-issue.

Comment by Neil on The Strangest Thing An AI Could Tell You · 2009-07-17T04:13:02.420Z · LW · GW

This is an actual dream I once had. I was with an old Chinese wise man, and he told me I could fly - he showed me I just had to stick out my elbows and flap them up and down (just like in the chicken dance). Once you'd done that a few times, you could just lift up your legs and you'd stay off the ground. He and I were flying around and around in this manner. I was totally amazed that it was possible for people to fly this way. It was so obvious! I thought this is so great a discovery, I can't wait til I wake up and do this for real. It'll change the world. I woke up totally excited and for just a fraction of a second I still believed it, then I guess my waking brain turned something on and I realised, no, that can't work. damn.

So I'd offer: being told that human beings are capable of flying in a way that's completely obvious once you've seen it done.

Comment by Neil on Recommended reading for new rationalists · 2009-07-10T15:35:04.844Z · LW · GW

I think, to really think about human rationality and irrationality, you need to be able to consider the mind from an evolutionary perspective. Is there a better introduction to evolutionary thinking out there?

I can only add it was very influential for me. I read this and The Extended Phenotype in succession and while I certainly understood evolution before reading them, I certainly understood it on a whole new level afterwards.

Comment by Neil on Religion, Mystery, and Warm, Soft Fuzzies · 2009-05-15T06:45:12.480Z · LW · GW

The main problem is viewing this warm fuzziness as a "mystery." This warm fuzziness, as an experience, is a reality. It's part of that set of things that doesn't go away no matter what you say or think about them.

I'm not sure I agree with this. How you feel about religion is very strongly driven by what you think about it. If you think it is the truth then religion is awesome and profound, if you think its a constructed mythology then probably not so much. I'd suggest even the very fact that it is a "mysterious truth", adds to the enjoyment of believing it.

Sure I agree that the human potential for warm fuzzy experiences exists independently of religion, but in the end the fact may remain that religious stories are better at generating them than any formulation of the truth is.

If we're going to be rational, we have to accept this possibility is open, and being rational may be a trade-off in terms of what you might feel throughout your life. On the other hand it's possible through future psychological and brain science discoveries we may find its possible to get more warm fuzzies than religion might give us without resorting to false beliefs, but I don't think we know that yet.

Comment by Neil on When Truth Isn't Enough · 2009-03-23T01:05:30.232Z · LW · GW

Objections to this statement seem to be 1) the highly loaded descriptions of the rich and the poor and 2) the juxtaposition of the descriptions without an explicit relationship.

While an examination of word choice might allow you get to a less loaded formulation of its content. eg. The rich, who have much, enjoy luxury while the poor suffer. It doesn't get to the fact that the statement is an attempt to draw us into an implicit connection between the two descriptions. The statement is only connected by a "while", which might connect any two facts, but in practice we only bring the facts together in order to contrast or compare them. This is a nice set up for the rhetorician because the connection we make is ultimately our own, and often not explicitly known to ourselves. The capitalist objects, but is not sure to what, precisely, because he can't find it in the statement.

Now if I object to the statement of the grounds that it is emotionally loaded, I am not directly addressing this implicit point of the statement. I could fall into the trap of being seen as an apologist for the rich if I only object to their description but not the implication.

But I wonder if I should object that statement is not untrue as such, but that the point of it isn't clear, would that be taken to mean that I just don't get the implicit point of it? That I'm simply unsympathetic to the emotions of the statement?

Why not make the implicit explicit (as it can be)? Why not treat the statement as if was an explicit statement of what it tried to be implicitly?

I think that point of the statement is to assert either that the rich are directly responsible for the condition of the poor, or at least that the rich fail in their moral obligations toward the poor; response:

Sorry, are you saying that the rich are directly responsible for the condition of the poor, or just that the rich fail in their moral obligations toward the poor?

Comment by Neil on Failed Utopia #4-2 · 2009-03-13T14:07:00.000Z · LW · GW

The point is, I believe, that we value things in ways not reducible to "maximising our happiness". Here Love is the great example, often we value it more than our own happiness, and also the happiness of the beloved. We are not constituted to maximise our own happiness, natural selection tells you that.