The Real Rules Have No Exceptions 2019-07-23T03:38:45.992Z
What is this new (?) Less Wrong feature? (“hidden related question”) 2019-05-15T23:51:16.319Z
History of LessWrong: Some Data Graphics 2018-11-16T07:07:15.501Z
New GreaterWrong feature: image zoom + image slideshows 2018-11-04T07:34:44.907Z
New GreaterWrong feature: anti-kibitzer (hides post/comment author names and karma values) 2018-10-19T21:03:22.649Z
Separate comments feeds for different post listings views? 2018-10-02T16:07:22.942Z
GreaterWrong—new theme and many enhancements 2018-10-01T07:22:01.788Z
Archiving link posts? 2018-09-08T05:45:53.349Z
Shared interests vs. collective interests 2018-05-28T22:06:50.911Z
GreaterWrong—even more new features & enhancements 2018-05-28T05:08:31.236Z
Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from World of Warcraft: Incentives and rewards 2018-05-07T06:44:47.775Z
Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from World of Warcraft: Goodhart’s law 2018-05-03T16:33:50.002Z
GreaterWrong—more new features & enhancements 2018-04-07T20:41:14.357Z
GreaterWrong—several new features & enhancements 2018-03-27T02:36:59.741Z
Key lime pie and the methods of rationality 2018-03-22T06:25:35.193Z
A new, better way to read the Sequences 2017-06-04T05:10:09.886Z
Cargo Cult Language 2012-02-05T21:32:56.631Z


Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on How factories were made safe · 2021-09-13T11:03:54.377Z · LW · GW

In 1907, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall fatality rate in the iron and steel industry was about 220 per 100,000 full-time workers. By 2019, however, that rate had fallen to only 26.3 per 100,000, a reduction of almost 90%.

I was surprised by this reduction number—it seems lower than I expected! If you’d asked me by how much the fatality rate in such an industry had fallen 1907–2019, I would’ve predicted a reduction closer to 99% than 90%.

Why is this? What things kill people in this industry today? And why cannot these causes of workplace fatalities be reduced further?

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Value is Fragile · 2021-09-04T14:48:07.621Z · LW · GW

One can construct all sorts of hypothetical scenarios, but I am far from convinced of their usefulness in teasing out our “true” values (as contrasted with “confabulating some plausible-sounding, but not reflectively stable, set of values”). That said, it seems to me that how much I value (and should value) any given future depends on the degree of that future’s resemblance to my current values. So, to take the examples:

1: Humanity continues for millions of years, substantially unchanged from how we are now. (I take it we agree that in this case the future universe contains much of value.)

Indeed, we agree.

2: Humanity continues for millions of years, gradually evolving (in the Darwinian sense or otherwise) but always somewhat resembling us, and always retaining something like our values. It seems to me that here, too, the future universe contains much of value.

Well, it depends: it seems to me that the further from my current values this future humanity drifts, the less I value this future.

Crucially, it seems to me that the degree of difference (at any given future time period) will depend (and how can it not?) on the starting point. Start with current humans, and you get one degree of resemblance; start with octopuses, on the other hand…

Possible future 3: at some point in that future history of humanity, our descendants decide to upload themselves into computers and continue their lives virtually.

I would not like for this to happen, personally. I value this future substantially less, thereby.

Possible future 4: at some point in that virtual existence they decide they’d like to be embodied again, and arrange for it to happen. Their new bodies are enough like original-human bodies for them to feel at home in them, but they use some freshly-invented genetic material rather than DNA, and many of the internal organs are differently designed.

The impact of this biological re-invention on how valuable the future is, will depend on what impact it has on observable and experiential traits of this new humanity—I care about the interface, so to speak, not the implementation details. (After all, suppose that, while I slept, you replaced my liver, kidneys, pancreas, and some other internal organs with a different set of organs—which, however, performed all the same functions, allowing me to continue living my life as before. I do not see what difference this would make to… well, almost anything, really. Perhaps I couldn’t even tell that this had been done! Would this matter in any moral calculus? I think not…)

So if I should care much less about the octopuses, what matters must be some more generalized sort of continuity: the future-kinda-humans are our “causal descendants” or something, even if not our biological descendants.

Causal descendancy is something, certainly; but, again, for me it is a question of degree of resemblance. Perhaps another way of putting it is: could I inhabit this future? Would I, personally, find it… fun? Would I, living inside it, consider it to be awesome, amazing, wonderful? Or would I find it to be alien and bizarre? It is all well and good to “expect weirdtopia”, but there is no law of morality that says I have to want weirdtopia…

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Value is Fragile · 2021-09-04T10:27:59.173Z · LW · GW

Suppose that (evolved/uplifted/otherwise-advanced-enough-for-sapience) octopuses share some of our values. Now suppose that humans go extinct, and these Octopus sapiens create an advanced civilization, whose products instantiate some values we would recognize, like art, music, science, etc.

Does this future contain anything of value? I say it does not, because there are no humans around to value it. There are octopuses, and that’s great for the octopuses, but as far as human values go, this future ended with humanity’s extinction. Whatever happens afterwards is irrelevant.

EDIT: Mind you—this is not quite the point Eliezer was making, I don’t think; I am responding to gjm’s comment, here. This comment should not necessarily be taken to constitute part of a defense of the point made in the OP (and quoted by Zack upthread).

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Value is Fragile · 2021-09-04T10:18:15.930Z · LW · GW

How do you get from:

the lives of octopuses mean much less to me than human lives, but more than tiny molecular paperclips


it seems like worlds shaped by the goal systems of other evolved biological creatures probably don’t “contain almost nothing of worth”


Because it sure seems to me that a future shaped by the goal systems of octopuses will, indeed, contain almost nothing of worth. (And I do not see what the heck “feel[ing] pleasure and pain” has to do with anything…)

(And, yeah, other animals are close to being as valueless as paperclips. [EDIT: In the sense of “value as a moral subject”, of course; in terms of instrumental value, well, paperclips aren’t valueless either—not regular ones, anyhow.] I like octopuses, but tiling the universe with them doesn’t constitute the creation of a huge amount of value, that’s for sure.)

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Value is Fragile · 2021-09-04T06:09:14.537Z · LW · GW

No, I think this post is right as-is. As you say, Three Worlds Collide was fiction. There is no “but”. It’s fictional evidence, and so it should update us not at all.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on We Live in an Era of Unprecedented World Peace · 2021-09-01T14:27:32.125Z · LW · GW

The term “genocide” is not appropriate for describing the killing of any number of animals.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Rationality Is Expertise With Reality · 2021-09-01T08:20:03.717Z · LW · GW

Seconding that this post seems incoherent, kind of like a half-baked shower thought.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Realism about rationality · 2021-08-30T23:07:31.327Z · LW · GW

You have entirely missed the point I was making in that comment.

Of course I am aware of the standard form of the joke. I presented my modified form of the joke in the linked comment, as a deliberate contrast with the standard form, to illustrate the point I was making.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Beware of small world puzzles · 2021-08-30T17:51:47.131Z · LW · GW

Separately from my other comment—this seems as good a time as any to note that much of behavioral economics may be nonsense to begin with, for the simple reason that some of its most important (alleged!) findings are the result of scientific misconduct (read: fraud). (See also.) And one need hardly mention the replication crisis, which has hit this field hard…

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Beware of small world puzzles · 2021-08-30T17:39:26.884Z · LW · GW

An excellent post. (I make a related point in this old comment about the famous “three mathematicians walk into a bar” joke.)

EDIT: Also, it’s worth noting that another way to put the point mentioned in this paragraph—

Now, let’s assume that this really happens and you are trying to figure out the meaning of your friend’s words. The first thing is that you would be really surprised: this is not how humans normally convey information.

—is that, in order to interpret the speaker’s words in the way that is required in order to get the “right” answer to the puzzle, one must ignore the Gricean maxims (i.e., assume that the speaker is not following the “cooperative principle”). But doing so in ordinary human communication is, of course, irrational…

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on The Validity of Self-Locating Probabilities · 2021-08-23T06:57:49.896Z · LW · GW

You know that “probability” doesn’t mean “a number which, if we redid the experiment and substituted ‘pick randomly according to this number’ instead of the actual casual mechanism, would give the same distribution of results”?

Er… it doesn’t? Doesn’t it mean exactly that, though? As far as we know? I mean, if you say that P(some outcome) = 0.5, then does it not mean that we think that if we ran the experiment a bunch of times, and also flipped a fair coin the same number of times, then the number of times the given outcome would occur would approximately equal the number of heads we got?

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on The Future: Where are the Colors and the Sports? · 2021-08-15T19:14:53.650Z · LW · GW

How pathetic would it be for your highest achievement in life being that you kicked a ball around adequately? Who here can honestly imagine themselves satisfied with such an empty existence?

Is it less pathetic to be an average software developer?

This is severely confounded by the fact thay many software developers are doing things that are actively detrimental, like working on adtech, or developing new social control features for social media, or helping totalitarian governments oppress dissidents, etc.

If you eliminate all the software developers that are working on things that are not just useless but actually bad, and take the average of those who remain, then… yeah, it is way less pathetic to be one of those “average of the non-evil” software developers than it is to be an adequate ball-kicker.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on The Future: Where are the Colors and the Sports? · 2021-08-15T19:05:07.533Z · LW · GW

millions of jobs that are related to sports and the multitude of indirect positive economic/social effects

You can say that about almost anything, including activities that are clearly detrimental on the margin. The military-industrial complex also produces millions of jobs. The corrections industry (i.e., prisons) employs hundreds of thousand of people. So does the advertising industry. These are not good arguments in favor of any of these sectors.

amount of physical/mental health that sports produce

You would need to specifically argue that the positive health effects of sports outweigh the negative health effects of sports-related injuries. This is by no means obvious. TBIs are horrific, and they’re not even the only category of life-destroying injury that one can easily receive while engaging in e.g. soccer.

there is nothing stopping these things [running, paintball, parkour, etc.] from being more popular than they are right now, except for the fact that lots of people really like team sports and want to spend their money/time on them

Well, except for the fact that they don’t make very good spectator sports, and therefore it’s unprofitable to invest gigantic sums of money in marketing them to the public, as is done with the more popular team sports. That is rather a confounder, I think.

publicly funded stadiums, which I don’t see as a massive issue in the grand scheme of things, and ignores the fact that sports/stadiums do contribute jobs/money to the economy (see the Lebron effect)

Indeed? But:

While proponents may talk about a multiplier effect, several theoretical and empirical studies of local economic impact of stadiums have shown that beliefs that stadiums have an impact that matches the amount of money that residents pay are largely unfounded. The average stadium generates $145 million per year, but none of this revenue goes back into the community. As such, the prevalent idea among team owners of “socializing the costs and privatizing the profits” is harmful and unfair to people who are forced to pay for a stadium that will not help them.

Further, a study by Noll and Zimbalist on newly constructed subsidized stadiums shows that they have a very limited and possibly even negative local impact. This is because of the opportunity cost that goes into allocating a significant amount of money into a service like a stadium, rather than infrastructure or other community projects that would benefit locals. Spending $700 million in areas like education or housing could have long-term positive consequences with the potential for long-term increases in the standard of living and economic growth.

(from )

(Note the suggestion that the tax money be instead used for, yes, infrastructure.)

But many economists maintain that states and cities that help pay for new stadiums and arenas rarely get their money’s worth. Teams tout new jobs created by the arenas but construction jobs are temporary, and ushers and concession workers work far less than 40 hours a week.

Furthermore, when local and state governments agree to pony up money for stadiums, taxpayers are on the hook for years — sometimes even after the team leaves town. St. Louis, for example, is still paying $6 million a year on debt from building the Edward Jones Dome, the old home of the Rams that opened in 1995, despite the team’s move to California. The debt is financed by a hotel tax and taxes on “game day” revenues like concessions and parking.

(from )

The new report links the subsidization of new stadiums to higher poverty rates and lower median incomes in their home cities, and it found that most NFL cities fared worse by both measures after paying for a new stadium.

There is, however, a “strong consensus” among economists that publicly financed stadiums are not worth their price, and the benefits stadiums bring do not align with their costs. Baade pointed to some of his earliest research, which found that cities that pursued what he called a “sports development strategy” indeed performed worse on a host of economic measures than similarly sized cities that did not build new stadiums to keep or lure pro teams.

(from )

Since 2000, 28 new major league1 stadiums have been built costing over $9 billion dollars. More than half, over $5 billion, of the costs of the new stadiums were funded using public dollars.2 In Utah, 4 stadiums have been built since 1991 costing $386 million in today’s dollars; $200 million (in today’s dollars) of that total was paid out of the coffers of Utah cities, Salt Lake County and the State of Utah.3 Across the nation, franchises have argued that building a new stadium will lead to economic development in the form of increased incomes, jobs and tax revenues. However, the preponderance of academic research has disputed these claims. This article looks at the benefits and costs of building a stadium and discusses why the economic development argument has failed to stand up to academic scrutiny. Stadium-seeking franchises are now shying away from making economic development claims in light of the strong research findings.

(from ) [PDF]

See also:

This is a clear way in which popular team sports are substantially detrimental to the quality of life of millions of people (a cost that, as usual, falls primarily on people of lower tiers of socioeconomic status). Eliminating this massive waste of taxpayer funds, and redirecting said funds to more productive purposes, would be a great boon to the economies of all the locales mentioned in these articles/studies, and would benefit many more people than the stadiums do.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Transitive Tolerance Means Intolerance · 2021-08-15T03:05:48.215Z · LW · GW

If you expect to be judged for your transitive associations, then all that your transitive associations tell me about your character is that you have reason to care about your social status. I learn nothing else about your actual values in this way.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on The Future: Where are the Colors and the Sports? · 2021-08-11T23:06:38.862Z · LW · GW

What is the counterfactual though? What are we realistically doing with all of this energy and money that has more positives and fewer negatives?

Almost anything else.

What we are doing with the energy: hiking, weight lifting, jogging, running, swimming, paintball, parkour, you name it, really just almost anything else.

What we are doing with the money: seriously? This is an actual question? Alright: building housing, improving public transport, doing more street cleaning, lowering taxes… There are so many better things we could do if we suddenly had a big pile of money available that I feel rather strange having to type all of this out.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on The Future: Where are the Colors and the Sports? · 2021-08-10T16:53:03.121Z · LW · GW

I’ll make what I hope to be an uncontroversial statement: sports are massive force for good in society.

Not uncontroversial at all, I’m afraid. I’ll contest this strongly. If it’s team sports (e.g. soccer, American football, hockey, etc.) you have in mind, then I think they are detrimental for participants (due to the quite horrifying prevalence of traumatic brain injuries), and a massive waste of resources as spectator events (think of the astronomical salaries of professional athletes in these sports; the cost of stadiums—so often subsidized by taxpayer money; etc.). (There are other downsides to team sports, but these two quite suffice to oppose them.)

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on What psychology studies are most important to the rationalist worldview? · 2021-08-04T19:27:44.794Z · LW · GW

It seems awfully convenient that Eliezer made all these claims, in the Sequences, that were definitely and unquestionably factual, and based on empirical findings; that he based his conclusions on them; that he described many of these claims as surprising, such that they shifted his views, and ought to shift ours (that is, the reader’s)… but then, when many (but how many? we don’t know, and haven’t checked) of the findings in question failed to replicate, now we decide that it’s okay if they’re “fake frameworks”.

Does it not seem to you like this is precisely the sort of attitude toward the truth that the Sequences go to heroic lengths to warn against?

(As for CFAR, that seems to me to be a rather poor example. As far as I’m aware, CFAR has never empirically validated their techniques in any serious way, and indeed stopped trying to do so a long time ago, after initial attempts at such validation failed.)

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on What psychology studies are most important to the rationalist worldview? · 2021-08-04T15:18:53.390Z · LW · GW

People focus their research on the areas that are interesting to them and this doesn’t seem to be.

Well, yes, obviously, but just as obvious is the question: why? Why isn’t anyone interested in this, when it sure seems like it should be extremely important? (Or do you disagree? Should we not expect that the epistemic status of the work that we still base much of our reasoning on should be of great interest?)

As for the grant thing—fair point, that could make it worth someone’s time to do. Although the sort of money being offered seems rather low for the value I, at least, would naively expect this community to place on work like this. (Which is no slight against the grantmakers—after all, it’s not like they had this particular project in mind. I am only saying that the grants in question don’t quite measure up to what seems to me like the value of a project like this, and thus aren’t quite an ideal match for it.)

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on What psychology studies are most important to the rationalist worldview? · 2021-08-04T15:12:32.829Z · LW · GW

What if we disagree on whether “the correct metaphilosophy is that there is no way of assessing object level philosophical arguments”?

Look, I’m not saying that the Sequences are, philosophically speaking, pure and without sin (I give the opposite of Eliezer’s answer in “Torture vs. Dust Speaks”, and consider the free will sequence to be unpersuasive and confused). But suppose some other Less Wrong commenter disagrees with me; what then? We just get mired in philosophical arguments, right? Because that’s the only way to “resolve” these disputes: arguments. There’s nothing else to appeal to.

It’s just a fundamentally different situation, totally unlike the question of study replication or “does paper X actually mention topic Y at all” or anything else along these lines.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on What psychology studies are most important to the rationalist worldview? · 2021-08-04T11:27:20.884Z · LW · GW

I am not sure how one would do this, or what this would even mean. It’s not like anyone can agree on what “philosophical correctness” is; the Sequences, after all, contain various philosophical arguments, with which one may certainly disagree, but “checking” them for “correctness” seems like a dubious suggestion.

In contrast, checking to see if some study has replicated (or failed to do so), or whether some cited source even says what it’s claimed to say, etc., are tasks that can yield uncontroversial improvements in correctness.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on What psychology studies are most important to the rationalist worldview? · 2021-08-04T10:02:31.424Z · LW · GW

Considering the importance of bias research to the rationalist worldview, can you try to help me understand why no one would care enough about it post replication crisis to get clear on what, specifically, the replication findings were calling into question?


Never overestimate the degree to which pure, disinterested honesty can motivate people to do anything. A project to re-examine the entirety of the Sequences, with an eye toward pinpointing exactly which of the cited science holds up, is one which I have suggested and even built basic infrastructure for making progress on, but (unsurprisingly) no one has ever expressed any interest in contributing to something like this. It would, after all, be thankless, selfless work, the end result of which would be—what? Improved accuracy of your beliefs, and the beliefs of everyone in the community? Becoming less wrong about a lot of ostensibly-important matters? Such things do not motivate people to action.

EDIT: By the way, even setting aside the replication crisis, some (perhaps many? who knows!) of the citations in the Sequences are quite problematic.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Tao Lin's Shortform · 2021-07-31T13:20:35.817Z · LW · GW

More likely that this just doesn’t occur to people and/or they have no idea how to make and install favicons, and possibly don’t even have any concept of how favicons work and where they come from.

Don’t underestimate the technical cluelessness of people on the internet, even ‘rationalists’.

Comment by SaidAchmiz on [deleted post] 2021-07-27T00:26:34.253Z

It seems as if you got the impression that the linked material was meant to be some sort of argument for my view; it was not. I only linked it because it contained some related, and relevant, ideas. (Though your aside about unspecified “nonmaterial” things being “blatantly obvious” intrigues me. Perhaps you might elaborate on what you refer to? Though of course this is tangential to the current topic.)

In any case, I am not sure what to do with the claim that “[y]ou must find something meaningful to have a purpose”. Is the sense of the word ‘meaning’ (or ‘meaningful’) here the same one as in claims like “People crave meaning”? Or is it a different usage? I can’t see any way to interpret this claim that would make it both true and non-vacuous. Perhaps I am not understanding what you’ve got in mind.

Comment by SaidAchmiz on [deleted post] 2021-07-23T23:11:02.110Z

This seems less like ‘meaning’ and more like ‘purpose’.

(Also relevant.)

Comment by SaidAchmiz on [deleted post] 2021-07-22T23:48:05.316Z

I second Dustin’s comment.

“My life has meaning” is exactly the same as ‘my life is meaningful.’

Sure, and both of these statements don’t seem to… mean anything.

It is very similar to ‘the things I do, the thoughts I think, and the life I live are not pointless. I exist for a reason.’.

This, likewise, doesn’t seem to make sense. (Unless you posit some sort of creator deity, or some such thing.)

So is talk about “meaning” in this context necessarily tied to supernatural belief? That doesn’t seem consistent with how people use the term…

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Are bread crusts healthier? · 2021-06-21T14:30:16.023Z · LW · GW

Forget “healthier”; if your bread’s crust isn’t the tastiest part of your bread, you’re eating inferior bread!

Now, this is understandable: most bread that most people eat is, well… lame. Boring. But good bread should be so good that you can enjoy eating a piece by itself, or (at most!) with a bit of butter spread on it—and the crust should be the best part!

So, no, don’t eat the crust because it’s “healthier”. Find good bread, and eat the crust because it’s delicious! (For example, take a look at this homemade sourdough loaf crust. You will not want to cut off this crust, I assure you!)

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on There’s no such thing as a tree (phylogenetically) · 2021-05-05T03:21:11.400Z · LW · GW

So: There are no unique “tree” genes. It’s just a different expression of genes that plants already use. Analogously, you can make a cake with flour, sugar, eggs, sugar, butter, and vanilla. You can also make frosting with sugar, butter, and vanilla – a subset of the ingredients you already have, but in different ratios and use

Actually, you can even make a frosting with flour, sugar, eggs, sugar (uh… you listed ‘sugar’ twice), butter, and vanilla—i.e., the exact same ingredients!

(The flour and the butter make a roux, the eggs and the sugar make a zabaglione base, then you mix both things together, add vanilla, and bam! Meanwhile, a cake made from the given ingredients would be a chiffon cake.)

EDIT: But I would not recommend using this type of frosting with this type of cake.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on The Scout Mindset - read-along · 2021-04-20T08:07:48.341Z · LW · GW

Delete your Twitter and Facebook accounts and get off social media. I recommend it strongly. It works very well to remove yourself from that sort of toxicity and such-like things. Living without social media is entirely doable, which I know because I do it. I’m not even a monk.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Open & Welcome Thread – March 2021 · 2021-03-22T19:34:32.439Z · LW · GW

But it’s not an “impossibility”. It’s an “unwillingness”—on your part! You could use the Markdown editor to add footnotes, very easily.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Comments on "The Singularity is Nowhere Near" · 2021-03-16T18:10:20.113Z · LW · GW

I haven’t read the linked post/comment yet, and perhaps I am missing something very obvious, but: we have exaflop computing (that’s 10^18) right now. Is Tim Dettmers really saying that we’re not going to see a 1000x speed-up, in a century or possibly ever? That seems like a shocking claim, and I struggle to imagine what could justify it.

EDIT: I have now read the linked comment; it speaks of fundamental physical limitations such as speed of light, heat dissipation, etc., and says:

These are all hard physical boundaries that we cannot alter. Yet, all these physical boundaries will be hit within a couple of years and we will fall very, very far short of human processing capabilities and our models will not improve much further. Two orders of magnitude of additional capability are realistic, but anything beyond that is just wishful thinking.

I do not find this convincing. Taking the outside view, we can see all sorts of similar predictions of limitations having been made over the course of computing history, and yet Moore’s Law is still going strong despite quite a few years of predictions of imminent trend-crashing. (Take a look at the “Recent trends” and “Alternative materials research” sections of the Wikipedia page; do you really see any indication that we’re about to hit a hard barrier? I don’t…)

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Care and demandingness · 2021-03-08T11:27:56.303Z · LW · GW

Some comments, in no particular order:

Re: “Applying the objection to empirical and prudential claims”:

Analogizing ethical to empirical claims here only makes sense under a “naive moral realist” view of ethics. Otherwise, the notion that “morality can be any old way” (by analogy to “reality can be any old way”) is, at the least, not obvious, and possibly just stops making sense.

Re: demandingness of prudential (but also moral) claims:

“I have some terrible disease that will cause me to lose my legs if untreated, and the only available treatment for it is very expensive. But if losing my legs were very bad, that would imply that I should pay for this treatment. This is evidence that losing my legs isn’t so bad.”

There is, of course, a missing (but implied) step in this reasoning, which is something like “if something very bad is going to happen to me unless I pay for treatment, then I should pay for treatment”. This seems obvious, but if you omit it, then the reasoning no longer works, because this is the crucial connecting link between the ‘is’ of “losing my legs is very bad” and the ‘ought’ of “I should pay for this treatment”. What makes it important to notice this, is that such connecting links “screen off” the ‘is’ part of the chain of reasoning from evidence about the ‘ought’ part. In this case, the corrected reasoning goes something like this:

“I have some terrible disease that will cause me to lose my legs if untreated, and the only available treatment for it is very expensive. But if something very bad is going to happen to me unless I pay for treatment, then I should pay for treatment. Therefore, if losing my legs were very bad, that would imply that I should pay for this treatment. This is evidence that it is not the case that ‘if something is very bad for me unless I pay for treatment, then I should pay for treatment’. (It cannot be evidence that losing my legs isn’t so bad, because that’s an ‘is’ claim, screened off from evidence that bears on ‘ought’ claims by the ‘connecting link’, which is the earliest part of the chain of reasoning that can be brought into doubt by such evidence.)”

Now the reasoning is not obviously suspect. (Perhaps it is still suspect, but if so, it is only in a more subtle way.) Indeed (and unfortunately), many people in this country find themselves reasoning in just this way all the time—and, given the circumstances, I find it difficult to blame them.

Re: how to understand “demandingness objections”:

As I see it, demandingness objections are best understood as some combination of two reactions to a moral claim:

  1. If you demand so much, many/most/almost-all people simply won’t do it, and a moral rule that (almost) no one follows is vacuous. (This response implicitly takes it as axiomatic that the purpose of ethics is to guide action, and if an ethical rule does not in fact work to guide anyone’s actions, then it may as well not exist.)

  2. “Should implies can”. You demand more than people can do. This is a fairly straightforward intuition that ethical rules that call for impossible actions cannot be “right”. It can be extended/generalized to something like “the rightness of an ethical rule varies (in part) proportionally to how successfully it can be followed”.

In short, a “demandingness objection” to a moral claim is a response that says “people can’t and/or won’t follow the ethical rule you posit [and therefore the rule is invalid and the claim is false]”.

Re: continuity of moral claims with “caring about stuff”:

This idea does not seem to take into account second-order desires / values / etc. One perspective on ethical theories is that they are ways to systematize our values, including our higher-order values, so as to make it easier / more effective to satisfy them. On this view, I might “really care” about something, and thus “really want to” accomplish or gain that something, but on the other hand, I might also care about other things, and care about what sorts of things I care about, and whether I’m a caring person, etc., etc. A moral claim that places upon me an unlimited demand of some sort thus wouldn’t be a mere extension of caring about the things I supposedly (morally) value; it might well oppose some competing or higher-order value of mine.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Takeaways from the Intelligence Rising RPG · 2021-03-06T20:00:51.474Z · LW · GW

I mean the complete rules that define the game.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Takeaways from the Intelligence Rising RPG · 2021-03-06T04:18:37.555Z · LW · GW

I was very excited to look into this, but without having the rules available, there’s almost no useful feedback or commentary I can give.

Is there any reason not to share the rules as they stand? Call it a “public beta version” or something.

Comment by SaidAchmiz on [deleted post] 2021-03-04T20:14:49.224Z

Due to time constraints I only want to briefly respond to this point. Do you not agree that they can suffer or do you not agree that their suffering is morally relevant?

Both. (EDIT: To clarify, I do not think that [most] animals can “suffer”, in the sense in which the word applies to a category of human experience, and also, I do not think that any of the states which are described as “suffering” by those who disagree with my assessment have, when applied to animals, any moral import.)

If you have time and are interested maybe you care to watch a few minutes of this documentary, maybe it can awaken your compassion!

This is a 2-hour-long video; I’m afraid I haven’t the time to devote to something like this (especially since watching it likely to be very low-value). If there’s some particular parts of this which you think are especially relevant, please link to them directly.

Comment by SaidAchmiz on [deleted post] 2021-03-04T17:43:10.104Z

I would like to modify my original statement: The consumption of animal products is not necessary in order to be healthy. Therefore, they are unnecessary for human health. This makes their consumption optional, a choice. If you can choose non-violence over violence, I think that is a moral imperative (to which I was referring in my title).

This depends, of course, on what you define to be “violence”. If “violence” includes the killing of animals (not the usual usage, but also not unheard of)—then I disagree with the claim that choosing “non-violence” is a moral imperative.

I do not know if this holds up against your argumentation, but I would like to try anyways: I define unnecessary suffering in this case as suffering that is not essential to our lives. If the only reason we consume animal products is pleasure, the question is the following: Can we justify the suffering of others only because it gives us pleasure? As I see it not avoiding the pain and suffering of millions of animals just because we like their taste is immoral.

There are several things that might be said in response to this.

First: pleasure is essential to our lives. If you propose that we resign ourselves to living lives devoid of pleasure, then I cannot but condemn that proposal in the strongest terms. Any ideology that deems pleasure and enjoyment to be “inessential” or “unnecessary” is anti-human and, frankly, evil.

Of course, not everything can be justified by the pursuit of pleasure or enjoyment! But the question of what we may rightly sacrifice, in the service of what gains, is not a trivial one. Simply to declare that enjoyment and pleasure are “inessential” is to avoid the question, not to answer it.

Second: the question of animal “suffering”. I address this below.

Third: you say “others” (i.e., “the suffering of others”), as if it were a monolithic set, as if it made sense, morally speaking, to aggregate not only all humans, but all animals as well, or all living things, etc. But it does not—or, at least, it does not obviously make sense. Agent-neutral morality is not universally held, for one thing, and indeed some people do not include animals in their circle of moral concern at all.

Non-human animals are capable of suffering and their suffering is morally relevant. If we cannot agree on this point, I see no point in discussing the other matters further.

Ah, well. Here we come to the crux of the matter, yes? I certainly do not agree on this point!

That they are capable of suffering is not only obvious to anyone who ever witnessed some non-human animal suffer, but also scientifically proven.

Citation needed. (But before you begin collecting references, you may consider reading this recent forum thread on Data Secrets Lox, where just this topic was discussed at length.)

Not considering their suffering morally relevant is, analogous to sexism or racism, speciesism.

Labels are no substitute for arguments.

Please google the term yourself if my explanation was not sufficient.

Surely you’re not suggesting that googling the term ‘speciesism’ is going to convince anyone of anything? Do you assume that anyone who disagrees with you must simply not be aware of the term? With respect, this is not at all a reasonable assumption on Less Wrong, of all places!

Comment by SaidAchmiz on [deleted post] 2021-03-04T17:22:39.724Z

Re: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

You quoted their Wikipedia page and that they profit from funding. However, according to that same Wikipedia article, they are still the largest organization of food and nutritional professionals. Every large institution needs money. They do science. Your own opinion in not trusting their science does not make their science any less credible IMO.

That they are “the largest organization of food and nutritional professionals” is irrelevant. Mere numbers of members aren’t any kind of evidence.

As for “they profit from funding”—perhaps you have missed the point, which is not that they are funded, but by whom they are funded. Do you think this does not matter? The point, to be maximally clear, is that they take money from corporations which have interests that very strongly conflict with the public interest (of getting reliable, unbiased information) and with their own stated purpose! Once again: this so-called “Academy” has severe conflicts of interest, severe enough to fatally compromise them as a source of scientific information on nutrition and diet.

Shall I quote some more from that same Wikipedia page? Let’s see:

Watchdogs note that the Academy rarely criticizes food companies, believing it to be out of fear of "biting the hand that feeds them."[67][68] Nutrition expert Marion Nestle opined that she believed that as long as the AND partners with the makers of food and beverage products, "its opinions about diet and health will never be believed [to be] independent."[63] Public health lawyer Michele Simon, who researches and writes about the food industry and food politics, has voiced similar concerns stating, "AND [is] deeply embedded with the food industry, and often communicate[s] messaging that is industry friendly."[69]

You would trust this organization, when these experts do not? What do you know that they don’t?

A 2011 survey, found that 80% of Academy members are critical of the Academy's position. They believe that the Academy is endorsing corporate sponsors and their products when it allows their sponsorship.[70]

You would trust this organization, when four out of five of their own members do not?

The organization also publishes nutrition facts sheets for the general public, which food companies pay $20,000 to take part in writing the documents.[73] A list of these publications for the general public include: […] This industry funding also gives food companies the ability to offer official educational seminars to teach dietitians how to advise their clients in a way that advances the interests of the food company. For instance, in a Coca-Cola sponsored seminar for dietitians, the speaker promoted free sugars consumption for children as a healthy choice.[79]

To be frank, the idea that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is a reliable and unbiased source of nutrition-related information is ludicrous. To claim otherwise undermines the credibility of every other claim you make.

However, here is a further source that links to several other organizations that have affirmed that vegan diets are healthy:

I hope that addresses argument (1) sufficiently.

By no means does this address the argument at all.

You have linked to an advocacy website. Not to a meta-analysis or review, not to a paper published in a respected journal, not even to a popular science article in a reputable publication, or a blog post by a scientist working in the field—but to an advocacy website. I’m sorry to be blunt about this, but—do you not see how worthless this is, as evidence? (And lest you consider replying that they link to other, more reputable sources, recall that a biased advocate for a position can cherry-pick sources to support almost any possible point—see “What Evidence Filtered Evidence?” and “The Bottom Line” for further commentary.) Linking to a page on a vegan advocacy site and declaring the matter settled is simply not anything even resembling a serious approach to this topic.

Suppose I were interested in investigating this topic for myself. Setting aside the deep skepticism which it is only rational to cultivate about any nutrition-related topic, and the awareness that advocacy of all sorts, and profound systemic and instutional flaws, compromise the reliability of even credentialed sources, I might do the maximally naive thing and simply do a web search for “vegan diet health”. On the very first page of search results, I would see sites and documents which say things like:

One common concern is whether a vegan diet provides enough vitamin B12. B12 helps prevent nerve damage, and is found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy, but not in fruit or vegetables. It's recommended that adults consume 1.5 micrograms of the vitamin per day.

“A B12 deficiency can lead to neurological symptoms such as numbness, and it’s irreversible if the deficiency is present for too long,” says Janet Cade, of the Nutritional Epidemiology Group, School of Food Science and Nutrition.

A recent study involving 48,000 people over 18 years compared the health of meat-eaters, pescatarians – who eat fish and dairy but not meat – and vegetarians, including some vegans. They found that people who eat vegan and vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease, but a higher risk of stroke, possibly partly due to a lack of B12.

Researchers are concerned that a lot of research comparing the vegan diet and health outcomes (also known as observational research) is unreliable, since vegans tend to be healthier.

“Typically, vegans smoke less, drink less alcohol and exercise more,” says Faidon Magkos, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen's department of nutrition, exercise and sports, who last year published a review into research examining the health effects of the vegan diet.

These lifestyle factors, which can also contribute to a lower risk of heart disease and mortality, can suggest that the vegan diet alone is healthier than it may actually be.

While the evidence isn’t very strong for the vegan diet specifically, Cade says, the vegan diet seems to be linked to better general health, apart from bone density and fractures, which may be more common due to possible lower calcium intake, and the likelihood of B12 deficiency.

“If you compare a plant-based diet with an unhealthy diet that includes meat, the plant-based diet is certainly better,” Faidon says.

“But if you follow a relatively prudent omnivorous diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruit, vegetables, legumes and low in meat, there’s evidence to suggest this type of omnivorous diet is at least as healthy as a vegan diet,” he says.


(See also for a laundry list of other concerns.)

At the very least, this would convince me that the case is far from closed, and that much more investigation is needed.


I think you should not underestimate nutritional science and do your research first if you make such a claim. The scientific findings are sufficient to claim that vegan diets are healthy. Therefore, humans do not need animal products to be healthy.

Citation needed. Since you suggest that I do my research, no doubt you’ve done yours—yes? The “scientific findings” you refer to ought to be cited explicitly.

Comment by SaidAchmiz on [deleted post] 2021-03-03T22:26:17.415Z

(Continuing from my other comment.)

[stuff about world hunger]

Another commenter has already addressed this somewhat, but to make the point explicit: as you say, we produce enough food already. Hunger in the modern world is caused by logistical difficulties, not under-supply. There does not seem to be any reason to believe that a global transition to veganism would meaningfully affect these difficulties. (This is to say nothing of the highly questionable implied connection between personal decisions, made by individuals in Western countries, to adopt veganism, and any significant shifts in global prevalence of veganism.)

Being vegan contributes to saving wild animals

This point is rather at odds with your argument about animal welfare. The lives of wild animals are full of pain and death—a fact which has long been recognized by effective altruists. (Simply search for “wild animals” on the Effective Altruism Forum to get a flavor of the discussions on this topic.) If you want to reduce unnecessary suffering, are you sure you should be saving wild animals?

Vegans are overall healthier, are less overweight, have less cancer (at least some forms of cancer like breast or prostate cancer), and have fewer cardiovascular diseases, including strokes and heart attacks.

Citation very much needed. (And see the note in my other comment about health-related claims.) My prior for this sort of claim (taken as a universal or near-universal claim, which is the only way it can have any rhetorical force) is very low.

Invalid arguments against being vegan: …

The “natural“ and “normal” arguments are indeed mostly invalid (though there are serious “Chesterton’s fence” type concerns which ought not be casually dismissed). The “necessary” argument is certainly not invalid (or, rather, requires considerably more support than the almost no support which you have provided, in order to be rejected as invalid).

the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

I looked them up and found this:

A 1995 report, noted the Academy received funding from companies like McDonald's, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, Sara Lee, Abbott Nutrition, General Mills, Kellogg's, Mars, McNeil Nutritionals, SOYJOY, Truvia, Unilever, and The Sugar Association as corporate sponsorship.[25][61] The Academy also partners with ConAgra Foods, which produces Orville Redenbacker, Slim Jims, Hunt's Ketchup, SnackPacks, and Hebrew National hot dogs, to maintain the American Dietetic Association/ConAgra Foods Home Food Safety...It's in Your Hands program.[62] Additionally, the Academy earns revenue from corporations by selling space at its booth during conventions, doing this for soft drinks and candy makers.[25][63]

(From Wikipedia. Click the link for more in the same vein as the quoted paragraph—there’s a lot there, and all of it bad.)

Under no circumstances would I believe a word these people say about nutrition.

Tradition, taste, convenience: The holy trinity of lazy excuses. Neither the tradition of eating meat nor the taste or convenience of it are able to justify the unnecessary suffering of sentient beings from a moral perspective.

These are, in fact, entirely valid reasons to eat meat—especially if the moral argument fails to persuade. Far from being “lazy excuses”, these three considerations are quite important to the great majority of people! It is empirically true that people value tradition, taste (or, more generally, pleasure and enjoyment), and convenience very highly. (If you doubt this, look at the choices people make!) The task before you is daunting: you must convince people, not only that eating animals (or harming them in the process of food production) is wrong at all, in any way, but also that it’s wrong enough to outweigh things that they actually, in fact, value quite highly.

(And, of course, if the moral argument doesn’t hold water—as I, for one, don’t think it even slightly does—then the point is moot. What reason suffices to justify doing something that’s morally neutral? Why, any reason at all.)

Comment by SaidAchmiz on [deleted post] 2021-03-03T21:59:42.019Z

And now, a substantive reply.

Well, as you say, the post is very sloppy, which makes me feel somewhat bad for arguing against it… but if no one speaks up to point out shoddy argument, on a topic of concern to us, then it’s normalized, isn’t it? If you like, consider my commentary to be aimed, not (only) at you per se, but at anyone who makes similar arguments (of whom there are many).

Animal welfare: Humans do not need animal products to be healthy. Therefore, the consumption of animal products is unnecessary. This makes the killing of non-human animals for animal products unnecessary. Not avoiding unnecessary suffering is immoral. Therefore, contributing to unnecessary animal suffering makes you an animal abuser.

This is a series of claims stringed together—almost all of them either unsupported or wrong. Let’s look at them individually. I will number the claims for convenience.

(1) Humans do not need animal products to be healthy.

Citation needed. When providing citations, please note that (a) much of nutrition science is very shoddy (in all the usual ways—methodology, replicability, file-drawer effects, etc.), and (b) there is considerable variation, between people and between groups of people, in optimal diet, physiological responses to dietary changes, etc. Almost any universal statement about human nutrition is likely to be wrong. So a claim like this requires considerable support to be raised even to the “plausible” level, much less to “certain enough to base moral claims on”. (Indeed, it is possible that nutrition science, in its current state, is simply not capable of providing us with the degree of certainty which we would need in order to use a claim like this in a moral argument.)

(2) Therefore, the consumption of animal products is unnecessary.

Granting claim (1), this one does not follow. You seem to imply that something is only “necessary” if, without it, we would die (or suffer serious harms to health). I reject this view.

(3) This makes the killing of non-human animals for animal products unnecessary.

Note that if your argument depends on establishing the immorality of killing animals, that gets you to vegetarianism only, not to veganism. Eggs, dairy, etc. do not require killing animals, so a non-vegan vegetarian might well ask—how does this argument apply to me?

(4) Not avoiding unnecessary suffering is immoral.

The word “unnecessary” seems to be doing most of the work in this claim, but it’s difficult to see how to operationalize it. Interestingly, utilitarianism (which is usually a background assumption in arguments like this, and likely here as well, though you never name it explicitly) doesn’t much help; there isn’t really any way, for a utilitarian, to designate some suffering to be “necessary” or “not necessary”—it simply gets entered as input into the utility calculation, along with all other relevant facts about the world. On the other hand, most non-utilitarian views don’t offer any clear way to make sense of this claim either.

(5) Therefore, contributing to unnecessary animal suffering makes you an animal abuser.

This presupposes several other claims, which are missing from your argument, and must be made explicit. These include “non-human animals are capable of suffering” (and/or “the suffering of non-human animals is morally relevant”).

As a side note, the term “abuser” is tendentious; clearly, you are trying to bring in the connotations of the term we use to describe people who beat their pet dogs, into the argument about whether it’s acceptable to kill cows for their meat. If you have a point, make it without recourse to underhanded emotional tactics.

(The rest of the paragraph is mostly elaboration on claim (5); the factual claims made therein are irrelevant if the argument quoted above does not carry through.)

(Continued in sibling comment, for ease of response.)

Comment by SaidAchmiz on [deleted post] 2021-03-03T21:30:44.526Z

Also, I am sorry for the “clickbaity” title.

Downvoted for this alone. Using a clickbait title and then apologizing in the text doesn’t somehow absolve you of using the clickbait title in the first place. You knew what you were doing and you still did it. I see this more and more on Less Wrong these days, and I downvote it whenever I see it. When it comes to clickbait, don’t first do it and then apologize for doing it—just don’t do it.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Why Boston? · 2021-03-03T15:03:20.051Z · LW · GW

What does “installing it as intended” actually mean in practice?

I conclude that you have not actually tried this, because if you had you would have noticed that it reduces the capacity of the device massively. AC units need to be placed centrally in the window with carefully-guided siderails.

You conclude incorrectly. I have indeed shifted my A/C’s position, in the way I describe, multiple times (spanning multiple units). There was no detectable effect on the A/C’s performance.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Why Boston? · 2021-03-02T15:57:23.366Z · LW · GW

This makes [a fireplace] cheap, and easy to install, when installing it as intended

This is not true at all. Fireplaces are very expensive to install, costing thousands of dollars at the low end (and going into five digits of dollars). (Furthermore, if you live in a rented unit, you generally have no option to install a fireplace at all.)

If you install an air conditioner six inches to the left, it probably won’t work at all; the seal will be crap and you’ll get worse results than you would have from leaving the window closed. At best you’ll get 50% capacity.

This is also not true at all. I can move my window air conditioner six inches in either direction right now (I’d just have to undo/re-do some screws and reapply some foam padding), and it would work just as well. The same has been true for every other air conditioner I have owned.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-26T08:06:28.178Z · LW · GW

The “core claim” you quote is actually several claims appended to each other, with the connections between them left as implicit additional claims. So when you ask if I disagree that “this” happens, I can’t answer in a binary fashion because you’re asking multiple questions, some of which are unstated (and which I have to infer, with the possibility of inferring incorrectly).

(This is very similar to one of the several ways in which your post itself is flawed.)

I will comment as I am able, however. So:

The purpose of symbolic language is to transmit ideas from one mind to another.

This can reasonably be said to be a purpose of symbolic language (certainly it’s not the only purpose, but it’s a big one).

In the new mind, the idea can prompt or set the stage for (sometimes strong) urges to arise.

I am not quite sure what you mean by “urges” (I can think of multiple possible sense of this word which might be relevant), but clearly you’re referring to some variety of mental states.

Mental states in general arise for various reasons and in various ways. Any given mental state may be capable of arising in any of a variety of ways, “triggered” or immediately preceded by any of a number of precursor mental states or external stimuli etc. Certainly ideas introduced by communication by another person is one possible type of such precursors or triggers.

Does this mean that the communicative act “caused” (“prompted” and “set the stage for” seem to be synonyms for “caused”, with, perhaps, variation in emphasis) the mental state in question? Maybe, maybe not. In the case of overdetermination, the answer would be “not”. (How common is that case? I don’t know. Fairly common, it seems to me.) In other cases, the answer is more ambiguous. It depends on the type of mental state, certainly. Whatever you mean by “urges”, it seems particularly unlikely that mental states that could be described thus (especially those which can reasonably be described as “strong urges”), would be “caused” (in a non-overdetermined way) by communicative acts of others.

[… here we have an apparent gap in the chain of reasoning …]

You jump from “urges” to “humans acting on” those “urges”. This seems like it needs more examination, to say the least. Most people don’t just act on whatever thoughts pop into their heads. Reflexive actions exist, of course, but I’m not sure you have those in mind. If I understand correctly the sort of mental states you refer to, they are such that acting on them, or not doing so, is a choice. People are quite capable of suppressing even very strong emotions, taking no actions whatsoever on their basis.

Humans acting on strong urges can be destructive in lots of ways.

This is literally true, but quite misleading in its implication that “strong urges” are somehow unusual or unique in being mental states which, when humans act on them, result in destructive behavior.

In fact people can be destructive in lots of ways regardless of the nature of the mental state or states which resulted in those destructive actions. A man may strangle a rival in a fit of rage, or strike down a pedestrian with his car while being distracted by a funny picture on his smartphone, or carefully orchestrate a murder while seething with bile and cold hatred, or calmly sign an order that sends thousands to their deaths while taking his morning tea. There is nothing particularly special about any of these mental states. It is simply easy to inflict pain and death and horror, if one is placed in circumstances that permit such actions.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-25T17:55:06.242Z · LW · GW

That’s as much cause as your releasing a catch causing the spring tension to be released and resulting in a lid opening.

A cause of the thought? Sure. A cause of the action? Certainly not.

You don’t need to actually follow through on a threat for it to be effective, someone need only believe that the threat is genuine. That constitutes a necessary condition and a linguistic trigger.

Actions are what cause people to believe in threats. The words communicate intent, they do not themselves cause ‘harm’ or anything else.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-25T13:10:49.339Z · LW · GW

I think most people would agree that your asking caused the salt to be passed because the conditions were right for it to do so.

I do not agree with that.

In the everyday sense of ‘cause’, you didn’t cause the person in question to pass the salt. They chose to pass the salt, after you asked them to do so. They could’ve chosen otherwise. (Indeed, it’s easy to imagine reasons why they would.)

How many people have been threatened into doing terrible things? Or ordered by a superior?

These are examples of causation by actions, not by words. The words in question communicate information about intentions and actions; but the actions (and/or threat/promise thereof) are what cause things to happen.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-25T06:36:17.313Z · LW · GW

Their argument is quite simple, as I understand it: […] It borders on a technicality, and elsethread I disputed its practical importance, but for all that it is successful at what it’s trying to do.

It’s worse than a technicality—it’s an equivocation between meanings of “cause”. In ordinary speech we do not speak of one thing “causing” another if, say, the purported “cause” is merely one of several possible (collectively) necessary-but-not-sufficient conditions for the purported “effect” to occur—even though, in a certain sense, such a relationship is “causal”—because if we did, then we would have to reply to “what caused that car accident” with “the laws of physics, plus the initial conditions of the universe”.

So kithpendragon proves that words can “cause harm” in the latter technical sense, but the force of the argument comes from the claim that words can “cause harm” in the former colloquial sense—and that has assuredly not been proven.

(And this is without even getting into the part about “large cascades of massive change” and “downward spiral of self destruction with truly unfortunate consequences” and such things, that can allegedly be caused by “what seems like a tiny thing”—a claim that is presented without any support at all, but without which the injunction that motivates the post simply fails to follow from any of the rest of it!)

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-25T03:26:18.103Z · LW · GW

But you didn’t refute the claim that words can’t cause harm. To do that, you’d have to provide examples, which you did not do. Given this, what is the substance of this post? I see none.

The idea that concrete examples of harmful words would be a “likely hazard” also strikes me as absurd. I could be convinced otherwise, but for that to happen, I’d have to see some… examples.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Yes, words can cause harm · 2021-02-24T07:48:12.715Z · LW · GW

Without examples, this post is almost entirely devoid of content.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on Jimrandomh's Shortform · 2021-02-01T23:59:33.260Z · LW · GW

Note that many people don’t know about ad blockers:

As usual, I use Google Surveys to run a weighted population survey. On 2019-03-16, I launched a n = 1000 one-question survey of all Americans with randomly reversed order, with the following results: […]

… I am however shocked by the percentage claiming to not know what an adblocker is: 72%! I had expected to get something more like 10–30%. As one learns reading surveys, a decent fraction of every population struggles with basic questions like whether the Earth goes around the Sun or vice-versa, so I would be shocked if they knew of ad blockers but I expected the remaining 50%, who are driving this puzzle of “why advertising avoidance but not adblock installation?”, to be a little more on the ball, and be aware of ad blockers but have some other reason to not install them (if only myopic laziness).

But that appears to not be the case. There are relatively few people who claim to be aware of ad blockers but not be using them, and those might just be mobile users whose browsers (specifically, Chrome, as Apple’s Safari/iOS permitted adblock extensions in 2015), forbid ad blockers.

(I highly recommend reading that entire section of the linked page, where gwern describes the results of several follow-up surveys he ran, and conclusions drawn from them.)

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on What is up with spirituality? · 2021-01-27T22:19:44.720Z · LW · GW

Some questions (either answers, or summaries of answers plus pointers elsewhere for the full treatment, would be fine):

the existence of God is not an empirical question

What kind of question is it?

God is not a supernatural agent

What kind of agent is he?

“theologically necessary level of denial”

In what sense is “theologically necessary” a relevant or interesting category in epistemological terms? (More bluntly, if you like: why should we care what is, or is not, theologically necessary, as distinct from what is epistemologically necessary?)

it’s not that the specific claim being made by the atheist is incorrect, it’s that the implication that is believed to follow does not actually follow

What is the specific claim, and what is the believed implication?

techniques to enable a closer appropriation of the truth

What, exactly, is an “appropriation of the truth”? I have never encountered this phrase, and am unsure what it could mean.

In so far as institutions succeed in cultivating such honesty then they are operating as spiritual bodies.

This claim seems to beg the question by defining ‘spiritual’ in a way very different than how it’s normally defined. No conclusions that might be reached after starting with such an unusual usage could possibly apply to ‘spirituality’ in the way the term is normally used.

I would personally argue that the edifice of science that we presently have is structurally dependent on that Thomistic tradition I mentioned above, and that it could not exist separately from that tradition, but that’s an argument that might be distracting as it is very contentious


lastly, that an important form of spirituality that is also massively understood in contemporary culture, although it is of major historical significance in the West, is that of magic. Rightly understood, this is not about Harry Potter-esque actions that violate natural law but about ‘change of consciousness in accordance with will’ - in other words, it is about the training of the intellect in ways of seeing. (Some of the ways of seeing can be bonkers of course.)

Needless to say, this runs into the usual “show me the money” (a.k.a. “cake”) kinds of problems that we see with ‘Looking’, ‘kensho’, and all the rest. Absent an answer to such demands for demonstration of effectiveness, the mere fact that ‘magic’ is not judged to be important or worthy of study is simply correct and appropriate.

Comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) on The Real Rules Have No Exceptions · 2021-01-25T19:52:14.118Z · LW · GW

This comment discusses a class of situations where what you say seems likely to be true.

In most other cases, I think the sort of attitude you describe is likely to be a way to avoid admitting (to yourself or others) what the “real rules” are. Once you start saying stuff like…

… treating the “real process” as a rule is more fitting in some cases than others, a better fit for some people’s style of thinking than for other people’s, and also something that a person could choose to aim for more or less.

… then the usefulness of the concept/approach described in the OP is destroyed.

The request for more examples (note that I give three extended ones downthread) is not unreasonable, but if the existing examples don’t convince, I’m not entirely sure more would, either. What is your take on the examples I’ve provided so far?