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Comment by scientism on Neo-reactionaries, why are you neo-reactionary? · 2014-11-21T19:40:39.454Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Right, but it's that sort of transition from the descriptive and the prescriptive that I'm highlighting. In liberal philosophy the issue is much more subtle, but there has been a constant interchange between the descriptive and the prescriptive. So if you look at society as sovereign individuals engaged in contractual relationships with one another, that's essentially descriptive. It was intended to be descriptive. But then your model for why individuals give up some of their rights to have a state doesn't look right and the answer to that isn't to change the model but to make a prescriptive assertion: the state should be more representative of our interests. So you've gone from descriptive to prescriptive.

Likewise, with feminism: under a model that emphasises individuals in voluntary relationships, women look oppressed, so you derive the prescriptive conclusion that we should alter family law, etc. Under the traditional family-oriented model of society, it's not even clear why anyone but the head of a household should vote, since people aren't 'sovereign' individuals, they're members of an institution - the family - and they play different roles within it, and the head of the household is its representative in society. From this shift to an individualist view you can derive much of the rest of modern liberal/progressive prescriptivism. It problematises the family - the status of women and children, the fairness of inheritance (wealth, status and genetics), familial obligations, etc - and it problematises the institutions of the state.

It's a view of people magically appearing in the world fully formed, with their own interests, and they're shocked to learn that they have parents, that they have roles in society, that society has existed long before they were born and has its own traditions, values, etc. So they're encouraged to stomp their feet and say, "Why wasn't I consulted about any of this?"

Comment by scientism on Neo-reactionaries, why are you neo-reactionary? · 2014-11-21T15:18:42.904Z · score: 16 (22 votes) · LW · GW

If you care about culture, (traditional) values and intact families, then democracy is empirically very bad (far from being "the worst form of gov­ern­ment, except for all the oth­ers" it would place among the very worst). The question is then how you come to care about these things. For me it proceeded negatively: from a critical reading of political philosophy, I came to believe that the foundations of liberalism are incoherent; that what liberalism sees as constraints on individual freedom are nothing of the sort. That many of the norms, values and practices that make up a traditional society are non-voluntary - in the sense that it doesn't make sense to speak of people assenting or not assenting to them - and therefore cannot be seen as constraints on human freedom at all; we're born into them, they form part of our identity and they provide the context (even possibility) of our choices.

So I came to believe that the Enlightenment was the result of this kind of philosophical error and that it is no different from the kinds of philosophical error that bring people to, say, question whether an objective reality exists. The heady feeling one gets from an argument that leads to an absurd conclusion, in this case, led to the false belief that traditional society consisted of arbitrary constraints on human freedom and, eventually, to pointless reforms and revolutions. Consider this: If somebody proposes a model of the physical world and it's incorrect, they have to change the model. But if somebody proposes a model of society and it's incorrect, they can insist on reorganising society to fit the model. This is essentially what has been happening for the last several hundred years. If I said this is what happened with communism - that Marx developed a flawed model and Lenin tried to fit society to that flawed model - most people would probably accept that. Is it so hard to believe the same kind of process led to our own political order and continues to inform it?

On reflection, the contemporary Western view of politics, which I once accepted without question, appears to be utterly absurd. It has no choice but to see the history of humanity as one of oppression and this oppression is becoming increasingly bizarre. It was, perhaps, easy to believe that religion was inherently oppressive, at least given an overly literal interpretation of religion, or to believe that monarchy was oppressive, but now one must believe that the family was oppressive, that gender roles were oppressive, that sexual morality was oppressive, that even having a gender was oppressive, that monogamy was oppressive, etc. The list is ever expanding, the revisionist history gets more absurd by the day. Moreover, most people miss the fact that we're talking about traditional society being inherently oppressive. There were, of course, bad monarchs, bad religious leaders, bad family circumstances, etc, but the liberal claim is that it was all bad, all the time (although it is apparently unnecessary that anyone noticed, since everyone was also ignorant). This is quite an extraordinary claim.

In my view, none of these things were oppressive. You're born into a society, it has its pre-existing norms, values, roles and practices. You're born into a set of pre-existing relationships and roles. These are not constraints, they're part of your identity, they're part of the enabling context in which you have and make choices. This includes things like how leaders are nominated, the roles of men and women, children and parents, etc. That you can imagine different ways of doing things does not imply that you are being deprived of a choice. Moreover, they are in many respects immutable. They continue to exist whether we understand them or misunderstand them and try to rebel against them. Thus, there is just no such thing as a liberal society. What we have instead is a traditional society where there are, for example, arbitrary constraints on leaders (constitutional "checks and balances", elections, etc) that do little more than to ensure that we have incompetent leaders. We have family law and a welfare system that is bad for families. We encourage men to be bad fathers and husbands and women to be bad mothers and wives. We encourage children to rebel against their parents. So what we're doing, in fact, is not 'reform' but just being bad in our roles as parents, spouses, leaders, lawmakers, etc, because we have a bad model of how society works that lead us to mistake incompetence, negligence and immorality for freedom.

Comment by scientism on What are your contrarian views? · 2014-09-16T20:35:45.998Z · score: 32 (34 votes) · LW · GW

[Please read the OP before voting. Special voting rules apply.]

Superintelligence is an incoherent concept. Intelligence explosion isn't possible.

Comment by scientism on "NRx" vs. "Prog" Assumptions: Locating the Sources of Disagreement Between Neoreactionaries and Progressives (Part 1) · 2014-09-04T20:49:28.369Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

All three projects - liberalism, socialism and progressivism - are related by common commitments that have their origins in Enlightenment political philosophy. Because progressives believe in systemic oppression, they have to alleviate systemic oppression in order to achieve liberty: we won't be truly free until we're free from racism, sexism, etc. They're still committed to value pluralism. All three projects faced the (paradoxical) issue of having to attain state power in order to enforce their vision. Liberal democracy was often created on the back of violent revolution, for example.

Libertarians typically identify with classical liberalism and decry progressivism as statist and oppressive, it's true, but that doesn't mean that progressives aren't committed to liberty and value pluralism on their own terms. They have a different notion of what those things mean, they don't reject them.

Comment by scientism on "NRx" vs. "Prog" Assumptions: Locating the Sources of Disagreement Between Neoreactionaries and Progressives (Part 1) · 2014-09-04T19:48:41.371Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's an apt description of liberalism, of which progressivism is a species, which is defined by an open pluralism regarding what counts as the good. Progressives add a belief in systemic oppression - i.e., oppression by cultural norms and values, which they try to alleviate, but the goal is the same as classical liberalism: liberty from perceived oppression. Regardless, if you conceive of society as a power-structure, whether you take the classical liberal belief that we're oppressed by state and church, the socialist belief that we're oppressed by class structure or the modern progressive belief that we're oppressed by sexism, racism, etc, then you want to alleviate those harms and typically the only way to do so is to use existing power structures.

Comment by scientism on [LINK] Physicist Carlo Rovelli on Modern Physics Research · 2014-08-24T00:49:43.141Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Hawking's philosophy-bashing was at Google Zeitgeist:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/8520033/Stephen-Hawking-tells-Google-philosophy-is-dead.html

Tyson's comments were in this podcast:

http://www.nerdist.com/pepisode/nerdist-podcast-neil-degrasse-tyson-returns-again/

Transcript of the comments here:

http://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/neil-degrasse-tyson-and-the-value-of-philosophy/

Krauss set things off in this interview:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/has-physics-made-philosophy-and-religion-obsolete/256203/

Comment by scientism on Two arguments for not thinking about ethics (too much) · 2014-03-27T22:22:14.827Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, when I gave up consequentialism for virtue ethics it was both a huge source of personal insight and led to insights into politics, economics, management, etc. I'm of the belief that the central problem in modern society is that we inherited a bad moral philosophy and applied it to politics, management, the economy, personal relationships, etc.

Comment by scientism on What attracts people to learning things that they consider neither interesting nor important? · 2014-03-14T17:57:31.062Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure why you're dismissing building character as an explanation. Something builds character if it helps a person develop virtues such as patience, perseverance, humility, temperance, etc. Committing to a difficult activity can obviously do this, perhaps more so if it is not instrumental. There's also the sense in which an activity can be a test of character, so that completing it reveals (to oneself and others) virtues (or room for improvement). I find "direct hedonic value" far more suspicious, since most "rewarding" activities offer nothing of the sort (the pleasure of a difficult activity is usually delayed and the activity itself may be wholly negative), and those that do are usually considered addictions/vices/etc. Hedonic reward also has only a tenuous connection to an activity being considered "interesting"; in fact, probably only boredom can stop an activity from being interesting and I'm not even sure about that (in many endurance sports the tedium is part of the challenge).

Comment by scientism on Innovation's low-hanging fruits: on the demand or supply sides? · 2014-02-25T17:19:43.332Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It depends what you mean by transformative. Perhaps there aren't many innovations left that would change the lives of ordinary people, but there are plenty that would change the scale of our civilisation: space industry, robotics, fusion, etc.

Comment by scientism on Humans can drive cars · 2014-01-30T20:27:32.149Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Here's an interesting contrast: When I first moved from a small town to a big city I was fascinated by the fact that people cannot perform the simple task of walking down the street. Their attention is constantly being drawn to other things, they apparently have no awareness of or concern for other people, etc. They're constantly stopping dead in front of you, even though they're certainly aware they're on a busy street. They talk on their phones, text, play games, they even walk along reading novels. If they meet someone they know, they'll stop and have a conversation without moving out of the way. When somebody approaches a bus stop, they'll simply stop dead and won't move to the side, even if they're blocking the only way through. To be sure, people can navigate around other people, but as soon as they do something else (stop, answer their phone, meet someone they know, etc), the fact that they're on a busy street apparently disappears from their consciousness. There's a complete absence of vigilance (and courtesy).

If people drove cars the same way they walk on a busy street there'd be dozens of accidents per mile. I guess the lesson is that human beings are capable of being careful when they need to be but most of the time they don't need to be.

Comment by scientism on How to become a PC? · 2014-01-26T20:52:30.991Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I try to view problems as opportunities. If it's raining outside, that's training in the rain. Snowing? Awesome, snow running! Too hot? High-temperature training. Too cold? Low-temperature training. I'm too tired? Fatigue training. I also try to look at things from what I call a "mediative" point of view. So let's say I'm out running my regular route but it's cold, windy, raining, etc, and I feel miserable. I try to remember how I felt running the same route on a beautiful day and bring my mind back to that state. Or if I'm fatigued, I try to remember a day when what I was doing felt easy and set myself the challenge of trying to regain that mindset. Again, it's about turning problems into opportunities: fatigue is an opportunity for fatigue-mastery. It helps to take an interest in the mental element of training, sports, etc, so you can think of mastering mental adversity as part of your training.

Comment by scientism on Continuity in Uploading · 2014-01-20T19:17:37.004Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Mere stipulation secures very little though. Consider the following scenario: I start wearing a medallion around my neck and stipulate that, so long as these medallion survives intact, I am to be considered alive, regardless of what befalls me. This is essentially equivalent to what you'd be doing in stipulating survival in the uploading scenario. You'd secure 'survival', perhaps, but the would-be uploader has a lot more work to do. You need also to stipulate that when the upload says "On my 6th birthday..." he's referring to your 6th birthday, etc. I think this project will prove much more difficult. In general, these sort of uploading scenarios are relying on the notion of something being "transferred" from the person to the upload, and it's this that secures identity and hence reference. But if you're willing to concede that nothing is transferred - that identity isn't transferrable - then you've got a lot of work to do in order to make the uploading scenario consistent. You've got to introduce revised versions of concepts of identity, memory, self-reference, etc. Doing so consistently is likely a formidable task.

I should have said this about the artificial brain transplant scenario too. While I think the scenario makes sense, it doesn't secure all the traditional science fiction consequences. So having an artificial brain doesn't automatically imply you can be "resleeved" if your body is destroyed, etc. Such scenarios tend to involve transferrable identity, which I'm denying. You can't migrate to a server and live a purely software existence; you're not now "in" the software. You can see the problems of reference in this scenario. For example, say you had a robot on Mars with an artificial brain with the same specifications as your own. You want to visit Mars, so you figure you'll just transfer the software running on your artificial brain to the robot and wake up on Mars. But again, this assumes identity is transferrable in some sense, which it is not. But you might think that this doesn't matter. You don't care if it's you on Mars, you'll just send your software and bring it back, and then you'll have the memories of being on Mars. This is where problems of reference come in, because "When I was on Mars..." would be false. You'd have at best a set of false memories. This might not seem like a problem, you'll just compartmentalise the memories, etc. But say the robot fell in love on Mars. Can you truly compartmentalise that? Memories aren't images you have stored away that you can examine dispassionately, they're bound up with who you are, what you do, etc. You would surely gain deeply confused feelings about another person, engage in irrational behaviour, etc. This would be causing yourself a kind of harm; introducing a kind of mental illness.

Now, say you simply begin stipulating "by 'I' I mean...", etc, until you've consistently rejiggered the whole conceptual scheme to get the kind of outcome the uploader wants. Could you really do this without serious consequences for basic notions of welfare, value, etc? I find this hard to believe. The fact that the Mars scenario abuts issues of value and welfare suggests that introducing new meanings here would also involve stipulating new meanings for these concepts. This then leads to a potential contradiction: it might not be rationally possible to engage in this kind of revisionary task. That is, from your current position, performing such a radical revision would probably count as harmful, damaging to welfare, identity destroying, etc. What does this say about the status of the revisionary project? Perhaps the revisionist would say, "From my revisionary perspective, nothing I have done is harmful." But for everyone else, he is quite mad. Although I don't have a knockdown argument against it, I wonder if this sort of revisionary project is possible at all, given the strangeness of having two such unconnected bubbles of rationality.

Comment by scientism on Continuity in Uploading · 2014-01-18T02:15:50.926Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that uploading is copying-then-death. I think you're basically correct with your thought experiment, but your worries about vagueness are unfounded. The appropriate question is what counts as death? Consider the following two scenarios: 1. A copy of you is stored on a supercomputer and you're then obliterated in a furnace. 2. A procedure is being performed on your brain, you're awake the entire time, and you remain coherent throughout. In scenario 1 we have a paradigmatic example of death: obliteration in a furnace. In scenario 2 we have a paradigmatic example of surviving an operation without harm. I would say that, if the procedure in 2 involves replacing all or part of your brain, whether it is performed swiftly or slowly is unimportant. Moreover, even if you lost consciousness, it would not be death; people can lose consciousness without any harm coming to them.

Note that you can adjust the first scenario - say, by insisting that the copy is made at the instant of death or that the copying process is destructive as it transpires, or whatever - but the scenario still could go as described. That is, we are supposed to believe that the copy is a continuation of the person despite the possibility of inserting paradigmatic examples of death into the process. This is a clear case of simply stipulating that 'death' (and 'survival') should mean something entirely different. You can't hold that you're still speaking about survival, when you insist on surviving any number of paradigmatic cases of death (such as being obliterated in a furnace). There are no forms of death - as we ordinarily conceive of death - that cannot be inserted into the uploading scenario. So we have here as clear a case of something that cannot count as survival as is possible to have. Anybody who argues otherwise is not arguing for survival, but stipulating a new meaning for the words 'survival', 'death', etc. That's fine, but they're still dead, they're just not 'dead'.

I think this realisation makes understanding something like the brain transplant you describe a little easier. For we can say that we are living so long as we don't undergo anything that would count as dying (which is just to say that we don't die). There's nothing mysterious about this. We don't need to go looking for the one part of the body that maintains our identity under transformation, or start reifying information into a pseudo-soul, or whatever. We just need to ensure whatever we do doesn't count as death (as ordinarily conceived). Now, in the case of undergoing an operation, there are clear guidelines. We need to maintain viability. I cannot do certain things to you and keep you alive, unless I perform certain interventions. So I think the answer is quite simple: I can do anything to you - make any change - as long as I can keep you alive throughout the process. I can replace your whole brain, as long as you remain viable throughout the process, and you'll still be alive at the end of it. You will, of course, be 'brain dead' unless I maintain certain features of your nervous system too. But this isn't mysterious either; it's just that I need to maintain certain structural features of your nervous system to avoid permanent loss of faculties (such as motor control, memory, etc). Replacement with an artificial nervous system is likewise unproblematic, as long as it maintains these important faculties.

A lot of the confusion here comes from unnecessary reification. For example, that the nervous system must be kept structurally intact to maintain certain faculties, does not mean that it somehow 'contains' those faculties. You can replace it at will, so long as you can keep the patient alive. The person is not 'in' the structure (or the material), but the structure is a prerequisite for maintaining certain faculties. The common mistake here is thinking that we must be the structure (or pattern) if we're not the material, but neither claim makes sense. Alternatively, say you have a major part of your brain replaced, and the match is not exact. Somebody might, for example, point out that your personality has changed. Horrified, you might wonder, "Am I still me?" But this question is clearly absurd. There is no sense in which you could ask if you are still you. Nor can you coherently ask, "Did I die on the operating table?" Now, you might ask whether you merely came into existence on the operating table, after the original died, etc. But this, too, is nonsense. It assumes a reified concept of "self" or "identity." There is nothing you can "lose" that would count as a prior version of you 'dying' and your being born anew (whether slightly different or not). Of course, there are such things as irreversible mental degradation, dementia, etc. These are tragic and we rightfully speak of a loss of identity, but there'd be no such tragedy in a bout of dementia. A temporary loss of identity is not a loss of identity followed by gaining a new identity; it's a behavioural aberration. A temporary loss of identity with a change in temperament when one recovers is, likewise, unproblematic in this sense; we undergo changes in temperament regardless. Of course, extreme change can bring with it questions of loss of identity, but this is no more problematic for our scenario than an operation gone wrong. "He never fully recovered from his operation," we might say. Sad, yes, but this type of thing happens even outside of thought experiments.

Comment by scientism on How to not be a fatalist? Need help from people who care about true beliefs. · 2013-12-07T22:14:11.326Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Move something eye-catching into an odd place where you'll see it shortly after waking up in the morning. Whenever you see it say to yourself, "I put that there."

Comment by scientism on Reasons to believe · 2013-12-02T21:25:53.210Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure about introspectionism, but I'm sure you could find theories that have produced bad outcomes and had mainstream acceptance, particularly in medicine. I suppose the alternative is to remain noncommittal.

Comment by scientism on Reasons to believe · 2013-12-02T18:16:20.043Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Look at something like psychology. If you'd deferred to the leading authorities over the past 100 years, you would have been an introspectionist, then a behaviourist, then a cognitive scientist and now you'd probably be a cognitive neuroscientist. Note that these paradigms primarily differ on what they think counts as evidence, rather than quality or quantity of evidence. They all performed experiments. They share many of the same experimental methods. They all had numerous results they could point to and a neat story about how the same method could be carried on to explain everything else.

Unfortunately, the authorities get divided up into schools of thought before even they have examined all the alternatives. Typically the mainstream school has a way of dismissing alternatives without examining them. A school can become mainstream for all sorts of reasons (it provides ideological support, it's sexier, there's a lack of alternatives, mere persistence, it has charismatic advocates, etc). So I think you have to be very careful who you take to be an authority on a given subject. Assessing authorities probably isn't much easier than assessing the subject directly.

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-26T00:57:32.064Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"I'm in the habit of talking about my original's experiences as though they're mine, because I experience them as though they were" appears to be a form of delusion to me. If somebody went around pretending to be Napoleon (answering to the name Napoleon, talking about having done the things Napoleon did, etc) and answered all questions as if they were Napoleon but, when challenged, reassured you that of course they're not Napoleon, they just have the habit of talking as if they are Napoleon because they experience life as Napoleon would, would you consider them delusional? Or does anything go as long as they're content?

To be honest, I'm not really sure what you mean by the experience of memory. Mental imagery?

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-25T02:42:15.642Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If the duplicate says "I did X on my nth birthday" it's not true since it didn't even exist. If I claim that I met Shakespeare you can say, "But you weren't even born!" So what does the duplicate say when I point out that it didn't exist at that time? "I did but in a different body" (or "I was a different body")? That implies that something has been transferred. Or does it say, "A different body did, not me"? But then it has no relationship with that body at all. Or perhaps it says, "The Original did X on their nth birthday and the Original has given me permission to carry on its legacy, so if you have a question about those events, I am the authority on them now"? It gets very difficult to call this "memory." I suppose you could say that the duplicate doesn't have the original's memories but rather has knowledge of what the original did, but then in what sense is it a duplicate?

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-23T03:34:25.386Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The preferences aren't symmetrical. Discovering that you're a duplicate involves discovering that you've been deceived or that you're delusional, whereas dying is dying. From the point of view of the duplicate, what you're saying amounts to borderline solipsism; you don't care if any of your beliefs, memories, etc, match up with reality. You think being deluded is acceptable as long as the delusion is sufficiently complete. From your point of view, you don't care about your survival, as long as somebody is deluded into thinking they're you.

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-22T19:48:02.652Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I would say the question of whether ball had the "same" bounciness when you filled it back up with air would either mean just that it bounces the same way (i.e., has the same amount of air in it) or is meaningless. The same goes for your faculties. I don't think the question of whether you're the same person when you wake up as when you went to sleep - absent your being abducted and replaced with a doppelgänger - is meaningful. What would "sameness" or "difference" here mean? That seems to me to be another case of conceiving of your faculties as something object-like, but in this case one set disappears and is replaced by another indistinguishable set. How does that happen? Or have they undergone change? Do they change without there being any physical change? With the ball we let the air out, but what could happen to me in the night that changes my identity? If I merely lost and regained by faculties in the night, they wouldn't be different and it wouldn't make sense to say they were indistinguishable either (except to mean that I have suffered no loss of faculties).

It's correct that two balls can bounce in the same way, but quite wrong to think that if I replace one ball with the other (that bounces in the same way) I have the same ball. That's true regardless of how many attributes they share in common: colour, size, material composition, etc. I can make them as similar as I like and they will never become the same! And so it goes with people. So while your doppelgänger might have the same faculties as you, it doesn't make him the same human being as you, and, unlike you, he wasn't the person who did X on your nth birthday, etc, and no amount of tinkering will ever make it so. Compare: I painstakingly review footage of a tennis ball bouncing at Wimbledon and carefully alter another tennis ball to make it bounce in just the same way. No amount of effort on my part will ever make it the ball I saw bounce at Wimbledon! Not even the finest molecular scan would do the trick. Perhaps that is the scenario you prefer, but, you're quite right, I find it very odd.

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-22T13:32:28.914Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's the loss of faculties that constitutes the loss of identity, but faculties aren't transferable. For example, a ball might lose its bounciness if it is deflated and regain it if it is reinflated, but there's no such thing as transferring bounciness from one ball to another or one ball having the bounciness of another. The various faculties that constitute my identity can be lost and sometimes regained but cannot be transferred or stored. They have no separate existence.

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-22T01:01:38.514Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No.

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-22T00:53:46.232Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't say that a brain transplant is nothing at all like a heart transplant. I don't take the brain to have any special properties. However, this is one of those situations where identity can become vague. These things lie on a continuum. The brain is tied up with everything we do, all the ways in which we express our identity, so it's more related to identity than the heart. People with severe brain damage can suffer a loss of identity (i.e., severe memory loss, severe personality change, permanent vegetative state, etc). You can be rough and ready when replacing the heart in a way you can't be when replacing the brain.

Let me put it this way: The reason we talk of "brain death" is not because the brain is the seat of our identity but because it's tied up with our identity in ways other organs are not. If the brain is beyond repair, typically the human being is beyond saving, even if the rest of the body is viable. So I don't think the brain houses identity. In a sense, it's just another organ, and, to the degree that that is true, a brain transplant wouldn't be more problematic (logically) than a heart transplant, provided the dynamics underlying our behaviour could be somehow preserved. This is an extremely borderline case though.

So I'm not saying that you need to preserve your brain in order to preserve your identity. However, in the situation being discussed, nothing survives. It's a clear case of death (we have a corpse) and then a new being is created from a description. This is quite different from organ replacement! What I'm objecting to is the idea that I am information or can be "transformed" or "converted" into information.

What you're saying, as far as I can tell, is that you care more about "preserving" a hypothetical future description of yourself (hypothetical because presumably nobody has scanned you yet) than you do about your own life. These are very strange values to have - but I wish you luck!

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-21T19:09:01.422Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see how using more detailed measurements makes it any less a cultural practice. There isn't a limit you can pass where doing something according to a standard suddenly becomes a physical relationship. Regardless, consider that you could create as many copies to that standard as you wished, so you now have a one-to-many relationship of "identity" according to your scenario. Such a type-token relationship is typical of norm-based standards (such as mediums of representation) because they are norm-based standards (that is, because you can make as many according to the standard as you wish).

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-21T19:01:00.532Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's essentially correct. Preservation of your brain is preservation of your brain, whereas preservation of a representation of your brain (X) is not preservation of your brain or any aspect of you. The existence of a representation of you (regardless of detail) has no relationship to your survival whatsoever. Some people want to be remembered after they're dead, so I suppose having a likeness of yourself created could be a way to achieve that (albeit an ethically questionable one if it involved creating a living being).

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-20T22:04:33.524Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The brain constructed in your likeness is only normatively related to your brain. That's the point I'm making. The step where you make a description of the brain is done according to a practice of representation. There is no causal relationship between the initial brain and the created brain. (Or, rather, any causal relationship is massively disperse through human society and history.) It's a human being, or perhaps a computer programmed by human beings, in a cultural context with certain practices of representation, that creates the brain according to a set of rules.

This is obvious when you consider how the procedure might be developed. We would have to have a great many trial runs and would decide when we had got it right. That decision would be based on a set of normative criteria, a set of measurements. So it would only be "successful" according to a set of human norms. The procedure would be a cultural practice rather than a physical process. But there is just no such thing as something physical being "converted" or "transformed" into a description (or information or a pattern or representation) - because these are all normative concepts - so such a step cannot possibly conserve identity.

As I said, the only way the person in cryonic suspension can continue to live is through a standard process of revival - that is, one that doesn't involve the step of being described and then having a likeness created - and if such a revival doesn't occur, the person is dead. This is because the process of being described and then having a likeness created isn't any sort of revival at all and couldn't possibly be. It's a logical impossibility.

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-20T21:42:27.249Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In the example being discussed we have a body. I can't think of a clearer example of death than one where you can point to the corpse or remains. You couldn't assert that you died 25 minutes ago - since death is the termination of your existence and so logically precludes asserting anything (nothing could count as evidence for you doing anything after death, although your corpse might do things) - but if somebody else asserted that you died 25 minutes ago then they could presumably point to your remains, or explain what happened to them. If you continued to post on the Internet, that would be evidence that you hadn't died. Although the explanation that someone just like you was continuing to post on the Internet would be consistent with your having died.

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-20T18:19:41.343Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I take it that my death and the being's ab initio creation are both facts. These aren't theoretical claims. The claim that I am "really" a description of my brain (that I am information, pattern, etc) is as nonsensical as the claim that I am really my own portrait, and so couldn't amount to a theory. In fact, the situation is analogous to someone taking a photo of my corpse and creating a being based on its likeness. The accuracy of the resulting being's behaviour, its ability to fool others, and its own confused state doesn't make any difference to the argument. It's possible to dream up scenarios where identity breaks down, but surely not ones where we have a clear example of death.

I would also point out that there are people who are quite content with severe mental illness. You might have delusions of being Napoleon and be quite happy about it. Perhaps such a person would argue that "I feel like Napoleon and that's good enough for me!"

In the animation, the woman commits suicide and the woman created by the teleportation device is quite right that she isn't responsible for anything the other woman did, despite resembling her.

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-19T19:59:03.565Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It would have false memories, etc, and having my false memories, it would presumably know that these are false memories and that it has no right to assume my identity, contact my friends and family, court my spouse, etc, simply because it (falsely) thinks itself to have some connection with me (to have had my past experiences). It might still contact them anyway, given that I imagine its emotional state would be fragile; it would surely be a very difficult situation to be in. A situation that would probably horrify everybody involved.

I suppose, to put myself in that situation, I would, willpower permitting, have the false memories removed (if possible), adopt a different name and perhaps change my appearance (or at least move far away). But I see the situation as unimaginably cruel. You're creating a being - presumably a thinking, feeling being - and tricking it into thinking it did certain things in the past, etc, that it did not do. Even if it knows that it was created, that still seems like a terrible situation to be in, since it's essentially a form of (inflicted) mental illness.

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-19T13:32:56.767Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I was referring cryonics scenarios where the brain is being scanned because you cannot be revived and a new entity is being created based on the scan, so I was assuming that your brain is no longer viable rather than that the scan is destructive.

The resulting being, if possible, would be a being that is confused about its identity. It would be a cruel joke played on those who know me and, possibly, on the being itself (depending on the type of being it is). I am not my likeness.

Consider that, if you had this technology, you could presumably create a being that thinks it is a fictional person. You could fool it into thinking all kinds of nonsensical things. Convincing it that it has the same identity as a dead person is just one among many strange tricks you could play on it.

Comment by scientism on Looking for opinions of people like Nick Bostrom or Anders Sandberg on current cryo techniques · 2013-10-19T00:23:50.582Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The problem with the computationalist view is that it confuses the representation with what is represented. No account of the structure of the brain is the brain. A detailed map of the neurons isn't any better than a child's crude drawing of a brain in this respect. The problem isn't the level of detail, it's that it makes no sense to claim a representation is the thing represented. Of course, the source of this confusion is the equally confused idea that the brain itself is a sort of computer and contains representations, information, etc. The confusions form a strange network that leads to a variety of absurd conclusions about representation, information, computation and brains (and even the universe).

Information about a brain might allow you to create something that functions like that brain or might allow you to alter another brain in some way that would make it more like the brain you collected information about ("like" is here relative), but it wouldn't then be the brain. The only way cryonics could lead to survival is if it led to revival. Any account that involves a step where somebody has to create a description of the structure of your brain and then create a new brain (or simulation or device) from that, is death. The specifics of your biology do not enter into it.

Cyan's post below demonstrates this confusion perfectly. A book does contain information in the relevant sense because somebody has written it there. The text is a representation. The book contains information only because we have a practice of representing language using letters. None of this applies to brains or could logically apply to brains. But two books can be said to be "the same" only for this reason and it's a reason that cannot possibly apply to brains.

Comment by scientism on What makes us think _any_ of our terminal values aren't based on a misunderstanding of reality? · 2013-09-26T15:44:38.796Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not quite sure what you're saying. I don't think there's a way to identify whether a goal is meaningless at a more fundamental level of description. Obviously Bob would be prone to say things like "today I did x in pursuit of my goal of time travel" but there's no way of telling that it's meaningless at any other level than that of meaning, i.e., with respect to language. Other than that, it seems to me that he'd be doing pretty much the same things, physically speaking, as someone pursuing a meaningful goal. He might even do useful things, like make breakthroughs in theoretical physics, despite being wholly confused about what he's doing.

Comment by scientism on What makes us think _any_ of our terminal values aren't based on a misunderstanding of reality? · 2013-09-26T14:53:39.163Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You're right that a meaningless goal cannot be pursued, but nor can you be said to even attempt to pursue it - i.e., the pursuit of a meaningless goal is itself a meaningless activity. Bob can't put any effort into his goal of time travel, he can only confusedly do things he mistakenly thinks of as "pursuing the goal of time travel", because pursuing the goal of time travel isn't a possible activity. What Bob has learned is that he wasn't pursuing the goal of time travel to begin with. He was altogether wrong about having a terminal value of travelling back in time and riding a dinosaur because there's no such thing.

Comment by scientism on P/S/A - Sam Harris offering money for a little good philosophy · 2013-09-01T22:23:39.552Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'd be willing to give this a shot, but his thesis, as stated, seems very slippery (I haven't read the book):

"Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds—and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe."

This needs to be reworded but appears to be straightforwardly true and uncontroversial: morality is connected to well-being and suffering.

"Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, fully constrained by the laws of Nature (whatever these turn out to be in the end)."

True and uncontroversial on a loose enough interpretation of "constrained".

"Therefore, there must be right and wrong answers to questions of morality and values that potentially fall within the purview of science."

This is the central claim in the thesis - and the most (only?) controversial one - but he's already qualifying it with "potentially." I'm guessing any response of his will turn on (a) the fact that he's only saying it might be the case and (b) arbitrarily broadening the definition of science. Nevertheless, moral questions aren't (even potentially) empirical, since they're obviously seeking normative and not factual answers. But given that this is obvious, it's hard to imagine that one could change his mind. It's rather like being invited to challenge the thesis of someone who claims scientific theories are works of fiction. You've got your work cut out when somebody has found themselves that far off the beaten path. I suspect the argument of the book runs: this philosophical thesis is misguided, this philosophical thesis is misguided, etc, science is good, we can get something that sort of looks like morality from science, so science - i.e., he takes himself to be explaining morality when he's actually offering a replacement. That's very hard to argue against. I think, at best, you're looking at $2000 for saying something he finds interesting and new, but that's very subjective.

"On this view, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life."

Assuming "what they deem important in life" is supposed to be parsed as "morality" then this appears to follow from his thesis.

Comment by scientism on Genies and Wishes in the context of computer science · 2013-08-31T00:09:51.015Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think the told/meant distinction is confused. You're conflating different uses of "meant." When somebody misunderstands us, we say "I meant...", but it doesn't follow that when they do understand us we didn't mean what we told them! The "I meant..." is because they didn't get the meaning the first time. I can't do what I'm told without knowing what you meant; in fact, doing what I'm told always implies knowing what you meant. If I tried to follow your command, but didn't know what you meant by your command, I wouldn't be doing what I was told. Doing what I'm told is a success term. Somebody who says "I was just doing what you told me!" is expressing a misunderstanding or an accusation that we didn't make ourselves clear (or perhaps is being mischievous or insubordinate).

There is no following commands without knowing the meaning. The only thing we can do in language without knowing what is meant is to misunderstand, but to misunderstand one must first be able to understand, just as to misperceive one must first be able to perceive. There's no such thing as misunderstanding all the time or misunderstanding everything. The notion of a wish granting genie that always misunderstands you is an entertaining piece of fiction (or comedy), but not a real possibility.

Comment by scientism on Yet more "stupid" questions · 2013-08-29T16:38:00.477Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There's only two options here. Either the universe is made of atoms and void and a non-material Cartesian subject who experiences the appearance of something else or the universe is filled with trees, cars, stars, colours, meaningful expressions and signs, shapes, spatial arrangements, morally good and bad people and actions, smiles, pained expressions, etc, all of which, under the appropriate conditions, are directly perceived without mediation. Naturalism and skeptical reductionism are wholly incompatible: if it was just atoms and void there would be nothing to be fooled into thinking otherwise.

Comment by scientism on Lesswrong Philosophy and Personal Identity · 2013-08-24T17:50:25.701Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think it helps to look at statements of personal narrative and whether they're meaningful and hence whether they can be true or false. So, for example, change is part of our personal narrative; we mature, we grow old, we suffer injuries, undergo illness, etc. Any philosophical conception of personal identity that leads to conclusions that make change problematic should be taken as a reductio ad absurdum of that conception and not a demonstration of the falsity of our common sense concepts (that is, it shows that the philosopher went wrong in attempting to explicate personal identity, not that we are wrong). Statements of personal narrative are inclusive of our conception, birth, events of our life, etc. Most cultures give meaning to post-death statements but it's a clearly differentiated meaning. But I can't meaningfully speak of being in two places at once, of being destroyed and recreated, of not existing for periods of time, etc, so a large range of philosophical and science fiction scenarios are ruled out. (Again, if a philosopher's attempt to explicate personal identity makes these things possible then it is the philosopher who erred, since the common sense concept clearly precludes them; or he/she is now using a novel concept and hence no pertinent inferences follow). If we create a new person and give him the memories of a dead man, we have only played a cruel trick on him, for a statement of personal narrative that includes being destroyed and recreated has no sense ("I didn't exist between 1992 and 1998" isn't like "I was unconscious/asleep between 1992 and 1998" because non-existence is not a state one can occupy).

Note that the meaningfulness of novel statements like "I teleported from Earth to Mars" or "I uploaded to Konishi Polis in 2975" depend entirely on unpacking the meaning of the novel terms. Are "teleported" and "uploaded" more like "travelled" or more like "destroyed and recreated"? Is the Konishi Polis computer a place that I can go to? The relevant issue here isn't personal identity but the nature of the novel term which determines whether these statements are meaningful. If you start from the assumption that "I teleported from Earth to Mars" has a clear meaning, you are obviously going to come to a conclusion where it has a clear meaning. Whether "teleported" means "travelled" or "destroyed and recreated" does not turn on the nature of personal identity but on the relationship of teleportation to space - i.e., whether it's a form of movement through space (and hence travel). If it involves "conversion from matter to information" we have to ask what this odd use of "conversion" means and whether it is a species of change or more like making a description of an object and then destroying it. The same is true of uploading. With cryonics the pertinent issue is whether it will involve so much damage that it will require that you are recreated rather than merely recovered.

Comment by scientism on "Mind reading" - how is this done? · 2013-08-18T13:21:54.636Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think they're all examples of compliance - i.e., in each example he gets them to go along with something that isn't true. The creepy clown is the most obvious. He has put her in a confusing situation and then makes her confusion look like agreement. He also appears to be mirroring and then provoking her body language. He manages to get her to not walk away and to say he's right, but most of the time she appears to be completely baffled. With the pet name, I suspect the main part of the trick is making the man wait an extremely long time and making him sympathise with the woman, so that he'll agree with whatever she says. In his book he explicitly claims to never use camera tricks, he says it's always a mix of traditional magic and psychological techniques, with one sometimes posing as the other.

Comment by scientism on Greatest Philosopher in History · 2013-08-10T14:02:00.414Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Wittgenstein advanced philosophy to the point where it could have become an applied discipline, having solved many philosophical problems once and for all, but philosopher's balked at the idea of an ultimate resolution to philosophical problems.

Comment by scientism on The Robots, AI, and Unemployment Anti-FAQ · 2013-08-02T15:15:41.369Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the view that automation is now destroying jobs, the view that the economy always re-allocates the workforce appropriately and the views defended in this anti-FAQ all rest on a faulty generalisation. The industrial revolution and the early phases of computerisation produced jobs for specific reasons. Factories required workers and computers required data entry. It wasn't a consequence of a general law of economics, it was a fortuitous consequence of the technology. We are now seeing the end of those specific reasons, but not because of a general trend to automation, but because our new technologies do not have the same fortuitous consequences. Namely, modern robotics do not create factory jobs and the end-to-end ubiquity of the Internet means data entry is done by the end-user. General intelligence doesn't come into it; there has never been mass employment of general intelligence.

Comment by scientism on Learning programming: so I've learned the basics of Python, what next? · 2013-06-22T01:50:26.289Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd consider interactive graphics. Nothing else has such instant feedback; it's very obvious if something is working or not and you can easily figure out what's wrong. Using Javascript and Canvas in a web browsing you can get up and running with 2D interactive graphics very quickly and you just have to hit refresh to see the changes you make (I don't know what Python offers in this area). I think it's a great way to learn various programming abstractions too. By working at a low level, you're not forced to use abstractions, but you can see why they're useful once you start writing more complicated programs and also develop an appreciation of their limitations. If you go straight into a framework, you go in at the deep end and have to learn somebody else's way of doing things without really understanding why they're doing it.

Comment by scientism on Think Like a Supervillain · 2013-02-20T19:53:42.727Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is just a limitation of comic book superheroes. They desire public recognition. In other traditions with analogous figures, particularly religion, being reviled is just another burden to be taken on by the hero. (Although this sometimes happens in comic books too. See the recent Batman movies.) I especially like the Tibetan Buddhist concept of "crazy wisdom." Tibetan folk heroes spend a lot of time shocking people out of their complacency and generally acting like supervillains. But it's all in the name of universal compassion. (Google "Drukpa Kunley" for a particularly entertaining example.)

Comment by scientism on State your physical account of experienced color · 2013-02-03T00:48:46.196Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
  • I can compare the colour of a surface to the colour of a standardised colour chip, which is as objective as, say, measuring something using a ruler. Colours may not participate in any phenomena found in the physical scientist's laboratory, but they do participate in the behaviour of organisms found in the psychologist's laboratory. So I fail to see a problem here.

  • Indirect realism requires two mechanisms for veridical and non-veridical perception, the same as direct realism: one for when an object is seen and one for when it isn't. Direct realism is more parsimonious because it doesn't needlessly posit an intervening representation or image in either case.

  • This isn't my motivation so I won't address it.

  • See above.

  • I disagree that direct realism more easily applies to sight. Direct realism is the best account of the phenomenology of all perception. I feel the texture of an object. I hear events, not objects, of course. Water dropping, pans crashing, musical instruments being player, a person talking, etc. I smell fresh bread, then I taste it. What I do not do is see, hear, touch, taste or smell intervening representations or images. So I'm not sure how indirect realism could more easily apply to these things. Pains, on the other hand, aren't perceived, they're had. Nobody would claim a pain is in the object causing me pain. (I'll address aesthetic response below.)

  • All perception puts us in contact with the world. I'm not sure what you're saying here.

  • I've already addressed this. A bee, dog, martian, etc, would be able to perceive different aspects of the same object. That doesn't mean the object has to somehow "generate" those properties for each organism. It has them. Bees can perceive a subset, dogs a different subset, martians another subset.

  • Direct realists are not committed to the idea that everything is in the environment, as if we were somehow taking things that don't rightfully belong to the environment and arbitrarily resettling them there. Reactions to things are had by the organism. Taste and smell are implicated in ingesting foreign objects and are obviously more closely allied with specific reactions in the organism because of this.

  • The very idea of perceiving something other than the world implies that there is something other than the world to be perceived. You can say it's a representation or image or model or whatever, and then try to butcher those terms into making sense, but at some point you've got to light it all up with "qualia" or "consciousness" or some other quasi-mystical notion. Nobody has figured this out, but even if they did, there still wouldn't be any good reasons to be an indirect realist.

  • Direct realism doesn't claim that objects have dog-qualia and human-qualia and bee-qualia instead of dog-brains having dog-qualia, etc, as you seem to think. Direct realism denies that there are qualia at all. Objects have coloured surfaces. Note that if there were qualia those qualia would have to be coloured in some sense, so you're missing something from your supposedly parsimonious account.

  • The best argument for direct realism is that it's phenomenologically accurate. The biggest flaw of indirect realism is that it's committed to some sort of mysticism, regardless of how your dress it up. You can move the problem around, call it "qualia" or "consciousness" or whatever, but it never goes away. It's a picture show in the mind or brain, and that's silly.

Comment by scientism on State your physical account of experienced color · 2013-02-01T19:00:11.016Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There's no such thing as my red or different reds that are individuated by perceiver. Different types of sensory organ allow us to see different aspects of the world. I'm blind to some aspects other animals can perceive and other animals are blind to some aspect I can perceive, and the same goes for various perceptual deficiencies.

Comment by scientism on [minor] Separate Upvotes and Downvotes Implimented · 2013-01-30T01:31:13.722Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's very useful feedback. I have 82% positive. Going through my old comments, I found that a lot of comments I've made that I thought would be controversial actually had 100%. The comments that had a low percentage tended to be the ones where I hadn't expressed myself well. Given that I have a lot of unorthodox views, I found this reassuring.

Comment by scientism on [Link] How Signaling Ossifies Behavior · 2013-01-22T18:13:12.463Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think there are potential examples of "suppressed" innovation due to our ideology. Our political ideology is based on a particular view of individual psychology and sociology. I mentioned the view of the state as an antagonistic actor and the idea that society doesn't transcend the individual. Both of these assumptions are absent from other traditions (pre-Englightenment West, Confucian, etc) and both appear to set the bounds of how we reason about people and society. I would add to this the idea that morality is problematic in that it doesn't fit into the natural world without revision, which is perhaps the central philosophical problem that led to modern Western political ideology, and is the reason we look for legal and institutional solutions to social problems rather than the character-centric solutions common to traditional approaches.

It would be very hard, I think, for a Western sociologist or a political scientist to argue for a view of the individual and of society that wasn't compatible with our political ideology. This also restricts the available possibilities in psychology because we tend to strongly favour "internal" solutions (representations, models, etc) rather than solutions that would imply the interdependence between individuals and culture/society. But again, only occasionally does this rise to the point where people say, "this is too weird!" Usually the suppression is more subtle. There are just certain places we don't go, intellectually, because the coherence of our ideology depends on it not being true. I think it's very hard to get a grip on how restrictive your own ideology is because of this.

For example, it's possible to imagine that I might come up with a psychological theory that seemingly justifies authoritarianism and that might provoke a reaction in others, but what of a psychological theory that shows our very concept of authority to be mistaken? What if I think we're confused about what freedom is altogether? It's likely that such a theory would still be evaluated as authoritarian (or not) within the ideology it seemingly undermines. But the situation can be more subtle still. For example, many people have argued that the problem of free will is a non-problem. But what does a world where this question has been dissolved really look like? It certainly doesn't look like our intellectual climate. Dissolution is merely accepted among the pantheon of answers. You could say that our ideology is especially defined by what we consider a problem rather than the answers we consider legitimate. I don't think it's a coincidence that our society is organised around ideas that come from the same era as many of our most intractable philosophical problems.

As someone who believes mainstream cognitive science is mistaken, I run into this issue all the time. Even people in heterodox research seem to have a hard time taking their theories "all the way." I think it's at least plausible that the sticking point here is an intolerance of the genuinely ideologically strange. In fact, I became interested in heterodox, pre-Enlightenment and non-Western political ideology while doing research in heterodox cognitive science, because it helps me clear away biases. So I've spent some time reading about other cultures and other eras and trying to get a handle on their perspective, so that I can "think outside the box." Of course, I could be wrong about mainstream cognitive science, but I think it's clear there are avenues of investigation that are closed off because they are intermingled with actually weird out-group stuff. I wonder if it's possible to genuinely dissolve problems without becoming an outsider of sorts.

Comment by scientism on [Link] How Signaling Ossifies Behavior · 2013-01-21T22:15:19.937Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It depends how you define weirdness, I think. What I'm claiming, by use of examples, is that we have a very specific out-group/in-group separation. What we usually label "weird" is harmless in-group stuff. We might even use it to signal our tolerance/freedom/etc. What is actually weird to us, we tend not to define explicitly at all, but to separate by exclusion and by favouring in-group stuff without argument. Sometimes we consider it offensive. The examples in the original article are not great, I think, since our society is tolerant of people wearing wacky clothing, etc (i.e., the other day I saw an adult woman in the supermarket wearing an animal onesie and nobody even looked twice). But if you take "weirdness" to be actual out-group behaviour then I think there's ample evidence that we're inherently intolerant of it (some of which I tried to provide).

Comment by scientism on [Link] How Signaling Ossifies Behavior · 2013-01-21T19:28:30.307Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Most intolerance doesn't announce itself. It usually dresses itself up as something positive.

The cynic in me would say the so-called tolerant people within our society aren't actually tolerant, rather they've adopted a potpourri of non-traditional behaviours in order to signal their faux tolerance, and then act with intolerance to so-called traditionalists (who are racist, homophobic, misogynist, authoritarian, etc). It all depends on how you value the liberal project. Personally I think it rests on shaky foundations, so I have some sympathy for this cynical view, although I think there are genuine moral concerns caught up in a very confused (and often destructive) ideology.

Probably the strongest example of intolerance dressed up as tolerance, though, is Western political ideology and how we relate to other societies. The democratic countries are extremely intolerant of other political systems; probably more so than many of their most hated rivals. This is expressed in terms of freedom, individual rights, etc, but elections and other Western political institutions are only tenuously connected to freedom. It's certainly not the case, as is usually assumed by Westerners, that elections are by definition a form of freedom and no further argument is needed. A case needs to be made.

Most discussion of Western political ideology tends to assume what it's trying to prove. For example, it's assumed that being incarcerated for a political crime is much worse than being incarcerated for something recognised as a crime in the West, but this is only obviously the case if you already agree with Western political ideology. It's not hard to come up with arguments (the standard line being that it's too easy to abuse) but if a country started giving political prisoners fair trials and following accepted legal practice for incarcerating people based on well-defined political crimes, would we accept that? I doubt it. The fact is that we won't accept anything short of them adopting our practices because their perceived superiority stems not from the particular benefits of adopting them but from that they are ours.

The same is true for freedom of speech, assembly, etc. I've been stuck in traffic because of a protest and it occurred to me then that marching down the street is something we make an exception for in political circumstances but would almost definitely outlaw if we didn't have that ideal. Are countries that don't share our ideals outlawing protests because they hate freedom or because that's just a really, extremely obvious thing to outlaw if you don't share our ideals? Calls for elections in countries without them are calls for the destruction of the prevailing political system. In the West, communists, fascists, anarchists and other rivals to the prevailing political system (as opposed to a party within the system) are not tolerated either. They're often demonised and sometimes they're arrested.

These are some of the ways we disguise intolerance for political and cultural differences as sympathy for the plight of individuals under other regimes (while simultaneously ignoring their differences from us, as if everybody has a Westerner trapped inside them, just waiting to be freed). There's also the tendency to file under propaganda any expression of political views that doesn't fall under the party system (for example., that the party system is not optimal). There are Chinese and Singaporean political thinkers (and some leaders) who write very eloquently about the limitations of Western political thought and are summarily dismissed as having ulterior motives. Almost everything the Chinese government does is dismissed as a way to prop up the regime, as if nobody there cares about the fate of their own country at all.

Of course, this all stems from the Western idea that the state is an antagonist and opportunist rather than an organic part of society (and, relatedly, that society doesn't transcend the individual). These ideas are not shared by others but, again, rather than provide an argument we just assume differences in opinion are examples of oppression. Often these differences in opinion are shared by the very people we consider "oppressed" (this is where we bring in nice words like "enlightened" which deny the autonomy of the individual we're expressing our sympathy for; once they've become like us, they'll understand why being like us is better, but until then... well, screw their opinions).

Comment by scientism on Ontological Crisis in Humans · 2012-12-18T23:32:29.699Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Buddhism merely states that there's a psychological continuum in which there is nothing unchanging. The "self" that's precluded is just an unchanging one. (That said, in the Abhidharma there are unchanging elements from which this psychological continuum is constituted.) The Mahayana doctrine of emptiness (which isn't common to all Buddhism, just the schools that are now found in the Himalayas and East Asia) essentially states that everything is without inherent existence; things only exist as conditioned phenomena in relation to other things, nothing can exist in or of itself because this would preclude change. It's essentially a restatement of impermanence (everything is subject to change) with the addition of interdependence. So I'd imagine few Buddhists have convinced themselves they don't exist.

Comment by scientism on Train Philosophers with Pearl and Kahneman, not Plato and Kant · 2012-12-07T17:41:32.827Z · score: 1 (15 votes) · LW · GW

It's extremely important to realise what Luke is doing here, even if you agree with it. Cognitive science is a sub-discipline of psychology established to reflect a particular philosophical position. Cognitive neuroscience is a sub-discipline of neuroscience established to reflect a particular philosophical position. In both cases the philosophical position, within that sub-discipline, is assumed rather than defended. What Luke is doing is: (1) denying the legitimacy of other parts of behavioural and neural science, thus misrepresenting the diversity of science; (2) using this to then rule in favour of a particular philosophical position within philosophy; but (3) misrepresenting it as making philosophy reflect modern science. So this is trying to establish a philosophical position as the de facto philosophical position without argument.