Comment by sideways2 on Pretending to be Wise · 2009-02-20T06:28:28.000Z · LW · GW

The principal's "I don't care who started it" can be a poorly-phrased "both of you started it." In every case, each kid will put full blame on the other--how often do you expect to hear "he started most of it, but I'm responsible for some of the trouble as well?" Often, both kids will even believe what they're saying. But in almost every case (perhaps excluding the playground bully), both contributed to escalating the conflict. Anyone who has shepherded groups of children can confirm this, and it holds just as true for adults, tribes, and nations.

Comment by sideways2 on An African Folktale · 2009-02-16T16:37:55.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer: "I was shocked to discover that in 45 episodes, not once does Wile E. Coyote catch the Roadrunner. Despite his increasingly meticulous planning and his use of advanced technology, every attempt ends not only with failure but with disgrace or injury to the coyote, while the Roadrunner may not even be aware that he is being pursued. Clearly, 20th century American culture was contemptuous and dismissive of success and 'winners' in general."


NASA is another great example of breathtaking levels of waste.

So your objection is to government waste in general, rather than environmentalism in particular?

That's reasonable, but it doesn't explain why you brought up environmentalism spending. Should we evaluate all our budget decisions against whether supplying micronutrients to the needy would reduce more suffering?

If you want to argue for foreign aid spending on these things, go ahead, I probably even agree with you, but it's disingenuous to blame "environmentalism." As if we couldn't afford both!

Comment by sideways2 on An African Folktale · 2009-02-16T03:09:02.000Z · LW · GW
Environmentalism pisses me off because for a fraction of what we are spending on the public hysteria we could be providing micro nutrients that would lead to huge decreases in overall suffering.

Why should spending on 'environmentalism' alone have to face this burden of justification? Do you feel the same indignation toward spending on, say, NASA?

This story sounds like an extended dirty joke to me--the bit about the farmer looking like a pregnant woman with the snake in his belly, for instance. And antisocial behavior is just plain funny. Folk-myth tricksters aren't solemn, hard-working, and plain spoken; they're obscene, lazy liars. If this is the Hausa idea of what makes a funny story, then cooperation is probably a social value of theirs.

Comment by sideways2 on An Especially Elegant Evpsych Experiment · 2009-02-13T16:49:23.000Z · LW · GW

People who say that evolutionary psychology hasn't made any advance predictions are (ironically) mere victims of "no one knows what science doesn't know" syndrome.
I hope this isn't pointed at me. When I wrote,

I've never seen a researcher make a prediction based on EP and then verify it via testing. Of course, that doesn't mean it hasn't happened...
I was pretty careful to make that a statement of my own probable ignorance instead of an assertion of fact.

Reading the summary and the linked abstract left me with a few questions remaining. I'd like to know what the !Kung grief-curve looks like, for example. And the reproductive-potential curves of a few other hunter-gatherer tribes wouldn't hurt, either. I find it a bit fishy that Crawford et al. found a .92 correlation with the very first curve they compared their results to, and then didn't make comparisons to any others. Maybe I'll drop by my university library on Monday and see if I can dig up the full study.

Comment by sideways2 on Cynicism in Ev-Psych (and Econ?) · 2009-02-12T18:27:16.000Z · LW · GW
So maybe humans are naturally inclined to develop an appreciation for harmony based on an overtone series, but nurture determines which overtone series we are most exposed to?

Music appreciation has to happen within culture as well as physics. You can probably think of several musical genres that you don't like--but I would be astonished to hear of even a single genre that some genetic group liked, and others couldn't learn to enjoy.

When we encounter visual situations that rarely arose throughout the period of human evolution, our instincts can lead us to interpretations that conflict with reality; this is an evolutionary explanation of optical illusions. Similarly, when we encounter moral situations that rarely arose throughout the period of human evolution, our instincts may lead us to decisions that are hard to reconcile with what we regard as moral behavior.

When I see an optical illusion -- like Wile E. Coyote trying to run into a tunnel painted onto a cliff face -- my visual cortex is fooled, even if I know it's an illusion, and even if I know the principle behind the illusion. But the moral equivalent doesn't persist: once you correct your knowledge or your reasoning, nothing is left of your indignation based on faulty reasoning or incorrect evidence.

It appears that moral "biases" can be "overcome", but visual "biases" can only be worked around. I think that's evidence in favor of an "nature" explanation for optical illusions and a "nurture" explanation for moral biases.

Comment by sideways2 on Cynicism in Ev-Psych (and Econ?) · 2009-02-12T05:04:36.000Z · LW · GW

HH: "Evolutionary psychology is about adaptation to one's environment. Where cultures differ environments differ..."

This doesn't sound like evolutionary psychology to me. It sounds like just regular old psychology.

Your point re: noise in EP experiments is well taken. But if EP can't be tested by experiment, what use is it?

The human brain is a product of evolution. But as Tim Tyler and Aaron pointed out, any particular human brain is also the product of a developmental process that happens in a memetic environment. Given the brain's plasticity, I'm leery of claims that concepts like "fairness" are evolved--especially when that concept varies widely among cultures and individuals.

Comment by sideways2 on Cynicism in Ev-Psych (and Econ?) · 2009-02-12T02:44:18.000Z · LW · GW

nobody really:

The results of the ultimatum game do vary a great deal between cultures. Here's an example study with interesting results:

(or if that's too long to handle)

From the abstract: "proposers in the "ultimatum game" almost invariable made offers that split a day's wage at 50/50... we find that responders invoke an exceedingly strong norm of a 50/50 split or nothing at all."

Take a look at tables 2 and 3a/3b--both groups that Bahry and Wilson studied had about 50% rejection rates of offers that would have given the whole pot away. And 8 out of 24 people who were offered more than half the pot actually rejected the offer!

Now, that response can be interpreted as a desire to signal that altruism is more important to the responder than money. But there aren't significant genetic differences between different cultures, where the outcomes of the ultimatum game vary widely. So how can evolutionary psychology explain why these results vary?

I'm skeptical of evolutionary psychology as a scientific endeavor, because the basic theory can explain anything in retrospect--but I've never seen a researcher make a prediction based on EP and then verify it via testing. Of course, that doesn't mean it hasn't happened--I've read very little on the field.

Comment by sideways2 on (Moral) Truth in Fiction? · 2009-02-09T22:36:56.000Z · LW · GW


Speaking as a new reader of Overcoming Bias myself--I think that the sort of people who read this blog are more likely to miss how dangerous the Superhappies are, because we've considered ways that human suffering could be reduced or eliminated while still letting humans develop properly. Then, when people who already have ideas about how to reduce suffering read that the Superhappies want to eliminate suffering, they assume that the Superhappies' plans are the same as their own. (I'm not sure if this is a previously discussed and named bias, but it sure ought to be.)

As far as I can tell, the Superhappies don't care about proper human development, and are not even curious as to what it is. They want us to be happy; being "good people" doesn't enter into it. I'd say the Superhappies are "paperclip maximizers" for happiness-- though their idea of happiness is more complicated than a paperclip, the same principle is at work.

I would have said that the Superhappy proposal to find a happy middle ground between their values and the Babyeaters' by having everyone eat thousands of nonsentient babies was a preposterous straw-man for moral relativists, if that proposal hadn't actually been even more preposterously defended in the comments. Even if it's morally neutral to eat thousands of nonsentient babies, doesn't it seem... well, kind of ridiculous?

Which leads me to a point about the subject of this post, one that I don't think has been brought up yet: sometimes, people understand something more easily and more completely if they can see an example of it. Which is easier, to explain to someone what a cracker is, or to just show them a cracker? It's not practical to build a paperclipper and show it to everyone -- and that's where fiction comes in.