Convincing ET of our rationality 2011-01-11T17:32:13.598Z · score: 2 (7 votes)


Comment by therev on You Be the Jury: Survey on a Current Event · 2011-01-14T00:53:44.527Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How is that 'weaselly'? Say there is a criminal who confesses to a crime, and quite obviously did it, but the police failed to properly Mirandize them, or otherwise unlawfully elicited the confession. Legally, you should find them not guilty, even if they likely committed the crime. Not guilty does not equal innocent.

Comment by therev on Convincing ET of our rationality · 2011-01-12T02:11:00.947Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For what it's worth, the chimps have me convinced.

Comment by therev on Convincing ET of our rationality · 2011-01-11T20:21:03.257Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I love that link. It reminds me of a poster I once saw which gave instructions on how to make electric generators, fixed wing aircraft, penicillin, and the like for prospective time travelers.

Comment by therev on Convincing ET of our rationality · 2011-01-11T20:19:19.066Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Great link. It reminds me of my freshman astronomy lab which actually had us students calculate for instance the diameter and mass of the Earth and sun, and through the semester moved up to the level of using parallax and blackbody spectra to calculate distance to various stars.

Comment by therev on Convincing ET of our rationality · 2011-01-11T20:18:15.610Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Pre-scientific societies have managed to build quite complex machinery. For instance the Antikythera mechanism, Roman textile mills, Egyptian irrigation systems, etc. Is it possible aliens could develop something as complex as a calculator without first attaining scientific literacy? If so electronics wouldn't necessarily prove scientific literacy to them.

Comment by therev on Convincing ET of our rationality · 2011-01-11T20:10:30.632Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

True, but would you agree that it is more likely that rational entities attain spaceflight capabilities? Also, rationality is likely to share some universals, whereas religion seems far less likely to.

Comment by therev on Convincing ET of our rationality · 2011-01-11T20:08:06.466Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Funny story, but it raises a good point. Perhaps an expression of curiosity would be enough to convince them of our worthiness.

Comment by therev on Back to the Basics of Rationality · 2011-01-11T14:48:39.858Z · score: 25 (25 votes) · LW · GW

I like how pragmatic you're being. I am new here, but one of the things that attracted me to this site was the fact that much of the material is simply above my head. That's hard to find in informal public online communities outside of academia, and I feel that the very challenge of trying to wrap my head difficult material is an absolute necessity for keeping my math and statistics skills sharp. However, different people have different bars that they want to reach, and I do agree that more accessible material is a great idea. As for me, I have a voice for radio and a knack for stating difficult theories in an accessible way, so I think a good microphone will be my next purchase for my computer. Making a Youtube video or two on rationality would be a great way for me to contribute to this goal.

Comment by therev on Are committed truthseekers lonelier? · 2011-01-11T14:11:37.608Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I certainly agree that it can seem that rationalists are lonelier, I'm just posing an alternate reason why. Though, perhaps your post deserves a more thoughtful reply than I gave.

Unfortunately, the question seems to be a difficult one to answer. First, we need to find a way to determine whether or not rationalists truly are more lonely. Loneliness seems like a tricky variable to quantify. Some ideas that spring to mind: You could measure the size of social circles using social network data or self-report surveys. Simply measure self-reported loneliness. Measure loneliness with some sort of psychological screening like you would measure introvertedness or conscientiousness. Record how often someone goes out with friends. Rationality might be easier to measure, except that I think self-report data would be unreliable, as it seems likely that like intelligence or competence at a given task, rationality would be underrated by those that have it and overrated by those who don't, but I'm sure the folks here at less wrong or elsewhere could write up a survey that measures it fairly well.

Then only once these variables are quantified, would we be able to see if there even is a correlation to begin with. Though it could be explained a number of ways. Rational people are attracted mainly to other rational people, and there are fewer rationalists than non-rationalists. Human social ques are emotionally rather than logically based. Rational people are more likely to be candid about sensitive topics, scaring away non-rationalists. People with psychological traits such as placement on the Asperger's scale or high introversion could be conducive to rationality and not conducive to social aptitude. Or a combination of any of these. it's an interesting topic, but I think we are a long way from being able to draw any big rational conclusions about it yet.

Comment by therev on Are committed truthseekers lonelier? · 2011-01-11T13:04:41.235Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps you have conflated correlation and causation. It is possible that loners, or people who are less concerned with group conformity simply have more time and resources to devote to their rationality.

Comment by therev on Is there anything after death? · 2011-01-11T05:00:15.392Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One possible explanation of your dream is that we live in a world in which people's minds which are perfect for each other enter the dreamworld and find each other. We don't believe that because the world doesn't seem to work that way.

The world doesn't seem to work this way because there has been no reproducible empirical evidence that it works that way. This isn't a case of "The Earth looks flat from here, so it must be flat." You're postulating that there is another realm of existence out there that doesn't intersect with our reality in any detectable way. At this point, you're just arguing for an invisible pink unicorn or a Russel's teapot, but then you say that this undetectable 'dream world', does affect the physical world by altering our minds to act as though it did exist. It's essentially the same argument that the zombie theorists make.

But what if you saw on the news a special of Keira Knightley's crazy dream that she believed was about her true lover; what if she had gone to one of those people who draw faces based on descriptions and the picture drawn was eerily similar to yours? If the dream she explained was really similar to the one you had, would you possibly begin to question your beliefs then? At what point will you accept that your beliefs about there not being an afterlife as possibly worthy of review?

If all that happened, it would be slightly more likely that there was something to this telepathic dream. However, to accept that this was a true manifestation of a psychic phenomenon, one would have to accept that the standard models of physics and neuropsychology are wrong. This is not entirely unknown to happen, but such revolutions were driven by men like Copernicus and Einstein who supported them with evidence, and not revealed to laymen in dreams. There would have to be such a preponderance of psychic evidence that it would be more probable that the standard model were wrong than that the dream were 'real'. So either there is some sort of fifth fundamental force, heretofore undiscovered or suppressed by thousands of scientists across the globe, that is powerful and sensitive enough to affect single neurons from across a continent, and that the human brain has evolved a region for sending and receiving signals via this fifth force, or that someone else had a similar dream to mine. It's not strictly impossible, but its probability approaches zero.

Why aren't dreams allowed to be submitted as evidence? They are experiences we have; if we cannot explain them, we must change our beliefs. The reason we don't usually listen to dreams as explanations of our world is that we understand why they happen; they are perfectly explainable without any need for a supernatural explanation.

Bingo. We can explain dreams with psychology without resorting to 'parapsychology'. When in doubt, consult Occam.

But what if we found that dreams weren't explainable given what we know about our world? We would change our beliefs about the world.

Yes, if that were the case, we would, but it isn't.

So don't just say that dreams aren't evidence. You can say that dreams are poor evidence for an afterlife, but if I postulate that we enter the afterlife in through dreams or some other similarly creative belief system that would explain the dreams, we would test my belief system to see if the predictions it makes correspond to reality better than other belief systems.

And how exactly do you propose to test the existence of an afterlife with reproducibility? Are you volunteering?

Comment by therev on Rationality Quotes: January 2011 · 2011-01-11T02:12:27.583Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

scientia potentia est

Knowledge is power.

--This quote is attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, but we don't really know.

Comment by therev on How to Save the World · 2011-01-11T01:55:11.662Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Honestly, I'm not that sure. I knew that there have been issues for law graduates to find jobs, but with the state of the economy the way it is, there are problems for graduates across the board, not just in law school. I'll be graduating this spring with degrees in political science and history. So, I can try and find a job now when the market for college graduates in general is similarly bad, and I'll likely end up working a low paying hourly office job, like customer support, or do some graduate work, like law school or a masters or phd program in one of my fields. Though there is a glut of graduates and paucity of jobs for masters and phd graduates in my fields as well. Eventually, the economic situation will sort out, and jobs will return, and historically, law has been fairly lucrative. Hopefully, this will happen in the next three years, but if I have to wait a few more years after graduation to start making big money, that's acceptable to increase the long-term odds that I will have a well-paying job.

Comment by therev on How to Save the World · 2011-01-10T13:06:42.588Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Though I won't be curing AIDS, designing cheaper solar panels, or searching for the Higgs Boson, seeing as I haven't chosen a career in the sciences, I am preparing for law school which should put me in a career that fairly well optimizes my income, while giving me a chance to use some of the rational argument skills on this site. Also, I live in Kansas, which, if I prove good enough at law, could provide me good opportunities to be on the front line against religious ignorance and bigotry here in the states. It would be a dream of mine to be in court against Fred Phelps and others like him, or to argue a case dealing with creationism being taught in schools. If not, there is sure to be some very interesting cases dealing with bioethics, cryonics, AI, or genetic engineering, fought in American courts in the coming decades. Or, without going to much into politics, since this isn't really the place for that, just do some civil liberties work, since I think most of us can agree that rationality and police states don't tend to work well together.

Comment by therev on Vegetarianism · 2011-01-10T12:31:28.046Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

On New Year's Eve this year, I made a spontaneous resolution to go vegetarian. It wasn't exactly a well-thought out rational decision; I mainly just wanted to see what it was like and if I could do it. I never really liked the cruelty argument, probably because that would entail coming to face with the fact that I was responsible for quite a bit of that cruelty. Mainly, I was interested in health benefits, and figured a good way to test those would be to become my own guinea pig. Ten days into the new year, I've only eaten meat twice (I had sushi with my brother on his birthday, and one night I was slightly intoxicated, and really wanted a bacon cheeseburger.), and it has been surprisingly easy. I still usually eat an egg sandwich in the morning for some meat-substitute protein and take some vitamin supplements until I can figure out enough recipes and techniques for meeting my nutritional requirements without. I also don't plan on turning my nose at my aunt's turkey on Thanksgiving or my dad's barbecue ribs on Independence Day, but if I could get meat consumption down to once or twice a month, it would be, I feel, a big improvement.

Anyways, the reason that I think I'm going to stick with it is that it helps me get in in touch with my body and its nutritional needs. I guess it's really more of a sub-benefit of the health argument, but even if I fell off the vegetarian wagon, I'd be better able to know exactly what my body needs, and follow through on another diet. I know for instance, when I need more protein. Also I now get the most unusual feeling, a craving for salad.

I really would like to know from other vegetarians what drove you to become one. What arguments did you find most persuasive? Most of the vegetarians I know don't do it for strictly rational reasons. A coworker of mine was raised by hippie parents and never knew any other way. My cousin has been a vegetarian since around age seven when she realized meat was animals. Some other friends of mine became vegetarians as adolescents as a way of asserting their own individual identity. I want to know about some cases of people being persuaded purely by rational arguments.

Comment by therev on Gender Identity and Rationality · 2011-01-10T11:48:01.402Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A couple of years ago, I happened to take a very interesting grad-level anthropology course entitled simply "Masculinity" at the same time that I was having some perfectly normal doubts about my sexuality. Most of my time in the course was spent butting heads with the professor who felt that most of evolutionary psychology consisted of a way to roll us back to the dark ages on issues of sexual equality, but long story short, I came out the other end doubting whether not just gender (the cultural aspect), but sex (the biological aspect) was just a made up social construct. During the semester, we studied many cases of non-dichotomous sex and gender, such as the Bugis tribe in Indonesia for instance, recognize three sexes, and five genders, including an androgynous priestly class. I realized that even defining gender in a strictly biologic sense is somewhat problematic, given the unexpectedly high proportion of people with three sex chromosomes (XXX, XXY, or XYY), or ambiguous or dual genitalia. I only wish I had thought of linking zombies to the arguments back then like you did. The whole topic is ripe for discussion, and I would love to see more.

Comment by therev on My mother is now in cryostasis · 2011-01-10T10:21:18.547Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If it is in her will, then she is probably safe enough. I do understand your wanting to hide the fact from her friends. Being a member of one of the first few generations to be frozen, she is a pioneer in cryonics, and acceptance is always tough for pioneers. In this case however, the pioneers might just live to see a world where people are actually thankful for what they did.

Comment by therev on Ask and Guess · 2011-01-10T09:16:33.069Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I voted you up for simply quoting The Screwtape Letters. I read it over the summer, and despite its assumptions of Christian theology, I don't think I've found a better work of fiction on the topic of human psychology.

Comment by therev on Avoiding the Study of Being Sincere · 2011-01-10T08:57:20.464Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

amorality is a hallmark of effective revolutionaries

Says who? Sure there are amoral revolutionaries, but some acted in fairly moral ways, and many more at least sincerely believed they were acting in the common good. And even the amoral revolutionaries drape their selfish motives in the language of morality.

Comment by therev on My mother is now in cryostasis · 2011-01-10T08:50:28.249Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Best of luck to her. Though I am curious, are you hiding the fact of her preservation from the authorities or just from her other friends and family? If the authorities, what would/could they actually do? Would there be a stiff punishment for 'desecration of a corpse' or other such nonsense, or are you worried that someone might take her out of cryo? I have heard of a case where a cryo facility here in the US was shut down, but they didn't actually thaw anyone. Hopefully Russian authorities would be at least that sensible.

Comment by therev on Generalizing From One Example · 2011-01-10T08:34:54.500Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When I read the percentage who had cheated on an exam, I started to call BS in my mind, knowing that if I, being among the smartest in my class back in high school, had cheated, surely the rest of the bell curve had too (After all, the only way of getting this data is unreliable self-report surveys.), but then I realized what a perfect example of this fallacy I was making.

Comment by therev on the Universe, Computability, and the Singularity · 2011-01-10T02:29:40.342Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't a program (like a computation of the laws of physics) written within the confines of the universe be necessarily less complex than the universe itself, or am I missing the point of your post?

Comment by therev on Is there anything after death? · 2011-01-10T02:17:41.991Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are we allowing dreams into evidence now? As real as your father's experience may have been, it is still subjective, and thus really doesn't have any bearing on the rest of us. For instance, say I had a very exciting dream involving myself, Keira Knightley, and few clothes. A rational response would be to write it off as a very good dream. An irrational response would be to become convinced that Ms. Knightley was infatuated with me and start writing her creepy letters. Likewise, if your father simply wrote this off as a dream, perhaps one whose effects were amplified by his compromised physical state, that would be rational. If that leads him to accept as fact the existence of an afterlife, despite the complete lack of any objective evidence, that would be irrational. The difference here is that your father's dream deals with death and religion, two subjects which cause most people to throw rationality out the window. Had he had the same dream one random night while lying peacefully asleep at home, we wouldn't be having this discussion. My dream wouldn't be any more real if it happened on a hospital bed, why should your father's be?

Comment by therev on How do you use the phrase "free will"? · 2011-01-09T22:46:52.767Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think most people would agree that a dice, regardless it its fair or not, does not have free will simply because its unpredictable.

You've obviously never played pen and paper RPGs.

Comment by therev on New Year's Predictions Thread (2011) · 2011-01-08T10:09:32.254Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not saying the near-term economic woes won't hurt China or bust some of their economic bubble. I just think these are less likely to be profoundly crippling. The urban development issues you mention are part of what's leading to China's environmental troubles, and will have bigger impacts than just near term economic imbalance.

Comment by therev on New Year's Predictions Thread (2011) · 2011-01-07T17:58:22.953Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't actually realize cryonics was such a hot topic on this site until after I had posted, so I became a little worried that I'd get beaten with the newbie stick for it.

I consider myself a transhumanist (in the sense that I find genetic alteration, computer augmentation, life extension, etc to be desirable goals, not in the sense that I drank the Kurzweil Kool-Aid and think that all this is inevitable or even probable in my lifetime), but I had never really considered cryonics as a major transhumanist approach. I'm certainly not opposed to cryonics on any kind of ethical grounds (my personal pragmatic concerns are a matter for another thread entirely), but since this is a question of the policy rather than the science side of cryonics, I have to go with my general observation that legislatures almost inevitably show up a day late and a dollar short. I think that the first wave of legislation on the topic will come at least one legislative session after the irrational masses start to get worked up into a religious frenzy over cryonics. So this is, to me, an issue better suited for decade rather than year predictions. I am however, compelled to agree with you that the likelihood of pro-cryonics legislation appears to be significantly less than the likelihood of anti-cryonics legislation. Hell, even if I weren't a transhumanist, the civil libertarian in me would be appalled by Michigan's facepalmingly bureaucratic handling of the situation. "Cryonics Institute is clearly operating as both a funeral establishment and cemetery without any state oversight." Do we really need a government permission slip to bury/freeze our dead?

Also, why am I completely unsurprised by the fact that Arizona was the state to try and ban cryonics?

Comment by therev on You Be the Jury: Survey on a Current Event · 2011-01-07T16:48:45.175Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm going to have to distinguish here between guilt in the actual sense, and guilt in a legal sense. Do I think Amanda Knox did it? Somewhat likely. Do I think the prosecution proved that beyond a reasonable doubt? No.

I think my estimates of guilt for all three parties will be higher than most commenters, but here they are:

Probability that Knox participated in the murder: 15% Probability that Knox participated in or covered up the murder: 20% Probability that I would find Knox guilty of murder: 5%

Probability that Solecito participated in the murder 10% Probability that Solecito participated in or covered up the murder: 20% Probability that I would find Solecito guilty of murder: 5%

Probability that Rudy Guedo participated in the murder 80% Probability that Rudy Guedo participated in or covered up the murder 95% Probability that I would find Guedo guilty of murder: 85%

The biggest problem to me with the prosecution's case is the alleged physical abuse of Knox by her interrogators. Her story did change somewhat, but not in a manner consistent with a guilty party. If Knox was guilty and wanted to frame someone else, it is unlikely that she would have fingered Lumumba days later and made vague statements that incorporated some kind of clairvoyant dream about Lumumba raping Kerscher rather than just making immediate and damning accusations. If the police physically harmed her in any way, that alone should have been enough to immediately drop the case. I'd find Charlie Manson innocent if I found that the police had roughed him up in interrogation to elicit a confession; such actions by the police undermine the very fabric of a free legal system and cannot be tolerated in any way whatsoever.

Secondly, the prosecution failed to establish a clear motive. First they claimed that Meredith refused to participate in some unspecified 'sex games'. They never showed that Knox or Solecito were inclined to that sort of sexual behavior, and even if they were, it is a large leap from sexual frustration to murder. There was the stolen credit cards and missing money, but it was never shown that Knox or Solecito were in possession of the money. It should have been fairly easy to find a record of their withdrawals from Kerscher's account, but it appears the police never even attempted to find such evidence. So the prosecution claimed that since Knox and Solecito smoked cannabis, they must have been addicts who stole the money (that no one ever proved the couple even had) to fuel their raging drug habits and possibly buy 'hard drugs' like cocaine. Que clips from 'Reefer Madness' now.

There is DNA evidence against Knox, but being roommates with the victim, it would be a challenge to find something of Kerscher's that didn't have some of Knox's DNA on it. This seems to be a case of the 'CSI effect' actually working in favor of the prosecution. All the jury hears is 'DNA', but don't stop to consider any number of explanations as to why Knox's DNA would be on one of her own kitchen knives and on her roommate's clothes that don't involve murder.

There is also some dodgy eyewitness testimony, but even if the witnesses were so-called 'credible witnesses' eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable.

Guede, on the other hand, used the classic 'a large unidentified black man did it' defense at first but then changed his story when he found out Knox and Solecito were involved. He did flee the country, but so would I if accused of murder in a foreign country. Forensic evidence also confirmed that Guede had sex with Kirscher that night, not rock solid evidence I know, but notable. More evidence against Guede comes from the story he gave of how he was sitting on the toilet listening to his iPod when the attack occurred, which would have meant that he knew about the attack when it happened, failed to call the police, and fled the scene to go dance at a night club. Additionally he originally claimed that he tried to comfort Kerscher, meaning she was still alive, before fleeing and leaving her to die, which is ethically equivalent to murder.

To draw this lengthy post to a conclusion, I'm going to give my first impressions of the site wanting to keep Knox behind bars. As Nietzsche said "Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful." All of these 'victim rights' groups who spend their time trying to keep other people in prison are a walking contradiction. A murder victim, by definition, has no rights; they're dead. It does a victim no good to keep the murderer behind bars; it only serves to satiate the need for vengeance in the bereaved. True, there are people who will likely murder again if released, but often, these groups continue to hound those who have reformed and express remorse (Leslie Van Houten), or those whose guilt was never clearly established in the first place (Leonard Peltier). Knox seems to be just another one of these unfortunate victims getting slandered by those who confuse justice with revenge. Am I out on a limb here, or does someone want to present a rational case for rights post-mortem?

Comment by therev on New Year's Predictions Thread (2011) · 2011-01-07T09:08:52.718Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think even these numbers are a little high, except for the fact that you didn't limit it by jurisdiction. Cryonics isn't hot right now, but longevity certainly is. I don't think there is enough attention on cryonics to justify legislation, but even if there were, the first steps of the legal battle would be court decisions rather than legislation.

Comment by therev on New Year's Predictions Thread (2011) · 2011-01-07T08:59:24.429Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The Chinese bubble is certainly going to collapse, but I doubt it will be a sudden enough collapse to happen within the year. People can talk all they want about undervalued currency or export dependency, my money is on demographic echo from the one child policy, and ecological and agricultural collapse from industrial pollution, both of which would be on the scale of a decade or more instead of a year. Though a smaller bursting of the bubble could happen due to general global economic downturn, the real kicker is still down the road a few years.

Comment by therev on New Year's Predictions Thread (2011) · 2011-01-07T08:42:16.573Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I guess I should have said 95% confidence on each of them rather than all of them. I would take 10 to one odds on any of them individually, and probably even money on all of them, depending on how the predictions were formalized. (IE instead of "A b-list celebrity will die unexpectedly; CNN will declare this a national tragedy." "CNN will devote X hours of news time to the death of an actor who has not starred in a movie grossing over Y million in the last Z years, or a musician who has not made it onto the Billboard top 100 in at least Z years."

Out of curiosity, which ones would you think most likely to turn out wrong and lose the bet for me?

Comment by therev on New Year's Predictions Thread (2011) · 2011-01-07T07:55:03.667Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A major church figure will face allegations of child abuse.

Europeans will riot over reductions in social programs.

A vague new terrorist threat will lead to increased security procedures at American airports.

A conservative talk show host in America will openly endorse murder of atheists, homosexuals, or immigrants.

Video of a pop star engaged in sexual acts will be leaked to the public.

A b-list celebrity will die unexpectedly; CNN will declare this a national tragedy.

A natural disaster will strike a third world country, causing everyone to completely forget about Haiti once again.

Literally dozens of Americans, many of whom are on social security or medicare, will protest government social programs in America as socialism.

North Korea will say or do something crazy.

So will Mel Gibson.

Stores will sell out of the newest overpriced shiny Apple gadget on release day.

The sun will rise each day except in areas above 66 degrees latitude.

All of these I think I can safely predict with 95% confidence. They aren't the most earth shattering, but I'm rational enough to know my predictive limits.