Comment by Tsujigiri on A Parable On Obsolete Ideologies · 2011-12-22T00:17:53.235Z · LW · GW

Absolutely. Otherwise I can't exclude from the domain of "evidence of X" things which should not incline a rational person to amend their views about X, and I very much want to do that.

If someone believes the Bible is central to question of whether God exists, you can challenge that without having a definition of "evidence" that is informed by Bayes' theorem.

The premise "more calls makes psychic powers more likely" is not flawed at all.

It could be flawed if there are things that effect the number of phone calls other than Geller's proposed psychic powers. One show might get more calls but also have more viewers, and that obviously doesn't make Geller more likely to be psychic during that particular show.

But I am in agreement with you generally with the Uri Geller example. I don't think phone calls to a television show would alone change my mind, but if we did live in a world where he truly did have psychic powers, I would hope that such evidence would lead me to investigate the matter further.

Comment by Tsujigiri on A Parable On Obsolete Ideologies · 2011-12-21T23:44:15.297Z · LW · GW

If you mean things like the base rate fallacy, then yes it does.

In the paragraph after the one you quoted, I gave an example of what I was discussing.

If you mean that putting in random numbers for your priors doesn't solve your problems, then there isn't any method of considering evidence that fixes that in principle.

You can check the source of the evidence and try to make sure that you're not putting in random numbers but reliable data.

When considering hypotheses in the real world -- like "Does God exist?" or "Is my wife cheating on me?"-- Bayes' theorem doesn't encapsulate all the skills you need to arrive at a trustworthy answer. You must clearly understand what it is you're trying to establish -- Aquinas's conception of God is very different from your average Christian's. You must be willing to question beliefs that you are attached to or identify with -- maybe your wife is sleeping with anything that moves, or maybe you're a needlessly jealous, insecure husband. You must gather as much evidence as possible, including the evidence that you might initially deem to be irrelevant. You must be diligent, fastidious, and detached when performing the investigation -- not hiding behind "Oh, my wife would never do that" or allowing your emotions to effect your judgment.

People will have done all the above and still arrived at erroneous conclusions. Such is the difficulty of testing a hypothesis.

Comment by Tsujigiri on A Parable On Obsolete Ideologies · 2011-12-21T20:56:28.127Z · LW · GW

It is, actually. It's the Bayesian definition that evidence for X is something more likely to be true in a universe where X than in a universe where -X.

What you're saying here is that you use Bayes' theorem to inform your definition of "evidence".

If I used a different definition of evidence, that doesn't mean I'm saying something about Bayes' theorem. That simply means I use the word differently.

When it comes to evidence, I don't believe Bayes' theorem deals with the real-world problems that arise when considering a hypothesis. For example, it doesn't deal with the "garbage in, garbage out" problem.

As I said, we might plug the number of calls Uri Geller got into Bayes' theorem and because of the answer believe that supernatural events did actually occur. But that would be an incorrect conclusion because we have based our conclusion on the faulty premise that more calls means supernatural events are more likely to have occurred.

Comment by Tsujigiri on A Parable On Obsolete Ideologies · 2011-12-20T18:54:13.902Z · LW · GW

This is really a dispute over maths. The laws of probability are the law, they don't depend on word usage.

Explaining the way one uses a word isn't a statement about maths or the laws of probability either.

I'm not clear how this is relevant to the base rate fallacy though.

It's not. I was riffing on what you said.

Strictly speaking what's going on there is that you are collecting facts which might later turn out to be evidence for a hypothesis you have not articulated yet.

I was discussing ascertaining the trustworthiness of evidence concerning a hypothesis you are currently considering. Like an investigation into whether Uri Gellers phone calls were genuine reports of supernatural events, for example.

It doesn't change the definition of evidence though,

Of course not. I'm not trying to suggest that my usage of "evidence" is somehow better or superior than yours. I do think mine is more common, but that's a matter of opinion.

Comment by Tsujigiri on A Parable On Obsolete Ideologies · 2011-12-19T13:59:11.083Z · LW · GW

Perhaps a less abstract example would help

I don't think a less abstract example will solve a dispute over word usage.

What would have been evidence for Uri Geller having psychic powers is if he got more calls than normal people when he did that stunt.

And even if they did receive a statistically significant number of calls, perhaps people lied, grouped together and phoned in supernatural events that hadn't actually occurred.

If all you have is the one anecdote then it does count as evidence, but only in a strictly philosophical or mathematical sense. Not in any practical sense though since the shift in the relevant p value isn't going to be visible in the first twenty or thirty decimal places and I doubt anyone alive has that level of precision in their decision-making.

I don't have a problem with dismissing evidence if it truly is highly irrelevant. I think the problem is that in some cases evidence that at first seems irrelevant turns out to be important.

How relevant a piece of evidence truly is might not become apparent even after significant consideration. This is why, for important matters, I explore as much evidence as possible, even the seemingly irrelevant evidence.

Comment by Tsujigiri on A Parable On Obsolete Ideologies · 2011-12-19T12:15:44.746Z · LW · GW

I think I might have to write something specifically addressing this misconception because a few people seem to have picked it up.

I think our disagreement is to do with our differing usage of "evidence", not a misconception. I'd say that a sole anecdote of someone seeing Russell's teapot can be considered evidence for its existence, even though it's not credible evidence.

It's only evidence for the existence of Russell's teapot if more people say they have seen it than you would expect in a universe where Russell's teapot does not exist.

I would add that different situations require different standards of evidence, depending on how willing we are to accept false positives. The fire service only requires one phone call before they respond.

Comment by Tsujigiri on Disguised Queries · 2011-12-18T20:52:32.110Z · LW · GW

How do people use the karma system here? If you agree vote up, if you disagree vote down? That will create a very insular community.

My five cents.

Comment by Tsujigiri on Disguised Queries · 2011-12-18T20:40:03.689Z · LW · GW

Direct counterargument: I would phrase my attitude to ethics as: "I have decided that I want X to happen as much as possible, and Y to happen as little as possible." I'm not "believing" anything - just stating goals. So there's no faith required.

I'd agree. By switching from morals to your individual preferences, you avoid the need to identify what is objectively good and evil.

Comment by Tsujigiri on Disguised Queries · 2011-12-18T20:28:03.039Z · LW · GW


I agree that religion isn't the source of morality. In my experience, atheists believe in good and evil just as much as religious people do.


To believe you can somehow make the world objectively better, even in a small way, you must still believe in some sort of objective good or evil. My position is the sacrilegious idea that there is no objective good or evil -- that the universe is stuff bouncing and jumping around in accordance with the laws of nature. Crazy, I know.

There is a difference between the universe itself and our interpretations of the universe. A moral is a judgement about the universe mistaken for an inherent property of the universe.


In order to establish that something is better than or superior to something else, we must have some criteria to compare them by. The problem with objective good and evil, if you believe they exist, is that there is no way to establish the correct criteria.

A lion's inclination to kill antelope isn't inherently wrong. The inclination is simply the lion's individual nature. Because you care about the antelope's suffering doesn't mean the lion should. The lion isn't wrong if it doesn't care.

We are all individuals with different wants and desires. To believe there is a one-size-fits-all moral code that all living creatures should follow is lunacy.

Comment by Tsujigiri on Rational vs. Scientific Ev-Psych · 2011-12-18T14:40:12.805Z · LW · GW

A point everyone seems to be missing here is that there ARE no scientific facts.

There are scientific facts, as the phrase is commonly understood. Anything that is independently verifiable is considered to be a scientific fact. Facts are not built upon theories; theories are built upon facts.

You would be right to say that that sensible scientists don't claim that they are definitely correct. They tentatively believe what the available evidence currently suggests. No more, no less.

Comment by Tsujigiri on A Parable On Obsolete Ideologies · 2011-12-18T14:26:29.916Z · LW · GW

No, just as there is no evidence for Russel's teapot.

As the word evidence is commonly used, there is evidence for Russell's teapot -- just not evidence that you or me believe in. If someone says "Russell's teapot exists! I've seen it!", that is anecdotal evidence for its existence. Anything that suggests something is true or false is evidence, no matter how flawed that evidence may be.

It is by considering all the evidence, for and against our beliefs, that we progress towards truth.

Comment by Tsujigiri on BHTV: Yudkowsky & Adam Frank on "religious experience" · 2011-12-18T12:25:46.172Z · LW · GW

It seems to me that Adam Frank doesn't do himself any favors in this debate by linking "spiritual endeavor" to religion. While one can argue that "spiritual endeavor" is the basis on which most religions are founded, if one wishes to debate the subject with an atheist it is probably better to not bring up religion at all.

You're more likely to have a fruitful conversation if you discuss "understanding the true nature of subjective reality" rather than "spiritual endeavor", "the overview effect" rather than "religious experiences", and neurological research rather than the Bible.

But even then it is probably pointless. The Buddha says that a student only obtains proof of the validity of his teachings when he becomes a Sotāpanna. Before that, the Buddha's teachings must be taken on blind faith -- not something any self-respecting skeptic is going to do.

Comment by Tsujigiri on Disguised Queries · 2011-12-17T22:11:15.919Z · LW · GW

For my own part, it seems to me that when I do that, my behavior is in large part motivated by the belief that it's good to avoid strong emotional responses to events, which is just as much a moral belief as any other.

There are situations where emotions need to be temporarily suppressed -- it needn't involve a moral belief. Getting angry could simply be unhelpful at that moment so you suppress it. To do so, you don't need to believe that its inherently wrong to express strong emotions.

That particular moral would come with its disadvantages. If someone close to you dies, it is healthier to express your sorrow than avoid it. Some people don't change their behavior unless you express anger.

Many think that morality is necessary to control the evil impulses of humans, as if its removal would mean we'd all suddenly start randomly killing each other. Far from saving us from suffering, I'm inclined to think moral beliefs have actually caused much suffering: for example, some religious belief is evil, some political belief is evil, some ethnic group is evil.

Comment by Tsujigiri on Disguised Queries · 2011-12-17T17:36:29.187Z · LW · GW

Would you say that if choose to simply accept that my computer behaves the way it does, and I calmly consider possible actions to get the behavior I want, and I don't have the sense that I'm being cheated by a cruel universe, that it follows from all of that that I have no relevant moral beliefs about the situation?

I'd say so, yes.

Comment by Tsujigiri on Disguised Queries · 2011-12-17T16:55:17.923Z · LW · GW

Can you clarify what rationalization you think I'm using, exactly? For that matter, can you clarify what exactly I'm doing that you label "justifying" my beliefs?

You said "Suppose I believe that it's bad for people to suffer". I'd say that's a moral belief. The rational justification you provided for that belief was that "I derived it from the fact that I enjoy living a fulfilled and happy life, and that I anti-enjoy suffering, and that my experiences with other people have led me to believe that they are similar to me in that respect".

is there something else you think I ought to be doing instead?

Not really. The main point I'm making is that there is no way to determine whether any moral is valid.

One could argue that morality distorts one's view of the universe and that doing away with it gives you a clearer idea of how the universe actually is because you're no longer constantly considering how it should be.

For example, you might think that your computer should work the way you want and expect, so when it crashes you might angrily consider yourself the victim of a diabolical computer and throw it out of your window. The moral belief has distorted the situation.

Without that moral belief, one would simply accept the computer's unwanted and unexpected behavior and calmly consider possible actions to get the behavior one wants. There is no sense of being cheated by a cruel universe.

Comment by Tsujigiri on Disguised Queries · 2011-12-17T15:44:05.823Z · LW · GW

I would say that's a moral belief, in that it's a belief about what's good and what's bad. Would you agree?

I would.

Would you say that my belief that it's bad for people to suffer is arbitrarily invented and built on blind faith?

Yes, because you're using a rationalization to justify how you believe the world should be. And no rationalization for a moral is more valid than any other.

You could equally say that you think other people should work and suffer so that your life is fulfilled and happy. How do we determine whether that moral belief is more correct than the idea that you should prevent other people's sufferings? The answer is that we cannot.

Obviously, we can believe in whatever moral philosophy we like, but we must accept there is no rational basis for them, because there is no way to determine the validity of any rational explanation we make. There is no correct morality.

In my opinion, a person's particular moral beliefs usually have more to do with the beliefs of their parents and the culture they were brought up in. If they were brought up in a different culture, they'd have a different moral philosophy for which they would give similar rational justifications.

Comment by Tsujigiri on Disguised Queries · 2011-12-17T15:15:21.027Z · LW · GW

I'll have to concede that atheists moral beliefs don't mostly adhere to the 10 commandments.

The point I wished to make was that many of the moral philosophies of rationalists are very similar to their Christian counterparts. I believe the similarity is mostly due to the culture they were brought up in rather than whether they believe God exists or not. You might even consider God to be irrelevant to the issue.

Comment by Tsujigiri on Disguised Queries · 2011-12-17T15:10:49.937Z · LW · GW

Moral people follow their moral philosophy because they believe it's the right thing to do, whether they are Christian or atheist or neither.

My point is that Christians believe their moral philosophy is correct because God told them so. Atheists don't have such an authority to rely on.

So what rational justification can an atheist provide for his moral philosophy? There is no justification because there is no way to determine the validity of any justification they may provide.

There is no rational foundation for moral beliefs because they are arbitrarily invented. They are built on blind faith.

Comment by Tsujigiri on Disguised Queries · 2011-12-17T14:59:55.192Z · LW · GW

I wouldn't call moral philosophy a science.

If we both independently invented an imaginary creature, neither would be correct. They are simply the creatures we've arbitrarily created. There is no science of moral philosophy anymore than there is a science of inventing an imaginary creature.

I'd say to be science there needs to be the ability to test whether something is valid. There is no such test for the validity of morals anymore than there is a test for the validity of an imaginary creature.

Comment by Tsujigiri on Disguised Queries · 2011-12-17T14:08:14.296Z · LW · GW

There is a similarity between Christians and many atheists in their moral philosophy, however. Atheists may not believe in God, but I think they mostly adhere to the 10 commandments.

At least Christians can say they follow their moral philosophy because God told them so. What reason do atheists have?