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I'm Not Saying People Are Stupid

38 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 09 October 2009 04:23PM

Razib summarized my entire cognitive biases talk at the Singularity Summit 2009 as saying:  "Most people are stupid."

Hey!  That's a bit unfair.  I never said during my talk that most people are stupid.  In fact, I was very careful not to say, at any point, that people are stupid, because that's explicitly not what I believe.

I don't think that people who believe in single-world quantum mechanics are stupid.  John von Neumann believed in a collapse postulate.

I don't think that philosophers who believe in the "possibility" of zombies are stupid.  David Chalmers believes in zombies.

I don't even think that theists are stupid.  Robert Aumann believes in Orthodox Judaism.

And in the closing sentence of my talk on cognitive biases and existential risk, I did not say that humanity was devoting more resources to football than existential risk prevention because we were stupid.

There's an old joke that runs as follows:

A motorist is driving past a mental hospital when he gets a flat tire.
He goes out to change the tire, and sees that one of the patients is watching him through the fence.
Nervous, trying to work quickly, he jacks up the car, takes off the wheel, puts the lugnuts into the hubcap -
And steps on the hubcap, sending the lugnuts clattering into a storm drain.
The mental patient is still watching him through the fence.
The motorist desperately looks into the storm drain, but the lugnuts are gone.
The patient is still watching.
The motorist paces back and forth, trying to think of what to do -
And the patient says,
"Take one lugnut off each of the other tires, and you'll have three lugnuts on each."
"That's brilliant!" says the motorist.  "What's someone like you doing in an asylum?"
"I'm here because I'm crazy," says the patient, "not because I'm stupid."

Comments (91)

Comment author: ThomasRyan 14 October 2009 08:40:54PM *  11 points [-]

To avoid saying anything as simple as "most people are stupid" is worth it.

It is meaningless. Another one of those phrases where people will nod their heads in agreement, and those phrases piss me off.

Actually, it is pretty sad that so many people are willing to utter those words. It's a common thing most people say of everyone else. Why is this sad? From my experience, it stems from people's inability to communicate. So, not only do people misidentify the problem, but it seems like they are putting effort into not trying to fix it. Especially these days since everyone is a special snowflake.

Anyway, my fist post here. I admire the people here and on Overcoming Bias, and hopefully I'll learn to communicate at your level soon. See you guys around.

Comment author: brian_jaress 11 October 2009 08:40:09PM 3 points [-]

What ever happened to just thinking people who disagreed with you were wrong?

Comment author: PhilGoetz 13 October 2009 01:22:17AM 1 point [-]

If you'd heard the talk, I don't think you'd say that. It presented radical systematic failures in rationality. "Crazy" is more accurate than "stupid" for some of the behavior described.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 11 October 2009 08:45:37PM 5 points [-]

When they disagree about many-worlds, zombies and God?

Comment author: brian_jaress 11 October 2009 09:11:16PM 1 point [-]

Yes.

Be careful about asking me to call people who are wrong about many-worlds "crazy." You're one of them.

Comment author: billswift 11 October 2009 02:05:55PM *  1 point [-]

http://www.searchlores.org/realicra/basiclawsofhumanstupidity.htm

and comments on it here http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=817703

Among other things the essay has a wonderful definition of stupidity, and related conditions.

Intelligent - benefits others as well as himself

Bandit - benefits himself at the expense of others

Helpless - failure who nevertheless at least benefits others

Stupid - harms others while also harming himself

He places these as quadrants in a plane, with Bandit and Helpless being transitional between Intelligent and Stupid. That is, Bandits can benefit themselves more than they harm others near Intelligent, to harming others substantially more than they benefit, done next to Stupid.

Comment author: wedrifid 15 November 2009 12:51:50AM 3 points [-]

Among other things the essay has a wonderful definition of stupidity, and related conditions.

Intelligent - benefits others as well as himself

The plane thing is a wonderful system but to the extent that it is intended as a definition of intelligent it is just wrong.

Comment author: CronoDAS 10 October 2009 05:39:59AM 8 points [-]

Crazy? I was crazy once...

I'm reasonably sure that I have several beliefs that are crazy. The only problem is that I don't know which ones they are.

Comment author: anonym 10 October 2009 04:04:49AM 2 points [-]

I stopped reading Razib years ago when one of his readers accused him of "sexing up" a headline and deliberately misrepresenting what a paper was about in order to attract more readers and he flat out admitted it and didn't think there was anything wrong with it.

Misrepresenting your talk as "most people are stupid" is not surprising at all.

Comment author: childofbaud 14 October 2009 12:42:22AM *  0 points [-]

Did he misrepresent the paper's contents merely in the headline, or in the body text as well?

Ambiguous headlines are standard fare in journalism, and can often serve to draw in and win people over to your article/cause, people who might not otherwise have given you, or the topic you wished to exposit, the time of day. I believe they call it "bait and switch" in certain circles.

Comment author: anonym 14 October 2009 05:49:05AM *  2 points [-]

I don't remember the specific instance if it was headline or body. I did notice repeatedly though he seemed overly willing to be a bit trollish in order to generate controversy and responses, like summarizing Eliezer's talk as "most people are stupid", for example, which accomplished its desired effect very nicely.

Comment author: timtyler 09 October 2009 08:55:50PM 6 points [-]

Stupidity - like tallness - is a relative concept.

Whether humans are stupid depends on what they are being compared against.

Comment author: knb 10 October 2009 12:47:54AM 0 points [-]

This is exactly what I wanted to say. Saying "People are crazy." is like saying "People are evil." It is meaningless. To what can we compare human beings? The only examples I can think of are animals and AIs. Since mind-level AIs don't exist yet, and animals are both stupider and crazier (I think) than humans, I think any just comparison results in humans being relatively sane and smart.

Comment author: CannibalSmith 10 October 2009 03:23:33PM 0 points [-]

To what can we compare human beings?

To self.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 October 2009 05:43:29PM 11 points [-]

To probability theory and decision theory.

Comment author: knb 10 October 2009 05:04:04PM *  -1 points [-]

So essentially Eliezer is saying:

"The average sanity of humanity is less than the sanity of at least one of its component organisms."

Which reduces to:

"I am less crazy than the average human."

How is this useful?!?

Comment author: MichaelGR 11 October 2009 05:07:05PM 3 points [-]

Most people don't know they have all these cognitive biases. Telling them that they do is a good first step toward improvement (at least in some).

Comment author: jscn 12 October 2009 04:40:52AM 1 point [-]

Huh, I thought there was a fair bit of evidence around showing that people perform basically just as badly on tests which exploit cognitive biases after being told about them as they do in a state of ignorance.

Comment author: MichaelGR 12 October 2009 04:13:32PM 2 points [-]

Indeed. That's why it is just "a first step". Telling them is not enough, but you've got to start there.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 11 October 2009 12:17:36AM *  0 points [-]

It suggests that:

  • There might be other such people.
  • You might be one of them...
  • ...or, if not, become one.
  • Humanity as a whole could do better.
Comment author: razibkhan 09 October 2009 05:29:13PM 7 points [-]

i don't know if this is a joke or not :-) perhaps i was projecting? in any case, sure, the people you mention (e.g., von neuman) were wrong about a lot of things. so was isaac newton. definitely not stupid. i agree.

in any case, let me elaborate. i recall the higher your IQ, the less likely you are to fall into the traps of cognitive biases and heuristics which lead you to the wrong conclusion (i think bryan caplan reports this data). of course, smart people still tend to fall into these traps (especially when they have ideological blinkers), but my experience is that with smart people you can at least eat away at the intuitive foundations which serve as blocks to rational thinking. i've never had this experience with stupid people because they lack the basic cognitive toolkit to tear down the edifice of irrationality.

and i have socialized with stupid people quite a bit. those less wrong readers who've met me could probably intuit (if they are the subset who have intuition! :-) that i have no great problems with socializing with stupid people. drink beer, talk about sports & sex, and it's all good.

in fact, let me offer a concrete example. i have a friend about 1 std above the mean in IQ. he's an atheist, and open to all sorts of counter-intuitive ideas, and has an interest in intellectual topics. unfortunately, he has great difficulty with basic mathematics and following interlocking & contingent concepts very quickly. given enough time i can get the gist of the sort of ideas across to him, but it is very time & labor intensive (he simply can't think in terms of probability distributions for whatever reason). so over the years we've moved away from intellectual topics because of the frustrations which emerge. we both have an interest in history for example (to give a non-technical domain), but i read books much faster than he does and retain much more. this asymmetry means that it is hard to explore our common interest with any degree of parity.

he would have been a great candidate for the peer group of people who are interested in topics mooted on less wrong, but many of you would find it frustrating and boring talking to him because when he can follow he is in slo-mo, and some concepts and methods are simply not tractable for him. eventually he would become dispirited and withdraw.

so that's why i think stupidity is a problem. i wish it weren't, but i think it is.

i'll link to eliezer on my blog.

Comment author: AngryParsley 09 October 2009 06:13:59PM 12 points [-]

Could you please edit your comment to capitalize it correctly? This isn't IRC or Gtalk.

Comment author: Emile 10 October 2009 10:52:11AM 4 points [-]

Hmm, I didn't even notice the lack of capitalization until you pointed it out. I usually do, maybe this time it was because razib is otherwise writing pretty well? On other forums it's sometimes me that points out that proper capitalization will earn you a bit more respect ...

Comment author: James_K 09 October 2009 08:57:23PM *  3 points [-]

Razib: "i recall the higher your IQ, the less likely you are to fall into the traps of cognitive biases and heuristics which lead you to the wrong conclusion (i think bryan caplan reports this data)."

Caplan's point is narrow than that. I can't pull out specifics since my copy of The Myth of the Rational Voter is out on loan at the moment, but he's only talking about a narrow range of biases relating to the public perception of economics. I was also under the impression that Caplan's main point was that education acts as a debiaser rather than IQ, but the key reason for biased thinking in politics was bad incentives, rather than lack of ability to make rational decisions, hence the term "rational irrationality".

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 09 October 2009 06:56:11PM 3 points [-]

The "Hey!" is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but I did feel that either I must not have gotten the point across, or that you were yourself being tongue-in-cheek in so summarizing.

Comment author: razibkhan 09 October 2009 07:10:16PM 2 points [-]

right. i see stupidity as a more pressing issue than craziness. i see the latter as more soluble than the former. but yeah, you mentioned craziness not stupidity, though my takeaway was more about the problem of stupidity in heuristics & biases. see my blog response (nominal that it is).

AngryParsley, no. i won't. i don't plan on being a regular contributer here, so apologize for whatever faux pas i made re: capitalization (didn't read the style guide), but you won't see me around very much anyhow :-) and you're free to avoid me at the next OB meetup if i ever manage to make those again too!

Comment author: AngryParsley 09 October 2009 07:58:16PM 14 points [-]

I don't mean to offend or sound confrontational. Assuming a large audience, the extra effort required of a writer to punctuate and capitalize is much less than the total extra effort spent by people reading unpunctuated or uncapitalized text.

Comment author: HughRistik 09 October 2009 08:54:43PM *  9 points [-]

In addition to extra effort it takes to read uncapitalized text, it has another effect on me:

It makes the writer sound unintelligent and low in Conscientiousness. Perhaps this is because people with less of those things are less likely to use correct capitalization, leading to an association in my mind.

Since I know Razib is both intelligent and conscientious from being a long-time reader of GNXP, every time I read his stuff I have to fight my implicit association of his capitalization with that of 14 year-old LiveJournal users. I'd rather not.

Intelligent writers might often use colloquialisms that are more typically used by less intelligent people, yet they do so deliberately to achieve a particular effect, such as making their writing sound more conversational or accessible. In contrast, ignoring capitalization makes writing sound both less intelligent and less accessible. Is the shift key really so bad that avoiding it is worth hurting one's perceived intelligence and writing accessibility?

Comment author: razibkhan 10 October 2009 12:16:02AM *  3 points [-]

Hugh,

I've been blogging for 7 years. In that time there was a significant period when I was working 60-70 hours a week, as well as managing to read, have a relationship, and, running two weblogs (since I didn't run GNXP as a diary, and pre-scheduled many of my posts, I assume you weren't aware of this). So I got used to making the particular trade-offs you see. In the comments I focused on quantity and not so much on quality. As for the posts themselves, I tried to focus on substance and not care too much about style (e.g., I did a quick once over but then published). Since I had very little marginal time that was just what I had to do.

So, from your perspective I can see why it would be eminently reasonable to wonder why I wouldn't capitalize. But you aren't, or weren't, subject to the same trade-offs as I was on a day to day level. So why did I, and do I, blog? Well, I've met some incredibly intelligent people, and made some awesome contacts. Many people at the Singularity Institute (e.g., Michael Vassar, who began reading my weblogs well before he was Mr. Singularity Institute President) for example, but also many people in science and outside of science. I also managed to get a fellowship out of it. I understand why implicitly I might have made myself seem a bit less intelligent than I was because of the stylistic ticks which I've developed over the years, but this is a case where obviously I feel I've presented myself well enough to the people who "count." The primary payment I've received for blogging all these years are the people in the comments who have sent me links, critiqued ideas, etc.

So if the people who "count" to me did make suggestions stylistically (as they have on occasion), I would take notice. But as it is, none of them have complained about my capitalization, though they have about other things.

In any case, there was a time where I would want to present myself in a way where LW readers would take me as seriously as possible. For a variety of reasons, that really isn't that time, and I try and avoid most weblogs and conversations on most weblogs (I'm splitting myself between 3 right now). I've reached pretty my "Dunbar's Number" for intelligent people I've met through my weblog (I also tended to discount comments from.

As for the disagreement with Eliezer, it's gotten me thinking. Some of the differences are long-standing. I enjoy hanging out with Eliezer's gang, but I think I'm a lot more pessimistic than they are about human nature in general. Perhaps a BHTV episode in the future? I'm doing one for the 17th of October already with John Hawks, so way in the future probably.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 October 2009 12:22:00AM 8 points [-]

Hm... well, the lack of capitalization didn't much bother me because I know you. But I do think sentences are easier to read when capitalized, and that it is generally economical for one author to save a thousand readers the effort. Maybe don't capitalize on your own blog, but capitalize on blog comments on blogs where there's a high standard of commenting?

Though I actually am pretty sympathetic to your basic plea here, because the whole reason I started blogging was in an effort to write faster, and critical to that effort is learning to hold your writing to lower standards. As the saying goes, there's no such thing as writer's block - you can always write a sentence - there is only holding yourself to too high a standard. If lack of capitalization is your key trigger for lowering your standards enough to write, I won't complain. Back when I started blogging, just the fact that it was a blog post was enough; but it wore off over time and since then it's been a constant struggle for me to lower my standards. (Do not try this with anything other than writing!)

Perhaps a BHTV episode in the future?

I'd be honored to do a BHTV.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 November 2009 08:25:36AM 4 points [-]

Though I actually am pretty sympathetic to your basic plea here, because the whole reason I started blogging was in an effort to write faster, and critical to that effort is learning to hold your writing to lower standards. . . . (Do not try this with anything other than writing!)

No? Really? I've gotten the idea that you should lower your standards whenever you find yourself simply not doing something. I am pretty bad at drawing, since I've had practically no experience. Recently, therefore, I've figured that I should go ahead and draw something, even though I know that I'll do a bad job of it. I'm sure that Robin Hanson would love pointing out that the fact that a performance is too poor to show to other people doesn't mean that it's too poor to practice privately.

Comment author: razibkhan 10 October 2009 01:21:43AM 1 point [-]

re: BHTV, let's get in touch in a few months. I think the disagreement is strong enough to satisfy the overlords in this case.

Comment author: wedrifid 10 October 2009 12:36:20AM 1 point [-]

The time you just spent defending yourself with boasts and trying to imply that those who request grammar are beneath you has more than offset the time you will save by neglecting the shift key across your entire lifespan.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 October 2009 01:24:52AM 4 points [-]

That's not actually true.

Comment author: razibkhan 10 October 2009 01:20:38AM 2 points [-]

Right. This kind of awesome individual is exactly why I try and avoid commenting on weblogs outside my own :-) The goal too often becomes to seem super-smart and be all bad-ass with quips. Most of this would be eliminated if people used their real names, but that isn't going to happen.

Comment author: gwern 09 October 2009 10:20:35PM 2 points [-]

It makes the writer sound unintelligent and low in Conscientiousness. Perhaps this is because people with less of those things are less likely to use correct capitalization, leading to an association in my mind.

I'll admit, my first time through, my thought was: "maybe your atheist friend finds you hard to follow because you are stupider and less educated than you think you are, your reading speed due to haste & low comprehension, and your explanations & arguments are badly put or deeply fallacious".

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 09 October 2009 08:20:31PM 10 points [-]

Exactly - craziness is far more soluble than stupidity at our present state of technology. What does it accomplish to complain that someone is stupid? Are you going to teach them to be smart?

As for which is worse, it depends on how crazy you are, doesn't it? "Intelligent people sometimes do things more stupid than stupid people are capable of," said Phil Goetz.

Even with intelligence enhancement tech, by the time someone had been brought up to modern-equiv IQ 180 it would probably be more of a favor to them to teach them a little basic rationality than to bring them up further to IQ 190.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 09 October 2009 07:18:11PM *  4 points [-]

I see stupidity as a more pressing issue than craziness. I see the latter as more soluble than the former.

And still the latter remains unsolved, which is kinda crazy, if you think of it. =)

Comment author: wedrifid 09 October 2009 06:49:44PM 1 point [-]

i don't know if this is a joke or not

It isn't. He's replying to an inaccurate representation of his position.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 09 October 2009 06:25:38PM 4 points [-]

To clarify the difference between crazy and stupid:

What is stupidity other than a relative inability to solve problems? How is crazy not just a particular kind of stupid?

Comment author: Yasser_Elassal 09 October 2009 07:35:47PM 22 points [-]

Stupidity is the lack of mental horsepower. A stupid person has a weak or inefficient "cognitive CPU".

Craziness is when the output of the "program" doesn't correlate reliably with reality due to bugs in the "source code". A crazy person has a flawed "cognitive algorithm".

It seems that in humans, source code can be revised to a certain degree, but processing power is difficult (though not impossible) to upgrade.

So calling someone crazy (for the time being) is certainly different from calling someone stupid.

Comment author: ABranco 17 October 2009 10:49:07PM *  5 points [-]

Excellent distinction, Yasser.

I would add one more case:

Wrongness is when the output of the "program" doesn't correlate reliably with reality. But this could happen not only because the algorithm is flawed (wrong because crazy), but also because of insufficient or incorrect input. I think this is an important distinction, because the person can be smart (non-stupid) and rational (non-irrational = non-crazy) but still wrong nevertheless — and those around would call him "crazy" or "stupid" undeservedly.

Example: CEOs taking calculated risks but being fired because the company, guided by him, flipped the coin and got head instead of the desired tail. Stakeholders expected him to be omniscient.

Those CEOs who get it right will be perceived as omniscient gurus. Hindsight bias will make them write books on how to be successful; survivorship bias will lure people into buying them.

Not being crazy makes your output less wrong. But doesn't guarantee it to be right, either.

If I didn't get it wrong in my analysis above (puns intended), would it be fair to say that this community, having the mission to fix the biases in our algorithms, should be even more appropriately called Less Crazy instead?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 09 October 2009 08:14:23PM 2 points [-]

Also yup.

Comment author: Christian_Szegedy 09 October 2009 10:05:50PM 1 point [-]

I am not sure this type of "craziness" itself is always a bug.

Irrational beliefs and behaviors often have perfectly rational explanations that make sense from a mental health point of view: humans are more emotional then logical creatures. Internally coping with (often unconscious) emotional problems can be a higher priority personal task than correlating with reality in every possible respect.

Comment author: Yasser_Elassal 09 October 2009 10:24:37PM 4 points [-]

An emotion that doesn't correlate with reality is itself a bug. Sure, it may not be easy to fix (or even possible without brain-hacking), but it's a bug in the human source code nonetheless.

To extend the analogy, it's like a bug in the operating system. If that low-level bug causes a higher-level program to malfunction, you can still blame "buggy code" even if the higher-level program itself is bug-free.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 11 October 2009 12:23:19AM 2 points [-]

An emotion that doesn't correlate with reality is itself a bug.

Even if it's advantageous to the agent's goals (not evolutionary fitness)? Emotions don't have XML tags that say "this should map to reality in the following way".

Comment author: Yasser_Elassal 11 October 2009 05:28:51PM 3 points [-]

My response was to Christian's implication that a rationality program isn't necessarily buggy for outputting irrational behaviors because it must account for human emotions. My point was that human emotions are part of the human rationality program (whether we can edit our source code or not) and that if they cause an otherwise bug-free rationality program to output irrational behaviors, then the emotions themselves are the bugs.

In your response, you asked about emotions that produce behaviors advantageous to the agent's goals, which is rational behavior, not irrational behavior as was stipulated in Christian's post.

If those emotions are part of an otherwise bug-free rationality program that outputs rational beliefs and behaviors, then there is no bug. And that's what it means for an emotion to be correlated with reality, precisely because there are no XML tags mapping certain neural spike patterns (i.e. emotions) to the state of reality.

Emotions aren't beliefs about the world that can be verified by looking at the territory. Emotions are threads within the running program that maps and traverses the territory, so the only thing it can mean for them to correlate with reality is that they don't cause the program to malfunction.

What I was trying to point out to Christian is that emotions are part of the system, not outside of it. So if the system produces irrational behavior, then the system as a whole is irrational, even if some of the subroutines are rational in isolation.

The irrationality of the emotions don't somehow cancel out with the irrationality of the outputs to make the whole system rational.

Comment author: Christian_Szegedy 10 October 2009 12:08:55AM *  4 points [-]

If you would design a system with optimal resource usage for certain operating conditions, then you do not consider a failure outside operating conditions a bug. You can always make the system more and more reliable at the expense of higher resource usage, but even in human engineered systems, over-design is considered to be a mistake.

I don't want to argue that the brain is an optimal trade-off in this sense, only that it is extremely hard to tell the genuine bugs from the fixes with some strange side-effects. Maybe the question itself is meaningless.

I am rather surprised by the fact that although the human brain was not evolved to be an abstract theorem prover but the controller of a procreation machine, it still performs remarkably well in quite a few logical and rational domains.

Comment author: Yasser_Elassal 10 October 2009 04:42:12PM 3 points [-]

I suppose you're saying that when a useful heuristic (allowing real-time approximate solutions to computationally hard problems) leads to biases in edge cases, it shouldn't be considered a bug because the trade-off is necessary for survival in a fast-paced world.

I might disagree, but then we'd just be bickering about which labels to use within the analogy, which hardly seems useful. I suppose that instead of using the word "bug" for such situations, we could say that an imprecise algorithm is necessary because of a "hardware limitation" of the brain.

However, so long as there are more precise algorithms that can run on the same hardware (debiasing techniques), I would still consider the inferior algorithm to be "craziness".

Comment author: epistememe 10 October 2009 03:13:51AM 1 point [-]

A male having a higher opinion of himself (pride) than he realistically deserves may prove evolutionarily advantageous. If this disconnect from reality improves reproductive fitness then it can't be considered a bug.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 October 2009 03:17:55AM 11 points [-]

Of course it can be considered a bug, if I do the considering and I don't give two cupcakes for reproductive fitness.

Comment author: ohdotoh 10 October 2009 04:46:25AM 1 point [-]

and if what was advantageous at one time is now a liability

Comment author: epistememe 12 October 2009 03:58:11AM -2 points [-]

If anything, your lack of concern for your prime directive, i.e. reproduction, is a sure sign of defective programming.

Now adjust your thinking and attitude (bug fix) and get out there and score some babes.

Comment author: jastreich 09 October 2009 08:42:07PM -2 points [-]

To use your analogy. Any person who doesn't provide the expected output is often deemed crazy... It doesn't mean that there is a bug in the person, perhaps sometimes it's a bug in reality.

I've talked to a number of people who most would call crazy (none of them went to the mad house -- at least that I know of). When you begin to look at things from their perspective you sometimes find that they see patterns others are missing; but lack the social graces and unique way or inability to relate those patterns to others is lost.

On the other hand, I think that we are all "crazy" and "stupid" in our own ways. I think there are really extreme cases of both.

Comment author: Yasser_Elassal 09 October 2009 09:59:38PM 4 points [-]

To use your analogy. Any person who doesn't provide the expected output is often deemed crazy... It doesn't mean that there is a bug in the person, perhaps sometimes it's a bug in reality.

In the context of my analogy, it's nonsense to say that reality can have bugs.

I suppose you meant that sometimes the majority of people can share the same bug, which causes them to "deem" that someone who lacks the bug (and outputs accordingly) is crazy.

But there's still an actual territory that each program either does or does not map properly, regardless of society's current most popular map. So it's meaningful to define "craziness" in terms of the actual territory, even if it's occassionaly difficult to determine whether 1 person is crazy or "everyone else" is.

Comment author: jastreich 06 May 2010 02:36:00PM 0 points [-]

I suppose what I was referring to is a spec bug; the bug is in expecting the wrong (accepted by society) output. Not an actual "the universe hiccuped and needs to be rebooted." The reason for the spec bug might not be a shared bug, but programs operating on different inputs. For instance, Tesla... Anyone who knew Tesla described him as an odd man, and a little crazy. At the same time, he purposefully filled his input buffer with the latest research on electricity and purposefully processed that data differently than his peers in the field. He didn't spend much time accumulating input on proper social behavior, or on how others would judge him on the streets. It is seen as a crazy thing to do, to pick up wounded pidgins on the street, take them home and nurse them back to health. Because the spec of the time (norms of society) say it was odd to do.

An old friend of mine who I haven't seen in years is an artist. He's a creative minded person who thinks that rationality would tie his hands too much. That said, when I was younger it surprised me the types of puzzles he was able to solve because he'd try the thing that seemed irrational.

Comment author: Morendil 09 October 2009 10:11:25PM *  2 points [-]

We want to at least distinguish between

  • success at practical projects that involve planning over several tasks related by a dependence graph, possibly branching or looping

  • talent in some particular domain (e.g. writing fiction, sleuthing, managing people, math, word puzzles)

  • skill at memorization, accumulation of theoretical knowledge

  • adopting behaviors which enhance or preserve your long-term prospects

Someone lacking the first would be called stupid, someone lacking the last would be called crazy (though we also use the term for mental illnesses, which are a different thing again).

Intelligence seems to be at least somewhat modular (idiot savants being the canonical demonstration). I wonder if there is some classification of biases by which parts of intelligence are affected.

Comment author: jimrandomh 09 October 2009 07:24:55PM *  3 points [-]

Stupidity means having less knowledge and/or fewer reasoning processes to work with, and so reaching fewer and/or less complicated conclusions. Craziness means reaching incorrect conclusions, due to incorrect knowledge or processes.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 09 October 2009 07:36:32PM 0 points [-]

Thanks. That does shed light on the distinction for me.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 09 October 2009 07:15:03PM *  2 points [-]

Crazy people refuse to follow some relatively straightforward procedure that allows to achieve their goals or prevent terrible disutility. Lazy people want to follow the overall procedure, but can't manage to perform particular steps. Stupid people may be incapable of following the procedure or even of learning about its existence.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 09 October 2009 07:29:30PM 0 points [-]

Crazy people refuse to follow some relatively straightforward procedure that allows to achieve their goals or prevent terrible disutility.

This probably means that they failed to recognize that the procedure is straightfoward and would allow them to achieve their goals.

This, in turn, probably means that they failed to apply whichever 2nd-order procedure would demonstrate that the first procedure was so straightforward and surefire.

Why aren't they stupid for their inability to apply this 2nd-order procedure (or 3rd-order or however many it takes to bottom out)? Is the claim that, at some point, the nth-order procedure for establishing the straightforwardness and surefire-ness of the lower-order procedures is not itself straightforward and surefire?

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 09 October 2009 07:43:12PM 3 points [-]

Crazy people will refuse to search for a sufficiently-meta debiasing procedure that would otherwise allow them to see that they should do that.

Comment author: eirenicon 09 October 2009 07:03:33PM -2 points [-]

Stupid is when you are unable to solve a problem. Lazy is when you are able to solve a problem but don't care to. Crazy is when you are able to solve a problem but don't want to.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 09 October 2009 07:08:24PM *  0 points [-]

That is not the sense of "crazy" that Eliezer is using. Maybe you could say that crazy is when you think that you have a solution but you don't (ETA: and you ought to be able to see that). But that seems like a special case of stupid.

Comment author: eirenicon 09 October 2009 07:13:27PM 0 points [-]

Are you sure? It seems to me that having an intellectual problem that you are capable of solving but are unwilling to update on due to ideological reasons or otherwise (eg Aumann) is the sense in which Eliezer is using the word "crazy". Of course, I could just be stupid.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 09 October 2009 07:20:59PM *  0 points [-]

What does it mean to say that you are "capable of solving [a problem] but are unwilling to update on [it] due to ideological reasons"? You obviously don't mean something like the sense in which I'm capable of opening the window but I'm unwilling to because I don't want the cold air to get in. Aumann isn't thinking to himself, "Yeah, I could update, but doing so would conflict with my ideology." So, tabooing "capable" and "unwilling", can you explain what it means to be "capable but unwilling"?

Comment author: eirenicon 09 October 2009 07:33:56PM 1 point [-]

What leads you to suggest Aumann isn't thinking that? Are you saying he is unaware that his ideological beliefs conflict with evidence to the contrary? Of course he is aware he could update on rational evidence and chooses not to, that's what smart religious people do. That's what faith is. The meaning of "capable but unwilling" should be clear: it is the ability to maintain belief in something in the face of convincing evidence opposing it. The ability to say, "Your evidence supporting y is compelling, but it doesn't matter, because I have faith in x." And that's what I think crazy is.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 09 October 2009 07:45:42PM *  8 points [-]

What leads you to suggest Aumann isn't thinking that?

That I've met smart religious people who don't think that way, and I expect that Aumann is at least as smart as they are.

There are intellectual religious people who believe that they've updated on all the evidence, taken it all into account, ignored none of it, and concluded that, say, Young Earth Creationism is the best account of the evidence.

You and I can see that they are ignoring evidence, or failing to weigh it properly, and that their ideology is blinding them. But that is not their own account of what's going on in their heads. They are not aware of any conscious decision on their part to ignore evidence. So it's subtle and tricky to unpack what it means for them to be "capable but unwilling" to update.

ETA: Your unpacking of "capable but unwilling" uses the word "ability", which does not illuminate the meaning of "capable". And you've used the phrase "convincing evidence" in a sense that clearly does not mean that the evidence did in fact convince them. So, additionally tabooing "ability" and "convincing", what does "capable but unwilling" mean?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 09 October 2009 09:35:25PM 0 points [-]

The ability to say, "Your evidence supporting y is compelling, but it doesn't matter, because I have faith in x." And that's what I think crazy is.

This crazy?

Comment author: pengvado 10 October 2009 08:35:33AM 3 points [-]

Not the same thing.

The behavior eirenicon complained of amounts to denying modus ponens. "I accept X, and I accept X->Y, but I deny Y."

Defying the data, otoh, is a correct application of a contrapositive. "You claim X, and I accept X->Y, but I deny Y, and therefore I deny X. I have updated on your claim, but that wasn't nearly enough to reverse the total weight of evidence about Y." The difference is that this doesn't involve saying that logical contradictions are ok, so if you ever see enough evidence for X that you can't deny it all, you know something's wrong.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 10 October 2009 04:12:50PM 0 points [-]

Wouldn't defying the data more mean "I deny that X, on it's own, is sufficient to justify Y. I've updated based on X, but there was plenty of reason to have really low prior belief in Y and X, on it's own, isn't sufficient to overcome that, although it definitely is something we should look into, replicate the experiment, see what's going on, etc..."?

Comment author: pengvado 11 October 2009 01:06:01AM *  2 points [-]

Yes, but there's also the part about "~Y predicts ~X, so I predict a decent chance that X will turn out to not be what you thought it was." Which is why replication is one of the proposed next steps; and is also, I think, the part that RichardKennaway pointed to as a parallel.

Comment author: thomblake 09 October 2009 05:04:07PM *  4 points [-]

I'm pretty sure this interpretation is obvious to the folks here.

ETA: Okay, proven wrong again.

Comment author: Bindbreaker 09 October 2009 06:12:48PM 3 points [-]

It surprises me that people here, of all places, don't recognize this point immediately. People aren't stupid. People are irrational.

Comment author: billswift 09 October 2009 09:44:41PM 5 points [-]

Everybody is at least somewhat irrational; unfortunately the majority are also pretty stupid too. (Unless you are using stupid to mean retarded, ie IQ < 70) Most people generally seem to class stupid as anything more than about 30 IQ points below theirs.

Comment author: LucasSloan 11 October 2009 01:11:04AM 3 points [-]

I don't think that stupidity as >30 IQ points below one's own is entirely correct. I definitely have many grades of stupidity with which I categorize people. For example, earlier this year, I was placed in a regular (as opposed to AP) government class. Now the average IQ in that room was about 110, so in truth, there weren't very many truly stupid people. However, I classified most of the people in that room as stupid by your definition. I joked to my friends that there were 3 intelligent people in that class: me, the teacher, and the TA. However, there were also ~5 people who were actually stupid. There was one guy who couldn't read the textbook, he had to be told what every fifth word was. He had a 4th (maybe?) grade reading level. So while I kid myself that those other kids are stupid, there are people who really are stupid.

There are also several other classes of stupidity. There's small child stupidity - they're dumb, but I don't hold it against them. There's just a little bit stupider than me stupidity - we get along fine, but I won't bring up our relative SAT scores. Then there's (for when I was younger especially) adult stupidity - these people who are given authority over me, who sometimes are charged with teaching me, are less intelligent than me.

Then, of course, we get into the stupidities of insanity and lack of cached thought. I look down on religious folk, regardless of IQ. Also, perfectly sane and intelligent people can be difficult to deal with, as they haven't been exposed to the knowledge you have. This comes up when making metaphors and allusion mostly.

Comment author: wedrifid 10 October 2009 12:21:53AM 0 points [-]

Most people generally seem to class stupid as anything more than about 30 IQ points below theirs.

I hadn't thought about it that way but that 30 figure seems about right!

Comment author: gwern 09 October 2009 05:18:52PM *  3 points [-]

If you aren't saying that most people are systematically stupid, then what are you saying? That most people are smart, but they have just a few little issues which if fixed would turn them into Eliezers?

EDIT: saying "I'm saying they're crazy" really doesn't help much. Can you give an example of someone smart, but 'crazy' in a way which doesn't involve 'just a few little issues'? not reaching the right answers = stupid to me, regardless of whether it's because someone has a brain tumor, has too few myelinated neurons, is on drugs, or was brought up to believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster decreed the right answer to be something else.

Comment author: loqi 10 October 2009 01:44:10AM 5 points [-]

This just seems like a definition dispute. "Stupid" and "crazy" are not precise words, so taboo "stupid", "smart", "crazy". Well, he's clearly not saying "most people have a low IQ". As timtyler pointed out elsewhere, this version of "stupid" is inherently relative. Eliezer's message is more like "most people make objectively bad decisions". If that's how you define stupidity, then I'd conclude that he is indeed saying that most people are systematically stupid.

"Stupid" isn't a very useful term in this focused a context.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 October 2009 05:22:28PM 6 points [-]

If you aren't saying that most people are systematically stupid, then what are you saying?

That they are crazy.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 09 October 2009 06:40:47PM 3 points [-]

Yup.

Comment author: AngryParsley 09 October 2009 05:33:56PM 5 points [-]

He's saying most people are crazy. I'm inclined to agree.

Comment author: Christian_Szegedy 10 October 2009 02:33:01AM *  1 point [-]

I would agree, even to the extent of saying that all people are totally nuts.

Especially if von Neumann is labeled crazy for believing in the Copenhagen interpretation of QM...

Or maybe he did not really believe it but while being a demigod, had made a detailed study of humans and decided that in order to fully imitate humanness he had to imitate a bit of craziness as well.

Comment author: ata 09 October 2009 05:29:01PM *  3 points [-]

Not necessarily that most people are smart, but that smart people can still believe and do crazy/stupid things.

(That's how I interpreted it, at least.)

Comment author: roland 09 October 2009 09:49:38PM 1 point [-]

Are there publicly available videos of the talks?

Comment author: alyssavance 09 October 2009 11:00:32PM 3 points [-]

We're working on it- we've gotten the DVDs from the 92nd Street Y and should be processing and uploading them soon.

Comment author: roland 09 October 2009 11:45:01PM 0 points [-]

Ok, thanks!