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Epistemic Viciousness

55 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 13 March 2009 11:33PM

Previously in seriesA Sense That More Is Possible

Someone deserves a large hattip for this, but I'm having trouble remembering who; my records don't seem to show any email or OB comment which told me of this 12-page essay, "Epistemic Viciousness in the Martial Arts" by Gillian Russell.  Maybe Anna Salamon?

      We all lined up in our ties and sensible shoes (this was England) and copied him—left, right, left, right—and afterwards he told us that if we practised in the air with sufficient devotion for three years, then we would be able to use our punches to kill a bull with one blow.
      I worshipped Mr Howard (though I would sooner have died than told him that) and so, as a skinny, eleven-year-old girl, I came to believe that if I practised, I would be able to kill a bull with one blow by the time I was fourteen.
      This essay is about epistemic viciousness in the martial arts, and this story illustrates just that. Though the word ‘viciousness’ normally suggests deliberate cruelty and violence, I will be using it here with the more old-fashioned meaning, possessing of vices.

It all generalizes amazingly.  To summarize some of the key observations for how epistemic viciousness arises:

  • The art, the dojo, and the sensei are seen as sacred.  "Having red toe-nails in the dojo is like going to church in a mini-skirt and halter-top...  The students of other martial arts are talked about like they are practicing the wrong religion."
  • If your teacher takes you aside and teaches you a special move and you practice it for 20 years, you have a large emotional investment in it, and you'll want to discard any incoming evidence against the move.
  • Incoming students don't have much choice: a martial art can't be learned from a book, so they have to trust the teacher.
  • Deference to famous historical masters.  "Runners think that the contemporary staff of Runner's World know more about running than than all the ancient Greeks put together.  And it's not just running, or other physical activities, where history is kept in its place; the same is true in any well-developed area of study.  It is not considered disrespectful for a physicist to say that Isaac Newton's theories are false..."  (Sound familiar?)
  • "We martial artists struggle with a kind of poverty—data-poverty—which makes our beliefs hard to test... Unless you're unfortunate enough to be fighting a hand-to-hand war you cannot check to see how much force and exactly which angle a neck-break requires..."
  • "If you can't test the effectiveness of a technique, then it is hard to test methods for improving the technique.  Should you practice your nukite in the air, or will that just encourage you to overextend? ... Our inability to test our fighting methods restricts our ability to test our training methods."
  • "But the real problem isn’t just that we live in data poverty—I think that’s true for some perfectly respectable disciplines, including theoretical physics—the problem is that we live in poverty but continue to act as though we live in luxury, as though we can safely afford to believe whatever we’re told..."  (+10!)

One thing that I remembered being in this essay, but, on a second reading, wasn't actually there, was the degeneration of martial arts after the decline of real fights—by which I mean, fights where people were really trying to hurt each other and someone occasionally got killed.

In those days, you had some idea of who the real masters were, and which school could defeat others.

And then things got all civilized.  And so things went downhill to the point that we have videos on Youtube of supposed Nth-dan black belts being pounded into the ground by someone with real fighting experience.

I had one case of this bookmarked somewhere (but now I can't find the bookmark) that was really sad; it was a master of a school who was convinced he could use ki techniques.  His students would actually fall over when he used ki attacks, a strange and remarkable and frightening case of self-hypnosis or something... and the master goes up against a skeptic and of course gets pounded completely into the floor.  Feel free to comment this link if you know where it is.

Truly is it said that "how to not lose" is more broadly applicable information than "how to win".  Every single one of these risk factors transfers straight over to any attempt to start a "rationality dojo".  I put to you the question:  What can be done about it?

 

Part of the sequence The Craft and the Community

Next post: "Schools Proliferating Without Evidence"

Previous post: "A Sense That More Is Possible"

Comments (91)

Comment author: jhl 15 March 2009 09:24:04PM *  21 points [-]
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 March 2009 10:13:56PM 6 points [-]

That wasn't it, but it's even scarier than the one I saw, so ++.

Comment author: Benito 20 June 2013 02:58:10PM 5 points [-]

Yes, Sam Harris wrote an article with it in: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-pleasures-of-drowning

Comment author: ChrisHibbert 14 March 2009 08:33:39PM *  19 points [-]

The best study I know of that addresses rationality in pro sports is Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. It tells the story of how Billy Beane followed the approaches recommended by people who studied the voluminous statistics on Baseball and pointed to non-standard evaluations of what talents and strategies made a difference in getting to the post-season. It's relevant for two reasons.

1) It talks about the psychology of players and coaches who found reasons to stick with the tried-and-true, even when non-standard approaches had some evidence in their favor.

2) it talks about the process of re-analyzing the statistics to figure out what aspects of the game matter. Part of this is deciding what the goal is, and part is figuring out what helps you reach the goal. In the case of baseball, Beane agreed with the those who argued that getting to the post-season cost-effectively was the goal. That means figuring out how to win more games over a season, which is more straightforward than figuring out how to win individual games. Cost-effectiveness translates to recruiting players whose value is higher than what other teams are willing to pay. Many unconventional styles of play turned out to be valuable, which led to a team that looked bizarre by accepted standards, but who won consistently but unspectacularly.

edited to use proper LW linking

Comment author: aausch 17 March 2009 05:54:04PM *  10 points [-]

I believe the video you were looking for is here:

[censored the link on account of comment below]

http://www. yachigusaryu. com/blog/2007/02/no-touch-knockout-fraud-exposed.html

Comment author: CWG 18 April 2015 06:33:38AM 0 points [-]

That now redirects to a porn site.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 18 April 2015 11:36:04PM 1 point [-]

This, if not the same video, is the same sort of thing.

Comment author: frank 14 March 2009 03:30:44PM 10 points [-]

In defense of martial arts I want to note that in their case the mentioned key observations for epistemic viciousness are not independend and partially unavoidable. Especially the "deference to famous historical masters" point is no more than a logical conclusion of the "we live data poverty" point: Until less than a hundred years ago people would risk their health (even life) in fights to establish the superiority of the brand of martial artists they espoused. Not to mention life circumstances in general, which more often than not included more or less regular violent conflicts, which usually meat hand-to-hand combat (as opposed to guns). These people did certainly not live in data poverty regarding the efficacy of their techiques, hence it is fair to assume they were (at least on average) better fighters than today's martial artists.

Comment author: Yvain 14 March 2009 12:34:00AM *  40 points [-]

A lot of dojos preserve to some degree the social standards of Eastern countries where the sensei's sensei came from. And in Eastern countries, it's much less acceptable to try to question your teacher, or change things, or rock the boat, or show any form of weakness. I taught school in Japan for a while, and the first thing I learned was that naively asking "Any questions?" or "Any opinions on this?" or even "Anyone not understand?" was a waste of time.

Western cultures are a lot better at this, but not ideal. There's still pressure not to be the one person who asks all the questions all the time, and there's pressure not to say anything controversial out of the blue because you lose more status if you're wrong than you gain if you're right. I think part of the problem is that there really are dumb or egotistical people who, if given the chance will protest that they know a much better way to do everything and will waste the time of everyone else, and our society's decided to .make a devil's bargain to keep them under control.

The best solution to this is to found a new culture, live isolated from the rest of the world for a century developing different cultural norms, and then start the rationality dojo there. Of possible second-best solutions:

  • My Favorite Liar. Tell people that you're going to make X deliberately incorrect statements every training session and they've got to catch them.

  • Clickers. One of my lecturers uses these devices sort of like remote controls. You can input information into them and it gets sent wirelessly and anonymously to the lecturer's laptop. The theory is that if he says "Raise your hand if you don't understand this" or even "...if you disagree with this", no one will, but if he says "Enter whether or not you understand this into your clicker" he may get three or four "don't understand" responses. Anonymous suggestion boxes are a low-tech form of the same principle.

  • I always found the concept of Crocker's Rules very interesting. I also remember hearing of a community (wish I could remember which) in which it was absolutely forbidden to give negative feedback under certain circumstances, and the odd social dynamics that created. In a dojo-like setting, there might be situations when either of these two rules could be ritually enacted - for example, a special Crocker Hat, such that anyone wearing that hat was known to be under Crocker's Rules, and a special No Negative Feedback Hat (but with a flashier name, like White Crane Hat of Social Invincibility), which someone could wear when questioning the master or something and be absolutely immune to any criticism.

Comment author: Court_Merrigan 14 March 2009 04:08:22AM 12 points [-]

I also remember hearing of a community (wish I could remember which) in which it was absolutely forbidden to give negative feedback under certain circumstances

I am living (and about to leave) an Asian society very much like this. It yields some very odd results indeed: corruption, consumerism, lemming-like religious behavior, and vast - feudal - social gaps.

Comment author: Dojan 15 July 2013 03:23:53AM 2 points [-]

Care to elaborate?

Comment author: Juno_Watt 28 September 2013 01:09:16PM 0 points [-]

My Favorite Liar. Tell people that you're going to make X deliberately incorrect statements every training session and they've got to catch them.

I can think of only one example of someone who actually did this, and that was someone generally classed a a mystic.

Comment author: arundelo 28 September 2013 04:57:33PM 3 points [-]

Yvain got the name of this technique from Kai Chang's "My Favorite Liar", about an economics professor who did this.

Comment author: ciphergoth 14 March 2009 12:19:03PM 20 points [-]

By far my biggest problem with the way you discusses rationality is the way that you draw on the tropes of Eastern martial arts instruction, and it's because of exactly this sort of thing - those tropes are appropriate for one who wants to be considered a guru, which is the opposite of your stated aims. It's something I have to warn people about if I'm recommending something you've written.

Comment author: Kenny 28 September 2013 11:27:19AM 0 points [-]

This would be a great first post for an introduction to rationality.

Comment author: CarlShulman 14 March 2009 02:54:09AM *  19 points [-]

Actually, the martial arts world has recently benefited from a big dose of reality in the form of mixed-martial-arts tournaments. Throwing together fighters from different styles demonstrated that some were overwhelmingly superior to others and unleashed a rapid evolution of technique that blended together the clearly superior methods. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed_martial_arts#Evolution_of_fighters

Comment author: rlpowell 08 April 2009 07:16:03PM 8 points [-]

This is sort-of true, but with one really, really big caveat that people seem to forget: any form of fighting that is controlled basically screws large portions of many styles.

If you go into an MMA tournament and deliberately break someone's arm, you aren't going to be asked back. Let alone if you break their neck. Furthermore, non-crazy martial artists don't even want to: there's too much respect for that. There are styles that are centered around causing maximum damage as quickly as possible, and they are entirely useless in MMA fights. You're never going to see a hard-style master being competitive in an MMA tournament, because 90% of what they know is irrelevant.

-Robin

Comment author: DonGeddis 08 May 2009 04:06:51AM 13 points [-]

rlpowell, you are incorrect. You are spouting an untested theory that is repeated as fact by those with a vested interest in avoiding the harsh light of truth.

In actual fact, there is no problem with breaking someone's arm in an MMA fight (see Mir vs. Sylvia in the UFC, for example). It's also close to impossible to break someone's neck (deliberately), despite what you may see in movies.

The "we're too dangerous to fight" is an easy meme to propagate. But let me just ask you this: let's just say, hypothetically, that your theory ("maximum damage" masters are "useless in MMA fights") was false. How would you ever know? Assuming that someone did not yet have a belief about that proposition, what kind of evidence are you actually aware of, about whether the statement is true or false?

Comment author: rlpowell 01 January 2011 02:45:13AM 13 points [-]

(way after the fact)

You know what? You are absolutely right that I'm spouting an untested theory. I have since stopped.

The problem is that I see no way to test either side; either what I said or the converse, which you seem to be asserting, which is that whatever comes out of MMA is basically optimal fighting technique.

The only test I can think of is to load up fighters that assert opposite sides of this, and are both highly trained in their respective arts and so on, on lots of PCP, and see who lives.

There are ... some practical and ethical problems there.

I do think, however, that neither of us get to spout either side of this issue and claim that we have a well-tested theory on our side. Having said that, I would say your side has more evidence at this time.

-Robin

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2011 05:38:54AM 9 points [-]

which you seem to be asserting, which is that whatever comes out of MMA is basically optimal fighting technique.

If that is the claim you are rejecting then I must agree. I have no reason to expect optimal fighting technique to come out of MMA, indeed, it would indicate a failure of optimisation in MMA competitors. As you go on to indicate you are measuring fighting technique as it serves to facilitate survival in one on one fights to the death. The social and physical payoffs in MMA training, competition and sparring are different. Optimising for one instead of the other has the problems of a lost purpose.

Of course "optimal fighting technique" suffers from some rather significant No Free Lunch issues. Optimal for what? How many opponents are attacking you? Do you wish to use your arts to intimidate as well as protect? Are there consequences to killing the opponent instead of incapacitating? How tall are you?

The only test I can think of is to load up fighters that assert opposite sides of this, and are both highly trained in their respective arts and so on, on lots of PCP, and see who lives.

I can't suggest a better test than this but there is another problem here related to the above NFL considerations. There will be a correlation between the effectiveness of a fighting technique and success in battles but it is not a simple one. You will end up identifying the technique that is optimal for the most physically capable combatants, not the optimal fighting technique in general.

A technique that is highly specialized to steroid pumping genetic freaks but barely usable by the majority of fit and healthy people will get the kills.

Comment author: stcredzero 14 June 2011 07:49:23PM 6 points [-]

There will be a correlation between the effectiveness of a fighting technique and success in battles but it is not a simple one. You will end up identifying the technique that is optimal for the most physically capable combatants, not the optimal fighting technique in general.

I wonder if there's something like this at work in programming?

Comment author: Desrtopa 29 July 2011 12:11:43AM 4 points [-]

This is also quite a while after the fact, but I will note that we do have access to some relevant information on this issue, coming in large part from military martial arts research. Active militaries have significant exposure to data on what sort of techniques are useful in self defense, and they use this as their metric for success. How closely does MMA resemble military based martial arts? I think the quote from one of the instructors in the Krav Maga episode of Human Weapon, to the host Jason Chambers, pretty much sums it up.

You're a good pro fighter, but you don't know shit about self defense.

Comment author: PhilosophyTutor 15 December 2011 06:25:25AM 4 points [-]

How many unarmed combats do you think modern militaries actually get into, and how much of their training time do you think is spent on preparing for this eventuality?

My understanding is that the answers are "almost none" and "very little". Hence I place very little weight on the fact that military organisations have at one time or another used one martial art or another.

The fact that a Krav Maga salesperson claims that their product is better than MMA for self-defence is not evidence that should shift a Bayesian's prior probability estimate more than infinitesimally, because they'd say that whether or not they had proper evidence it was true.

Comment author: Desrtopa 24 December 2011 05:01:03PM 7 points [-]

Israeli forces use Krav Maga for peacekeeping ("peacekeeping," anyway,) not just armed military engagements.

MMA has a lot fewer rules than, say, kickboxing, but practically every illegal technique is useful in some way (otherwise there would be no need to have a rule against it,) the matches are fought in rounds, always against a single opponent, with a referee who restarts the action if the combatants reach a stalemate on the ground, in a ring with plenty of space to maneuver, no obstacles or potential improvised weapons, and fighters have months in advance to research each other's fighting styles and plan countermeasures. It's not as if MMA constitutes a particularly rigorous investigation into the optimal fighting style for personal self defense.

Comment author: PhilosophyTutor 26 December 2011 12:37:47PM 7 points [-]

MMA has a lot fewer rules than, say, kickboxing, but practically every illegal technique is useful in some way (otherwise there would be no need to have a rule against it,)

My own view is that Krav Maga, Wing Chun and similar belief systems use an inverted form of Sagan's Dragon reasoning. Whatever you cannot test is whatever they claim would allow them to win, hence they always have an unfalsifiable hypothesis that their style would win in MMA.

There were almost no rules in UFC1 yet groin attacks and whatnot that have been hypothesised to be dominant strategies in no-rules engagements failed to perform as advertised and bread and butter techniques like punches, kicks and rear naked chokes were what won. So we have a very limited data set, but based on that set we should place a low probability on the hypothesis that these are dominant strategies.

Comment author: Desrtopa 26 December 2011 05:17:22PM *  6 points [-]

I wouldn't put Krav Maga into the same category as Wing Chun; it's essentially Jeet Kune Do under another brand name (or Jeet Kune Do is Krav Maga under another brand name, since neither particularly owes its existence to the other.) To the best of their abilities, Krav Maga instructors test the performance of their skills under as close an approximation of the circumstances they expect that their soldiers will need to apply them as they can contrive.

I only took a few classes in Krav Maga, but I spent a longer time training in Wun Hop Kuen Do, a branch of Kajukenbo with similar training outlook. Kajukenbo was a mixed martial art before the rise of sport MMA, and developed a formidable reputation in Hawaii at a time when violent street engagements were common. My own instructor's teacher (Grandmaster Al Dacascos, father of the martial arts movie actor Mark Dacascos,) reminisced about how back when his old school had a white pants and white shirt dress requirement, students from his school would actually go and beat up sailors and steal their pants to wear in class. This is not a style that developed in isolation from regular exposure to evidence of what works on the street. As a side note, some Kajukenbo schools train professional MMA competitors (such as the one where Chuck Liddell trained.)

When I did full contact sparring with my instructor, he would indeed usually finish matches by submission. Having trained for a while in BJJ as well, while I was never able to submit my instructors using legal techniques, I often found myself in positions where I could grab their testicles, gouge their eyes, manipulate the pressure points under their ears, shove a thumb into the base of their windpipe, etc., and they would tell me that while those techniques were effective in a real fight, I wouldn't be allowed to use them in competition. Trying those against Sifu Jason, my Wun Hop Kuen Do instructor, he'd simply shut me down because he was used to dealing with all of them. He trained and used his techniques in MMA rules fights (Krav Maga practitioners often spar this way as well,) but he would also do heavy contact multi-man sparring drills, weapon vs. weapon sparring, weapon vs. unarmed sparring, and other drills to condition students for potential self defense situations. Being an instructor level pracitioner in Wun Hop Kuen Do is essentially a research position; he would train against guys who would attack him in earnest with a real knife (having worked his way up after years of training with a rubber knife with a chalked edge) to make sure that his techniques actually worked as advertized. Is it reckless? Of course, but when the product you're selling is defense in potentially life-and-death situations, and your techniques aren't effective, you're putting all your students at risk.

Sifu Jason is also one of the more active participants on Bullshido, and many of their style vs. style matches are hosted at his school. When it comes to demonstrating real life effectiveness in martial arts, I think he's pretty effectively shouldered the burden of evidence. And because lives depend on it, and they're passionate about what they do, that's how seriously serious military instructors take their styles too.

Present day MMA is probably not far off from the optimal on-on-one fighting style without street clothes in a ring with no rules. But if MMA fighters optimize for personal combat of that type, and display the same sort of uncomprehending helplessness that many of the strikers did back in the earliest days of the UFC upon being brought to the ground for the first time as soon as they run into a fight with multiple opponents or a knife, then the training is not well optimized for self defense.

Comment author: PhilosophyTutor 27 December 2011 02:58:04PM 2 points [-]

I wouldn't put Krav Maga into the same category as Wing Chun; it's essentially Jeet Kune Do under another brand name (or Jeet Kune Do is Krav Maga under another brand name, since neither particularly owes its existence to the other.) To the best of their abilities, Krav Maga instructors test the performance of their skills under as close an approximation of the circumstances they expect that their soldiers will need to apply them as they can contrive.

Krav Maga as taught to Israeli soldiers might be some such animal. The scam with the same name where you get an instructor's certificate after a brief workshop which allows you to rip off the gullible is pure bullshido.

Present day MMA is probably not far off from the optimal on-on-one fighting style without street clothes in a ring with no rules. But if MMA fighters optimize for personal combat of that type, and display the same sort of uncomprehending helplessness that many of the strikers did back in the earliest days of the UFC upon being brought to the ground for the first time as soon as they run into a fight with multiple opponents or a knife, then the training is not well optimized for self defense.

I've got no argument with this, although styles that train full-contact for multiple attackers or knives are very few and far between,

Comment author: Prismattic 24 December 2011 05:11:50PM *  2 points [-]

Both MMA and BJJ are seriously flawed if one is potentially facing more than one adversary. Knock down and disengage is strictly superior when you run the risk of getting kicked in the back of the head by adversary n+1 while you are busy putting a submission on or pounding adversary n from close range.

Comment author: rlpowell 02 November 2011 04:58:08AM 0 points [-]

I wish there was a Krav Maga place within sensible distance of me. -_-

I'm actually thinking of going with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, AKA MMA training school, simply because it's close and at my current level of training (zero) anything is an improvement.

-Robin

Comment author: [deleted] 07 May 2014 09:48:48PM 2 points [-]

The "we're too dangerous to fight" is an easy meme to propagate. But let me just ask you this: let's just say, hypothetically, that your theory ("maximum damage" masters are "useless in MMA fights") was false. How would you ever know? Assuming that someone did not yet have a belief about that proposition, what kind of evidence are you actually aware of, about whether the statement is true or false?

Military application of the "maximum damage" martial art, and the restriction of certain training to military personnel, would be solid evidence that it goes beyond what is considered safe in sport.

For instance, I know that certain weapon techniques in Krav Maga are generally taught only to policemen or combat soldiers.

Comment author: BrandonReinhart 14 March 2009 12:00:46AM *  15 points [-]

This is an aside, but related: there is an awesome website dedicated to investigating and uncovering fraud and vice within the Martial Arts world: Bullshido. Participants post about questionable doings (such as masters who claim to teach or use ki) and visit those schools to report on the fraud. It also has areas for regular Martial Arts chat, but this sub-forum is the one that primarily focuses on investigations.

This, then, is an incomplete outline to an answer to your question: due diligence and active pursuit of those who fraudulently represent "arts of rationality." If there were a series of Dojos of the Bayesian Sect, those dojos would be responsible for exposing the Thousand Schools of False Ways. It would ever be an ongoing battle. Just as the members of Bullshido are constantly encountering and exposing "McDojos" that claim to teach practical self-defense techniques that would, in reality, probably just get you killed or kids' grappling schools taught by instructors with sex assault convictions.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 March 2009 12:25:00AM 4 points [-]

Doesn't seem like an "aside" to me; investigations that look for that sort of simple fraud was something I hadn't yet thought of.

Comment author: BrandonReinhart 14 March 2009 01:19:38AM *  1 point [-]

Well then, here is a proper aside. (Found in this thread.)

Comment author: chiral 21 March 2009 11:52:23PM 2 points [-]

I was going to link to this but you beat me to it. One of the things Bullshido tends to believe and uphold is this concept of "aliveness". It can be thought of as a sort of loose guide to "empiricism/rationality as it applies to physical activities".

I hate his style but Thornton describes aliveness and came up with the term(although the concept has been around pretty much forever I suppose). http://aliveness101.blogspot.com/2005/07/why-aliveness.html

I do BJJ and, as I see people here already know, we tend to do a pretty good job keeping our eyes on the ball. Things are handed down from on high, but it is understood by everyone that each person may need to deviate in various ways to make the move work for them and the true test is "can you make it work in rolling?" Experimentation is encouraged, although a common base is pushed very hard.

Generally people try to perform a move right after having practiced it on other people in the group that are aware and expecting the attempts. This in and of itself helps ensure high quality. The theory is that if you can make it work on someone expecting it it will be easier to catch the unaware.

People tend to be quite silly/irrational about fighting - I think, as I see others here do, that it's because actual feedback and first hand experience is in short supply. "Pure reasoning" leads many into absurdities without a strong empirical base.

Comment author: roland 14 March 2009 05:43:33PM *  5 points [-]

What successful(as winning in the UFC) martial arts have in common: realistic sparring. BJJ(Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), Boxing and Muay-Thai all have this(of course with certain restrictions) and they have shown to be effective.

Edit: translating to the rationality dojo, we need some method of empirically testing the techniques. One way would be to do some exercises after the theory was learned like asking some question or doing some test and then seeing who gets the answer right. Another would be to ask for real-life experiences like: what irrational believe or habit did you manage to get rid of in the last month/week? Where did you improve something?

Comment author: Sideways 14 March 2009 12:48:54AM *  15 points [-]

I don't know much about American professional sports--even less about pro sports in other countries--for that matter, I don't know much about martial arts. But as far as I do know, pro sports have none of these problems. Athletes do all sorts of outrageous things; coaches, athletes, and strategies are chosen on merit; absurdly detailed statistics are collected. Baseball players admire Babe Ruth but they don't idolize him. The analogy between pro sports and martial arts isn't perfect, but neither is the analogy between martial arts and rationality.

So, what do pro sports have to "keep them honest", that martial arts don't?

  • Teams of athletes compete in tournaments that directly demonstrate their skills at their sport. In theory, the sport of martial artists is hand-to-hand combat, but martial arts tournaments never allow eye-gouging, biting, and so on. The further the distance between the tournament rules and reality, the less useful the tournament will be. Fortunately, I don't think there's a rationalist equivalent of eye-gouging, so setting up tournament rules should be relatively easy.

  • An athlete or coach who gives up a pet technique for one that works better will be rewarded with status and money. The culture of pro sports permits athletes to train in entirely different ways from one season to the next, and coaches to change their playbooks whenever they like. Martial arts schools are stagnant by comparison. The money in pro sports comes from fans (directly through sales or indirectly through advertising) and it would take a lot of effort to raise awareness for rationality. But if rationality masters were really so awesome they'd have no trouble getting the money, right?

  • Pro sports aren't considered a "way of life" the way martial arts are. Athletes move from one team to another and it's not a big deal, but if Bruce Lee had given up Jeet Kune Do during his life, and taken up Shotokan Karate instead, the martial arts world would still be talking about it. It would be like the Pope converting to Wicca. Readers of OB will probably agree with me that rationality should be a way of life; but I hope they'll also agree that no particular school of rationality should be.

Comment edited for suitable URL tags.

Comment author: MBlume 14 March 2009 01:21:37AM *  9 points [-]

I don't think there's a rationalist equivalent of eye-gouging, so setting up tournament rules should be relatively easy.

Well, then again, I don't think there's a rationalist equivalent of a tournament just yet, either.

Comment author: CronoDAS 14 March 2009 02:51:35AM *  3 points [-]

Well... there is the stock market, but that's generally too much of a challenge; any edge you get disappears very quickly, so the best thing to do is "free ride" off of other people's attempts to value stocks and just buy index funds (or the equivalent).

Other domains in which rationality can be tested are "intellectual sports" such as poker, chess, or Magic: The Gathering... it's hard to test "rationality" in a way that doesn't simply test intelligence or learned skills, though.

Comment author: David_Gerard 21 February 2011 02:59:24PM *  2 points [-]

Well... there is the stock market, but that's generally too much of a challenge; any edge you get disappears very quickly, so the best thing to do is "free ride" off of other people's attempts to value stocks and just buy index funds (or the equivalent).

This is a great deal of how rationality wins in the real world in general: just being less wrong than other people.

(The epistemic hazard is how to avoid getting full of yourself on a win and considering yourself ridiculously more brilliant than anyone who hasn't had your particular revelation, rather than considering yourself someone who was less wrong in a particular area this time and who aims to be less wrong next time.)

Comment author: ThrustVectoring 02 December 2010 03:20:36PM 1 point [-]

I'd put real-time strategy games such as starcraft in as a decision-making sport. It does cross-evaluate hand-eye coordination and preparation to a large extent, however.

Comment author: TreeFrog 14 March 2009 06:27:55AM *  4 points [-]

Are you insane? Professional team sports are a bastion of epistemic viciousness. A surprising amount of professional athletes and coaches do not have a coherent grasp of why they are able to do what they do, are awful at evaluating themselves and recognize, yet dismiss, what they should do to get better. Case in point: Shaquille O'Neal, with his free throws and rejuvenation once he encountered the Phoenix medical staff.

Or any number of idiotic football coaches who refuse to implement strategies that Madden video games and real life show as valid, winning strategies. On the other hand, there's Don Nelson - who appears to be playing a demented brand of basketball in a bizarro dimension.

Disclosure: I have done Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for eight months and dabble in mixed martial arts. I have watched more than a few hundred hours of videos of all kinds of martial arts, been active in individual and team sports and did taekwondo a long time ago.

My experiences in BJJ and MMA have shown me a population of people unusually aware of the strengths and limitations of almost every martial art out there. There's a strong institutional emphasis (from the instructor) to do techniques shown in class specifically as shown; however, there's also a strong unofficial emphasis on watching YouTube videos, grappling with other people and coming up with stuff on your own time. Both pathways are tested in grappling. The OODA loop works so much better within the BJJ/MMA groups than it does in people outside.

I have no idea why this is, but I suspect it is primarily because of the UFC and other MMA organizations showing the continual development of individual combat (within rules). The personal fighting has also borne this out, but isn't nearly as capable of influencing other people.

By continual testing against others, the chinks are eventually shown and either patched up or styles reconfigured. A variety of styles and strategies have been shown to work - swarming (old Shogun, old Wanderlei), counterfighting (Evans, Rampage), Muay Thai (Anderson Silva), submissions from the top (Maia), submissions from the bottom (Minotauro), wrestling (St. Pierre) etc. [Note: almost all of the previously mentioned are world-class experts in multiple disciplines]

Bruce Lee sorta gave up Kung Fu. Pro sports are a way of life for many, many millions.

Rationality dojo: isn't this place one?

Comment author: Sideways 14 March 2009 07:57:55AM 3 points [-]

I don't think I'm insane. But then, I would say that, wouldn't I?

You've misread me to suit your preconceptions. I never said that there was no epistemic viciousness in professional team sports. What I said was that the particular problems that Russell describes aren't problems in pro sports. It's possible to learn from the pro sports model without adopting it in every particular.

Of course not all football coaches rationally choose strategies; not all football coaches are competent, period. But unlike the dojos Russell describes, in pro sports that behavior in is understood as biased and unreasonable, not praised as respect for tradition.

I agree that "pro sports" are a way of life for many people--this was phrased poorly in my original post. I should have said that membership in a team isn't a way of life for professional athletes. Fans generally stick with one team or another, but when you move from Chicago to Los Angeles, it's not a big deal if you stop following the Bulls and start following the Lakers. Anyway, the analogy breaks down here--what would a "rationality fan" who didn't actually practice rationality look like?

You say the breadth of martial arts knowledge of your BJJ/MMA community is "unusual." I assume you meant relative to the rest of the martial arts community rather than the general population, which would be trivially obvious. Either way we agree that "continual testing against others" is the common denominator that keeps a dojo or a professional sports team effective.

Comment author: TreeFrog 14 March 2009 07:23:51PM *  2 points [-]

Yes, I mean relative to the rest of the martial arts community.

"What would a rationality fan who didn't actually practice rationality look like?" Jim Cramer on the Daily Show? (I refer not to the verbal destruction, but Cramer's stated appreciation of Stewart's points without any subsequent change in his behavior.)

Well, the Cornhuskers had a big thing for the Option I offense for a very long time, and recruited talent specifically for it - despite the growing utility of more "modern" offenses. There was a huge hullabaloo about the switch to the West Coast under Callahan. A significant portion of Husker fans still grumble about it, and mostly do so with the "tradition" criticism.

I can't wait until a college or pro team does the A-11 offense: http://highschool.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=825031

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 14 March 2009 08:36:39AM *  4 points [-]

I don't think I'm insane. But then, I would say that, wouldn't I?

Repeat after Tarski:

If I am insane,
I desire to believe that I am insane;
If I'm not insane,
I desire to believe that I'm not insane;
Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want.

Comment author: orthonormal 01 January 2011 07:57:18AM 10 points [-]

FTFY:

If I am insane, I desire to believe that marble tomato cheese brain.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 01 January 2011 05:35:54PM 0 points [-]

Nope, maybe funny but incorrect. Even if I'm insane, I don't desire being insane.

Comment author: orthonormal 01 January 2011 07:37:01PM *  2 points [-]

Note that the timestamp was about 3 AM on New Year's for me; I'm glad I didn't post anything sillier given the circumstances.

Also, the hypothetical lunatic doesn't desire to believe ze's insane, just that marble tomato cheese brain. Ze isn't capable of making that further inference.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 02 January 2011 02:07:20AM 2 points [-]

Also, the hypothetical lunatic doesn't desire to believe ze's insane, [...]

Maybe actually not, but ze should, hence the litany.

Comment author: orthonormal 02 January 2011 02:32:48AM 1 point [-]

The reason the litany helps people in general is that we really do want, upon reflection, to believe true things rather than false ones. I'm not sure that holds for lunatics.

I'm also tapping out, unless this conversation takes a more comical turn again.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 25 March 2013 02:08:03AM 0 points [-]

He doesn't desire being insane, but he does desire to believe that marble tomato cheese brain.

The tomato was a verb and cheese was a preposition, btw.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 09 December 2013 03:23:23PM 3 points [-]

I love the fact that my brain is perfectly happy to treat "marble tomato cheese brain" as falling into the "subject-verb-preposition-object" pattern, but insists that it should be either "marbles" or "tomatoes".

Comment author: VAuroch 09 December 2013 08:00:21AM -1 points [-]

I don't think there's a rationalist equivalent of eye-gouging, so setting up tournament rules should be relatively easy.

In the most obvious ways to test rationality, which is by debate, the various Dark Arts are something similar.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 09 December 2013 03:24:43PM 0 points [-]

In the most obvious ways to test rationality, which is by debate

Wait, what?
I can't quite tell if this is meant ironically.
Debate is far from the most obvious way to test rationality.

Comment author: VAuroch 09 December 2013 08:36:22PM -1 points [-]

The most obvious way to test which of a group of people has more correct beliefs is by convincing others to adopt your more-correct beliefs.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 09 December 2013 09:56:26PM 0 points [-]

OK, I'm now pretty sure you're serious.

So, let me make sure I understand your position. If you believe A, and I believe NOT-A, then on your account all of the following is true:
- The most obvious way to test whether A or NOT-A is by having us debate.
- If you convince me that A, then you have the more correct belief, and are therefore more rational.
- Thus, debate is the most obvious way to test rationality.

Have I understood your position correctly?

Comment author: VAuroch 09 December 2013 10:17:31PM *  0 points [-]

If you believe A, and I believe NOT-A

  • The most obvious way to test whether A or NOT-A is by having us debate.

These parts are wrong. Debate is not for testing whether A or NOT-A is true, it is for testing what the most accurate posterior for Pr(A) is, given the evidence available, and who had better-assigned priors.

The reason debate is the most obvious test of rationality is Aumann's Agreement Theorem. If we debate beliefs, and we are both perfectly rational, we will agree on all beliefs debated by the end of the debate. The person whose beliefs pre-debate most closely match the beliefs post-debate, if the debate was strictly rational (rather than using Dark Arts), was the more rational on those issues, and can be presumed to still be more rational on other issues.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 10 December 2013 01:29:54AM 1 point [-]

OK, thanks for clarifying your position.

So... if you and I debate issue X, and at the end of that debate your beliefs are completely unchanged, whereas mine have changed slightly, then we've determined that you are more rational than I with respect to X, and therefore probably more rational than I with respect to other issues... provided that the debate itself is "strictly rational."

Yes?

If so, two questions:
If the debate was not strictly rational, does the debate tell us anything about which of us is more rational?
Can you point me at an actual example of a strictly rational debate?

Comment author: VAuroch 10 December 2013 01:52:02AM -1 points [-]

As previously mentioned, there are many other things which are better for being convincing but not rational, so an actual rational debate is pretty much an idealized thing. Some of the early Socratic dialogues probably count (I'm thinking specifically of the Euthyphro). I haven't read the Yudkowsky/Hanson AI FOOM debate, it might as well.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 10 December 2013 02:43:38AM 0 points [-]

Ah, gotcha. Now that I understand what you meant by "debate", your position is clearer. Thanks.

Comment author: Aetherial 23 February 2013 09:44:55AM *  2 points [-]

I was disappointed in my dojos because I went there to learn self defense and psychological survival but only learned about punches and kicks and heard promises of eventually knowing enough to "win" in a fight.

One of the ways they measure how much "better" you are is by having you punch or kick easily breakable wooden boards. Three or more is impressive but broken boards neither prepares you for "winning" a fight or knowing the self-defense techniques involved in preventing or de-escalating a potential fight. Yet, it feels pretty darn good to break those boards.

Martial Arts exists as one extremely unlikely and limited-use scenario of self defense. Against most of your peers, some MA knowledge will help you not get your ass kicked. Against people who employ violence for a living, MA skills are more likely to make you either a corpse or involved in a legal dispute and likely sporting a wonderful case of PTSD (whether you win or lose the fight, you still lose).

Self defense isn't about finding the "best" martial art. If rationality is going to have true value, teaching it isn't mainly going to be for some lower utility such as fighting the theists.

Comment author: katydee 23 February 2013 10:13:30AM 0 points [-]

I am very aware of this deficit in martial arts and am happy to see that other people have realized the same. That said, I'm not sure what the point you're trying to make about rationality is. Could you clarify?

Comment author: Aetherial 23 February 2013 07:31:03PM 0 points [-]

One of the questions this article asks is "How can Rationality and the people that want to learn about it avoid Epistemic Viciousness?" I feel as though many take martial arts because of a desire to learn to defend themselves and feel prepared for violence, and dojos are all too happy to sell that without giving any real knowledge of self-defense. Even on this page's comments the idea that certain schools have more utility because they were tested in a "realistic" environment is bandied about like that will help you not get mugged.

I feel that one of the best utilities of Rationality is self-optimization, but that isn't what drew me to LW (TvTropes link about the AI box experiment). Rationalists can avoid epistemic viciousness by not being afraid to explore both how rationality can improve our lives as well as where rationality just doesn't have enough utility to justify the expense of learning. We can be better than MA by not selling rationality to people who want to use it for some low utility (like winning arguments against theists). Why would the layperson explore rationality? Or, if we want to concentrate on the LW demographic, what do LW'ers expect out of listening to Eliezer Yudowsky's blogs? Though self-optimization is one of the higher-utility benefits of rationality, I've stuck around because I'm fascinated by this "save the world" idea, not because I plan to dedicate myself to undergoing a Bayesian Enlightenment.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 01 January 2012 01:52:26AM 2 points [-]

One of my probability books was about the usage of the term probability - what it meant. (Ian Hacking?) Once upon a time, probable meant being attested to by some authority. That was the measure of truth - what Authority had to say.

"The Truth" is judged differently by different people. For some, The Truth is what an Authority says, where Authority is identified by signaling. In the absence of data, how else are you to judge truth claims? So competing Authorities compete through signaling louder, more congruently, more forcefully, which often amplifies the nuttiness, with increasing claims of certainty and disrespect for other theories.

For a lot of problems like this, I take the mind as a bunch of competing pattern matching algorithms, and note that it doesn't appear that your algorithms are weighted the same way mine are. Most people have their Authority algorithms weighted much higher than I do, and much higher than most people here do as well.

Comment author: jr27nov 11 August 2011 04:24:10PM 2 points [-]

Howdy

I have studied Aikido on and off for 25 years, more seriously the last 10 years. Aikido appealed to me in the beginning because it did not require that I accept any concept on insufficient evidence. In my teaching, I refer to "ki" in non-mystical terms, as "enthusiasm" or "vitality" or "intention." None of these captures the full value of "ki" as an organizing principle, but neither do they require a leap of faith. I leave it to individuals to further define the concept from direct experience.

On the topic of organizing principles, the martial aspect of Aikido has been very helpful to me in focusing my practice, but I don't consider it central, nor even required, to get value from training. A woman in her 50s who is near to retirement doesn't need or want to prepare for MMA. But, as a dojo, it is in our interest to make a space for her on the mat, because efforts to optimize her training strengthen the whole community. Aikido captures her imagination and motivates her to come to the dojo. The positive results are verifiable and so long as she is not encouraged to start bar fighting, there is no down side.

An Aikido dojo could function as a rationality dojo. As could a bridge club at the senior center or a trivia night meetup. I think you have to start with a thing that people actually want to do, then build a community around doing that in a way that strengthens rationality. It would be more useful if it was something that irrational people want to do, because they need training the most. Maybe slot machine school.

Some thoughts John

Comment author: Mercurial 16 November 2011 05:59:10PM 3 points [-]

I've been training in Aikido for about 20 years. I tend to agree with you, John.

On "ki," I think it's helpful to think of it as a description of a set of sensations one can learn to be conscious of. I think what's really going on is that we're subconsciously picking up on and sending subtle body cues, but that isn't what it feels like. It actually feels like a kind of flow between the attacker and defender. That flow has certain characteristics, and it's quite possible to learn to be very sensitive to those characteristics. As I've gained skill and awareness, I've found that it's often most helpful to frame that sensation as "the flow of intention" and relate it to the sense of anticipation that is physically felt when you decide to, say, reach for an object to pick it up but haven't yet physically moved.

I have to admit that the idea of teaching Aikido without any attention to it being effective in an actual fight sounds downright dangerous to me. Whatever we might say about philosophy, when someone trains hard and long enough, their reactions change. I've been training in Aikido for around two thirds of my life, so if someone pounces me I'm pretty likely to whip out my training and try to apply it before I even know what I'm doing. And this isn't just theory: when someone jumps at me and surprises me, I first jump (thanks to the startle reflex) and then while still in the process of jumping reach out in a circular movement to take down whatever startled me. I can usually gain conscious control of my reflexes before I grind my poor unsuspecting friend's face into the pavement, but the point remains: the reflexes are there. If I were to teach my students Aikido with the idea that it teaches them "principles of life" without attending to effectiveness, then I would feel personally responsible for the result of their attempts to defend themselves in, say, a knife attack.

One of the most beautiful things to me about Aikido is that you can go all-out, full-force, and if it's done well no one gets hurt. Sure, there might be some pain involved, but no lasting damage virtually ever. You can actually have five or so people all taking real, meaningful swings at an aikidoka, and the occasional blow that lands becomes a lesson that improves his or her skill. Not only does this mean that there's the potential for empirically testing real refinements in the effectiveness of Aikido techniques, but it also means that you can use the art in its full form in a civilized society. When Uncle Mortimer has a bit too much to drink and starts swinging around a kitchen knife as though conducting the drunken choir, you'd rather not whip out your well-honed striking skills and crush his larynx; instead, you want to disarm him safely without bringing harm to anyone. And if you get mugged but defend yourself by breaking someone's limbs or killing someone, you then have to answer to a judge; but if you can defuse the attack without hurting anyone, any police involvement will probably just recognize you as a good citizen attacked by thugs.

I'm very, very biased, though. I've only ever trained seriously in Aikido, so there's naturally a desire on my part to justify why it's the best martial art to choose.

But with all that said, I totally agree with Gillian Russel's main points. I see most Aikido dojos - in fact, virtually all American dojos I've ever encountered - saturated with this kind of "epistemic viciousness."

Comment author: wedrifid 16 November 2011 06:08:39PM 2 points [-]

If I were to teach my students Aikido with the idea that it teaches them "principles of life" without attending to effectiveness, then I would feel personally responsible for the result of their attempts to defend themselves in, say, a knife attack.

I find my approach to martial arts somewhat different to my philosophy of life. My preferred defense by far after i have been attacked by a knife wielder is to run the @#%! away. In fact that is my preferred (but not only) response in any situation my martial arts apply to. There is a time for doing this in life too but it's not my preferred first choice in most cases.

Comment author: Mercurial 16 November 2011 08:28:37PM 4 points [-]

I find my approach to martial arts somewhat different to my philosophy of life.

I'm under the impression that by "martial arts" here you're referring to self-defense. If so, I find exactly the same thing about myself. I'd run from a knife, too! ...Unless someone else I really cared about was with me.

But I still think there's a serious danger in teaching students a martial art - which explicitly looks and feels very much like training our bodies in how to deal with attacks - without taking care to make sure that said art is actually effective. Even if these students should run away, they might actually come to believe that they don't have to. Hopefully a normal untrained person with some wits would know to run away from a person with a knife and would yell "Run!" to his or her comrades. On the other hand, someone with 5+ years of Aikido training might think - much like I do - that it's actually a better bet for the safety of their loved ones to stand their ground. After all, that's what the training is for, right? But if the training is utter junk, you'll just end up a bloody mess. And your family still gets attacked.

Also, you don't always have the option of running away. Sometimes you have to fight, like when someone invades your home and you need to protect your family. And in such cases, bad martial arts can actually be worse than raw untrained instincts - especially if those martial arts teach calmness, so the person doesn't even have the full benefit of a maximal adrenaline rush due to the delusion of competence.

If we wanted to train in Aikido as a form of yoga, then I'd say "effectiveness" shouldn't be at all measured in terms of self-defense. But that isn't how we train: we pretend someone is attacking us, and we pretend to defend in order to gain practice defending against that kind of attack. Similarly, most newcomers don't join Aikido thinking that this is just another form of zen but more dynamic; they join because it sounds like an interesting martial art. The questions I most commonly hear after a training aren't things like "How do I apply these principles to an argument with my spouse?" (although I do hear that one sometimes). The most common questions are things like "What if he comes at you with a roundhouse kick?" or "What do you do if you're grabbed from behind while someone punches at your face?" I think it's a very safe bet to say that these people believe they're learning how to defend themselves against real attackers. Even if we try to tell them verbally otherwise, their bodies are still incorporating habits that will eventually start becoming their automatic reactions given enough training.

So I totally agree, running sounds like the best option for dealing with a knife attack. But if that turns out not to be the best option for one of my students in some situation, I'd like to make sure that he or she has some effective skills to lean upon so as to have a real leg up on an assailant. If I pretended to provide something effective and it ended up hurting my student or one of his or her loved ones as a result, I would feel horrible about that - and I think justifiably so!

Comment author: wedrifid 16 November 2011 08:47:56PM 1 point [-]

But I still think there's a serious danger in teaching students a martial art - which explicitly looks and feels very much like training our bodies in how to deal with attacks - without taking care to make sure that said art is actually effective.

I agree. My comment was specific to the difference between martial strategy and life strategy.

The questions I most commonly hear after a training aren't things like "How do I apply these principles to an argument with my spouse?" (although I do hear that one sometimes).

If I found I needed to be applying what I learn in martial arts training to arguments with my spouse I think I'd hire a divorce lawyer. Come to think of it this is an example where the 'run' tactic is kind of perfect. (I do see what they are asking but I would find the question amusing anyway!)

Comment author: pjeby 16 November 2011 09:03:45PM 13 points [-]

If I found I needed to be applying what I learn in martial arts training to arguments with my spouse I think I'd hire a divorce lawyer.

Perhaps it is just a misunderstanding, and they meant to sign up for a marital arts class. Perhaps one involving an entirely different set of holds, pins, and takedowns.

Comment author: thomblake 16 November 2011 09:10:18PM 2 points [-]

upvoted because puns don't get enough love

Comment author: abigailgem 14 March 2009 08:13:11PM 5 points [-]

What can be done about it? We can fight.

The Master can argue for Creationism, and try to defeat the pupil's refutation of it. We can argue for or against One-boxing on Newcomb's problem. Or pretend to be the AI arguing that the Gatekeeper should free it. The Master is only Master for as long as s/he is undefeated.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 March 2009 08:32:37PM 17 points [-]

This equates rationality with victory in argument on an arbitrary side of an issue regardless of the truth; which is not at all the skill we want to inculcate.

Comment author: Nebu 16 March 2009 05:07:43PM 12 points [-]

Maybe instead of a fight, form it as a riddle:

The master gives an argument for creationism. The "homework" is for the student to understand why this argument is invalid.

Every now and then, just to mix things up, the master would give an argument for a statement which actually turns out to be true, to make sure that the student is actually searching for truth, and not just arbitrary counter-arguments to whatever it is the master said.

Comment author: thomblake 14 March 2009 08:34:49PM 1 point [-]

It depends upon an empirical question - do more rational arguments win? I think most of the folks around here assume they don't. But if they do, then it sounds like a good enough test.

Comment author: David_Gerard 21 February 2011 02:48:59PM *  14 points [-]

This is the skill of Debating, which is highly respected and taught the world over. Because it wins at politics (convinces the other chimps) even if it loses at matching the territory. It's damned useful, but it's a bit Dark Arts prone. (That's not a reason to avoid it, but one to take care.)

Comment author: karlsfriend 26 August 2011 11:23:27AM 2 points [-]

Yes. The winner of rationality-contest can not be decided by subjective judges. Instead, the winner must be confirmed by reality. This, of course, limits the amount of possible questions, because at some point, real data ist needed.

Contestants could be asked to judge if a precition for the future will happen or not.

Example: stock market rises from 2015 to 2017. The current president gets reelected.

They discuss, choose a position, the event happens or does not happen, and THEN the winner is decided.

Or they might come from research papers, which the contestants do not know. In that case the contestants would be presented an experiment and can test their rationality by predicting the outcome. Which is read after everyone has made a prediction.

Of couse, different from a debate, all contestens may provide the same answer.

Comment author: thomblake 13 March 2009 11:42:39PM 3 points [-]

What can be done about it?

I'll suggest it first so nobody else has to lose karma over it: don't start a rationality dojo.

Is this what you're looking for?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 13 March 2009 11:48:21PM 1 point [-]

Shut up and do the moderately difficult.

I'm not sure if that's the link, but it seems similar if it's not the one.

Comment author: anonym 14 March 2009 11:39:30PM *  2 points [-]

Most of the points carry over to other domains as well (e.g., music, art, ballet, stage acting, spiritual traditions that have "gurus" or "masters").

For example, there are many (e.g.) piano teachers who can trace their lineage back to Beethoven (and they know it off the top of their heads if you ask them), who are similarly overly deferential to historical masters, who see their knowledge and music in general as sacred knowledge. There is also the same extreme conservatism, and different teaching techniques and performance techniques cannot easily be tested.


[Edit: a pretty good test for whether these sorts of problems are characteristic of at least some practitioners of a given domain is whether (or how often) they get angry in the way preachers get angry at blasphemy and utter sentences that begin with "how dare (s)he ...".

Can anybody think of a domain where students spend decades learning, often with the same teacher or very few teachers, where the domain is the center of their life, which has existed for at least a few centuries, and where these problems do not occur with great frequency?]

Comment author: arfle 09 November 2010 10:09:37PM 2 points [-]

Mathematics. No problems there because the wisdom of the ancients is still true.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 11 November 2010 06:12:33AM *  6 points [-]

Mathematics. No problems there because the wisdom of the ancients is still true.

Actually, a surprisingly large amount isn't. For example, the entire use of infintesimals had to be rethought during the mid nineteenth century and replaced with rigorous constructions over the real numbers. It wasn't until a century later that a rigorous use of infitesimals was constructed and it looked pretty different from the version used by Newton and the people after him.

Similarly, the question of how polyhedra's Euler characteristic behaved advanced through a series of proofs followed by counterexamples to the "proofs." (Although my understanding is that it wasn't quite as extreme as what occurs in Lakatos's "Proofs and Refutations.")

Nicomachus in his treatise on perfect numbers (from around 100 CE) made a number of incorrect statements that took almost a thousand years to be shown to be wrong.

Comment author: anonym 11 November 2010 05:43:31AM 2 points [-]

I think that the sort of epistemic viciousness talked about here is stronly correlated with having a single teacher for a very long period of time, in addition to the other factors mentioned elsewhere. For that reason, mathematics isn't a good example, because people don't study with just one teacher for 10 or 20 years or more like they do with martial arts and music study and many of the other fields in which the epistemic viciousness is common.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 March 2009 12:14:07AM *  -1 points [-]

The way I test the rationality of the people around me is by lying to them, generally about irrelevant things, and seeing if they can unravel the lies.

In virtually all cases, what happens is that they simply learn not to believe anything I say, at which point I start telling the truth in a way that makes it seem like a lie. People dial their credulity up and down, and eventually just give up.

From the general attitude of the people here, I doubt most of them have gotten beyond the "calibration" mindset either, thinking of rationality like tuning a TV, just trying to correct for the biases. It isn't that simple.

If you want to test your rationality, you have to try and determine the truth about something difficult, and you have to be able to verify the results. This can be done by:

  1. having someone around who knows the answer to begin with, and is putting the problem to you as a test

  2. working on a problem where the correct answer can be verified because it allows you to make predictions of some kind

  3. working on a problem so tricky that even coming up with an answer which is internally consistent is very difficult, i.e. the miracle of the sun

Comment author: ciphergoth 14 March 2009 12:13:38PM 15 points [-]

And when they call you on your bull, you say "I was only trying to make you think"? I think I met you at a party once.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 March 2009 12:22:59AM 19 points [-]

The way I test the rationality of the people around me is by lying to them, generally about irrelevant things, and seeing if they can unravel the lies.

I don't believe you.

Comment author: David_Gerard 21 February 2011 03:06:21PM *  1 point [-]

The way I test the rationality of the people around me is by lying to them, generally about irrelevant things, and seeing if they can unravel the lies.

I don't believe you.

I have friends like this, who don't know how to open their mouths or set hands to keyboard without trolling. (I mean, I can't open my mouth without trolling, but I try to be slightly aware of and useful with it.) They tend to exercise it a lot on my LiveJournal. I blocked one from a non-LJ blog of mine for doing the same sort of thing there, where it was just the wrong place. But on LJ - or my own, at least - it's somewhat tolerable because it's the right sort of social space, sort of. YMMV.

Comment author: Court_Merrigan 14 March 2009 04:04:35AM 0 points [-]

Me neither. Are the people around you really paying so much attention to you that they would go such effort? Ones who aren't related to you?

Comment author: Johnicholas 14 March 2009 03:59:37AM 6 points [-]

"The way I test the rationality of the people around me is by lying to them, generally about irrelevant things, and seeing if they can unravel the lies."

Unless you are carefully documenting your procedures (which I doubt), this is exactly the kind of informal "testing" that gets superstitious or mystically inclined individuals into epistemic hot water. Playing pranks on your friends is one thing, striving for increased human rationality something else.

Comment author: Mycroft65536 14 March 2009 03:13:07AM 2 points [-]

The test seems about as useful as a thermometer that starts at 100 degrees. It doesn't tell you a lot about your environment except in extreme situations. Not very useful, at least as a first test.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 December 2013 09:54:46AM *  0 points [-]

But the real problem isn’t just that we live in data poverty—I think that’s true for some perfectly respectable disciplines, including theoretical physics

The reason for that is similar to these -- if for a theoretical physics question there already was enough data, it would be a settled question and theoretical physicists would be working on something else.

(Note: I disagree with the majority the claims in the linked post.)