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Eliezer_Yudkowsky comments on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) - Less Wrong

42 Post author: orthonormal 12 August 2010 01:08AM

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Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 October 2011 04:58:43AM *  20 points [-]

Some questions to ask:

  • Am I making people stronger, or weaker?
  • What would they think if they knew exactly what I was doing?
  • If lots of people used this technique, would the world be better off or worse off? Is that already happening and am I just keeping pace? Am I being substantially less evil than average?
  • Is this the sort of Dark Art that corrupts anything it touches (like telling people to have faith) or is it more neutral toward the content conveyed (like using colorful illustrations or having a handsome presenter speak a talk)?

(I've recently joked that SIAI should change its motto from "Don't be jerks" to "Be less evil than Google".)

Comment author: kilobug 18 October 2011 12:08:20PM 4 points [-]

"Am I making people stronger, or weaker?" That's a very important question, and sometimes hard to get right.

Consider a theist for whom the belief in god is a fundamental aspect of his life, whose faith makes him strong because it gives him something to protect. Breaking (or weakening) his belief in god before he built himself a line of retreat can do much more harm than good.

What should be done is first building the line of retreat, showing him that even without a god, his life does not become pointless, his ethics won't crumble to dust, and the thing he wants to protect is still worth protecting. And then, but only then, showing to him that his belief in god is not only unnecessary, but also making him weaker.

Comment author: JesseGalef 18 October 2011 05:27:22AM 3 points [-]

Great questions!

Regarding the second one, "What would [people] think if they knew exactly what I was doing?" - I absolutely agree that it's important as a pragmatic issue. If someone will get upset by a technique - justified or not - we need to factor that into the decision to use it.

But do you think their discomfort is a sign that the technique is unethical in any meaningful sense, or merely socially frowned upon? Society tends to form its conventions for a reason, but those reasons aren't necessarily tied to a consistent conception of morality.

That said, I agree that if people get upset by a practice, it's a good warning sign that the practice could be unethical and merits careful thought. ...Which could be exactly what you meant by asking the question.

By the way, I'm looking forward to meeting you at Skepticon next month - I'll be moderating a panel you'll be on!

Comment author: lessdazed 19 October 2011 01:16:30AM 2 points [-]

a pragmatic issue. If someone will get upset by a technique - justified or not - we need to factor that into the decision to use it...discomfort is a sign that the technique is unethical in any meaningful sense

If people get upset by a technique, that is a harm, but if their suffering that harm has good consequences, upsetting them was, all else equal, a good thing to do. So upsetting people is always related to ethics as more than just a sign.

discomfort is a sign that the technique is unethical in any meaningful sense, or merely socially frowned upon?

Unethical things are frowned upon to the extent people feel (at some level) frowning impacts that sort of action; regarding blame:

But determinists don't just ignore the very important differences between brain tumors and poor taste in music. Some biological phenomena, like poor taste in music, are encoded in such a way that they are extremely vulnerable to what we can call social influences: praise, condemnation, introspection, and the like. Other biological phenomena, like brain tumors, are completely immune to such influences. This allows us to develop a more useful model of blame.

The consequentialist model of blame is very different from the deontological model. Because all actions are biologically determined, none are more or less metaphysically blameworthy than others, and none can mark anyone with the metaphysical status of "bad person" and make them "deserve" bad treatment. Consequentialists don't on a primary level want anyone to be treated badly, full stop; thus is it written: "Saddam Hussein doesn't deserve so much as a stubbed toe." But if consequentialists don't believe in punishment for its own sake, they do believe in punishment for the sake of, well, consequences. Hurting bank robbers may not be a good in and of itself, but it will prevent banks from being robbed in the future. And, one might infer, although alcoholics may not deserve condemnation, societal condemnation of alcoholics makes alcoholism a less attractive option.

So here, at last, is a rule for which diseases we offer sympathy, and which we offer condemnation: if giving condemnation instead of sympathy decreases the incidence of the disease enough to be worth the hurt feelings, condemn; otherwise, sympathize. Though the rule is based on philosophy that the majority of the human race would disavow, it leads to intuitively correct consequences. Yelling at a cancer patient, shouting "How dare you allow your cells to divide in an uncontrolled manner like this; is that the way your mother raised you??!" will probably make the patient feel pretty awful, but it's not going to cure the cancer. Telling a lazy person "Get up and do some work, you worthless bum," very well might cure the laziness. The cancer is a biological condition immune to social influences; the laziness is a biological condition susceptible to social influences, so we try to socially influence the laziness and not the cancer.

Society often has good reasons behind its moral classifications.

Use your gut.

Comment author: arundelo 18 October 2011 07:20:15AM 2 points [-]

I just checked out the Skepticon list of speakers. Laughter was induced by the picture of David Silverman.

Comment author: ciphergoth 20 October 2011 02:23:25PM 3 points [-]

Didn't know the story behind that one, so thank you Know Your Meme. That's the face he made when Bill O'Reilly said "You can’t explain why the tide goes in."