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Defense Against The Dark Arts: Case Study #1

100 Post author: Yvain 28 March 2009 02:31AM

Related to: The Power of Positivist Thinking, On Seeking a Shortening of the Way, Crowley on Religious Experience

Annoyance wants us to stop talking about fancy techniques and get back to basics. I disagree with the philosophy behind his statement, but the principle is sound. In many areas of life - I'm thinking mostly of sports, but not for lack of alternatives - mastery of the basics beats poorly-grounded fancy techniques every time.

One basic of rationality is paying close attention to an argument. Dissecting it to avoid rhetorical tricks, hidden fallacies, and other Dark Arts.  I've been working on this for years, and I still fall short on a regular basis.

Medical educators have started emphasizing case studies in their curricula. Instead of studying arcane principles of disease, student doctors cooperate to analyze a particular patient in detail, ennumerate the principles needed to diagnose her illness, and pay special attention to any errors the patients' doctors made during the treatment. The cases may be rare tropical infections, but they're more often the same everyday diseases common in the general population, forcing the student doctors to always keep the basics in mind. We could do with a tradition of case studies in rationality, though we'd need safeguards to prevent degeneration into political discussion.

Case studies in medicine are most interesting when all the student doctors disagree with each other. To that end, I've chosen as the first case a statement that received sixteen upvotes on Less Wrong, maybe the highest I've ever seen for a comment. I don't mean to insult or embarass everyone who liked it. I liked it too. My cursor was already hovering above the "Vote Up" button by the time I starting having second thoughts. But it deserves dissection, and its popularity gives me a ready response when someone says this material is too basic for 'master rationalists' like ourselves:

In his youth, Steve Jobs went to India to be enlightened. After seeing that the nation claiming to be the source of this great spiritual knowledge was full of hunger, ignorance, squalor, poverty, prejudice, and disease, he came back and said that the East should look to the West for enlightenment.

This anecdote is short, witty, flattering, and utterly opaque to reason. It bears all the hallmarks of the Dark Arts.


I admit I am not a disinterested party here. The statement was in response to my claim that Indian yoga was a successful technique for inducing exotic and occasionally useful mental states. I don't like being told I'm wrong any more than anyone else does. But here I don't think I am. I see at least five fallacies.

First, a hidden assumption: if A is superior to B, A cannot learn anything from B. This assumption is clearly false. I know brilliant scientists whose spelling is atrocious. I acknowledge that these people are much smarter than I am, but I still correct their spelling. Anyone who said "Dr. A should not be learning spelling from Yvain, Yvain should be learning science from Dr. A" would be missing the point. If Dr. A wants to learn spelling, he might as well learn it from me. And best of all if we both learn from each other!

A related fallacy would be that Dr. A is so much smarter than the rest of us that he should not care about spelling. But if spelling is important to his work (perhaps he's writing a journal article) he needs to do everything he can to perfect it. If he could spell correctly, he would be even further ahead of the rest of us than he already is. The goal isn't to become a bit better than your peers and then rest on your laurels. The goal is to become as skilled as necessary.

The error is an interesting variant of the halo effect: that anyone superior at most things must be superior at all things.

Second, the statement assumes that India is a single monolithic entity with or without spiritual wisdom. But even the most gushing Orientalist would not study at the feet of a call-centre worker in Bangalore. Whatever spiritual wisdom may exist in India, it will be believed by a small fraction of Indian religions, be practiced by a small fraction of the believers, and be mastered by a small number of the practioners. And if Crowley is to be believed, it will be understood by a small fraction of the masters.

Compare the question: if America is so good at science, why does it have so many creationists? Well, because the people who are good at science aren't the same ones believing in creationism, that's why. And the people who are good at science don't have enough power in society to do anything about the creationism issue. This does not reflect poorly on the truth-value of scientific theories discovered by Americans.

I'm not one of those fallacy classification nuts, but for completeness' sake, this is a fallacy of composition.

Third, the statement assumes that spiritual wisdom makes people less poor and squalid. The converse of this statement certainly isn't true - being rich and sanitary doesn't give you any spiritual value, as large segments of western civilization have spent the past three hundred years amply demonstrating. People commonly interpret spiritual wisdom as conferring a disdain for material goods. So we wouldn't necessarily expect to see a lot of material well-being in a spiritually wise society.

Part of this is a problem with the definition of "spiritual wisdom". It can mean anything from "being a moral person who cares about others" to "being wise and able to make good decisions" to "having mastery of certain mental techniques that produce awe-inspiring experiences" Under the first and second definition, a spiritually attained country should be a nice place to live. Under the third definition, not so much. Crowley endorses the third definition, and believes that most spiritually wise people dismiss the mundane world as unworthy of their attention anyway. But this contradicts our usual intuitions about "spirituality" and "wisdom".

This is a failure of definition, and it's why I prefer "high level of mystical attainment" to "spiritually wise" when discussing Crowley's theories.

Fourth, this is hardly a controlled experiment. India is historically, geographically, racially, religiously, climatologically, and culturally different from the West. Attributing a certain failure to religious causes alone is highly dubious. In fact, when we think about it for a while, cramming a billion plus people into a sweltering malarial flood plain, dividing them evenly between two religions that hate each other's guts, then splitting off the northwest corner and turning it into a large populous nuclear-armed arch-enemy that declares war on them every couple of decades is probably not a recipe for success no matter what your spirituality. All we can say for certain is that India's spirituality is not sufficiently wonderful to overcome its other disadvantages.

People who like Latin call this cum hoc ergo propter hoc.

Fifth, this equivocates the heck out of the word "enlightenment". Compare "enlightenment" meaning the set of rational values associated with Newton, Descartes, and Hume, to "enlightenment", meaning gaining important knowledge, to "enlightenment", meaning achieving a state of nirvana free from worldly desire. The West is the acknowledged master of the first definition, and India the acknowledged master of the third definition. The anecdote's claim seems to be that since the West is the acknowledged master of the first type of enlightenment, and could teach India some useful things about politics and economics in the second sense of enlightenment, India can't teach the West about the third sense of enlightenment...which would make sense, if the types of enlightenment were at all related instead of being three different things called by the same name.

This is a fallacy of equivocation.

Just because I can point out a few fallacies in a statement doesn't make it worthless. Spiritual wisdom doesn't always correlate with decent living conditions, but the lack of decent living conditions is some evidence against the presence of spiritual wisdom. Likewise, a country's success or failure doesn't always depend on its religion, but religion is one of many contributing factors that does make a difference.

Still, five fallacies is a lot for a two sentence anecdote.

I don't think we all liked this anecdote so much because of whatever tiny core of usefulness managed to withstand those five fallacies. I think we liked it because it makes a good way to shut up hippies.

Hippies are always going on about how superior India is to the West in every way because of its "spirituality" and such, and how many problems are caused by "spiritually bankrupt" Western science. And here we are, people who quite like Western science, rolling our eyes at how stupid the hippie is being. Doesn't she realize that Western science gives her all of the comforts that make her life bearable, from drinkable water to lice-free clothing? And this anecdote - it strikes a blow for our team. It makes us feel good. We don't need to look to India for enlightenment! India should look to us! Take that, hippie!

But reversed stupidity is not intelligence. Just because the hippie is wrong about India, doesn't mean we have to be wrong in the opposite direction. It might be useful to share it with this hypothetical hippie, just to start her thinking. But it's not something we can seriously endorse.

Nor do I accept the defense that it was not specifically posted with the conclusion "Therefore, ignore Crowley's views on yoga." Merely placing it directly below an article on enlightenment from India is a declaration of war and a hijack attempt on the train of thought. Saying "I hear people of African descent have a higher violent crime rate" is not a neutral act when spoken right before a job interview with a black person.

Defense Against the Dark Arts needs to become total and automatic, because it is the foundation upon which the complicated rationalist techniques are built. There's no point studying some complex Bayesian evidence-summing manuever that could determine the expected utility of studying yoga if an anecdote about Steve Jobs can keep you from even considering it.

How do you know you have mastered this art? When the statements

In his youth, Steve Jobs went to India to be enlightened. After seeing that the nation claiming to be the source of this great spiritual knowledge was full of hunger, ignorance, squalor, poverty, prejudice, and disease, he came back and said that the East should look to the West for enlightenment.

and

For complex historical reasons, the average Westerner is richer than the average Indian. Therefore, there is minimal possibility that any Indian people ever discovered interesting mental techniques.

sound exactly alike.

Comments (48)

Comment author: Kingreaper 14 December 2010 03:42:50AM *  7 points [-]

How do you know you have mastered this art? When the statements

In his youth, Steve Jobs went to India to be enlightened. After seeing that the nation claiming to be the source of this great spiritual knowledge was full of hunger, ignorance, squalor, poverty, prejudice, and disease, he came back and said that the East should look to the West for enlightenment.

and

For complex historical reasons, the average Westerner is richer than the average Indian. Therefore, there is minimal possibility that any Indian people ever discovered interesting mental techniques.

sound exactly alike.

But they are not exactly alike. Ignorance and prejudice are not simply functions of wealth.

Comment author: Kingreaper 14 December 2010 03:43:48AM 10 points [-]

Additionally, saying that the East should look to the West for enlightenment doesn't mean there is no enlightenment to be found in the East. It just says that by far the more important enlightment is more common in the West than the East.

Imagine there are two men: Bob, and Sean. Sean knows a great deal about up home entertainment systems. Bob knows a great deal about plumbing, electricals, roofing, and windows.

If I go to both of their houses, and Sean has a home entertainment system set up perfectly, but no power getting to it, and his ceiling drips in the rain, and his window in his bedroom is shattered, I'd say Sean should look to Bob for DIY help.

Sure, Bob could learn from Sean, Bob's home entertainment system is shoddy. But Sean should be the one looking to Bob for help.

Comment author: faul_sname 06 January 2012 06:02:36AM 2 points [-]

However, the fact that Sean could learn a lot from Bob is irrelevant when referring to Bob's desire to improve his own knowledge. It is quite relevant to an outside observer who can influence Sean and Bob, but that wasn't really the situation in question.

Comment author: HungryTurtle 21 April 2012 02:22:06AM 0 points [-]

Additionally, saying that the East should look to the West for enlightenment doesn't mean there is no enlightenment to be found in the East. It just says that by far the more important enlightenment is more common in the West than the East.

Actually saying that the East should look to the West for enlightenment says nothing about where enlightenment is more or less common, or anything about a degree of enlightenment. This is the assumption you are bringing to the statement. All this statement implies are there are things that the East could learn from the West, with no implication about how many things there are, or as was pointed out above, how many things there are in the East for the West to learn about.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 30 March 2009 03:26:00AM 4 points [-]

Still, five fallacies is a lot for a two sentence anecdote.

I think that is related to the open-ended nature of the statement. Because it doesn't clearly state its reasoning or conclusion, there are lots of ways of fallaciously completing it.

Comment author: gworley 28 March 2009 03:53:41AM 4 points [-]

Nice post. Working up from the basics is always important. For an analogy to math, I'm always surprised how many people who do highfalutin things with partial differential equations and systems of nonlinear equations can make basic mistakes in their reasoning because they consider themselves beyond set theory or even topology. Rationality is one of those domains where I find it's best to work up from first principles whenever possible, accepting shortcuts only as practical necessities.

For an additional fallacy, we can also note that the quote gives India motive. To the best of my knowledge the government of India, at least in its modern form, has not peddled its nation in any official capacity as a source of great spiritual knowledge. Mote tot he point, the quote means to say that India is a nation claimed by people who present themselves as spiritually knowledgeable to be a source of spiritual knowledge, but of course that knocks even more wind out of this quote's sails, hence why such phrasing was probably not even considered.

Comment author: badger 28 March 2009 07:12:09AM *  10 points [-]

I posted this in reply to the comment under question, but it should probably be mentioned here as well:

Here is the best source I can find: http://media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/36/04717208/0471720836.pdf This appears to be the first chapter of iCon by Jeffrey Young and William Simon.

The story of Jobs in India starts on page 23.

From page 25: “We weren’t going to find a place where we could go for a month to be enlightened. It was one of the first times that I started to realize that maybe Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx and Neem Kairolie Baba put together.”

These conclusions seem a little more defensible than those of the anecdote under question.

Comment author: Technologos 28 March 2009 05:37:50AM 19 points [-]

I disagree with your conclusion on the grounds that I think you're interpreting the passage in a different way than the author intended it.

My interpretation is more along the lines of "Steve Jobs, on seeing the profound economic destitution in the East, examined his beliefs about human utility functions. Finding that Western values/practices seemed to promote utility better than Eastern values/practices in developing countries (and perhaps that they do even in developed countries), he decided that the East should adopt the West's values/practices."

I loved the dissection into multiple biases, and I agree with your dissection based on your reading of the passage, but I think the author is saying something different and more in line with the prevalent beliefs on Less Wrong.

Comment author: HughRistik 28 March 2009 08:29:34AM *  15 points [-]

I voted up Yvain's post, but I had a very similar interpretation to Erik's. The literal interpretation of the statement is indeed reversed stupidity: taken literally, it's a stupid statement. But since the maker of the statement is smart enough to know that "West should look East for enlightenment" is false, he seems smart enough that he should know that "The East should look West for enlightenment" is also false. So, either the maker of the statement is not smart, or he doesn't intend the statement to be taken literally and actually means a different proposition through implicature.

When reading the original quote, I doubted that Steve Jobs actually believes that the West has nothing to look for in the East, or that better living conditions in the West are the same thing as enlightenment. (After reading Jobs' actual quote, this intuition is confirmed.) The quote also presupposes that listeners are familiar with the trope that the West should always look East for Enlightenment. I think the quote should best be understood as a negation of that trope. "The East should West for enlightenment" can't be the correct interpretation, because we all know it's stupid. Rather, it probably means something like "What the West should learn from the East is overestimated and what the East should learn from the West is underestimated."

This is like Einstein's quote "Imagination is more important than knowledge." We know Einstein is smart enough that he can't possible agree that imagination is always important than knowledge; I'm sure if asked, he would agree that some pieces of knowledge are more important than some flights of fancy. So this statement must mean something different than what it says literally. What Einstein is really saying is something like "the value of imagination is underestimated relative to the value of knowledge."

Yvain said: This anecdote is short, witty, flattering, and utterly opaque to reason. It bears all the hallmarks of the Dark Arts.

Actually, I don't think it's opaque to reason. To me, it sounds like a perfectly reasonable claim which was then "Darkened" for rhetorical effect, to sound literary and poetic, or to appeal to people only capable of Dark thinking in absolutes.

The goal (e.g. the implied proposition), and probable effect of this statement may make people think more rationally about the benefits and Eastern and Western worldviews. Yet there is definitely Dark Arts going on, because the means to doing this muddies the waters in order to sound profound.

One of the problems with using implicature in this manner is that both extreme and reasonable interpretations of a phrase like this are possible (Eastern philosophy could be anywhere between over-rated and worthless based on this statement), and you can switch between the interpretations depending on your audience.

I think this quote speaks to the problem of trying to communicate rational thinking, yet find a way to do so that doesn't involve a million qualifiers or long words. "What the West should learn from the East is overestimated and what the East should learn from the West is underestimated" is more reasonable than the original statement, yet it just doesn't pack the same punch. It's unlikely to be as memorable or to have much of an impact on the thought habits of the listeners. I think many rationalists wonder what is the virtue of using rational language when it spreads 0 rational thinking to average listeners, and instead take rational propositions and Darken their communication to make them comprehensible and hearable.

Comment author: Yvain 28 March 2009 11:23:55AM *  15 points [-]

Yes and no. This is a reasonable defense of Steve Jobs, but not a reasonable defense of using the statement as a reply to Crowley's theory of yoga. The first conclusion of the statement - that India needs more Western values - is okay. The second conclusion - that therefore, the West can't learn from Indian "spiritual wisdom" - doesn't follow. To reply to Crowley's theory, it needs to prove the second conclusion.

Comment author: Erik 28 March 2009 05:51:52AM 7 points [-]

I think you may very well be correct in your interpretation of the original authors intention. However, I think Yvain's is more spot on for the majority of the upvotes the comment got.

Comment author: Demosthenes 29 March 2009 03:35:12AM 4 points [-]

In his youth, Steve Jobs went to India to be enlightened. After seeing that the nation claiming to be the source of this great spiritual knowledge was full of hunger, ignorance, squalor, poverty, prejudice, and disease, he came back and said that the East should look to the West for enlightenment.

....or maybe the quotation and by extension the entire comment were meant to suggest that traditionally materialist concerns like sanitation, wealth and longevity are more deserving of the title enlightenment and than our categorizing of enlightenment to only mean the spirit is not entirely accurate. Expressing wonder at reductionist, material understanding of the universe shouldn't be new to this crowd. Expressing value judgements do not a dark art make.

...or maybe it meant to ignore all Indian claims to enlightenment....

There is a lot of nonsense on OB and LW about separating content from style; the occasional attempts to translate into positivist verifiable claims or examples of Dark Arts often say more about the person doing the translating than illuminating the text for the reader.

Yvain obviously interpreted this in a very specific way. Yvain has a good basis for asking Phil to clarify the issues. These sorts of things are more valuable as discussions and instead it was turned into a broadcast.

This is not a criticism, but just a suggestion that the world of give-and-take, persuasion and rebuttal can be a lot more valuable than posting an instantiation of meaning for the comment that is highly suspect at best.

Comment author: William 29 March 2009 04:51:17AM 4 points [-]

As a sidenote, it's a very good sign that this discussion has followed the path of

Case studies in medicine are most interesting when all the student doctors disagree with each other.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 March 2009 04:34:27AM 13 points [-]

IAWYC but the two statements should not sound exactly alike, they should sound exactly as convincing. If they were both true, then the first form would be more poetic and better-written than the second, but still should not sound any more convincing.

Comment author: William 29 March 2009 04:52:24AM 2 points [-]

What does IAWYC mean?

Comment author: Cyan 29 March 2009 05:01:12AM *  4 points [-]

"IAWYC" is short for "I agree with your conclusion". See this post and its comment thread.

Comment author: ciphergoth 29 March 2009 08:11:59AM 4 points [-]

Irritatingly, this site now has its own non-standard acronym for the Internet standard "IAWTC".

Comment author: Andrew 29 March 2009 08:27:16AM 0 points [-]

It's clearly an in-crowd Shibboleth that's used to recognize fellow LWer's.

I dunno if that's irritating or not.

Comment author: thomblake 02 April 2009 07:45:17PM 3 points [-]

I'm not one of those fallacy classification nuts, but for completeness' sake, this is a fallacy of composition.

I disagree. It's more of a hasty generalization. A hasty generalization is assuming all Americans are creationists due to America having some creationists. Composition would be assuming America is creationist because some (or even all) Americans are creationist.

Comment author: Grognor 28 January 2012 02:25:19PM 2 points [-]

I can't tell the difference between your examples, nor do I understand why the two fallacies need be mutually exclusive, thomblake-from-almost-three-years-ago.

Comment author: thomblake 29 January 2012 07:10:21PM *  3 points [-]

They are mutually exclusive because they have different sorts of referents. Here's a hopefully clearer example:

  • hasty generalization: this brick is small, so all bricks are small.
  • composition: this brick is (or even all these bricks are) small, so this brick house is small.

In the grandparent, 'Americans' refers to the people in America, where 'America' refers to the country.

Though the OP does refer to 'America', so I don't know in retrospect which is more appropriate in context.

Comment author: Nebu 08 April 2009 02:26:40PM 2 points [-]

I agree with your main point of "always keep the basics in mind", and I found your case study interesting, though I sense some emotional undertones due to phrases like "I don't like being told I'm wrong any more than anyone else does", "Nor do I accept the defense", "declaration of war and a hijack attempt of the train of thought", etc.

So I'd just like to remind (everyone, not just Yvain) that an upvote does not necessarily mean "agreement".

I voted the comment up, but not because I "agreed" with it[1], nor because I wanted to "shut up hippies", but merely because I found it interesting and felt it earned my endorsement as a comment worth reading. I agree with Yvain's description of the anecdote as "short, witty, flattering, and utterly opaque to reason." I don't think "utterly opaque to reason" is sufficient evidence of dark-art-usage.

If I tell a joke, or a pun, they too can be utterly opaque to reason. But that's fine because I'm not trying to convince anyone of any position, but just to share some entertainment.

That's how I interpreted that particular comment: an entertaining and interesting anecdote that doesn't need to actually be true to be entertaining and interesting.

That said, it doesn't matter what my (or Yvain's) interpretation of the comment is. If people have made the mistake (been taken in by the fallacies) that Yvain listed in this post, then the post is valuable on LW, because it helps promote rationality.

1: What does it mean to agree with an anecdote? To agree that the events described in the anecdote actually occurred? I certainly don't know first hand whether or not Steve Jobs actually went to India, actually saw those things, and said what the anecdote claimed he said. I guess in this specific context, "agree" means to be convinced by the anecdote that Crowley (and by extension, Yvain) is wrong. So in that sense, I certainly don't "agree" with the anecdote. As an aside, I also don't agree that "the East should look to the West for enlightenment" (but I don't agree with its converse either, and I don't agree with "nobody should look to anybody for enlightenment"). I guess, to clarify, I consider "don't agree" to be a distinct concept from "do disagree".

Comment deleted 28 March 2009 07:36:23AM [-]
Comment author: Yvain 28 March 2009 11:37:48AM 4 points [-]

I know I'm long-winded, and apologize. I'm busy, and as Pascal said, "This letter is too long, because I lacked the time to make it shorter."

I like metaphors. They're useful for illuminating things. I can go on and on about how failing the IAT doesn't make you racist because you can hold beliefs on two different levels, or I can say "It's like running away from a haunted house even if you don't believe in ghosts." I haven't formalized my intuitions on which metaphors are or aren't good yet, but I should.

IV seems plausible, but I can't think of exactly how. Sounds like it deserves its own top-level post.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 March 2009 06:59:16PM *  2 points [-]

I also like metaphors. I simply don't have the mental circuitry to effectively process complex, abstract topics (like LW or OB posts) without some sort of imagery I can relate it to, be it an analogy, example, picture, or whatever. It's much much easier for me to understand something if it can be imagined it as some sort of real-world situation.

I think it's important to properly craft metaphors so they illustrate the concept being described while minimizing other, tag-along concepts. But this doesn't seem like an insurmountable goal.

Comment author: dclayh 28 March 2009 04:34:20AM 3 points [-]

Anyone who said "Dr. A should not be learning spelling from Yvain, Yvain should be learning science from Dr. A" would be missing the point. If Dr. A wants to learn spelling, he might as well learn it from me. And best of all if we both learn from each other!

I believe that formally, the best of all is if you and Dr. A employ comparative advantage, with him doing your science and you doing his spelling.

Comment author: Annoyance 28 March 2009 01:47:31PM 3 points [-]

I don't disagree with the idea that we should view India's ideas skeptically, and moreso because its people are so miserable.

But I will point out that India once held one of the most advanced and prosperous civilizations on the planet, a society that was primitive by our standards but overwhelmingly superior to everything else at the time.

And that society existed for longer than Western Civilization has.

If, as I suspect, Western Civilization is in the process of destroying itself, what remains after the length of time that's passed since India's golden age may well resemble India as it is now.

Dinosaurs used to be symbols of obsolescence and failure, but by evolutionary standards they were far more successful than humans have been. Or even mammals, for that matter.

Let us not be quick to discard Indian mental techniques as dinosaurs.

Comment author: Annoyance 28 March 2009 01:42:37PM *  1 point [-]

"Annoyance wants us to stop talking about fancy techniques and get back to basics."

No. I don't think that we - as a group - have ever gotten around to the basics, and so we can't go back to them. How can we return to a place we've never been?

It is vital always to begin at the beginning. It is especially important when it comes to rationality, because there's nothing but the beginning. Looking for the complex, we pass over the simple because it doesn't fit what we expect, and so the solution eludes us.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 19 April 2012 01:48:35PM 1 point [-]

I understand why you feel like the Steve Jobs anecdote was meant as a rebuttal, but I think you make a bit of a caricature of the intent behind it.

Mentioning, in a matter-of-fact way things like "a state of mystical attainment the Hindus call dhyana" suggests an uncritical attitude towards the ideas you're discussing, and maybe an idealized view of India. The Steve Jobs anecdote can be read as just a cautionary note against that kind of uncritical/idealized attitude, a way of pointing out that it's a lot easier to have that kind of attitude when you're viewing something from afar, rather than an attempt to argue "everything you said is wrong."

(Though here, I might have pointed you towards what Julia Sweeney has said about eastern religion instead to make the same point.)

Actually, I'd go farther than that. Your final sentence is exactly backwards. The fundamental rationalist technique here is learning to make a distinction between a vaguely hostile comment and the extreme claim that "there is minimal possibility that any Indian people ever discovered interesting mental techniques."

Comment author: HungryTurtle 21 April 2012 01:48:36AM 1 point [-]

Isn't saying that Yvain's final statement is

exactly backwards

also failing to make a distinction between a vaguely hostile comment and an extreme claim? To say it is exactly backwards is to imply that there is nothing wrong with steve jobs statement. I agree with you that some of Yvain's fallacies are distorted--most notably the assumption that those who liked the comment were venting out a subconscious lash at "hippies"--but that does not change the fact that Steve job’s statement contains huge logical issues.

First, Yvain is right that it is a fallacy of equivocation.

Second, any statement that attempts to make a generalization about "the East" is a HUGE over-generalization and quite frankly Orientalism. I mean how does Steve jobs justify making an assertion about Russia, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and the score of other countries that is associated with the term “the east” from one trip to India in his youth? On what grounds do we take Steve jobs one trip to who knows where in India for how long as representative of the functional value of the civilization as a whole.

Steve jobs is using an availability heuristic which is NOT rational.

There is sufficient evidence that the steve jobs quote and the second quote are not “exactly backwards” as you put it, so why did you put it that way? In my opinion, it suggests that Yvain hit it on the mark. Steven Jobs or something else contained in that quote carries personal connotations that you felt a need to defend.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 22 April 2012 06:13:50PM 0 points [-]

So to clarify, what's "exactly backwards" is saying that to a good rationalist, "the statements '' and '' sound exactly alike." Whereas I think an important part of being a good rationalist is being able to distinguish between the two. I'm not saying Yvain's entire post is backwards.

Comment author: HungryTurtle 23 April 2012 12:23:21PM 0 points [-]

Fair enough, could you tell me what exactly it means to be a good rationalist?

Comment author: teageegeepea 29 March 2009 03:01:32AM *  1 point [-]

and India the acknowledged master of the third definition I thought that was more pop culture cliche than actually conventional wisdom, and even in pop culture east asian buddhists might come out ahead. Measured in terms of simply being poor, India is fortunately ahead (or behind, if we consider poverty good) of a number of countries.

herefore, there is minimal possibility that any Indian people ever discovered interesting mental techniques. You're turning a generalization into an absolute claim. A possible belief is that only "western/enlightenment" thinking produces interesting mental techniques and so any Indians (of which there are a very large number) would be part of the minority that were westernized. The majority of Indians should generally look westward, even though there are also many westerners who are unenlightened (though perhaps spiritual creationists).

Comment author: ciphergoth 28 March 2009 08:59:41AM 0 points [-]

Thank-you! It's not hard to see how that anecdote gains such approval - a figure many of us approve of at least a bit, flattery of our outlandish intellectual (and for many, political) principles, and a nice verbal twist at the end.

Comment author: pnrjulius 20 April 2012 02:23:36PM 1 point [-]

Some of your points are valid---for one, we should very much be guarded against convenient and witty anecdotes, and it does not follow as a theorem that every place where there are good ideas must automatically be free of poverty and injustice.

But I actually can't agree with your argument than "enlightenment" is a fallacy of equivocation. It IS the Enlightenment values of Bacon and Newton that brought us the enlightenment of vaccination and electricity---that's not a coincidence. And "spiritual enlightenment" is either something good or it isn't; if it is, then it ought to have some meaning in terms of actual happiness of actual human beings in the actual world. If your definition of "spiritual enlightenment" is so far removed from actual happiness and suffering that it would allow poverty and disease to persist on a massive scale (in order to placate invisible gods?), then I want nothing of your so-called "enlightenment".

Does this mean that there are no smart people in India, no good ideas that could be characterized as Indian? Of course not. But it does mean that there is a real correlation between the West and reason---and that this is not a coincidence but a causal link.

Comment author: HungryTurtle 21 April 2012 01:23:00AM 1 point [-]

But I actually can't agree with your argument than "enlightenment" is a fallacy of equivocation. It IS the Enlightenment values of Bacon and Newton that brought us the enlightenment of vaccination and electricity---that's not a coincidence.

I think there is some confusion in Yvain's definition of the third type of enlightenment, and that is why you are missing the point. Yvain describes the third type of enlightenment as

"enlightenment", meaning achieving a state of nirvana free from worldly desire.

It would be better to think about nirvana as an alternative mental state produced through a highly focused and intentional lifestyle. In this sense it is a technique for internal transformation of the individual psyche. I run every day to get blood flowing to my brain, and mediate in the evening to lower my blood pressure, clam myself, and sharpen my focus. I am not saying I am an expert on buddhism, hinduism, janism, or that I am in a state of nirvana. What I am saying is that there are techniques for internal transformation and techniques for external transformation. What Yvain is saying is that to compare enlightenment techniques, which focus on how best to organize and implement a person for external transformation; and indian religious practices which focus on how best to implement a person for internal transformation is a false comparison. It is like trying to compare a refrigerator and an air conditioner. What defines a good refrigerator does not necessarily define a good air conditioner; what defines a good technique of external transformation does not necessarily define a good technique for internal transformation.

You say

t IS the Enlightenment values of Bacon and Newton that brought us the enlightenment of vaccination and electricity---that's not a coincidence.

Yvain is not saying it is a coincidence. What he is saying is that vaccination and electricity are not the intended transformations of hinduism or buddhism. A proper equivalent would be to compare how the Western enlightenment values and techniques have benefited concentration, anger management, patience, lowering blood pressure, these type of things. Which I would argue are in increasing shortage in our society.

Comment author: Entraya 17 December 2013 09:01:33AM 0 points [-]

It would seem that my skills for this are lacking. All i saw was 'Silly story, most likely fake, bullocks and to be ignored'. If i had to carefully pick apart everything wrong with similar stories, I wouldn't do anything but that, considering the internet. I can't in any way deny that it's a bad skill and that i shouldn't learn it, since it's a basic ground for avoiding the higher level challenges. Simply having a sense of 'something is wrong with this, and this person wants something, and i don't trust this' won't get me anywhere near as far, but hopefully it's sufficient to keep me skeptical enough to not fall for such things. Thank you. I may practice this whenever i see more of such silliness

Comment author: frozenchicken 09 November 2010 01:28:24PM 0 points [-]

Anecdotally, given that suffering and poor conditions are sometimes equated with learning greater control of the self, this is sort of like going looking for some trees and refusing to step into the forest because there is too much wood there.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 April 2012 12:58:24AM 0 points [-]

The Insitute For Propaganda Analysis was specifically created to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. Then they were shut down by Dolores Umbridge. But they left an heir.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 28 March 2009 09:32:34PM *  0 points [-]

Nor do I accept the defense that it was not specifically posted with the conclusion "Therefore, ignore Crowley's views on yoga." Merely placing it directly below an article on enlightenment from India is a declaration of war and a hijack attempt on the train of thought.

Nonetheless, that is my defense. You're right that that could be inferred from the context. But It wasn't in my mind at all to tell people to ignore Crowley. I just wanted to tell an amusing anecdote. I wrote a slightly longer comment, then changed my mind and deleted the other parts, without re-checking whether the deletions and the context interacted.

I was sloppy. Sorry. I'm keeping the 17 upvotes, though. :)

I wish you'd tried sending me an email, or responding with a comment saying "Is that what you meant to say?", before writing a whole post about it.

Comment author: patrissimo 29 March 2009 01:30:15AM 7 points [-]

I wish you'd tried sending me an email, or responding with a comment saying "Is that what you meant to say?", before writing a whole post about it.

I don't see how your intentions or process make the comment any less useful as a case study. Most people reading the anecdote are just going to read it and go "rah!", not think about whether they should check with you. It is that fact which is relevant to our common objectives, and that fact has nothing to do with your intentions or procedure.

The story I tell myself when I read your wish to have been contacted is that you are unhappy about being used as an example of Dark Arts to be Defended against, and wishing you could have vetoed / explained yourself / or at least felt like part of the process. Perhaps you can change your viewpoint to being proud of having generated useful example material to help people learn :).

I mean, we all use the Dark Arts every now and then, it's nothing to be ashamed of. They work at winning over crowds and thus increasing status, even if they are bad for rationality, and we all know which of those we are wired for...

Comment author: PhilGoetz 29 March 2009 02:39:52AM *  5 points [-]

Perhaps you can change your viewpoint to being proud of having generated useful example material to help people learn :)

In that case, I have a lot to be proud of. :P

  • Phil Goetz, Dark Artist