Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Welcome to Less Wrong! (2012)

25 Post author: orthonormal 26 December 2011 10:57PM
If you've recently joined the Less Wrong community, please leave a comment here and introduce yourself. We'd love to know who you are, what you're doing, what you value, how you came to identify as a rationalist or how you found us. You can skip right to that if you like; the rest of this post consists of a few things you might find helpful. More can be found at the FAQ.
(This is the third incarnation of the welcome thread, the first two of which which now have too many comments to show all at once.)

A few notes about the site mechanics

Less Wrong  comments are threaded  for easy following of multiple conversations. To respond to any comment, click the "Reply" link at the bottom of that comment's box. Within the comment box, links and formatting are achieved via Markdown syntax  (you can click the "Help" link below the text box to bring up a primer).
You may have noticed that all the posts and comments on this site have buttons to vote them up or down, and all the users have "karma" scores which come from the sum of all their comments and posts. This immediate easy feedback mechanism helps keep arguments from turning into flamewars and helps make the best posts more visible; it's part of what makes discussions on Less Wrong look different from those anywhere else on the Internet.
However, it can feel really irritating to get downvoted, especially if one doesn't know why. It happens to all of us sometimes, and it's perfectly acceptable to ask for an explanation. (Sometimes it's the unwritten LW etiquette; we have different norms than other forums.) Take note when you're downvoted a lot on one topic, as it often means that several members of the community think you're missing an important point or making a mistake in reasoning— not just that they disagree with you! If you've any questions about karma or voting, please feel free to ask here.
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It's definitely worth your time commenting on old posts; veteran users look through the recent comments thread quite often (there's a separate recent comments thread for the Discussion section, for whatever reason), and a conversation begun anywhere will pick up contributors that way.  There's also a succession of open comment threads for discussion of anything remotely related to rationality.
Discussions on Less Wrong tend to end differently than in most other forums; a surprising number end when one participant changes their mind, or when multiple people clarify their views enough and reach agreement. More commonly, though, people will just stop when they've better identified their deeper disagreements, or simply "tap out" of a discussion that's stopped being productive. (Seriously, you can just write "I'm tapping out of this thread.") This is absolutely OK, and it's one good way to avoid the flamewars that plague many sites.
EXTRA FEATURES:
There's actually more than meets the eye here: look near the top of the page for the "WIKI", "DISCUSSION" and "SEQUENCES" links.
LW WIKI: This is our attempt to make searching by topic feasible, as well as to store information like common abbreviations and idioms. It's a good place to look if someone's speaking Greek to you.
LW DISCUSSION: This is a forum just like the top-level one, with two key differences: in the top-level forum, posts require the author to have 20 karma in order to publish, and any upvotes or downvotes on the post are multiplied by 10. Thus there's a lot more informal dialogue in the Discussion section, including some of the more fun conversations here.
SEQUENCES: A huge corpus of material mostly written by Eliezer Yudkowsky in his days of blogging at Overcoming Bias, before Less Wrong was started. Much of the discussion here will casually depend on or refer to ideas brought up in those posts, so reading them can really help with present discussions. Besides which, they're pretty engrossing in my opinion.

A few notes about the community

If you've come to Less Wrong to  discuss a particular topic, this thread would be a great place to start the conversation. By commenting here, and checking the responses, you'll probably get a good read on what, if anything, has already been said here on that topic, what's widely understood and what you might still need to take some time explaining.
If your welcome comment starts a huge discussion, then please move to the next step and  create a LW Discussion post to continue the conversation; we can fit many more welcomes onto each thread if fewer of them sprout 400+ comments. (To do this: click "Create new areticle" in the upper right corner next to your username, then write the article, then at the bottom take the menu "Post to" and change it from "Drafts" to "Less Wrong Discussion". Then click "Submit". When you edit a published post, clicking "Save and continue" does correctly update the post.)
If you want to write a post about a LW-relevant topic, awesome!  I highly recommend you submit your first post to Less Wrong Discussion; don't worry, you can later promote it from there to the main page if it's well-received. (It's much better to get some feedback before every vote counts for 10 karma- honestly, you don't know what you don't know about the community norms here.)
If you'd like to connect with other LWers in real life, we have  meetups  in various parts of the world. Check the wiki page for places with regular meetups, or the upcoming (irregular) meetups page.
There's also a Facebook group.  If you've your own blog or other online presence, please feel free to link it.

If English is not your first language, don't let that make you afraid to post or comment. You can get English help on Discussion- or Main-level posts by sending a PM to one of the following users (use the "send message" link on the upper right of their user page). Either put the text of the post in the PM, or just say that you'd like English help and you'll get a response with an email address.
* Normal_Anomaly
* Randaly
* shokwave
* Barry Cotter

A note for theists: you will find the Less Wrong community to be predominantly atheist, though not completely so, and most of us are genuinely respectful of religious people who keep the usual community norms. It's worth saying that we might think religion is off-topic in some places where you think it's on-topic, so be thoughtful about where and how you start explicitly talking about it; some of us are happy to talk about religion, some of us aren't interested. Bear in mind that many of us really, truly have given full consideration to theistic claims and found them to be false, so starting with the most common arguments is pretty likely just to annoy people. Anyhow, it's absolutely OK to mention that you're religious in your welcome post and to invite a discussion there.

A list of some posts that are pretty awesome

I recommend the major sequences  to everybody, but I realize how daunting they look at first. So for purposes of immediate gratification, the following posts are particularly interesting/illuminating/provocative and don't require any previous reading:

More suggestions are welcome! Or just check out the top-rated posts from the history of Less Wrong. Most posts at +50 or more are well worth your time.

Welcome to Less Wrong, and we look forward to hearing from you throughout the site.

(Note from orthonormal: MBlume and other contributors wrote the original version of this welcome message, and I've stolen heavily from it.)

Comments (1430)

Comment author: dekelron 26 December 2011 05:25:48PM *  16 points [-]

Hi all,

I'm 25 from Israel. I worked in programming for 4 years, and have recently decided to move on to more interesting stuff (either math, biology, or neurology, don't know).

I'm new in LW, but have read OB from time to time over over the past 5 years. Several months ago I ran into LW, (re)read a lot of the site, and decided to stick around when I realized how awesome it is.

Nice to meet you all!

Ron

Comment author: FAWS 27 December 2011 12:27:49AM 4 points [-]

Now that you have some karma you should be able to post in the discussion section. Please make sure your post doesn't look like a spam ad, though.

Comment author: orthonormal 27 December 2011 12:44:54AM 5 points [-]

To follow up on what FAWS said, "What are good apps for rationalists?" is a much better title than "Useful Android Apps for the Rational Mind", since the latter sounds like you're trying to sell something to us.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 27 December 2011 09:58:34AM 4 points [-]

Israel seems like a natural place for LW. Any thoughts on why the memes haven't gotten more traction there yet?

Comment author: erratio 28 December 2011 01:37:40AM 5 points [-]

Very naive guess: people in Israel live in constant high proximity to the two biggest mindkillers, religion and politics/nationalism, both of which have serious and immediate real-world consequences for them.

Comment author: Ezekiel 30 December 2011 12:09:47AM 0 points [-]

I'm Israeli, and although my contact with general society in the country is low, I think that's probably a factor. Meme propagation also just takes time.

Comment author: dekelron 30 December 2011 09:50:53AM 1 point [-]

Actually I doubt it's something that complicated. In my opinion, the site is not known because there are few people to publicize it, loop.

Anyhow, ARE there more LWers from Israel? I would really like it if there was a meetup here.

Comment author: dbaupp 31 December 2011 12:57:01PM 2 points [-]

Anyhow, ARE there more LWers from Israel?

According to this survey, there are at least 2 people from Israel (from Haifa and Kfar Saba).

Comment author: gyokuro 26 December 2011 07:31:18PM 22 points [-]

Hi, I'm 15, so sadly cannot say much of my education yet, but at least I've read a fair deal. I find the ideas on this site somewhat unappreciated among my age group, but fascinating for me. I've lurked here for close to a year, but I'm irrationally shy of speaking over the internet. I hope to contribute if I find what I think interesting, regardless of my adverseness to commenting. Thank you for the welcome!

Comment author: KPier 26 December 2011 07:55:45PM 6 points [-]

There's an email list and occasional online meetups for LessWrong teenagers; you can join here. Welcome aboard!

Comment author: atucker 28 December 2011 07:11:42AM 0 points [-]

Seconded!

Looking forward to meeting you, if you join the group.

Comment author: bramflakes 26 December 2011 08:25:40PM 9 points [-]

Hello, I'm 16 years old and from the UK. I found this blog via MoR and I'vebeen lurking for a few months now (this is my first post I think), and I'm slowly but surely working my way through the sequences. I think I've gotten to the point where I can identify a lot of the biases and irrational thoughts as they form in my brain, but unfortunately I'm not well-versed enough in rationality to know how to tackle them properly yet.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 December 2011 12:15:39AM *  0 points [-]

It would probably be worth your while to post about particular biases you'd like to tackle.

Comment author: orthonormal 27 December 2011 12:47:13AM 0 points [-]

Or, comment on relevant posts with any questions or examples you want to share.

Comment author: atucker 28 December 2011 07:17:02AM 0 points [-]

Welcome to LessWrong!

Some other teenagers occasionally do online meetups, and we have a facebook group here

Comment author: jswan 26 December 2011 10:10:07PM 14 points [-]

I've been lurking here on and off since the beginnings at OB, IIRC, though more off than on. Expressed in the language of the recent survey: I'm an 43-year-old married white male with an advanced humanities degree working in the technical side of for-profit IT in the rural USA. I was raised in a non-theist environment and was interested in rationality tools from an early age. I had a spontaneous non-theistic mystical experience when I was 17 that led me to investigate (but ultimately reject) a variety of non-materialist claims. This led to a life-long interest in the workings of the brain, intuition, rationality, bias, and so on.

I enjoy LW primarily because of the interest in conscious self-improvement and brain hacking. I think that the biggest error I see in general among self-described rationalists is the tendency to undervalue experience. My thinking is probably informed most strongly by individual athletics, many of the popular writers in the rationalist tradition, and wide variety of literature. These days, I'm nursing obsessions with Python programming, remote backcountry cycling, and the writing of Rebecca Goldstein.

Comment author: orthonormal 27 December 2011 12:48:19AM 4 points [-]

I think that the biggest error I see in general among self-described rationalists is the tendency to undervalue experience.

There are a couple of things you could mean by this. Can you give an example?

Comment author: jswan 27 December 2011 03:02:57AM 9 points [-]

There are indeed a couple of different ways I do mean it, but my best specific examples come from athletics. About eight or nine years ago I started getting seriously interested in long distance trail running. Like most enthusiastic autodidacts I started reading lots of material about shoes, clothing, hydration, nutrition, electrolytes, training, and so on. As I'm sure you've seen, a lot of people on the Internet can get paralyzed by analysis in the face of vast easily available information. In particular, they have a lot of trouble sorting out conflicting information gained from other knowledgeable people.

Frequently, further research will help you arrive at less-wrong conclusions. However, in some endeavors there really is a great deal of individual variation, and you just have to engage in lengthy, often-frustrating self-experimentation to figure out what techniques or training methods work best for you. This base of experience can't really be replaced by secondary research. Where research skill comes in, though, is in figuring out where to focus that secondary research (and this in itself is a skill that is honed by experience). As a friend of mine likes to put it: the best practitioners of [insert skill here] in the world perform almost all components of their skill the same way. They all have weird idiosyncrasies too. The place to focus your research is in the areas they have in common.

Anyway, this is a longer response than I had intended, and undoubtedly this is not new to you; it's just variation on standard cognitive bias. However, I think that deferral of experience and self-experimentation in favor of secondary research (aka, analysis paralysis) is a common bias blind-spot among rationality enthusiasts.

Comment author: orthonormal 27 December 2011 04:15:30PM 1 point [-]

I agree it's a common failure mode, and that the areas in which I've done cheap self-experimentation and kept notes showed remarkably quick improvement. There are some LW posts expounding the meme of actually trying things, but it's less prominent than it ought to be.

Comment author: Vaniver 26 December 2011 10:39:49PM 8 points [-]

It happens to all of us sometimes, and it's perfectly acceptable to ask for an explanation.

I'd like to note that while acceptable to ask for an explanation, it is downright counterproductive to be petulant. Don't bother getting upset until you know why.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 December 2011 12:14:27AM 0 points [-]

I'm not sure it's possible to avoid getting upset in the short run. However, it's a good idea to avoid showing upset until you find out something about what's going on.

Comment author: Bruno_Coelho 26 December 2011 11:00:21PM 15 points [-]

Hi everybody,

I’m male, 24, philosophy student and live in Amazon, Brazil. I came across to LessWrong on the zombies sequence, because in the beginning, one of my intelectual interests was analytic philosophy. I saw that reductionism and rationality have the power to respond various questions, righting them to something factually tractable. My goals here is to contribute to the community in a useful form, learn as much as possible, become stronger and save the world reducing the risks of human extintion. I'm looking for some advice in these topics: bayesian epistemology, moral uncertain and the complexity of the wishes. If some of the participants in the forum can help me, I will be very grateful.

Comment author: orthonormal 27 December 2011 12:56:06AM 3 points [-]

Do you have specific questions? You could ask them here, or in the comments of the relevant posts (the age of the thread doesn't matter much, since more people read the Recent Comments sidebar than read any particular post's comments).

Also, on the topic of morality, have you come across lukeprog's mini-sequence?

Comment author: Bruno_Coelho 27 December 2011 02:50:30AM 1 point [-]

Yes, I read part of the sequence and a recent post of lukeprog on his blog. He think that much of the language of morality is failed, and we have to substitute with another language more precise. In normative terms, decision theory is the best candidate,I suppose, but in the site we have various versions.

Comment author: Lara 27 December 2011 12:20:42AM *  29 points [-]

Hello everyone!

Thank You for this site and for sharing your thoughts, for genuinely trying to find out what is true. What is less wrong. This has brightened my view of humanity. :)

My name is Lara, I’m from Eastern Europe, 18 years old, currently studying physics, reading a lot and painting in my free time. For about a year and a half now I’ve been atheist; before then- devout and sincere christian, religious nerd of the church. A lot of things in the doctrine bothered me as compltely illogical, unfair and just silly, and somehow I tried to reason it all out, I truly believed, that the real Truth will be with God and that he will help me understand it better. As it turned out, truth seeking and religiosity were incompatible.

Now I’m fairly ‘recovered’- getting used to the new way of thinking about the world, but still care about what is really true and important, worth devouting my life to(fundamentalist upbringing :)). As I still live with my family, it is hard to pretend all the time, knowing they will have no contact with me whatsoever, when I come out; it is really good to find places like this, where people are willing to dig as deep as possible, no matter what, to understand better.

So thanks and sorry for my english. I hope someday I’ll be able to add something useful here and learn much more.

Comment author: orthonormal 27 December 2011 01:14:08AM *  11 points [-]

Welcome! Your English is excellent, don't worry on that count.

...also, that's a really tough predicament (hiding your atheism from your fundamentalist family), and I don't have anything wise to say about it, except that it isn't the end of the world when they do find out, and that often people will break their religious commitments rather than really abandon their children (so long as they can think of a religiously acceptable excuse to do so). But I'm not really qualified to give that advice. Hang in there!

Comment author: MichaelVassar 27 December 2011 09:57:10AM 7 points [-]

I'm sorry to hear that your family try to control you like this. Do you expect to physically live near them for long? If not, you may not need to tell them. Surely they have behaviors that they don't tell you about too, and don't honestly expect you to actually act as if you believed (just as they probably don't act that way themselves and expected you to grow out of the confused phase in your life when you were doing all that weird stuff that you did as a result of being a sincere and devout christian who expects things to be logical fair and non-silly once understood)

Comment author: Lara 27 December 2011 05:14:14PM *  8 points [-]

Thank you all for support, it is incredibly important.

Unfortunately it is a church norm to cut off everyone who leaves, and the doctrine is such that there is no way to be ‘inbetween’. The community is quite closed and one’s whole life is determined- from the way we dress(girls especially), to the way we make carriers (or stay at home and raise children). So in the beginning I decided not to tell anyone at all, knowing how painful it would be for everyone, but after some time I realised that I could not live like that my whole life; though egoistically, after I earn enough money to leave, I will.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 29 December 2011 10:28:48AM 7 points [-]

There are really a lot of possibilities for finding work if you need it, at least if you are a US citizen. I can help you with that if you want. If nothing else, http://lesswrong.com/lw/43m/optimal_employment/ is available. I bet that if a few LWers could get together to do this (possibly after absorbing some of our West Coast or NYC contingent culture first) and build an amazing community there. email me.

Comment author: thomblake 27 December 2011 05:34:05PM 5 points [-]

To expand on orthonormal's point, note impact bias. If you do end up having to be truthful with them, whatever consequences you're imagining now are probably far worse that what you will actually go through. People tend to carry on just fine.

And remember that the virtue of honesty does not require telling all truths, but rather not communicating falsely. If telling your parents you are an atheist will mean to them that you are an amoral person, maybe you should not say so unless that is also true.

Comment author: Kallio 27 December 2011 01:03:34AM 21 points [-]

Hi; I've been reading LessWrong for more than a year and a half, now, but I never quite got around to making an account until today.

So, introduction: I'm eighteen years old, female, transgender. I live in California, USA. I don't have a lot of formal education; I chose to be homeschooled as a little kid because my parents were awesome and school wasn't, and due to disability I've not yet entered college.

The road to rationalism was fairly smooth for me. I'm a weirdo in enough ways that I learned early on not to believe things just because everyone else believed them. It took a little bit longer for me to learn not to believe things just because I had always believed them.

I guess my major "Aha!" moment came when I was fourteen, after I finally admitted to myself that I was transgender. I had lied to myself, not to mention everyone else, for almost a decade and a half. I had shied away from the truth every time I'd had the opportunity to see it. And while I'd had pretty good reasons for doing so (Warning: Big-ass PDF), the truth felt better. Not only that, but knowing the truth was better, in measurable ways; it allowed me to begin to move my life in a direction I actually liked.

Avoiding the truth had hurt me enough that I began systematically examining every belief I could think of, and some I would rather not have thought about at all. And thus was a rationalist born.

I found LessWrong in spring of 2010, through Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I haven't had the time to read all, or even most, of the sequences yet, but I've made a good start on them: so far I've read all of Map and Territory, Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions, Reductionism, and A Human's Guide to Words. I've also read large parts of How To Actually Change Your Mind, as well as bits and pieces of other sequences, and various independent articles. They've helped a lot, both with teaching me things about rationalism which I didn't already know, and making me more sure of the things I'd worked out for myself.

Since I'm interested in not only rationalism, but also in probability theory, transhumanism, and both human and machine intelligence, this has been pretty much my favorite site to read ever since I found it. Thanks for being awesome.

Comment author: KwHayes 27 December 2011 01:17:10AM *  13 points [-]

Hello! I'm male, 20-something, educator, living in Alberta, Canada. I came across LessWrong via some comments left on a Skepchick article.

My choice to become an educator is founded upon my passion for rational inquiry. I work in the younger grades, where teaching is less about presenting and organizing knowledge and more about the fundamental, formative development of the human brain. Because of this, I am interested in exploring the mental faculties that produce "curiosity behaviors" and the relationship between these behaviors and motivation.

I'm a constructivist at heart; I help guide my students to become masterful thinkers and doers by modifying environmental variables around them. Essentially, I trick them into achieving curriculum-mandated success by 'exploiting' their mental processes. In order to do this effectively, I need to understand as best I can the processes that guide human thoughts and behaviors. This is something I have been interested in since I was young - I am fortunate to have found a career that allows me to explore these interests and use my understanding to better my students'.

I've considered myself to be a rationalist since i was 16 or so, and it's hard to trace my motivations to anything declarative. I have always been a disassembler; As a child, I would take things apart and explore them, but I would rarely put anything back together. Instead, I would use my energy to create new things for myself. This probably alludes to something meaningful about my own brain, but I am so far unable to fully illuminate it.

My goal here is to explore the thoughts and ideas of others and construct enduring understandings for myself. It would be great if these understandings can be applied to education, but satisfying and reinforcing my own curiosity will suffice :). My background is weakly academic; I do not have formal experience with many of the theoretical frameworks that I've seen used here, but I feel that my knowledge and experience will allow me to add some value. I'm a debater, a discusser, and a collaborator, so I think I will fit in pretty well. I'm also excited at the prospect of meeting individuals with whom my interests overlap - so far, the chances seem pretty good!

In short: I am an educator, interested in the way that environment and media interact with the human faculties of inquiry and curiosity. My goal is to understand how these faculties influence motivation, and eventually learning. I am also concerned with the ways that we define all of the above words, and especially what teachers sometimes thoughtlessly call "intelligence." I hope to one day develop a more clear framework of learning as it relates to cognitive processes.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 December 2011 01:30:44AM 5 points [-]

Welcome! I hope you'll post about some of the specific methods you're used with your students.

Comment author: cousin_it 27 December 2011 01:07:41PM *  3 points [-]

I am interested in exploring the mental faculties that produce "curiosity behaviors" and the relationship between these behaviors and motivation.

This interests me because my small experience with teaching kids suggests that curiosity is indeed the bottleneck resource. Please post about your experiments and conclusions.

Comment author: rv77ax 27 December 2011 04:04:07AM 13 points [-]

Hello LW readers,

Long time lurker here. Just created this account so I can, probably, participated more in LW discussion.

I'm male, 27 years old, from Indonesia. I work as freelance software developer. I love music and watching movies. Any movies. Movie is the only way I can detached from reality and have a dream without a sleep.

I come from Muslim family, both of my parent is Muslim. Long story short, after finished my college, with computer science degree, I tried to learn extend my knowledge more in Islam. I read a lot of books about Islam history, Islam teaching, Quran commentary, book that explain hadith and Quran, etc. Every books that my parents have. Soon, with the help of Internet, I renounce my faith and become an atheist. I see rationalism, philosophy in general, as the way to see the world without giving any judgments. Because, in the end, there is no absolute truth, only facts and opinions.

I know LW from /r/truereddit, and has been reading some of the articles and discussions in here, very informative and thoughtful. The only thing I can help here probably by translating some of articles, especially the Sequences, into Bahasa Indonesia.

Comment author: cousin_it 27 December 2011 01:13:42PM *  11 points [-]

Because, in the end, there is no absolute truth, only facts and opinions.

Eliezer's essay The Simple Truth is a nice argument for the opposite. The technical name for his view is correspondence theory. A short summary is "truth is the correspondence between map and territory" or "the sentence 'snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white".

Comment author: thomblake 27 December 2011 04:42:37PM *  1 point [-]

The technical name for his view is correspondence theory.

If you really want to be technical, I think it would be hard to say whether this view is supposed to be a correspondence or deflationary theory of truth, and some (including the linked article) would regard them as currently at odds.

Personally, I think the distinction is not very important (which is also hinted at in the linked article) and it makes sense to use the language of both. The Simple Truth in particular casts it as deflationary; the shepherd doesn't even know what 'truth' is, and thinks questions about it are silly - he just knows that the pebbles work.

ETA: To be slightly more helpful to readers, here's a relevant section of the SEP article that intends to illustrate the difference:

A correspondence-type formulation like

(5) “Snow is white” is true iff it corresponds to the fact that snow is white,

is to be deflated to

(6) “Snow is white” is true iff snow is white,

Comment author: TheOtherDave 27 December 2011 05:23:43PM 1 point [-]

One can, of course, get arbitrarily wrapped around the axle of reference here. "The man with a quarter in his shoe is about to die," said by George, who has a quarter in his shoe, shortly before his own death, is true... but most intuitive notions of truth leave a bad taste in my mouth if it turns out that George, when he said it, had not known about the quarter in his shoe and was asserting his intention to kill Sam, whom George mistakenly believed to have a quarter in his shoe. Which is unsurprising, since many intuitive notions of truth are primarily about evaluating the credibility and reliability of the speaker; when I divorce the speaker's credibility from the actual properties of the environment, my intuitions start to break down.

Comment author: rv77ax 28 December 2011 06:53:36AM 3 points [-]

Actually, The Simple Truth is one of my favorite essay, and it's not the opposite of my statement. Autrey is the one who work with facts (reality) and Mark is the one who work with opinion (belief). Who jump at the cliff at the end ?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 31 December 2011 06:44:04AM *  0 points [-]

I interpreted your comment about no absolute truth to mean something like the objects in the universe having no inherent properties (or at least less inherent properties than most might think). Was that what you meant?

Comment author: orthonormal 28 December 2011 01:27:08AM 4 points [-]

Because, in the end, there is no absolute truth, only facts and opinions.

There are several different things you could mean by this. Do you agree that, outside of human cognition, some things happen rather than others? And also, isn't it practically useful if our expectations are in line with the sorts of things that actually happen?

Comment author: rv77ax 28 December 2011 06:36:58AM *  -2 points [-]

There are several different things you could mean by this.

Yes. The big context are science and ethics. In science, we work with facts, and from them we develop a hypothesis (opinion). Someone can agree with one hypothesis, and become true, until it proven otherwise. In ethics, everything is just opinions.

Do you agree that, outside of human cognition, some things happen rather than others?

Yes. If I can simplify it, only one thing is happened outside of our cognition, and its linear with time.

isn't it practically useful if our expectations are in line with the sorts of things that actually happen?

No. I think that would become confirmation bias.

Comment author: orthonormal 01 January 2012 06:19:04PM *  0 points [-]

isn't it practically useful if our expectations are in line with the sorts of things that actually happen?

No. I thing that would become confirmation bias.

So you do accept scientific evidence, then- simple (approximate) models that explain well-verified patterns should be taken as practically true, until their limits are found. Right?

(Otherwise, on what grounds do you cite research about confirmation bias?)

Comment author: TimS 01 January 2012 06:26:03PM *  1 point [-]

Link to a previous discussion I had about post-modernism and science. Brief summary: Models - no, Predictions - yes.

Comment author: jwmares 27 December 2011 04:27:12AM 14 points [-]

I heard about LW from a startup co-founder. I'm 22, in Pittsburgh, graduating college in 4 months and on my 2nd startup. Raised hard-core Catholic, and still trying to pull together arguments from various sources as to the existence of God. The posts on LW have certainly helped, and I'd say I'm leaning towards atheism - though it's been a short journey of only 6 months or so since I've started to question my religion.

I'm very interested in the Singularity movement and how that will shape human philosophy and morality. I've also done some body hacking and started tracking my time, an interest which I think a lot of the LW community shares. Looking forward to becoming more active in the community!

Comment author: orthonormal 28 December 2011 01:23:47AM 8 points [-]

Welcome!

The best unsolicited advice I have to give is this: your philosophical leanings are immensely sensitive to psychology, and in particular to the sort of self you want to project to the people around you. So if you want to decide one way or another on a philosophical question that's tormenting you, the biggest key is to surround yourself (socially, in real life) with people who will be pleased if you decide that way. If you want to do your best to figure out what's true, though, the best way is to surround yourself with people who will respect you whatever you decide on that matter, or else to get away from everyone you know for a week or two while you think about it.

Good luck!

Comment author: jwmares 28 December 2011 06:35:26AM 2 points [-]

Thanks ortho. I've definitely found that to be the case. I've also struggled to meet moral atheist girls, though a lot of that is also sampling bias (having only been looking for a few months). Interested to see how everything plays out!

Comment author: obfuscate 27 December 2011 05:05:09AM 26 points [-]

Hi; I'm a lurker of about one year, and recently decided to stop lurking and create an account.

I'm an undergraduate in Portland-area Oregon. I study mathematics and computer science at Pacific University. I've been interested in rationality for a very long time, but Less Wrong has really provided the formalism necessary to defend certain tactics and strategies of thought over others, which has been very...helpful. :)

Speaking of Portland, it seems that there are many Portland Less-Wrongians and yet there is no meetup. I would like to start a meetup, so I need a bit of Karma to get one started.

Comment author: windmil 27 December 2011 05:11:40AM 13 points [-]

Hello all.

I've been lurking around here and devouring the sequences for about two years now. I haven't said much because I rarely feel like I have much that's useful, or I don't feel knowledgeable about the subject. But I thought I might start commenting a bit more.

I'm 19, in Florida and studying engineering. I really want to do something that will bring the world forward in some way, and right now that has me pointed at trying to put my personal effort towards nanotechnology. For now though I'm just trying to win classes and learn as much as I can.

Not too much more than 'hi', but there it is.

Comment author: orthonormal 28 December 2011 01:34:56AM 2 points [-]

Welcome!

I really want to do something that will bring the world forward in some way, and right now that has me pointed at trying to put my personal effort towards nanotechnology.

Although I disagree that this is the best direction for marginal technological development (in particular, I don't know if we're smart enough to not do nanotech horribly wrong), I expect you'll learn some extremely important things in the process of studying...

Comment author: windmil 28 December 2011 03:53:18AM 2 points [-]

It might not be. Of course I don't feel like I'm on track to help suddenly make atomically precise, self replicating nanomachines. But it would be nice to get closer to some mechanically precise manufacturing, or just certain better materials for some applications. Also I could make some money.

I am an early engineering undergrad, so right now I'm mostly taking intro to anything at all classes and not doing any real work. I wouldn't be surprised if I changed directions at all.

Comment author: kerspoon 27 December 2011 10:02:50AM 11 points [-]

Hello,

I'm a 26 year old guy from the UK. I've finished writing my Ph.D. thesis in "Quantification of risk in large scale wind power integration" and I'm now working as a phone-app framework developer. I spent the last year on a round the world travel where I have spent a lot of my time writing practical philosophy. After coming back I found this site and read the core sequences. I loved them, they echoed a lot of my previous thoughts then took them much further. I felt like they would be easier to understand if they were one article so I have been re-writing bits of them for my own benefit. I am in two minds whether to post them here but I would appreciate the feedback to see if I have understood what was written.

Comment author: fburnaby 28 December 2011 12:45:39AM 4 points [-]

I'd love to see them when they're somewhere approaching done.

Comment author: orthonormal 28 December 2011 01:38:08AM 2 points [-]

Welcome!

I felt like they would be easier to understand if they were one article so I have been re-writing bits of them for my own benefit.

Lukeprog did a similar thing a while ago, which doubled for the rest of us as a good overview. I'd be interested in reading yours, too!

Comment author: xumx 27 December 2011 12:24:33PM 8 points [-]

I'm 22, Male, an undergraduate at Singapore Management University studying information systems. Interest in AI.

I want to live a "good" life, but different people/culture uses different value systems to view life... some focus on the 'Ending', some focus on the 'Journey', some sees no value at all... Therefore, I'm looking for a way to objectively measure the value of a person's life. (not sure if that is even possible)

Found LW while reading up on Singularity. Would love to make some LW friends. feel free to add me on facebook~ http://fb.me/mengxiang

Comment author: cousin_it 27 December 2011 01:25:09PM *  6 points [-]

some focus on the 'Ending', some focus on the 'Journey', some sees no value at all... Therefore, I'm looking for a way to objectively measure the value of a person's life. (not sure if that is even possible)

Try watching Daniel Kahneman's TED talk The riddle of experience vs memory, it's nice and seems relevant to your question.

Comment author: Dojan 27 December 2011 05:23:08PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: madison 27 December 2011 12:59:26PM *  9 points [-]

Hi everyone. 23 year old south american software developer/musician here. I've been lurking around and reading for a couple of months now and I've found a lot of useful and interesting information here. It has actually triggered in me a lot of thinking about thinking, about reflexivity and the need for being aware of one's methods of thinking/learning/communicating etc.

I've been having some thoughts lately on the positive aspects of "rationality-motivated" socialization, mainly because of what I've learned of LW's weekly meetups and also because it has been, so far, pretty difficult to find someone who's interested about rationality. The first google searches took me nowhere, though I have still to look somewhere around philosophy/mathematics departments of local universities.

Anyway thanks for the information and the friendly welcome, and also for the big corpus of material you make available.

Comment author: Locke 27 December 2011 04:12:38PM 10 points [-]

So, am I a second-class citizen because I found this place via MoR?

Anyways, I've been Homeschooled for the majority of my education thus far, mostly due to my Creationist parents' concerns about government-run schools. Fortunately they didn't think to censor the internet, and here I am. My PSATs showed me in the 98th percentile, so I expect I'll be able to get into a decent university. Plan A has always been Engineering, but after going through a few of the more inspirational sequences I think I may readjust my plans and try to do some good for this planet. How does one get into the Singularity business?

Comment author: TimS 27 December 2011 04:28:31PM *  1 point [-]

Welcome to LessWrong.

So, am I a second-class citizen because I found this place via MoR?

I hope not. That's how I ended up here.

How does one get into the Singularity business?

Well, that depends a bit on what you think the Singularity is/will be.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 December 2011 04:31:04PM 4 points [-]

How does one get into the Singularity business?

With great difficulty. And it's not clear whether there will be any repeat trade.

Comment author: Vaniver 27 December 2011 04:32:40PM 2 points [-]

How does one get into the Singularity business?

Engineering is actually not that bad a way. It's worth taking a look at computer science, but pretty much any technical field will be involved somewhere along the way.

Comment author: thomblake 27 December 2011 04:33:08PM *  6 points [-]

So, am I a second-class citizen because I found this place via MoR?

I'm pretty sure that accounts for most of our new readership over the last year or so.

ETA: To actually answer the question, no.

How does one get into the Singularity business?

I'm pretty sure the preferred method here currently is #1 below, but here are some options:

  1. Make lots of money doing something else and then give it to SIAI.
  2. The lukeprog method: Be insanely awesome at scholarship and get tens of thousands of Lw karma in a few months and be generally brilliant and become a visiting fellow and wow everyone at SIAI.
  3. Go start your own Singularity. With blackjack. And hookers.

Also, I'm generally of the opinion that having been suddenly inspired by something you read recently should be evidence against that thing being what you should do with your life (assuming your prior is based on your feelings about it). You should check out some of the material by Anna Salamon on how to take that kind of decision seriously (I don't have a useful link handy).

Comment author: JohnW 27 December 2011 04:40:33PM 7 points [-]

Hi everyone. I am an engineering graduate student in the SF Bay area, and will be working at a tech company in the south bay starting in the summer.

I have been lurking on this forum for about a year and a half, but this post convinced me to register for an account. I serendipitously found Less Wrong through an interesting post about the Amanda Knox murder trial. I have read a few of the sequences and all of MoR. I hope to get more involved in the future!

Comment author: thomblake 27 December 2011 04:47:51PM 8 points [-]

It's been a while, so I just wanted to express approval of these welcome threads. A glance over the comments we've gotten over the years should reveal that they really do make people feel welcome and help people get into discussion on the site.

Comment author: Kouran 27 December 2011 05:09:36PM 8 points [-]

Hello Less Wrong community, I am Kouran.

What follows may be a bit long, and maybe a little dramatic. I'm sorry if that is uncourteous, still I feel the following needs saying early on. Please bear with me.

I'm a recently be-bachelored sociologist from the Netherlands, am male and in my early twenties. I consider myself a jack of several trades – among them writing, drawing, cooking and some musical hobbies – but master of none. However, I do entertain the hope that the various interests and skills add up to something effective, to my becoming someone in a position to help people who need it, and I intend to take action to approach this end.

I found Less Wrong through the intriguing Harry Potter fanfiction story called 'the Methods of Rationality.' The story entertains me greatly, and the more abstract themes stimulate me and I find myself wishing to enter discussions regarding these matters. Instead of bothering the author of the story I decided to have a look here instead. Please note that I write this before having read any of the Sequences and only a few smaller articles. I intend to get on that soon, but as introductions go I feel it is better to present myself first. I hope you will forgive any offense the following section may give.

My relation to rationalism is quite strained. I am more often in the position where I have to attack theories mostly concerned with rationality, than that I have to defend them. Often, I find arguments where people are assumed to be rational and to make informed choices are classist and uncritical of the way people are shaped by society and vice versa. Often the desirable outcome of an action or 'strategy' is taken to have been the goal that the actor deliberately attempted to attain. Often this is done at the cost of more likely explanations that make fewer unfounded assumptions. I do not at all mean that Less Wrong is implicated in this, in fact: I hope I am right to believe that quite the opposite is being attempted here, my point is that I am more used to denying people's rationality in arguments than invoking it as a way to explain social life.

That is not to say I deny that people can engage in rational thought. Rather, it appears to me that human beings are emotional, situationally defined social animals, much more than they are rational actors. Rational thought, as I see it, is something that occurs in certain relatively rare circumstances. And when it occurs it is always bound to people's social, emotional, physical lives. Often it is group membership and identification, rather than a objective calculation of merit, that defines the outcome of a deliberation, when a deliberation even takes place at all.

So then why am I here? For one thing, I would like to discuss these ideas with people who are knowledgeable about them, but who are also tolerant enough of dissidence that they'll do so in a relaxed and well, rational, way. For another, I believe that more rationality, as truly rational as we can make it, will help our species get through the ages and improve upon the fate of it´s members and the other beings it dominates. The Methods of Rationality and what little I´ve seen of this community has led me to believe that, despite having a perspective that differs from mine, people at Less Wrong are aware of some of the ways in which people are inherently not rational. That rationality is something that needs to be promoted and created, not something that is already the dominant cause of human action. For a third, I cannot deny that I am a person who engages in a lot of thinking. Despite differing perspectives I believe this community may be able to help me develope. My ´story of origin´, if I am to present myself to you as a rationalist, involves a change in my views regarding the false or harmfull style of rationalism I mentioned earlier in this post. I once struggled with the idea that rationalism itself is to blame for perceived injustice and failings of modernity. But at some point I came to the conclusion that this is not the case. At fault is not a human rationality that will forever remain at odds with our emotions, and with those people who were not sufficiently introduced to rationality. People should be able to deliberate rationally while understanding that most of their being is disinclined to yield to abstract models and lofty humanist ideals. At fault is not rationalism or the imperfection of our brians, but incomplete and erroneous rationalism that is employed to serve people who have no need or appreciation for a critical eye cast upon themselves.

I think the community of Less Wrong is very right to consider human rationality an art.

I thank you for your patience,

– Kouran.

Comment author: thomblake 27 December 2011 05:26:48PM 5 points [-]

That's just about right. Humans are massively irrational; but we tend to regard that as a bug and work to fix it in ourselves.

Comment author: fburnaby 28 December 2011 12:31:44AM *  3 points [-]

Hi Kouran, and welcome.

Your critique of "rationalism" as you currently understand it is, I think, valid. The goal of LessWrong, as I understand it (though I'm no authority, I just read here sometimes), is to help people become more rational themselves. As thomblake has already pointed out, we tend to believe with you in the general irrationality of humans. We also believe that this is a sort of problem to be fixed.

However, I also think you're being unfair to people who use the Rationality Assumption in economics, biology or elsewhere. You say that:

Often the desirable outcome of an action or 'strategy' is taken to have been the goal that the actor deliberately attempted to attain.

That's not an assumption that the theory requires. The Rationality Assumption only requires us to interpret the actions of an agent in terms of how well it appears to help it fulfill its goals. It needn't be conscious of such "goals". This type of goal is usually referred to as a revealed preference. Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias, a blog that's quite related to LessWrong, also loves pointing out and discussing the particular problem that you've raised. He usually refers to it as the "Homo hypocritus hypothesis". You might enjoy reading some related entries on his blog. The gist of the distinction I'm trying to point to is actually pretty well-summarized by Joe Biden:

My dad used to have an expression: "Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value."

It's my own humble opinion that economists occasionally make the naive jump from talking about revealed preferences to talking about "actual" preferences (whatever those may be). In such cases, I agree with you that a disposition toward "rationalism" could be dangerous. But again, that's not the accepted meaning of the word here. I also think it might be just as naive to take peoples' stated preferences (whether stated to themselves or others) to be their "actual" preferences.

There have been attempts on LW to model the apparent conflict between the stated preferences and revealed preferences of agents, my favourite of which was "Conflicts Between Mental Subagents: Expanding Wei Dai's Master-Slave Model". If I were to taboo the word "rationality" in explaining the goal of this site, I'd say the goal is to help people bring these two mental sub-agents into agreement; to avoid being a Homo hypocritus; to help one better synchronize their stated preferences with their revealed preferences.

Clearly, the meanings of the word "rationality" that you have, and that this community has, are related. But they're not the same. My goal in linking to the several articles in the above text, is to help you understand what is meant by that word here. Good luck and I hope you find the discourse you're looking for!

Comment author: lessdazed 28 December 2011 12:52:13AM *  5 points [-]

Often, I find arguments where people are assumed to be rational

Bias

Often the desirable outcome of an action or 'strategy' is taken to have been the goal that the actor deliberately attempted to attain.

Diamond in a box:

Suppose you're faced with a choice between two boxes, A and B. One and only one of the boxes contains a diamond. You guess that the box which contains the diamond is box A. It turns out that the diamond is in box B. Your decision will be to take box A. I now apply the term volition to describe the sense in which you may be said to want box B, even though your guess leads you to pick box A.

Let's say that Fred wants a diamond, and Fred asks me to give him box A. I know that Fred wants a diamond, and I know that the diamond is in box B, and I want to be helpful. I could advise Fred to ask for box B instead; open up the boxes and let Fred look inside; hand box B to Fred; destroy box A with a flamethrower; quietly take the diamond out of box B and put it into box A; or let Fred make his own mistakes, to teach Fred care in choosing future boxes.

But I do not simply say: "Well, Fred chose box A, and he got box A, so I fail to see why there is a problem." There are several ways of stating my perceived problem:

Fred was disappointed on opening box A, and would have been happier on opening box B.

It is possible to predict that if Fred chooses box A, Fred will look back and wish he had chosen box B instead; while if Fred chooses box B, Fred will be satisfied with his choice.

Fred wanted "the box containing the diamond", not "box A", and chose box A only because he guessed that box A contained the diamond.

If Fred had known the correct answer to the question of simple fact, "Which box contains the diamond?", Fred would have chosen box B.

Hence my intuitive sense that giving Fred box A, as he literally requested, is not actually helping Fred.

If you find a genie bottle that gives you three wishes, it's probably a good idea to seal the genie bottle in a locked safety box under your bed, unless the genie pays attention to your volition, not just your decision.

--CEV

it appears to me that human beings are emotional, situationally defined social animals, much more than they are rational actors

You imply that there is a standard of rationality people are deviating from. Yes?

Comment author: orthonormal 28 December 2011 01:47:11AM 8 points [-]

It sounds like the Straw Vulcan talk might be relevant to some of your thoughts on rationality and emotion...

Comment author: _ozymandias 27 December 2011 05:32:24PM 22 points [-]

Hi everyone! I'm Ozy.

I'm twenty years old, queer, poly, crazy, white, Floridian, an atheist, a utilitarian, and a giant geek. I'm double-majoring in sociology and psychology; my other interests range from classical languages (although I am far from fluent) to guitar (although I suck at it) to Neil Gaiman (I... can't think of a self-deprecating thing to say about my interest in Neil Gaiman). I use zie/zir pronouns, because I identify outside the gender binary; I realize they're clumsy, but English's lack of a good gender-neutral pronoun is not my fault. :)

One of my big interests is the intersection between rationality and social justice. I do think that a lot of the -isms (racism, sexism, ableism, etc.) are rooted in cognitive biases, and that we're not going to be able to eliminate them unless we understand what quirks in the human mind cause them. I blog about masculism (it is like feminism! Except for dudes!) at No Seriously What About Teh Menz; right now it's kind of full of people talking about Nice-Guy-ism, but normally we have a much more diverse front page. I believe that several of the people here read us (hi Nancy! hi Doug! hi Hugh, I like you, when you say I'm wrong you use citations!).

I've lurked here for more than a year; I got here from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, just like everyone else. I've made my way through a lot of the Sequences, but need to set aside some time to read through all of them. I don't know much about philosophy, math, science, or computers, so I imagine I will be lurking here a lot. :)

Comment author: windmil 28 December 2011 03:59:55AM 0 points [-]

The only LWer that I've noticed was from Florida! (Of course, people don't too frequently pepper their posts with particulars of their placement.)

Comment author: _ozymandias 28 December 2011 05:21:36AM 1 point [-]

Where are you? I'm in Fort Lauderdale and the Tampa area. If we're near each other maybe we could arrange one of those meetup thingies...

Comment author: windmil 28 December 2011 01:36:44PM 0 points [-]

That could be cool if we ever got around to it. I'm usually in either Daytona Beach or Gainesville, not that it's too big of a state to drive across... at least width-wise.

Comment author: [deleted] 31 December 2011 09:16:30PM 1 point [-]

Hi ozy!

I am really happy to see you on here! I enjoy your blog.

This map shows that as of last week-ish there were at least four Floridians on LW. Unfortunately, their identity is unknown, and you guys seem to be spread out. But if you post a meetup, you can see who responds. Good luck!

Comment author: HughRistik 28 December 2011 10:08:16AM 0 points [-]

Hi Ozy!

Comment author: MileyCyrus 29 December 2011 03:50:29AM 4 points [-]

Her blog is good. Instead of blindly cheering for a side in the feminism vs men's-rights football game, Ozymandias actually tries to understand the problem and recommend workable solutions.

Comment author: _ozymandias 29 December 2011 04:20:52AM 4 points [-]

Thank you very much, Miley! I tend to view feminism and men's rights as being inherently complementary: in general, if we make women more free of oppressive gender roles, we will tend to make men more free of oppressive gender roles, and vice versa. However, in the great football game of feminists and men's rights advocates, I'm pretty much on Team Feminism, which is why I get so upset when it's clearly doing things wrong.

Also, my pronoun is zie, please. :)

Comment author: MileyCyrus 29 December 2011 04:34:34AM *  1 point [-]

However, in the great football game of feminists and men's rights advocates, I'm pretty much on Team Feminism, which is why I get so upset when it's clearly doing things wrong.

What I meant is that you actually demand results from your team, instead of giving them a free pass just because they have a certain label.

Comment author: _ozymandias 29 December 2011 04:59:01AM 0 points [-]

Ah, thank you. I misunderstood. :) I've had a few problems with people being confused about why my blog uses so much feminist dogma if it's a men's rights blog, so I'm hyper-sensitive about being mistaken for a non-feminist.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 29 December 2011 05:26:55AM 2 points [-]

Hi, Ozy!

I've enjoyed your writing at No Seriously What About Teh Menz; so it's good to see you here.

Comment author: CronoDAS 30 December 2011 03:37:35AM 0 points [-]

Hi Ozy! (It's Doug.) Glad to see you decided to stop lurking and join in!

Comment author: Gob_Bluth 27 December 2011 05:57:37PM 7 points [-]

Hello, I'm a high school senior who discovered this site somewhere on reddit and deeply enjoyed this article (http://yudkowsky.net/rational/the-simple-truth) and decided to check out more posts. I'm planning on studying engineering in college but I try to have a well-rounded knowledge on a myriad of subjects apart from math and science. The content here is very enticing and intellectually stimulating, and I will probably frequent this site in the future.

Comment author: KPier 27 December 2011 06:45:06PM 1 point [-]

Welcome to LessWrong! There's an email list and occasional online meetups for LessWrong teenagers; you can join here..

Comment author: sabre51 27 December 2011 08:16:27PM 6 points [-]

I've posted a few rationality quotes, so it sounds like time to introduce myself. I'm a 22 year old software project manager from Wisconsin, been reading LW since June or so when MOR was really going strong.

I've been a very rational thinker for my whole life, in terms of explicitly looking for evidence/feedback and updating behaviors and beliefs, but only began thinking about it formally recently. I was raised Christian, and I consider my current state the result of a slow process of resolving dissonance based on contradictions or insufficient/contrary evidence. I'm most interested in theory of government and achieving best results given the rather unreliable ability of voters to predict or understand outcomes of different policies.

I also think, though, that ethics is just as important as rationality- choosing the correct goals is just as necessary as succeeding towards those goals. I've seen appreciation of this within LW that, for me, really sets it apart, so I hope I can make a larger contribution. As someone once said, the choice between Good and Evil is not about saying one or the other, but about deciding which is which.

Comment author: orthonormal 28 December 2011 01:55:25AM 2 points [-]

Welcome! If you're near Madison, there's a regular meetup there (on Mondays) which I highly recommend.

As someone once said, the choice between Good and Evil is not about saying one or the other, but about deciding which is which.

Is that from The Sword of Good, or another source?

Comment author: Laur 28 December 2011 12:30:28AM 6 points [-]

Hi, I'm Laur, I'm in my mid-thirties (wow, when did that happen?), a software developer from Romania, currently living in the Netherlands. I found this site, as many others, via MoR, and I've been lurking for a while now - I'm subscribed to the RSS feed and slowly working my way through the sequences.

When young (and arguably foolish), I've made a few "follow your heart' kind of decisions that resulted in significant damage to my personal life, finances and career. For the past seven years I've been working my way out of that hole mainly by analysing and double-checking my personal choices in a rational way and it has paid off in a big way. I learned that the heart does not think, and the first instinct is good for keeping you out of the reach of lions, but worthless when contemplating a complicated problem with far-reaching consequences.

I personally believe in a humanist approach to rationality, where people are taught, helped and guided along this path. I'd rather live in a world where most people are rational most of the time than in one where some people are rational all of the time. Working towards that end, I've recommended LW (and MoR) to most people I know.

Comment author: DasAllFolks 28 December 2011 02:23:08AM 5 points [-]

Hi all,

I'm a 23 year old male living just outside of Philadelphia, PA, and this is my first post to LessWrong after having discovered the site through HPMoR the Summer of 2010. I have been reading through the Sequences independently for the past year and a half.

To make a long story short, I came to consider myself an aspiring rationalist after I used rational methods to successfully diagnose myself with Tourette Syndrome this past May (confirmed by a neurologist) after my symptoms, which I had exhibited since age three and a half, had been missed or misdiagnosed by my family and medical professionals alike for 20 years. Successfully hacking such an insidious threat within my own mind inspired me to investigate how else rationality might enable me to optimize both my own life and the world, hence my increasing participation on this site.

I am presently doing some independent consulting work while I await audition results from graduate programs in Opera; if I do not gain acceptance to any program which I consider to be worth the time and money, I plan to return to school in the Fall to retrain in Physics (my original major was in Electrical & Computer Engineering and I worked as a software engineer for roughly a year, but my study of rational methods allowed me to realize, upon careful reflection, that my path to this field was quite haphazard and largely influenced by sunk costs. Armed with a better-trained brain, I intend to do better than this going forward).

LessWrong-related topics which interest me heavily (although I still consider myself a fledgling learner in nearly all of these) include Transhumanism and indefinite life extension, mind/body hacking for optimal health and self-improvement, methods for achieving optimal happiness, seasteading, and, as my experience with Tourette Syndrome might suggest, evolutionary psychology and using rational methods to overcome severe genetic and learned biases. I would be particular eager to write an article analyzing the wide prevalence of neurological disorders such as Tourette Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and ADHD in the general population through the lens of evolutionary psychology once my experience with the Sequences is somewhat more comprehensive.

Other personal interests include music (Classical voice, trumpet, piano, and conducting to varying degrees, with an eye to learning composition), entertainment technology/theme parks, theatre, physics, reading, writing, film, computer science (though not to the level of depth of many on this site), economics, travel, entrepreneurship, and a slew of other topics.

I would be particularly eager to create a regularly scheduled LessWrong meetup in Philadelphia or the Philadelphia suburbs, as it appears that the Philadelphia chapter has lain dormant for more than a year now. Please feel free to comment on this post if you are in the Philadelphia area and would be interested in doing this; I will happily take care of the scheduling logistics if it helps this group become a regular fixture!

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 December 2011 02:45:06AM 0 points [-]

I live in Philadelphia and I'm interested in meet-ups.

Comment author: loxfordian 28 December 2011 04:10:26AM 0 points [-]

I live right outside Philly and would be interested in meet-ups too!

Comment author: DasAllFolks 29 December 2011 04:47:19AM 1 point [-]

I'm happy to hear it! I'll be announcing a Philadelphia meetup shortly; I hope to see you on the comment thread!

Comment author: DasAllFolks 29 December 2011 05:25:16AM 1 point [-]
Comment author: DasAllFolks 29 December 2011 04:46:51AM 0 points [-]

I'm happy to hear it, Nancy. I'll be announcing a Philadelphia meetup shortly; I hope to see you on the comment thread!

Comment author: DasAllFolks 29 December 2011 05:25:08AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: coltw 29 December 2011 06:38:03AM 5 points [-]

Hey, okay, so, I'm Colt. 20, white, male, pansexual, poly, Oklahoma. What a mix, right? I'm a sophomore in college majoring in Computer Engineering and minoring in Cognitive Science, both of which are very interesting to me. I grew up with computers and read a lot of sci-fi when I was younger (and still do) which I attribute to making me who I am today. A lot of Cory Doctorow's work, along with Time Enough for Love by Heinlein and Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep are some of my favorites. I found HPMoR a while back and eventually found my way here, maybe last summer or so. I've been reading the sequences voraciously, and really need to start applying some of it to my life. :P

Like I said, I like computers, and I'm really interested in the mind and technology and programming. I'd like to work with new challenges and maybe on some AI (with enough mathematical rigor, of course) when I get out of college, but time will tell.

Comment author: William_Kasper 29 December 2011 01:41:51PM *  3 points [-]

Hello. I'm William. I am a thirty year-old undergraduate student in the University of Wisconsin--Madison's Industrial and Systems Engineering department, with some additional study in Computer Science.

The study of logic and rational thought have always been hobbies of mine. My interest in mathematical optimization techniques has also been developing for decades, but this interest in these dark arts started taking steroids when I realized simple ways to apply the techniques to video games and Poker.

I originally stumbled upon this site two years ago, while Google searching various paradoxes. The Allais Paradox was the first post that I read here. I was outraged upon reading it. I checked a few other sources to see what they had to say about Allais. The worst was a video posted by some ponytail-having MBA, because of his poor choice of words in describing the paradox (e.g. "wrong" instead of "inconsistent").

I have reread the Allais post about a dozen times since then. It no longer outrages me.

The interesting subject matter brought me here originally.

The intuitive and elegant explanations of the subject matter brought me back.

The shockingly high level of class and quality in comments and discussion has made this site one of my favorites.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 December 2011 11:16:33PM *  2 points [-]

Less Wrongcomments are threadedfor

If you've come to Less Wrong todiscuss a particular topic,

we havemeetupsin

Another example of this bug.

Edit: Apparently this is a known problem.

Comment author: [deleted] 30 December 2011 08:11:32PM *  11 points [-]

Hello LW community, my name is Karl, but please call me MHD for short; here's a lot of sentences beginning with "I..." :

I am a 19 year old, slightly gifted individual, male of gender and psyche, bi, hard to define my preferred relationship structure; honestly my gonads and sexual preference are mostly irrelevant here.

I came here by way of HPMoR and was pressed to do some serious reading by my good friend, known around here as Armok_GoB.

I have at time of writing read sequences MaT and MAtMQ along with some non-structured link-walking, looking to read Reductionism next. My attitude is so far positive, but I read it with a healthy dose of sceptic afterthought and note-taking to verify that it really does make sense. You see, my native language is not English, and I have read a study that one is more gullible when communicating in a non-native language.

My mind is built for logical thinking and I have a knack for mathematics, physics and language. I know approx. 12 turing complete programming languages (C likes, LISPs, ML family, SmallTalk-esque, Assembly) reasonably well. I am looking into Tensors, Bayesian probability, formal logic, type theory, quantum physics, relativity, human psychology, Lojban and some other stuff.

Armok tells me that I am very susceptible to basilisk material; I one-box (eff me! bad error to switch those around, sorry), and I tend to fall for the Planning Fallacy and the Transparency-thingey. I am probably genetically predisposed to mild mental illness and I know from personal experience how bad a Death Spiral can really get.

I am a devoted materialist, I hate not understanding things (or at least knowing how to learn how it works), but I tend not to go into too much depth with everything; I know a bit of many topics.

I am not a fan of cryonics because I know that freezing, regardless of method, is a very good way to destroy tissue; and I would like to see some more evidence towards what actually constitutes memory and other brain-related stuff, so as to make sure the freezing method doesn't wreck it, before I buy into it.

I do some creative writing and I like sci-fi. I lack time to read as well as a book budget, another point which Armok has called me out on.

I think that's about what's relevant. Happy New Year LW!

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 30 December 2011 10:55:55PM 19 points [-]

I am not a fan of cryonics because I know that freezing, regardless of method, is a very good way to destroy tissue

Cryonics uses vitrification, which protects from the tissue-destroying crystal formation.
http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/vitrification.html

Comment author: Vaniver 30 December 2011 11:28:25PM 4 points [-]

Welcome!

You see, my native language is not English, and I have read a study that one is more gullible when communicating in a non-native language

Was the study in a non-native language? ;)

Comment author: [deleted] 31 December 2011 02:02:09AM 1 point [-]

I actually don't remember; let me consult my sources for a spell.

Comment author: wedrifid 31 December 2011 12:11:39AM *  6 points [-]

I am not a fan of cryonics because I know that freezing, regardless of method, is a very good way to destroy tissue; and I would like to see some more evidence towards what actually constitutes memory and other brain-related stuff, so as to make sure the freezing method doesn't wreck it, before I buy into it.

Oh oh. That argument was just removed. Now what are you going to do? You can make up a new one to support your existing conclusion or you could make up a new conclusion based on what you know.

Welcome to lesswrong.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 31 December 2011 12:42:32AM 8 points [-]

This seems needlessly confrontational, especially as a comment to a newcomer.

Comment author: wedrifid 31 December 2011 01:45:40AM 2 points [-]

This seems needlessly confrontational, especially as a comment to a newcomer.

That would seem to be in the eye of the beholder. I saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the most basic principle of lesswrong and instantly raise his standing in the tribe and reputation for sanity.

I reject your accusation!

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 31 December 2011 06:34:21AM 3 points [-]

My apologies for the misinterpretation, then.

Comment author: [deleted] 31 December 2011 01:46:32AM *  4 points [-]

All right, I'll play ball. If my devoting my career to AI research fails to make FAI, sure, I'll buy into cryonics.

Right now I am 19 years old, poor as dirt, lives with my parents, healthy lifestyle, careful to the point of paranoia; show me a cryonics establishment in Denmark and I will reserve a space when I have the funding. (the "show me" is a rethoric, I intend to find out myself)

I am generally optimistic with regards to FAI, and I am no strong Bayesian at all. You have a point, yeah, plain as day.

And thank you Kaj_Sotala, for taking up on this, frankly not at all "fun" or "inviting" and, yes, frankly quite "needlessly confrontational," yet still true counterargument.

wedrifid; there is a time to be direct and insulting in a playful kind of way. You need to learn when that time is.

ETA: After a brief lookup of the term "Vitrification" i find the term "Toxicity" to feature, along with "Optimistic of the future." I am not sure what to think here, compelling arguments can be made for each.

Comment author: wedrifid 31 December 2011 01:49:13AM 0 points [-]

frankly quite "needlessly confrontational," yet still true counterargument.

I didn't make a counterargument of any kind.

Comment author: [deleted] 31 December 2011 01:59:12AM *  12 points [-]

Sorry, you pointed out a counterargument made by Vladimir_Nesov, in a confrontational manner.

Also, thank your for reminding me that I have to sharpen my posting abilities.

Vladimir Nesov made a very true counterargument, you endorsed it to test my ability to change my standpoint. Nothing wrong with that; and lo and behold, I actually have. Congratulations, you and Vladimir_Nesov both get an upvote from the new guy.

Comment author: wedrifid 31 December 2011 02:33:07AM 6 points [-]

Congratulations, you and Vladimir_Nesov both get an upvote from the new guy.

Thankyou! Respond positively and thinking clearly despite (being primed to) consider an interaction to be a confrontation is potentially even more valuable trait to signal than ability to update freely. A valuable newcomer indeed!

Comment author: jsteinhardt 31 December 2011 12:32:30AM 1 point [-]

My attitude is so far positive, but I read it with a healthy dose of sceptic afterthought and note-taking to verify that it really does make sense. You see, my native language is not English, and I have read a study that one is more gullible when communicating in a non-native language.

Kudos for that. Sceptic afterthought is always good if you have the time to devote to it.

Comment author: Andrew-Psyches 31 December 2011 12:18:17AM 6 points [-]

Hi

I'm Andrew, a 41 year old actuary, living in Chicago (and Sao Paulo in the summers). I came to rationality under the influence of Ayn Rand and the writing of Richard Dawkins but actually found the site after being sent a link by my sister. I am not a computer programmer at all, but read extensively on subjects like behavioral psychology, physics, genetics, evolution, and anything interesting related to real science. I am trying to apply the lessons from behavioral psychology and many other fields (including game theory, space design, use of incentives and others) to the problem of getting people healthy. In that sense, I describe myself as a wellness actuary.

I'm an atheist and I'm looking forward to learning more by reading the posts on this blog and getting to know the interesting minds that seem to populate this community.

Andrew

Comment author: FeatherlessBiped 31 December 2011 12:55:49AM 5 points [-]

(Reposted from the wrong thread, per Kutta's suggestion)

If by "rationalist", the LW community means someone who believes it is possible and desirable to make at least the most important judgements solely by the use of reason operating on empirically demonstrable facts, then I am an ex-rationalist. My "intellectual stew" had simmered into it several forms of formal logic, applied math, and seasoned with a BS in Computer Science at age 23.

By age 28 or so, I concluded that most of the really important things in life were not amenable to this approach, and that the type of thinking I had learned was useful for earning a living, but was woefully inadequate for other purposes.

At age 50, I am still refining the way I think. I come to LW to lurk, learn, and (occasionally) quibble.

Comment author: ericyu3 31 December 2011 02:59:04AM *  4 points [-]

Hi! I'm Eric, a freshman at UC Berkeley. I've been lurking on Overcoming Bias/Less Wrong for a long time.

I had been reading OB before LW existed; I don't even remember when I started reading OB (maybe even before high school!). It's too long ago for me to remember clearly, but I think I found OB while I was reading about transhumanism, which I was very interested in. I still agree with the ideas of transhumanism, and I guess I would still identify myself as a transhumanist, but I don't actively read about it much anymore. I read LW less than I used to, but I'm starting to read it more now; LW and OB are basically the only transhumanist-related blogs that I still read.

I guess I like this site because I like things that are interesting and make me think; there are a lot of good and interesting ideas floating around here, and the quality of the posts and comments is excellent. I don't think I've encountered a single other site with such good comments. I like to say that I'm too curious and have too many interests; I spend a lot of time reading about things that interest me and I don't know what I want to do.

Why am I introducing myself and no longer lurking after all these years? I used to be really bad at expressing myself in writing: I wrote slowly and badly, and reading my old blog comments makes me cringe. I was good at reading, and at producing grammatically correct sentences, but I was terrible at actually using written language to get my ideas across. For example, just two years ago (in 11th grade), I scored 80/80 on the Writing Multiple Choice section of the SAT, but only 7/12 on the essay! Now, though, I find that I can write just fine (and I have no idea why this suddenly happened). So I'm finally introducing myself because I can finally write decent posts and comments :)

A quick question for more experienced LW commenters: I posted a comment (http://lesswrong.com/lw/8nr/intuitive_explanation_of_solomonoff_induction/5k5b) on an old, non-promoted post, and it didn't show up in the recent comments section. As a result, no one seems to have even seen it, and I don't know whether my addition was useful or not. How can I make these kinds of contributions visible in the future?

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 31 December 2011 04:02:40AM *  5 points [-]

I posted a comment (http://lesswrong.com/lw/8nr/intuitive_explanation_of_solomonoff_induction/5k5b) on an old, non-promoted post, and it didn't show up in the recent comments section

It's currently non-intuitive, but the "recent comments" for the main section appear only to those who've selected to see the main section, and the "recent comments" for the discussion appear only to those who've selected the discussion. This is one of the silliest aspects of this site's design.

Comment author: [deleted] 31 December 2011 11:54:32PM 1 point [-]

It's currently non-intuitive, but the "recent comments" for the main section appear only to those who've selected to see the main section, and the "recent comments" for the discussion appear only to those who've selected the discussion.

Oh wow! I have been on this site for almost 2 months and have not realized this until you commented on it. Thanks for mentioning!

(Also, yes, this is a very counter-intuitive, and difficult interface feature that should be changed)

Comment author: Rukiedor 31 December 2011 06:30:38AM 5 points [-]

Hello, I've been lurking around Less Wrong for several months, mostly reading through the sequences. I especially enjoyed the ones on free will and happiness theory.

I finally created an account a week or so ago so that I could express interest in a Salt Lake City meetup. And now here I am introducing myself.

I’m a thirty year old white male living in Salt Lake City. I write point of sale software by day, and video games by night.

I think my primary motivation into rationality was my upbringing. I was raised in a very religious, and rather unhealthy home. That coupled with the facts that the LDS culture isn’t particularly friendly to nerds, and that I seemed to believe in a different God than most of my fellow churchgoers led to me being told all the time that I was wrong. So, the only way to ever be right was to painstakingly trace my beliefs back to original assumptions that anyone would agree with.

Less Wrong is actually the first source I’ve found on rational thinking, so my self taught methods seem a bit sloppy next to the elegance of the thinking that goes on here.

My big interest, the thing that drives me, is art. You know the feeling you get when you hear an amazing piece of music? Or see a fantastic movie? Or play an incredible game? I want to understand that, I want to know what it does to your brain, and how I could reproduce it.

Anyway, I look forward to being a part of the community. I probably won’t comment much unfortunately, still have some biases that tend to get in the way of that, but I’ll be here lurking, and watching.

Comment author: lessdazed 31 December 2011 10:18:34AM 2 points [-]

art

Two links containing many more links, to give you a tab explosion.

Comment author: Rukiedor 31 December 2011 05:39:10PM 0 points [-]

Thank you, that's going to give me a lot to go through and process. Very interesting looking stuff.

Comment author: glennonymous 31 December 2011 12:33:35PM 8 points [-]

Hi all,

My name is Glenn Thomas Davis. I am a 48-year old male living in Warren, NJ with my wife and 5-year old daughter. I was born and raised in Ketchikan, Alaska. I am a creative director for a pharmaceutical marketing agency. I have been interested in science and skepticism since reading Godel, Escher, Bach in my 20's, but became a really serious skeptic and atheist after I started listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast in 2005ish. I beacame a fan of Eliezer and the Singularity Institute after seeing him speak on Bloggingheads 3 years ago, and I recently subscribed to the Overcoming Bias NYC listserve.

Most of my online friends are from the San Francisco Bay Area where I lived for many years. Not exactly the world's most rational bunch, and they don't often appreciate my atheist rants. I have been delaying introducing myself here because I am resistant to putting in the effort and time to become a known presence from the ground up, or even to write a proper introductory post. However, it recently occurred to me I could just share pieces of writing I've already done for other, less like-minded groups. Here's one:

--

(In response to an otherwise rational person who trotted out the following canard in a post about religion)

None of this proves there is no soul (you can't prove a negative).

The statement "you can't prove a negative" is meaningless. Or you could say that it is true in a technical, superficial way, but useless.

This is because your statement applies equally well to ALL nonsensical claims. After all, I can't prove Santa Claus doesn't exist. True, we could fly to the North Pole right now and demonstrate there is no Santa Claus there, but you could always argue that his workshop is invisible. Or that Santa Claus is real, but his workshop is in an undisclosed chicken coop in Jamaica. Or... ?

Saying "you can't prove a negative" perpetuates a pernicious distortion, which is that science is about the black-and-white notion of proving and disproving things. As you know, that is NOT what science is about. Science is about reducing our level of uncertainty about how well our beliefs map onto reality. Looking at it this way gives us a useful way to address the question of whether Santa Claus exists.

To reduce our uncertainty about the existence of Santa Claus, we can try to find alternative explanations for the phenomena that are supposed to be explained by the existence of Santa Claus. Which of these claims is more likely to be true?

  1. There is a real Santa Claus who travels on a flying sled and delivers presents to children everywhere each Christmas Eve.

  2. Santa Claus is a fictional character. Children who receive Christmas presents usually receive them from their parents and relatives, who find it useful to lie to them sometimes about the existence of Santa Claus.

I can't completely prove or disprove either of these claims any more than I can prove or disprove the existence of any other supernatural character, but lines of evidence could be marshaled that would establish that 2 is more likely to be true than 1, beyond a reasonable doubt.

This applies equally well to the question of the existence of gods and ghosts:

  1. Human consciousness resides in a disembodied energy field, called a 'soul', that persists after death.

  2. Human consciousness resides in human brains, and perishes when a person's brain stops working, i.e. at death. The idea of a 'soul' is a myth left over from the days when humans lacked a detailed understanding of the way mental processes work.

The same thing I said WRT to the existence of Santa Claus applies to these two claims. I cannot prove or disprove either claim, but I can marshal a great deal of evidence for scenario 2, and little or no good evidence for scenario 1. Hence 2 is correct beyond a reasonable doubt, by which I mean beyond the doubt of a person who applies the same rules of evidence and logic to this question he applies to any question in which he has no investment in the outcome.

The existence of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny is thus on EXACTLY the same footing as the existence of gods or ghosts of any variety. A person who takes action on the premise that there are invisible ghosts that will help or hinder them is in the same position as the person who doesn't buy any presents for their children, on the basis that their children have been good this year, surely Santa Claus will arrive to deliver presents under the tree on Christmas morning...

I respectfully urge you to therefore stop saying "you can't prove a negative," as if this somehow puts the existence of gods and ghosts in a special category where it isn't subject to the same rules of evidence to which we all subject all the other claims people make, every day.

--

Nice to meet you all --Glenn Thomas Davis

Comment author: Ezekiel 01 January 2012 10:29:19AM 0 points [-]

Well-put. Although, strictly speaking, you can prove a negative. Given the basic axioms of number theory, the statement ~0=S0 (zero does not equal one) is provable.

Comment author: glennonymous 01 January 2012 12:22:50PM 0 points [-]

Great point, Ezekiel, thanks.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 07:55:21AM *  20 points [-]

Greets, all!

I'm a walking stereotype of a LessWrong reader:

I'm a second-year undergraduate student at a decent public university, double majoring in math and computer science and compensating for the relatively unchallenging material even at the graduate level by taking 2-3x the typical workload; this is allowed by my specific college, which is a fantastic program I'd strongly recommend to high school students who happen to be reading this. (I'll happily go in to more depth if for anyone even slightly interested.)

I'm white, male, atheist, libertarian. I intend to sign up for cryonics once I have a job, because I am having tons of fun and want to continue to do so.

I've been reading LessWrong for three or so years, and have by now read all of the sequences and nearly all of the miscellaneous posts, as well as the most highly-rated discussion threads. I've also read and loved MoR. I could not, at this point, tell you how I found either of them.

I read this site, and study rationality, because I want to win.

I hold almost no views which would be notably controversial with the mainstream here, except perhaps these, presented with the hope of inspiring discussion:

  • Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.
  • Discrimination against youths aged 13 and above out to be viewed, in a reasonable society, in the same light as racism. Reason: broadly, discrimination based on group membership should be frowned upon if the variance within a group dominates the variance between groups. In such cases group membership is a bad predictor and is thus very unfair to individuals. Given this, and on the assumption that variance within the group of 13- to 21-year-olds dominates the variance between the groups of 13- to 21-year-olds and over-21's, we ought not to discriminate against youths.

(edit: formatting)

ETA: This is the first LW discussion I've participated in, so I hope you'll forgive my using this space to ask about the conventions of the community broadly. If you look below, a lot of my comments are getting voted down. For statements of opinion, this I understand, at least if the convention is "vote down things you disagree with" as opposed to "vote down things which don't contribute to the discussion". But why are my questions voted down? This one, in particular:

I'm curious now, though. What do you think defines an agent as a person, for the moral calculus? How is it that ten-month-old babies meet this definition? Do, say, pigs also meet this definition?

which as I type this is at -1.

Please interpret this as an honest question about community standards, not an implicit rebuke or anything like that.

Comment author: Solvent 01 January 2012 08:07:15AM 2 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

You're not the first one to argue this on LW. I'll find you the link in a second. Why can't sadists kill their babies? Why ten months, precisely? More importantly, why can't we kill babies?

Why do you particularly bring up the "discrimination against youth" thing?

But yeah, welcome to LW and all that.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 08:16:16AM 6 points [-]

Why can't sadists kill their babies?

If anything it would seem more appropriate to prevent sadists from torturing their babies (including before and during the murder).

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:32:04AM 4 points [-]

No, it's an opinion I've seen around, certainly, but it's definitely not "mainstream".

Sadists can't kill their children (or rather, you can't kill your children out of sadism) for the same reason they can't torture pigs: "human deriving pleasure from bacon" is held to trump "pig desire to continue to live", but that still trumps "human deriving pleasure from causing pain"; and it indicates there's something wrong with you.

The ten month line is arbitrary, but picked because you would have a very hard time making a reasonable case that a baby younger than that is already a person.

I'm not sure what you mean by "why can't we kill babies". Why is it illegal in the real world? I'm sure you can write out as good an answer to that as I.

The bit about discrimination against youths is because I was having a conversation about it a few days ago, prompted by an aside in a a short story I was reading. It's not a common belief, and one I've seen only rarely espoused on LW. The story is "The Right Book", specifically, the line being

He was reminded of all those terrible little signs that said "No more than two school kids in the shop at any one time." Fancy that -- imagine if it said "No more than two women in the shop" or "No more than two Asians in the shop" -- kids were the last group you could treat like second class citizens without being called a bigot.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 08:07:29AM *  6 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

They're just p-zombies pretending to be people. They only get their soul at 10 months and thereafter are able to detect qualia.

I would vote against this law. I'd vote with guns if necessary. Reason: I like babies. Tiny humans are cute and haven't even done anything to deserve death yet (or indicate that they aren't valuable instances of human). I'd prefer you went around murdering adults (adults being the group with the economic, physical and political power to organize defense.)

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:21:45AM *  9 points [-]

If they're p-zombies, they're doing a terrible job of it. Extremely young children are lacking basically all of the traits I'd want a "person" to have.

Tiny kittens are also cute and haven't even done anything to death yet. But if you accidentally lock one in a car and it suffocates, that's merely unfortunate, and should probably not be a crime. The same is true for infants and all other non-person life. If you kill a kitten for some reason other than sadism, well, it's unfortunate that you felt that was necessary, but again, they're not people.

Would you really prefer it to be illegal to murder adults than to murder ten-month-old children? Ten-month-old children can be replaced in a mere twenty months. It takes forty one years to make a new forty-year-old.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 08:46:42AM *  1 point [-]

Would you really prefer it to be legal to murder adults than to murder ten-month-old children?

Yes. The explanation given was significant.

Ten-month-old children can be replaced in a mere twenty months. It takes forty one years to make a new forty-year-old.

It takes a 110 years to make a 110 year old . In most cases I'd prefer to keep a 30 year old than either of them. More to the point I don't intrinsically value creating more humans. The replacement cost of a dead human isn't anything to do with the moral aversion I have to murder.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:09:07AM 6 points [-]

Yes. The explanation given was significant.

I read your explanation. I'm just somewhat incredulous that this could be your actual belief. Roosters are a lot better prepared to defend themselves than, say, pigs. Is this a good reason to prefer it to be legal to kill roosters than pigs? Not in light of the fact that pigs are vastly more intelligent, capable of abstract reasoning and personality, etc.

The replacement cost of a dead human isn't anything to do with the moral aversion I have to murder.

The moral aversion I have to murder is twofold, roughly: harm to a person, and harm to society. Babies aren't people by any measure I can see, so the first doesn't apply. The second is where replacement cost comes in.

Comment author: Estarlio 01 January 2012 01:16:39PM 1 point [-]

Babies aren't people by any measure I can see

Do you really think it's wise to have a precedent that allows agents of Type X to go around killing off all of the !X group ? Doesn't bode well if people end up with a really sharp intelligence gradient.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 07:01:39PM *  8 points [-]

We already have a bunch of those precedents, depending on how you look at it. You're more than free to go around killing ants. No one is going to care. You can even, depending on zoning laws, raise pigs and then slaughter them for their meat. The reason that this is just not a problem in the eyes of the law is that pigs aren't people.

If you look at it another way, we have exactly one precedent: It's generally morally OK to kill members of the !X group if and only if that group consists of agents which are not people.

ETA: I hate that I have to say this, but can people respond instead of just downvoting? I'm honestly curious as to why this particular post is controversial - or have I missed something?

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 10:03:16AM *  1 point [-]

Extremely young children are lacking basically all of the traits I'd want a "person" to have.

Most adults don't have traits I'd want a "person" to have. At least with babies there is a chance they'll turn out as worthwhile people.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 10:04:13AM *  1 point [-]

Tiny kittens are also cute and haven't even done anything to death yet. But if you accidentally lock one in a car and it suffocates, that's merely unfortunate, and should probably not be a crime. The same is true for infants and all other non-person life. If you kill a kitten for some reason other than sadism, well, it's unfortunate that you felt that was necessary, but again, they're not people.

Yeah, I get it, you don't consider babies people and I do. So pretty much we just throw down (ie. trying to reason each other into having the same values as ourselves would be pointless). You vote for baby killing, I vote against it. If there is a war of annihilation and I'm forced to choose sides between the baby killers and the non-baby killers and they seem evenly matched then I choose the non-baby killers side and go kill all the baby killers. If I somehow have the option to exclude all consideration of your preferences from the optimisation function of an FAI then I take it. Just a plain ol' conflict of terminal values.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 10:17:53AM *  0 points [-]

Oh, and to clarify the extent of my disagreement: When I say "You vote for baby killing, I vote against it" that assumes I don't live in some backwards country without compulsory voting. If voting is optional then I'm staying home. Other people killing babies is not my problem - because I don't have the power to stop a mob of humans from killing babies and I'm not interested in making the token gesture.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 07:03:42PM 6 points [-]

I'm curious now, though. What do you think defines an agent as a person, for the moral calculus? How is it that ten-month-old babies meet this definition? Do, say, pigs also meet this definition?

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 07:52:41PM 1 point [-]

Do, say, pigs also meet this definition?

If babies were made of bacon then I'd have to rerun the moral calculus all over again! ;)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 08:04:08PM 4 points [-]

Well, they are made of eggs. Actual eggs and counterfactual bacon are an important part of this nutritious breakfast.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 01 January 2012 08:32:00AM 5 points [-]

Why is sadism worse than indifference? Are we punishing people for their mental states?

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:33:43AM 1 point [-]

We're punishing people for their motives, which seems like a reasonable thing to do.

Comment author: Solvent 01 January 2012 08:35:18AM *  3 points [-]

Why does that seem like a reasonable thing to do? Isn't that just an incentive to lie about motives?

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:40:49AM 3 points [-]

Of course it's an incentive to lie about motives, but some inferences can be made.

I'm sure this discussion has been had on LW before, but there's a few reasons motives are important in considering what should be punished. In particular:

  • We accept as given that infanticide is something broadly to be discouraged. So we should only be accepting sufficiently good excuses.

  • Allowing sadists to kill their babies creates incentive to produce babies for the sole purpose of killing them, which is a behavior which is long-run going to be very damaging to society.

Comment author: Solvent 01 January 2012 08:49:40AM 1 point [-]

I don't understand your reasoning for either of those dot points.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:02:07AM 5 points [-]

Let me try again, then.

  • We want to discourage infanticide. Say you kill your baby because, say, you unexpectedly found yourself unable to support it but were familiar with the foster care system and didn't want any more people to go through that than necessary. That's unfortunate, but that's an excuse we can accept. By accepting this excuse we've basically committed to accepting all excuses which are equally good. But there's no way for you to exploit this commitment for your own benefit, and so we're OK making this commitment. The same could not be said to a commitment to accepting sadism as a reason to kill your children.

  • This point is less important. The idea is that a woman repeatedly getting pregnant and then killing the child is putting a lot of strain on society, both in terms of resources and in terms of comfort. We allow a lot of privileges for pregnant women and new mothers, with the expectation that they're trying to bring new people into society, something we encourage. If you're killing your kid out of sadism, you're not doing this, and society will have to adjust how all pregnant women are treated.

Comment author: soreff 01 January 2012 03:16:47PM *  4 points [-]

The idea is that a woman repeatedly getting pregnant and then killing the child is putting a lot of strain on society, both in terms of resources and in terms of comfort. We allow a lot of privileges for pregnant women and new mothers, with the expectation that they're trying to bring new people into society, something we encourage.

I'd think that that the bulk of the resource cost of a newborn is the physiological cost (and medical risks) the mother endured during pregnancy. The general societal cost seems small in comparison.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 03:21:29PM 1 point [-]

Sure, that seems true. Note that Bakkot didn't say that the costs to everyone else outweighed the costs to the mother, merely that the costs to everyone else were also substantial.

Comment author: Vaniver 01 January 2012 10:16:18AM *  0 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

What's your discount rate?

(That is, if I offered you $100 now, or $X a year from now, what is the lowest value of X that would make you choose the latter option?)

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 06:36:21PM *  1 point [-]

Assuming I have a good expectation that you're equally likely to deliver in each scenario, my discount rate is about 1.3, I think. (That is, $X = $130.) (Edit: On consideration, it's closer to 2.0 in light of the fact that I expect to have significantly more money next year than this year (for whatever value of "this year" we're using), so the marginal utility of each dollar goes down, etc. It would be 1.3 or so if I expected to have the same amount of money next year as this year; 1.3 is the more relevant value.)

I'm guessing I know what point you're trying to make here, but let me go ahead and say that most of the reason murder in general ought to be illegal is because you're killing a person. Babies probably will be people, but they're not yet; you're not doing harm to a person by infanticide any more than you are by using contraception.

Comment author: occlude 01 January 2012 11:12:51AM *  22 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

I would recommend against expressing this opinion in your OKCupid profile.

Comment author: Emile 01 January 2012 12:43:09PM 9 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

Arbitrary limits like "ten months" don't make for good rules - especially when there's a natural limit that's much more prominent: childbirth.

What exactly counts as "people" is a matter of convention; it's best to settle on edges that are as crisp as possible, to minimize potential disagreement and conflict.

Also "any reason other than sadism", eh? Like "the dog was hungry" would be okay?

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 01:20:57PM *  2 points [-]

EDIT: in the ensuing discussion, we came to an agreement that the psychopathy argument is only true of our present society, and, while strengthening our reasons to keep infanticide illegal right now, wouldn't apply to someplace without a strong revulsion to infanticide in the first place. I've updated my stance and switched to other arguments against infanticide-in-general.

Comment author: Emile 01 January 2012 05:22:00PM 1 point [-]

I'm sorry, I just can't parse your sentence, especially "anyone who seriously doesn't understand why punishing all parents able to kill their infant is an incredibly good idea". I suspect you chained too many clauses together and ended up saying the opposite of what you meant.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 05:24:29PM 0 points [-]

Followed up with a clarification here.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 03:40:59PM *  2 points [-]

(edit)

I have the feeling that I've got to state the following belief in plain text:

Regardless of whether "babies are people" (and yeah, I guess I wouldn't call them that on most relevant criteria), any parent who proves able to kill their child while not faced with an unbearable alternative cost (a hundred strangers for an altruistic utilitarian, eternal and justified damnation for a deeply brainwashed believer) is damn near guaranteed to have their brain wired in a manner unacceptable to modern society.

Such wiring so strongly correlates with harmful, unsympathetic psychopaths that, if faced with a binary choice to murder any would-be childkillers on sight or ignore them, we should not waver in exterminating them. Of course, a better solution is a blanket application of unbounded social stigma as a first line deterrent and individual treatment of every one case, whether with an attempt at readjustment, isolation or execution.

Comment author: soreff 01 January 2012 03:59:45PM *  15 points [-]

harmful, unsympathetic psychopaths

There is another, quite different, situation where it happens: Highly stressed mothers of newborns.

The answer to this couldn’t be more clear: humans are very different from macaques. We’re much worse. The anxiety caused by human inequality is unlike anything observed in the natural world. In order to emphasize this point, Robert Sapolsky put all kidding aside and was uncharacteristically grim when describing the affects of human poverty on the incidence of stress-related disease.

"When humans invented poverty," Sapolsky wrote, “they came up with a way of subjugating the low-ranking like nothing ever before seen in the primate world.”

This is clearly seen in studies looking at human inequality and the rates of maternal infanticide. The World Health Organization Report on Violence and Health reported a strong association between global inequality and child abuse, with the largest incidence in communities with “high levels of unemployment and concentrated poverty.” Another international study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry analyzed infanticide data from 17 countries and found an unmistakable “pattern of powerlessness, poverty, and alienation in the lives of the women studied.”

The United States currently leads the developed world with the highest maternal infanticide rate (an average of 8 deaths for every 100,000 live births, more than twice the rate of Canada). In a systematic analysis of maternal infanticide in the U.S., DeAnn Gauthier and colleagues at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette concluded that this dubious honor falls on us because “extreme poverty amid extreme wealth is conducive to stress-related violence.” Consequently, the highest levels of maternal infanticide were found, not in the poorest states, but in those with the greatest disparity between wealth and poverty (such as Colorado, Oklahoma, and New York with rates 3 to 5 times the national average). According to these researchers, inequality is literally killing our kids.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 04:16:11PM *  0 points [-]

Interesting. Having suspected that something along these lines was out there, I did mention the possibility of readjustment. However,

1) sorry and non-vindictive as we might feel for this subset of childkillers, we'd still have to give them some significant punishment, in order not to weaken our overall deterrence factor.

2) This still would hardly push anyone (me included) from "indiscriminating extermination" to "ignore" in a binary choice scenario.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 06:58:25PM 4 points [-]

If the problem is that almost everyone who could kill their ten-month-old kid is psychotic (something I'd disagree with particularly in light of the above and in light of the fact that it currently means defying one of our society's strongest taboos, but leaving that aside for now)...

Then why, exactly, are we trying to deter killing your babies? It's not going to have any effect on the number of psychotic people out there.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 07:14:33PM 14 points [-]

I suspect that "babykilling is OK in and of itself, but it's a visible marker for psychosis and we want to justify taking action against psychotics and therefore we criminalize babykilling anyway" isn't a particularly stable thought in human minds, and pretty quickly decomposes into "babykilling is not OK," "psychosis is not OK," "babykillers are psychotic," a 25% chance of "psychotics kill babies," and two photons.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 07:40:46PM 0 points [-]

Exhibit A: me.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 07:54:47PM 0 points [-]

Where did the two photons come from?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 08:02:39PM 6 points [-]

The photons come from unjustified pattern-matching.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 08:07:46PM 1 point [-]

Oooh.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 04:10:56PM 3 points [-]

I suspect a lot of the people who would agree with this sentiment would change their minds in the face of a sufficiently compelling argument that there exists some scenario under which they would be able to kill their child.

Comment author: juliawise 01 January 2012 04:21:19PM 10 points [-]

I've worked with parents of very disabled children, and it's not an easy life. For mothers especially, it becomes your career. I can imagine a lot of parents might consider infanticide if they knew that was going to be their life.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 08:35:55PM *  12 points [-]

Ditto, as someone who works in disability care and child care (including infant care), I support the baby-killing scenario.

I worked for a family that had a severely mentally and physically disabled 6-year old. She was at infant-level cognition, practically blind, and had very little control over her body. There was almost nothing going on mentally, but she was very volatile about sounds/music/surroundings. You could tell if she was happy or sad by whether she was laughing or crying, and she cried a LOT.

Trying to get her to STOP crying was extremely difficult, because there was no communication, and she never wanted the SAME things. However it was also very important to get her calm QUICKLY because if she cried too long she would have a "meltdown", be near inconsolable, throw up, and then you'd have to vent her stomach.

Her parents were the best at reading her. They trained people by pretty much putting you in a room with her, until you developed an ineffable intuitive ability to keep her happy. When I moved to a different city, it took them about 3-4 months to find a replacement for me who wouldn't quit by the second day. I was driving back to my old city once a week to work for them during that time.

Her existence had a terrible effect on her family. They had to hire around the clock care. As in, amazingly patient care-givers that were hard to find, to cover about 100 hours a week. I would get stressed covering 2 shifts a week, and I don't know how her parents were managing to cope.

This child was a drain on society and on everyone around her. Because of her parents' religious values, they wouldn't kill her even if it were legal. But their lives would have been dramatically improved if it were otherwise.

Also, I agree that infants have less or equal personhood than many animals. The way I handle the discrepancy is by being a vegetarian. But since most people aren't vegetarians, they don't really have a strong supporting reason to be against legalized infanticide.

Comment author: juliawise 01 January 2012 04:16:48PM 13 points [-]

Infanticide has been considered a normal practice in a lot of cultures. The Greeks and Romans, for example, don't seem to have been run down by psychopaths.

I don't think we have a good way to know about the later harmful actions of people who kill their infants. Either we find them out and lock them up, in which case their life is no longer really representative of the population, or we don't know about what they've done.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 04:32:43PM *  1 point [-]

The Greeks and Romans, for example, don't seem to have been run down by psychopaths.

With genocide of any foreigners and mass torture for entertainment also having been considered perfectly acceptable, the Roman culture in the flesh would certainly feel alien enough to us that an utilitarian, altruistic time traveler could likely be predicted to attempt to sway it, with virtually any means justifying the end for them.*

I know I would, and I know that I'm not an unusual decision maker for the LW community.

*(cue obvious SF story idea with the time traveler ending up as Jesus)

Comment author: juliawise 01 January 2012 04:47:43PM 6 points [-]

But these seem to have been larger cultural phenomena, not the unchecked actions of a few psychopaths. Psychopathy affects around 1% of the population, and I doubt so few people could have swayed the entire culture if the rest of them had no interest in killing people.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 04:53:47PM 0 points [-]

See my reply's second comment.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 04:51:52PM *  3 points [-]

I've managed to overlook the most important (and fairly obvious) thing, though!

If the idea of "childkilling=bad" is weakly or not at all ingrained in a culture, it's easy to override both one's innate and cultural barriers to kill your child, so most normally wired people would be capable of it => the majority of childkillers are normal people.

If it's ingrained as strongly as in the West today, there would be few people capable of overriding such a strong cultural barrier, => the majority of childkillers left would be the ones who get no barriers in the first place, i.e. largely harmful, unsympathetic psychopaths. The other ones would have an abnormally strong will to override barriers and self-modify, which can easily make them just as dangerous.

Comment author: soreff 01 January 2012 05:06:01PM *  2 points [-]

The other ones would have an abnormally strong will to override barriers and self-modify, which can easily make them just as dangerous.

You are overlooking the extreme situations some people are forced into. Looking at the act as being primarily a function of a person's internal state state can be a poor approximation. As nearly as I can tell, if an arbitrarily selected person in the West were put in a situation as dire as these infanticidal mothers had been forced into, they would quite probably do the same thing.

Note that the geographical variation in infanticide rates is more plausibly consistent with external factors driving the rates than internal factors. The populations of the USA and Canada are not hugely different, yet there is a 2X difference in the rates between them (as I quoted from the article that I cited before). I strongly doubt that the proportion of psychopaths and extreme self-modifiers differs so strongly between the two nations - but the US has been shredding its social safety nets for years.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 05:21:50PM *  2 points [-]

This is easy enough to check. Do most poor, fairly desperate people whose situation is sufficiently alike that of our hypothetical normal childkiller, in fact, kill their children?

(No, I can't quite define "sufficiently alike" right off the bat. Wouldn't mind working it out together.)

Comment author: juliawise 01 January 2012 05:33:44PM *  10 points [-]

Okay, got it. I agree that in a culture that condemns infanticide, people who do it anyway are likely to be quite different from the people who don't. But Bakkot's claim was that our culture should allow it, which should not be expected to increase the number of psychopaths.

I'm also not sure that unbounded social stigma is an effective way to deter people who essentially don't care about other people. We don't really know of good ways to change psychopathy.

(edited for clarity)

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 05:52:57PM *  -2 points [-]

But Bakkot's claim was that our culture should allow it, which should not be expected to increase the number of psychopaths.

First, any single relaxed taboo feels to me like a blow against the entire net of ethical inhibitions, both in a neurotypical person and in a culture (proportional to the taboo's strength and gravity, that is). Therefore, I think it could be a slippery slope into antisociality for some people who previously behaved acceptably. Second, we could be taking one filter of existing psychopaths from ourselves while giving the psychopaths a safe opportunity to let their disguise down. Easier for them to evade us, harder for us to hunt them down.

I'm also not sure that unbounded social stigma is an effective way to deter people who essentially don't care about other people.

Successful psychopaths do understand that society's opinion of them can affect their well-being, this is why they bother to conceal their abnormality in the first place.

Comment author: TimS 01 January 2012 06:06:00PM 8 points [-]

First, any single relaxed taboo is a blow against the entire net of ethical inhibitions

This is not an uncontested statement.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 06:16:31PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for catching me, adjusted.

Comment author: juliawise 01 January 2012 06:41:35PM 11 points [-]

If "hunting down" psychopaths is our goal, we'd do better to look for people who torture or kill animals. My understanding is that these behaviors are a common warning sign of antisocial personality disorder, and I'm sure it's more common than infanticide because it's less punished. Would you advocate punishing anyone diagnosed with antisocial personality right away, or would you want to wait until they actually committed a crime?

I'd put taboos in three categories. Some taboos (e.g. against women wearing trousers, profanity, homosexuality, or atheism) seem pointless and we were right to relax them. Some taboos, like those against theft and murder, I agree we should hold in place because they produce so little value for the harm they produce. Some, like extramarital sex and abortion, are more ambiguous. They probably allow some people to get away with unnecessary cruelty. But because the the personal freedom they create, I think they produce a net good.

I put legalized infanticide in the third category. I gather you put it in the second? In other words, do you believe the harm it would create from psychopaths killing babies and generally being harder to detect would be greater than the benefit to people who don't raise unwanted children?

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 07:06:56PM *  -1 points [-]

In other words, do you believe the harm it would create from psychopaths killing babies and generally being harder to detect would be greater than the benefit to people who don't raise unwanted children?

I believe that legalized infanticide would be harmful, at least, to our particular culture for many reasons, some of which I'm sure I haven't even thought of yet. I'm not even sure whether the strongest reason for not doing it is connected to psychopathic behaviour at all. Regardless, I'm certain about fighting it tooth and nail if need be, at at least a 0.85.

By the way, have you considered the general memetic chaos that would erupt in Western society if somehow infanticide was really, practically made legal?

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 07:18:34PM 3 points [-]

I think we're probably all in agreement that making infanticide legal in most modern Western societies (the anthropologist in me can't help but pointing out that really, really that needs to be plural) would cause chaos.

But I do think a world exactly like ours except without the strong social stigma attached to infanticide would be a more fun place to live.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 07:34:21PM 4 points [-]

Huh. I don't follow the reasoning. Why do you expect social stigma attached to infanticide to correlate with less fun?

Comment author: TimS 01 January 2012 08:02:54PM *  3 points [-]

On infanticide, is this a reasonable summary of your position:

Adult humans have a moral quality (let's call it "blicket") that most animals lack. One major consequence of blicket is that morally acceptable killings require much more significant justifications when the victim is a blicket-creature ("I killed him in self-defense") than when the victim is not a blicket-creature ("Cows are delicious, and I was hungry"). Empirically, cows don't have blicket and never will without some extraordinary intervention. Six-month old babies lack blicket, but are likely to develop it during ordinary maturation.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:12:13PM 1 point [-]

is this a reasonable summary of your position

Yup. Although it's not binary, of course; fetuses/babies do not go from non-blicket-creatures to blicket-creatures in a single instant.

Comment author: TimS 01 January 2012 08:36:23PM 3 points [-]

Ok. I agree with you on the empirical assertions (I actually suspect that 10-month-olds also lack blicket). But my moral theory gives significant weight to blicket-potential (because blicket is that awesome), while your system does not appear to do so. Why not?


You mentioned to someone that the current system of being forced to provide for a child or place the child in foster care is suboptimal. I assume a substantial part of that position is that foster care is terrible (i.e. unlikely to produce high-functioning adults).

I agree that one solution to this problem is to end the parental obligation (i.e. allow infanticide). This solution has the benefit of being very inexpensive. But why do you think that solution is better than the alternative solution of fixing foster care (and low quality child-rearing practice generally) so that it is likely to produce high-quality adults?

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 08:46:26PM *  1 point [-]

But my moral theory gives significant weight to blicket-potential (because blicket is that awesome), while your system does not appear to do so. Why not?

If you say you don't want to kill an infant because of its potential for blicket, then you would also have to apply that logic to abortion and birth control, and come to the conclusion that these are just as wrong as killing infants, since they both destroy blicket-potential.

Fetus- does not have blicket, has potential for blicket - killing it is legal abortion

Infant- does not have blicket (you agreed with this), has potential for blicket - killing it is illegal murder

Does not compute. One or the other outcomes needs to be changes, and I'm sure not going to support the illegalization of birth control.

Note: I apologize if this is getting too close to politics, but it is a significant part of the killing babies debate, and not mentioning it just to avoid mentioning a political issue would not give accurate reasons.

Comment author: TimS 01 January 2012 08:55:46PM 3 points [-]

At a certain level, all morality is about balancing the demands of conflicting blicket-supported desires. So the balance comes out different at different stages. Yes, the difference between stages is quite arbitrary (and worse: obviously historically contingent).

In short, I wish I had a better answer for you than I am comfortable with arbitrary distinctions (why is the speed limit 55 mph rather than 56?). From an outsider perspective, I'm sure it looks like I've been mind-killed by some version of "The enemy of my enemy (politically active religious conservatives) is my friend."

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:57:20PM 2 points [-]

But my moral theory gives significant weight to blicket-potential (because blicket is that awesome), while your system does not appear to do so. Why not?

Mine does, just, I suspect, less than yours. It's a tricky issue. I think this will help establish where our positions are in relation to each others':

Do you think abortion should be legal? If so, up until what point, and why?


But why do you think that solution is better than the alternative solution of fixing foster care (and low quality child-rearing practice generally) so that it is likely to produce high-quality adults?

That would be preferable. Ideally we'd do both, so that people would have as little incentive as possible to kill their newborns. But we should still keep infanticide lega, for unforeseen circumstances.

If you go too far in the direction of weighting blicket-potential, you start obliging people to try to have as many babies as possible - outlawing contraception, say, because it reduces the potential for more blicket. That, I think, is bad. This extends to outlawing infanticide being bad - they're not the same, obviously, but they're definitely on the same scale.

Comment author: TimS 01 January 2012 09:17:06PM 1 point [-]

I agree there is a scale about how much weight to give blicket-potential. But I support a meta-norm about constructing a morality that the morality should add up to normal, absent compelling justification.

That is, if a proposed moral system says that some common practice is deeply wrong, or some common prohibition has relatively few negative consequences if permitted, that's a reason to doubt the moral construction unless a compelling case can be made. It's not impossible, but a moral theory that says we've all doing it wrong should not be expected either.

The fact that my calibration of my blicket-potential sensitivity mostly adds up to normal is evidence to me that the model is a fairly accurate description of the morality people say they are applying.

Comment author: drethelin 01 January 2012 08:32:58PM 8 points [-]

I broadly agree that babies aren't people, but I still think infanticide should be illegal, simply because killing begets insensitivity to killing. I know this has the sound of a slippery slope argument, but there is evidence that desire for sadism in most people is low, and increases as they commit sadistic acts, and that people feel similarly about murder.

From The Better Angels of Our Nature: "Serial killers too carry out their first murder with trepidation, distaste, and in its wake, disappointment: the experience had not been as arousing as it had been in their imaginations. But as time passes and their appetite is rewhetted, they find the next on easier and more gratifying, and then they escalate the cruelty to feed what turns into an addiction."

Similarly, cathartic violence against non-person objects (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharsis#Therapeutic_uses) can lead to further aggression in personal interactions.

I don't think we want to encourage or allow killing of anything anywhere near as close to people as babies. The psychological effects on people who kill their own children and on a society that views the killing of babies as good are too potentially terrible. Without actual data, I can say I would never want to live in a society that valued people as little as Sparta did.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 09:07:34PM *  0 points [-]

Thanks a lot. I fully support your line of thinking, all of your points and your conclusion.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 08:33:37PM 1 point [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

Why not permit the killing of babies not your own, for the same reason?

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:39:09PM 7 points [-]

I just made this point deep in one of the other subthreads, actually. The reason is that killing someone else's child does significant harm to them. It's the roughly same reason you should be able to tear down your house but not someone else's, but orders of magnitude more major (assuming that most people are orders of magnitude more attached to their newborns than to their houses).

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 08:51:04PM 2 points [-]

It causes me a certain level of distress when a baby is harmed or killed, even if it is of no relation to me. Many people (perhaps almost all people) experience a similar amount of distress. Is it your point of view that the aggregate amount of harm caused in this way is not large enough to justify the prohibition on killing babies?

Perhaps what you mean to argue with the house analogy is not that the parent is harmed, but that his property rights have been violated.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:04:55PM 6 points [-]

It causes me a certain level of distress when a baby is harmed or killed, even if it is of no relation to me. Many people (perhaps almost all people) experience a similar amount of distress. Is it your point of view that the aggregate amount of harm caused in this way is not large enough to justify the prohibition on killing babies?

Yes. Similarly for abortion.

Perhaps what you mean to argue with the house analogy is not that the parent is harmed, but that his property rights have been violated.

Well... the violation of his property rights is the harm.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 09:09:46PM 3 points [-]

Are those property rights transferable? Would you permit a market in infants?

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:13:09PM 6 points [-]

I think I may not have gotten the point I was trying to make across - I don't think all harm is of the form "violation of property rights", I think the reason "property rights" are a thing we care about is because their violation is harmful.

Would you permit a market in infants?

An interesting question, but not one I've thought about. If what I've said above is tells you what you want to know, I'm not going to try discussing this here. Otherwise I will.

Comment author: occlude 01 January 2012 09:02:39PM 1 point [-]

Please let me know if I've missed a discussion of this point; it seems important, but I haven't seen it answered.

What is the particular and demonstrable quality of personhood that defines this okay to kill/not okay to kill threshold? In short, what is blicket?

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:10:12PM 3 points [-]

It's not precisely a threshold because it's not binary. The quality is "personhood". Defining personhood is obviously an incredibly difficult thing to do, so I've been avoiding doing so in this thread. However, any reasonable definition I can come up with does not include very young infants. If you think that newborns are people, I'd be interested in hearing why - but I haven't come up with a sufficiently good wording for what I think personhood is to have a debate about it.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 09:25:04PM 3 points [-]

Well, one relatively simple question that might help clarify some things: do I remain a person when I'm asleep?