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Firewalling the Optimal from the Rational

81 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 October 2012 08:01AM

Followup to: Rationality: Appreciating Cognitive Algorithms  (minor post)

There's an old anecdote about Ayn Rand, which Michael Shermer recounts in his "The Unlikeliest Cult in History" (note: calling a fact unlikely is an insult to your prior model, not the fact itself), which went as follows:

Branden recalled an evening when a friend of Rand's remarked that he enjoyed the music of Richard Strauss. "When he left at the end of the evening, Ayn said, in a reaction becoming increasingly typical, 'Now I understand why he and I can never be real soulmates. The distance in our sense of life is too great.' Often she did not wait until a friend had left to make such remarks."

Many readers may already have appreciated this point, but one of the Go stones placed to block that failure mode is being careful what we bless with the great community-normative-keyword 'rational'. And one of the ways we do that is by trying to deflate the word 'rational' out of sentences, especially in post titles or critical comments, which can live without the word.  As you hopefully recall from the previous post, we're only forced to use the word 'rational' when we talk about the cognitive algorithms which systematically promote goal achievement or map-territory correspondences.  Otherwise the word can be deflated out of the sentence; e.g. "It's rational to believe in anthropogenic global warming" goes to "Human activities are causing global temperatures to rise"; or "It's rational to vote for Party X" deflates to "It's optimal to vote for Party X" or just "I think you should vote for Party X".

If you're writing a post comparing the experimental evidence for four different diets, that's not "Rational Dieting", that's "Optimal Dieting". A post about rational dieting is if you're writing about how the sunk cost fallacy causes people to eat food they've already purchased even if they're not hungry, or if you're writing about how the typical mind fallacy or law of small numbers leads people to overestimate how likely it is that a diet which worked for them will work for a friend. And even then, your title is 'Dieting and the Sunk Cost Fallacy', unless it's an overview of four different cognitive biases affecting dieting. In which case a better title would be 'Four Biases Screwing Up Your Diet', since 'Rational Dieting' carries an implication that your post discusses the cognitive algorithm for dieting, as opposed to four contributing things to keep in mind.

By the same token, a post about Givewell's top charities and how they compare to existential-risk mitigation is a post about optimal philanthropy, while a post about scope insensitivity and hedonic returns vs. marginal returns is a post about rational philanthropy, because the first is discussing object-level outcomes while the second is discussing cognitive algorithms. And either way, if you can have a post title that doesn't include the word "rational", it's probably a good idea because the word gets a little less powerful every time it's used.

Of course, it's still a good idea to include concrete examples when talking about general cognitive algorithms. A good writer won't discuss rational philanthropy without including some discussion of particular charities to illustrate the point. In general, the concrete-abstract writing pattern says that your opening paragraph should be a concrete example of a nonoptimal charity, and only afterward should you generalize to make the abstract point. (That's why the main post opened with the Ayn Rand anecdote.)

And I'm not saying that we should never have posts about Optimal Dieting on LessWrong. What good is all that rationality if it never leads us to anything optimal?

Nonetheless, the second Go stone placed to block the Objectivist Failure Mode is trying to define ourselves as a community around the cognitive algorithms; and trying to avoid membership tests (especially implicit de facto tests) that aren't about rational process, but just about some particular thing that a lot of us think is optimal.

Like, say, paleo-inspired diets.

Or having to love particular classical music composers, or hate dubstep, or something.  (Does anyone know any good dubstep mixes of classical music, by the way?)

Admittedly, a lot of the utility in practice from any community like this one, can and should come from sharing lifehacks. If you go around teaching people methods that they can allegedly use to distinguish good strange ideas from bad strange ideas, and there's some combination of successfully teaching Cognitive Art: Resist Conformity with the less lofty enhancer We Now Have Enough People Physically Present That You Don't Feel Nonconformist, that community will inevitably propagate what they believe to be good new ideas that haven't been mass-adopted by the general population.

When I saw that Patri Friedman was wearing Vibrams (five-toed shoes) and that William Eden (then Will Ryan) was also wearing Vibrams, I got a pair myself to see if they'd work. They didn't work for me, which thanks to Cognitive Art: Say Oops I was able to admit without much fuss; and so I put my athletic shoes back on again.  Paleo-inspired diets haven't done anything discernible for me, but have helped many other people in the community. Supplementing potassium (citrate) hasn't helped me much, but works dramatically for Anna, Kevin, and Vassar.  Seth Roberts's "Shangri-La diet", which was propagating through econblogs, led me to lose twenty pounds that I've mostly kept off, and then it mysteriously stopped working...

De facto, I have gotten a noticeable amount of mileage out of imitating things I've seen other rationalists do. In principle, this will work better than reading a lifehacking blog to whatever extent rationalist opinion leaders are better able to filter lifehacks - discern better and worse experimental evidence, avoid affective death spirals around things that sound cool, and give up faster when things don't work. In practice, I myself haven't gone particularly far into the mainstream lifehacking community, so I don't know how much of an advantage, if any, we've got (so far). My suspicion is that on average lifehackers should know more cool things than we do (by virtue of having invested more time and practice), and have more obviously bad things mixed in (due to only average levels of Cognitive Art: Resist Nonsense).

But strange-to-the-mainstream yet oddly-effective ideas propagating through the community is something that happens if everything goes right. The danger of these things looking weird... is one that I think we just have to bite the bullet on, though opinions on this subject vary between myself and other community leaders.

So a lot of real-world mileage in practice is likely to come out of us imitating each other...

And yet nonetheless, I think it worth naming and resisting that dark temptation to think that somebody can't be a real community member if they aren't eating beef livers and supplementing potassium, or if they believe in a collapse interpretation of QM, etcetera. If a newcomer also doesn't show any particular, noticeable interest in the algorithms and the process, then sure, don't feed the trolls. It should be another matter if someone seems interested in the process, better yet the math, and has some non-zero grasp of it, and are just coming to different conclusions than the local consensus.

Applied rationality counts for something, indeed; rationality that isn't applied might as well not exist. And if somebody believes in something really wacky, like Mormonism or that personal identity follows individual particles, you'd expect to eventually find some flaw in reasoning - a departure from the rules - if you trace back their reasoning far enough. But there's a genuine and open question as to how much you should really assume - how much would be actually true to assume - about the general reasoning deficits of somebody who says they're Mormon, but who can solve Bayesian problems on a blackboard and explain what Governor Earl Warren was doing wrong and analyzes the Amanda Knox case correctly. Robert Aumann (Nobel laureate Bayesian guy) is a believing Orthodox Jew, after all.

But the deeper danger isn't that of mistakenly excluding someone who's fairly good at a bunch of cognitive algorithms and still has some blind spots.

The deeper danger is in allowing your de facto sense of rationalist community to start being defined by conformity to what people think is merely optimal, rather than the cognitive algorithms and thinking techniques that are supposed to be at the center.

And then a purely metaphorical Ayn Rand starts kicking people out because they like suboptimal music. A sense of you-must-do-X-to-belong is also a kind of Authority.

Not all Authority is bad - probability theory is also a kind of Authority and I try to be ruled by it as much as I can manage. But good Authority should generally be modular; having a sweeping cultural sense of lots and lots of mandatory things is also a failure mode. This is what I think of as the core Objectivist Failure Mode - why the heck is Ayn Rand talking about music?

So let's all please be conservative about invoking the word 'rational', and try not to use it except when we're talking about cognitive algorithms and thinking techniques. And in general and as a reminder, let's continue exerting some pressure to adjust our intuitions about belonging-to-LW-ness in the direction of (a) deliberately not rejecting people who disagree with a particular point of mere optimality, and (b) deliberately extending hands to people who show respect for the process and interest in the algorithms even if they're disagreeing with the general consensus.

 

Part of the sequence Highly Advanced Epistemology 101 for Beginners

Next post: "The Fabric of Real Things"

Previous post: "Rationality: Appreciating Cognitive Algorithms"

Comments (338)

Comment author: lukeprog 07 October 2012 07:11:43AM *  9 points [-]

Good post.

What about using the word 'rational' for alliterative purposes? :)

Does anyone know any good dubstep mixes of classical music

Here's some, but they're not great. As I mentioned in an early draft of How to Fall in Love with Modern Classical Music, Nero's "Doomsday" samples from my favorite piece of contemporary classical music, John Adams' Harmonielehre. Also see Rudebrat's "Amadeus" and this Fur Elise dubstep remix. The best I could find in 5 minutes was Dubstep Beethoven.

Comment author: komponisto 07 October 2012 08:19:43AM *  8 points [-]

As I mentioned in How to Fall in Love with Modern Classical Music,

Wow! Luke, I somehow totally missed that you had an interest in this subject. You even have Ferneyhough on that page! (And Murail -- who was actually a teacher of mine.)

I'm about ready to forgive you for every sin you've ever committed -- maybe even including the use of the word "classical". :-)

SI + $10.

</affective spiral>

Comment author: CronoDAS 07 October 2012 01:14:56PM 7 points [-]

[veering off topic]

So, since you guys know something about music...

I think I have fairly poor taste in music. Perhaps as a result of growing up listening to NES and SNES-era video game music all the time, I have an inordinate fondness for the sound of MIDI files, which are supposed to be one of those things everyone hates. As a matter of fact, I tend to feel that video game music has gotten notably worse as the technical capabilities of game consoles has gotten better. (I have three hypotheses that could explain this. One is that the music has improved but my taste in music sucks. The second is that voice acting competes with music for players' attention, and that it's no coincidence that the music stopped being as interesting at the same time voice acting became more common. The third is that improvements in technology "freed" composers from having to rely on melodic complexity alone to hold gamers' attention, so melodies have gotten less interesting.)

Anyway, what I'm really asking is, are those old game soundtracks actually any good, or do I just have no taste?

Comment author: Kindly 07 October 2012 01:59:02PM 6 points [-]

Anyway, what I'm really asking is, are those old game soundtracks actually any good, or do I just have no taste?

The third option is that you like them because you played the game in question. There's two sub-explanations here: the nice one is that you have a strong emotional attachment to the music due to having played the game, and the cynical one is that you just heard the tracks over and over when you played and got used to them.

I also like music from the video games I played as a kid, and also think that more recent video game music isn't as good. But listening to the tracks you linked to did nothing for me. On the other hand, my brother (10 years younger than me) thinks that the soundtrack to Skyrim is the best thing ever. So I'm inclined to be skeptical of our music tastes here.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 07 October 2012 08:14:45PM 5 points [-]

Potential hybrid explanation: Explanation #3 is true in that better sound capabilities have allowed video game composers to focus less on melody, but we only care so much about melody (as opposed to other aspects of the music) in the first place because we grew up playing games with soundtracks that put such emphasis on it. :)

Comment author: Bobertron 07 October 2012 11:35:08PM 3 points [-]

Oh! Let me try!

It's the melody that we associate most with a piece of music. It's the aspect that is the easiest to remember. Pop-music is quite melody centric, I think. Older video game music is like pop-music. It's very memorable and we become attached to it, which is why we like to hear it outside of the game.

Newer video game music is more like film music. It's less noticeable, but still improves the experience a lot. The function of the music is to support the overall experience, not distract from it, or to be likeable on its own.

Comment author: army1987 08 October 2012 09:11:22PM 2 points [-]

It's the melody that we associate most with a piece of music.

Well, unless the piece of music is "We Will Rock You"! :-)

Comment author: gjm 08 October 2012 10:17:29PM 2 points [-]

The Firebird. Take Five. Bolero. Mars from The Planets.

Comment author: CronoDAS 07 October 2012 02:53:02PM 3 points [-]

I picked those particular tracks because they're from the original Game Boy, which has a far more limited sound capability than the SNES. If I wanted to link to my absolute favorites, I'd have picked something from the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack. This, for example.

Comment author: Xachariah 10 October 2012 12:47:01AM 0 points [-]

Also, here's the orchestral version and in Italian in case the midi puts anyone off.

Comment author: CronoDAS 07 October 2012 02:52:05PM *  2 points [-]

A counterexample: I noticed and liked the music from Lufia: The Ruins of Lore despite not having played it in childhood, although I don't rank it as being among my favorite soundtracks.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that at least some of my fondness for the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack is the result of playing the game in childhood; the music, in context, is a lot more moving than merely the music alone, and some of that spills over when I listen to the soundtrack. (As far as I'm concerned, Final Fantasy VI is the definitive example of how to use music to enhance a story.)

Although that Skyrim soundtrack does seem pretty good, now that I've tried listening to some of it on Youtube... (I've never played the game.)

Comment author: 4hodmt 08 October 2012 04:03:21PM 4 points [-]

I grew up listening to classical music because of the influence of my parents, and I was heavily involved in the classical music subculture because I shared a house with a music student.

I gradually stopped listening to classic music as I realized I didn't really enjoy it and I merely associated it with high status. Now I almost exclusively listen to chiptunes and 90s electronic dance music. This music is much simpler than music I previously listened to (I also listened to metal and jazz), but I've made a conscious decision to listen to music purely for enjoyment. I now spend far less effort on thinking about music, but I'm equally happy with it, so I think it's a win.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 08 October 2012 05:26:32PM *  1 point [-]

Were you listening to classical music of all periods, or just to "modern" classical music? I personally believe that the latter doesn't cause much pleasure in most people who listen to it, and its (limited) appeal is instead explained largely in terms of self- and public signaling. At the same time, I find that certain works of a few classical composers of earlier periods (such as Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Debussy and Vaughan Williams [click for examples]) induce in me intensely pleasant experiences.

Comment author: 4hodmt 08 October 2012 06:14:57PM 1 point [-]

All periods.

I still like some of J. S. Bach's keyboard works (especially as MIDI played with FM synthesis), and some minimalist compositions (Steve Reich etc.).

Comment author: CronoDAS 11 October 2012 10:16:15AM 2 points [-]

IIRC, J.S. Bach wrote his keyboard pieces for the harpsichord, which, unlike the modern piano, can't change it's volume based on how the performer presses the keys. MIDI is usually played with a similar constant volume, so the MIDI version may actually be closer to how it was intended to sound than the same piece being played by a concert pianist.

Comment author: gjm 08 October 2012 10:19:22PM 2 points [-]

If you are fond of synthesized versions of Bach, you should check out Wendy Carlos's "Switched-On Bach" albums. (Wendy Carlos was formerly Walter Carlos and you might possibly find old copies under that name.)

Comment author: Bobertron 07 October 2012 10:59:10PM *  3 points [-]

To what extend are you aware of the wonderful world of chiptune music and video game music rearrangements? By video game music rearrangements I mean thinks like symphonic concerts (my favorite is "Symphonic Fantasies", which you can listen to on youtube and is much better than some others, like "Video Games Live" ), the Final Fantasy piano collections, ocremix.org, and the works fans put on youtube.

Anyway, what I'm really asking is, are those old game soundtracks actually any good, or do I just have no taste?

If you have no taste, you are not alone. Nabuo Uematsu is quite popular. Personally I found those exact videos quite annoying, though that might have to do with sound quality and some filters might improve them. I do, however, like the piano arrangements this one guy made to pieces from the same series: Burning Blood and a Legend 1 medley. I also love the Link's Awakening OST and this album, which has a similar (Game Boy) sound.

I think I have fairly poor taste in music.

What do you think is a good taste in music?

My first answer would be that the concept is quite silly. (That also seems politically correct to me)

My second answer would be that it's not about what music you like but about how varied your taste is. It seems to me that one gets more total amounts of enjoyment and different kinds of experiences from liking different kinds of music, and different qualities in music.

If you are interested in developing your taste, I'd suggest you listen to this Final Fantasy medley (I'm assuming you are familiar with the Final Fantasy music. For me the Chrono medley from the same concert was the first time I really appreciated symphonic music). Try to recognize the themes. That should be fun (at least it's for me) and you might like the piece better after having concentrated on it. You could then pay attention to different aspects like the variation in loudness (sometimes the music whispers, sometimes it's loud and impressive), which is something pop-music or chiptune don't really have. If you take a liking to this type of music you can then listen to something like Beethoven's 5th and notice that it's really the same type of music.

Comment author: CronoDAS 08 October 2012 10:12:38PM 0 points [-]

To what extend are you aware of the wonderful world of chiptune music

I've heard of it, and I've listened to a little bit (it seemed good) but I'm not that familiar with it.

and video game music rearrangements?

These tend to be hit or miss with me. I sometimes like the original version better than the arrangement played on actual instruments.

What do you think is a good taste in music?

I dunno. The kind of music that doesn't get made fun of by music snobs, I guess. Yeah, my concept of "poor taste in music" is pretty much about social status, but I haven't invested enough time or effort to go beyond the uninformed "I don't know music, but I know what I like" stage.

I really don't understand music. I apparently have some talent for performing music, but I can't explain what it is I do that makes the pieces sound good, and I never learned much in the way of music theory. I can talk endlessly about why I like the video games or literature that I do, but I can't do the same for music. If I could actually present arguments for why the music I like actually is good, I'd have an answer to what good taste in music is.

I suppose I'm not really all that interested in learning more about it, though. (Does this mean I'm failing at curiosity?)

Comment author: army1987 08 October 2012 09:33:13PM *  0 points [-]

the piano arrangements this one guy made to pieces from the same series: Burning Blood

I found this way more awesome than the original linked to by CronoDAS. I was surprised that my subjective judgement for two different arrangements of the same melody could be that different.

Comment author: Raemon 08 October 2012 03:14:01AM 1 point [-]

I think a lot of other people have good points. I DO still think video game music is often excellent, but not universally. I think modern video game music is higher variance - games where someone obviously cared about the music have both good melodies AND good instrumentation. But there's a lot of games where nobody cared at all.

The best video-game music I've heard recently was from Braid and Bastion. In both cases, the music is clearly a central "character" of the game, obviously cared deeply about by the creator. Braid falls into the "silent protagonist" category. Bastion oddly enough has a lot of dialog, but the narration is intertwined with the audio in a pretty deliberate fashion.

Comment author: bojangles 09 October 2012 03:36:22PM 0 points [-]

If you have no taste then neither do I.

Comment author: army1987 08 October 2012 09:21:35PM *  0 points [-]

Anyway, what I'm really asking is, are those old game soundtracks actually any good, or do I just have no taste?

I didn't enjoy the first two, but I kind-of liked the third one (especially the beginning). More generally, I like the music that makes me instinctively want to move at its rhythm (or to sing along, but that's not applicable to instrumentals).

Comment author: lukeprog 07 October 2012 08:27:22AM 2 points [-]

Do you have a list of your own favorite pieces from the past 60 years?

What's your preferred term for this? "New music?"

Comment author: komponisto 07 October 2012 08:54:35AM *  3 points [-]

Do you have a list of your own favorite pieces from the past 60 years?

It's not exactly the same thing, but I did once throw together a "sampler" list of works by currently living* composers. Not everything in there is a favorite, and there are many favorites not included (especially since the list was restricted to academic composers, thus leaving out a lot of Europeans such as Boulez), but it does give an idea of my "orientation". :-)

*At the time of writing -- Babbitt has since passed on.

What's your preferred term for this? "New music?"

"Contemporary art music." (Or "modern", but that might paradoxically suggest older, as in 1900-1950.)

"New music" is perfectly fine in a context where it's taken for granted that "music" refers to art music (as opposed to popular music). But "classical" is just as bad when referring to Tchaikovsky as when referring to Boulez; the issue is the terminological collision with the Classical period in music history.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 08 October 2012 03:10:11PM *  4 points [-]

My father, a music reviewer, coined 'learned music'. The crux is careful study of theory, and its full application. This is not restricted to the western tradition, so when relevant, it can be clarified to 'western learned music'.

To be sure, pop artists often know their music theory - but I think few would assert that they're applying it to the fullest extent. Some would, and those are cases that don't match 'classical' exactly, but have elements that a classical music fan might perk their ears at.

Comment author: lukeprog 07 October 2012 09:51:22AM 4 points [-]

The phrase "contemporary art music" has its own problems, of course. For example, it suggests that music from the rock and jazz worlds isn't "art" or "artistic music," which would be a weird thing to say of Joanna Newsome, Julia Holter, Elegi, Matthew Shipp, Nels Cline, Carla Bley, Bill Frisell, and many others.

I've also heard the term "university music," since nearly all composers of the type you and I are discussing were trained in music at a university, but of course that's also true for lots of rock and jazz composers.

Anyway, thanks for the link to your sampler list of works!

Comment author: komponisto 07 October 2012 11:13:12PM 2 points [-]

The phrase "contemporary art music" has its own problems, of course. For example, it suggests that music from the rock and jazz worlds isn't "art" or "artistic music,"

I might be sympathetic to that objection except for the fact that it is virtually never raised against the term "art song" -- which is nothing but a special case of the same usage.

I've also heard the term "university music," since nearly all composers of the type you and I are discussing were trained in music at a university

The idea of "advanced music" (another candidate term, with its own problems) as mainly a university pursuit has historically been mostly an American phenomenon, but has started to spread elsewhere. In Europe the cultural milieu is different, so there hasn't been as much need for such music to "retreat" into academia (as it is sometimes pejoratively phrased). Of course, some composers (notably Babbitt) have explicitly embraced the university as an ideal setting for this sort of music, and don't mind terms like "academic" (considered derogatory by some).

Comment author: [deleted] 07 October 2012 12:26:05PM 2 points [-]

On my university popular music course, we were told that the accepted term at that time (ten years ago) was "Western Art Music", but that that covered jazz as well. Possibly "orchestral" music? Although that would then cover stuff like film scores, or rock bands using a symphony orchestra as what amounts to a big guitar, and wouldn't cover solo piano works or someone like Varese...

Comment author: army1987 08 October 2012 09:37:30PM 0 points [-]

Symphonic music?

Comment author: gjm 08 October 2012 10:20:19PM 2 points [-]

Same problem as "orchestral music": it would exclude piano sonatas, string quartets, solo songs, etc.

Comment author: gjm 07 October 2012 09:08:44PM 2 points [-]

I fear the battle for the strict sense of "classical" has already basically been lost. For what it's worth, I tend to say things like "classical music in the broad sense" or "classical music in the sense that includes Josquin and Prokofiev as well as Haydn and Mozart". Which is appallingly clunky, but better that than the mere incomprehension that will generally follow if one uses terms like "art music" instead.

Comment author: komponisto 07 October 2012 10:55:34PM 1 point [-]

the mere incomprehension that will generally follow if one uses terms like "art music" instead

"Art music" is a well-established term.

Comment author: gjm 08 October 2012 12:49:30PM 6 points [-]

I'm well aware of that.

Unfortunately, its well-established-ness is only useful when talking with people who are well informed on this stuff, which most people aren't. See, e.g., the fact that Luke (who is generally well informed about things, and interested enough in this particular topic to be writing evangelistic webpages about contemporary art music) is choosing to use the term "classical" and proposing "new music" as an alternative.

So: yes, you can say "art music" when you mean art music. In that case, your usage will be correct and you'll be accurately understood by music experts; but to anyone at roughly Luke's level of expertise and below your meaning will not be clear.

Or you can say "classical music" and make, where necessary, appropriate disclaiming noises. In that case, your usage will be incorrect and some music experts will look down their noses at you a bit; but people at roughly Luke's level of expertise and below will have a reasonably idea of what you mean.

I generally choose the second option unless I know I'm addressing only experts. I wish there were an option that combines correctness, broad comprehensibility, and conciseness -- but I don't know of one.

Comment author: army1987 08 October 2012 10:21:21PM 0 points [-]

Is “art music (popularly known as ‘classical music’)” concise enough?

Comment author: gjm 08 October 2012 10:55:36PM 2 points [-]

It's about as concise as the version that puts "classical" first and qualifies it. I prefer to start with the term that will be more widely understood, and then (when necessary) add the qualifier that lets experts know I'm well informed, rather than starting with the term that pleases experts, and then (almost always) adding the qualifier that lets muggles understand what I mean. Others' mileage may vary!

Comment author: lukeprog 07 October 2012 07:07:30PM 20 points [-]

calling a fact unlikely is an insult to your prior model, not the fact itself

Not necessarily. Your model could have been quite reasonable, and yet something weird happened in the world. Sometimes, people win the lottery twice on the same day.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 08 October 2012 02:23:05PM 7 points [-]

I think EY is pointing to the case of somebody winning the lottery twice in a lifetime, which people would think is incredibly weird, despite it being very normal - see http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Probability-Chance-Rules-Everyday/dp/0521833299. I suspect that the "looks weird" due to having the wrong model is more common than "looks weird" due to being an outlier.

Comment author: itaibn0 08 October 2012 11:18:20PM 3 points [-]

Indeed. The impression I get is that in calling Objectivism "the unlikeliest cult in the world", the intent of "unlikeliest" isn't as a further insult to Objectivism. Rather, it's to show that the author is discussing something exceptional, and therefore interesting.

Comment author: MTGandP 01 November 2012 08:49:50PM 1 point [-]

I think the point is that if something happens, it has probability 1 of having happened, so it doesn't make sense to call it "unlikely." A perfect model could have predicted it with probability 1. If you failed to predict it, it's because your model was imperfect.

I think, however, that plenty of reasonable models of group interactions given our current knowledge would have failed to predict the rise of Objectivism.

Comment author: Academian 12 October 2012 03:14:38PM 6 points [-]

The deeper danger is in allowing your de facto sense of rationalist community to start being defined by conformity to what people think is merely optimal, rather than the cognitive algorithms and thinking techniques that are supposed to be at the center.

Thumbs up for this; I might even suggest making it a "tl;dr". In print, I think sometimes "very short abstraction - concrete examples - moderate-length abstraction" works well.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 07 October 2012 06:32:22AM *  16 points [-]

(a) deliberately not rejecting people who disagree with a particular point of mere optimality, and (b) deliberately extending hands to people who show respect for the process and interest in the algorithms even if they're disagreeing with the general consensus.

Do you think Dmytry might be a good case study for this? I thought he had some interesting and novel ideas about processes/algorithms that at least didn't seem obviously wrong as well as some technical understanding of things like Solomonoff Induction, and also had strong disagreements with many of us regarding FAI and AI Risk. Should we have "extended our hands" to him more (at least before he became increasingly trollish), and if so how? (How would you taboo "extend hands" generally and in this specific instance?) If not, do you have someone else in mind who could serve as a concrete example?

Comment author: jsalvatier 08 October 2012 03:33:31PM 1 point [-]

It's my impression that yes, more hand extension would have been good, but I didn't follow his threads that closely.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 09 October 2012 02:57:00AM 4 points [-]

I wonder if the trivial inconvenience of him not being that great of a communicator might have put people off from following his threads.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 09 October 2012 07:39:48PM 3 points [-]

Does somebody want to post one part of Dmytry that seems new and true? My impression on a quick skim was not favorable.

Comment author: CarlShulman 10 October 2012 03:09:01AM *  3 points [-]

This comment on a drawback of donating primarily to the charities you think is best lest you make it profitable to invest in being or appearing better by your standards, and various empirical parameters (availablility of honest signals, your ability to distinguish different signals, the quantity of funds allocated by decision rules like yours, the costs of dishonest signals) fall in a narrow region. I am skeptical that this is a real issue in practice (e.g. GiveWell channels to a top charity, rather than diversifying), separate from the problem of assessing evidence (which is normally focused on finding signals that are costly to fake in any case), but it's still an interesting theoretical point which I hadn't seen made on Less Wrong before.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 08 October 2012 01:21:00PM 14 points [-]

One person who resisted Ronald was Ayn Rand. As one of the young libertarians (Ronald’s friend Murray Rothbard was another) who were invited to her apartment for intellectual discussions, he was cast into oblivion after a difference of opinion about . . . Rachmaninoff. Guests were asked to say who their favorite composers were, and when Rand’s turn came, she said “Rachmaninoff,” with specific reference to his second piano concerto. “Why?” Ronald asked. “Because he was the most rational,” Rand responded. At which Ronald laughed, thinking it must be a joke. He knew that the composer had dedicated that concerto to his psychiatrist — and anyway, rationality had nothing to do with its greatness. But Ronald’s laughter resulted in exile, and the loss of friends who were dear to him.

From an obituary for Ronald Hamowy.

Comment author: Moniker 10 October 2012 10:52:09PM 1 point [-]

Thank you for explaining that, I had no idea where he got Ayn Rand from.

Comment author: Nornagest 09 October 2012 08:32:03PM *  5 points [-]

I feel like there's a small inferential gap between the Ayn Rand anecdote and the Objectivist failure mode as you've presented it: the anecdote establishes unjustified personal antipathy on the part of a group leader, but, absent context, that doesn't lead inevitably to its target getting voted off the island.

People who've read about the history of Objectivism would probably be able to fill this gap with their own knowledge. People who've internalized Objectivism's reputation as a cult would probably fill it with an assumption (a correct one, as it turns out). But I don't think those sets cover the space of possible readers all that well.

Comment author: MTGandP 01 November 2012 08:53:21PM 1 point [-]

True. I didn't understand how the anecdote related to the article, although Daniel Burfoot's comment helped to clarify.

Comment author: AlexMennen 07 October 2012 06:20:32AM 13 points [-]

Meta: I suggest creating a sequence index, and putting a link to the next post in the sequence at the bottom of each post, like you already have for all your other sequences.

Comment author: eurg 10 October 2012 05:29:30PM 4 points [-]

Through use of the "seq_epistemology" tag this is possible via the "Article Navigation". Maybe this tag was only added after the comment? However, it works quite well!

Comment author: AlexMennen 11 October 2012 10:21:12PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for pointing that out. I forgot to check for tags, so I'm not sure whether it was already there. I still think it should be made more direct, though.

Comment author: Tenoke 07 October 2012 03:44:26PM 12 points [-]

If you're writing a post comparing the experimental evidence for four different diets, that's not "Rational Dieting", that's "Optimal Dieting".

Isn't that as wrong and misleading as using Rational Dieting? Wouldn't Optimal imply that this is the very best way to diet when the article is actually on 'Comparing evidence for for diets'? Same as how 'Rational Dieting' carries an implication that your post discusses the cognitive algorithm for dieting, as opposed to four contributing things to keep in mind and thus you should use 'Four Biases Screwing Up Your Diet' for a title, doesn't Optimal imply the wrong thing? Seems to me like you are committing different fallacies (or errors) when you are trying to fix the previous fallacies (or errors) committed due to the misuse of the word 'rational'.

Comment author: Vaniver 07 October 2012 06:23:57PM 6 points [-]

And, if you want to get technical, optimal implies both an objective function to measure the solution by, and a proof that no solutions are superior. "Optimize your diet" seems better than "optimal diets," but even then "four proven diets" seems superior to both of those.

Comment author: BrandonReinhart 08 October 2012 11:44:48PM 1 point [-]

"A directed search of the space of diet configurations" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Comment author: Vaniver 09 October 2012 08:26:09AM 0 points [-]

I don't know, that title seems pretty awesome to me. (But my research is also in direct search methods, so...)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 October 2012 04:15:44PM 3 points [-]

Depends. If it's an article describing how to evaluate different diets to pick the optimal one, then it is indeed an article about optimal dieting, even if it doesn't identify an optimal diet.

Comment author: Morendil 08 October 2012 08:44:11AM 11 points [-]

Supplementing potassium (citrate) hasn't helped me much, but works dramatically for Anna, Kevin, and Vassar.

I can't find mention of this on LW and the first few things Google turns up have to do with treating kidney stones, which doesn't seem relevant. What benefits do you get when this "works dramatically"?

Comment author: Kevin 08 October 2012 11:55:29AM *  11 points [-]

The first time I took supplemental potassium (50% US RDA in a lot of water), it was like a brain fog lifted that I never knew I had, and I felt profoundly energized in a way that made me feel exercise was reasonable and prudent, which resulted in me and the roommate that had just supplemented potassium going for an hour long walk at 2AM.

Experiences since then have not been quite so profound (which probably was so stark for me as I was likely fixing an acute deficiency), but I can still count on a moderately large amount of potassium to give me a solid, nearly side effect free performance boost for a few hours.

Comment author: Jordan 09 October 2012 03:55:26PM 9 points [-]

I had a similar experience the first time I supplemented magnesium. Long lasting, non-jittery energy spike. I felt stronger (and empirically could in fact lift more weight), felt better, and was extremely happy. The effect decreased the next few times. After 4 doses (of 50% RDA, spread out over 2 weeks) I began to have adverse effects, including heart palpitation, weakness, and "sense of impending doom".

I wonder if there is a general physiological response to a sudden swing in electrolyte balance that causes the positive effect, rather than the removal of a deficiency.

Comment author: army1987 10 October 2012 09:16:37AM 4 points [-]

After 4 doses (of 50% RDA, spread out over 2 weeks) I began to have adverse effects

Is there a typo/something I'm missing, or who the hell set the RDA that high?

Comment author: gwern 10 October 2012 02:58:20AM 4 points [-]

The first time I took supplemental potassium (50% US RDA in a lot of water)

How much is that in milligrams? Googling, I see different values for RDA. Also, I take it you were using some sort of bulk powder? (The gel caps all seem to be ridiculously small, like 99mg when the RDA is >3000mg!)

Comment author: Kevin 04 November 2012 09:59:48AM 1 point [-]

I think I've been going with 4.7 grams as RDA. And yes, bulk powder. Due to potential digestive upset, I typically don't administer more than 25% RDA now.

Comment author: Morendil 08 October 2012 12:50:24PM *  2 points [-]

Thanks! Did you have any other indication at that time that you might have had a potassium deficiency, such as recent blood work?

(I had blood work done relatively recently, which turned up excessive levels of ferritin, but normal potassium at 4.2 compared to a 3.5-5.0 normal range.)

Comment author: Kevin 08 October 2012 09:45:07PM 1 point [-]

No, but I had been doing Bikram yoga on and off, and I think I wasn't keeping up the practice because I wasn't able to properly rehydrate myself.

Comment author: gwern 02 November 2012 09:03:57PM 0 points [-]

Besides my dosage question: have you noticed any sleep benefits to supplementing potassium?

Comment author: Kevin 04 November 2012 10:00:33AM 1 point [-]

I think a general high water high electrolyte diet has benefited my sleep. I haven't noticed potassium immediately before bed decreasing sleep quality.

Comment author: gwern 21 December 2012 01:00:48AM 1 point [-]

Well, I've finished ~2 months of data. The Zeo sleep stats say that there is a major negative effect, so I'm going to chalk up potassium as a failed experiment for me:

Comment author: Kevin 21 December 2012 07:29:55AM 1 point [-]

I also replied on Reddit... but I'm wondering if co-administering magnesium would fix this. Or test if Concentrace (http://www.amazon.com/Trace-Minerals-Concentrace-Mineral-Drops-Glass/dp/B004AC07G6/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1356074954&sr=8-2&keywords=concentrace), mostly my favorite commercial supplement and a highly bioabsorbable magnesium, improves sleep quality.

Comment author: gwern 21 December 2012 05:04:24PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: gwern 04 November 2012 03:05:15PM 0 points [-]

Hm, interesting.

Comment author: aaronde 19 October 2012 07:54:14PM 0 points [-]

This question is for anyone who says they saw a benefit from supplementation, not just Kevin.

What was your diet like at the time? Were you taking a daily multivitamin?

Comment author: atucker 08 October 2012 09:18:15AM 9 points [-]

Potassium is a major one of the ions moved around in neuron action potential activation, and the RDA is waaay above what almost everyone gets (you would need to eat 12 bananas/day to meet it). The idea is something like that it helps neuron transmission work.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 08 October 2012 10:17:21AM 2 points [-]

Is that like putting more petrol in your car to make it go faster?

Does "low sodium" table salt (mostly potassium chloride) give the same results (whatever they are) as potassium citrate?

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 08 October 2012 03:20:05PM 1 point [-]

I'd think it'd be more like like gold-plating the car's electrical system (imagine you could do that without disassembling the whole thing)

Comment author: V_V 08 October 2012 11:25:16AM *  0 points [-]

Is that like putting more petrol in your car to make it go faster?

I suppose it's the same kind of reasoning. I can't find any reference about potassium improving cognitive performances.

EDIT:

It's also worth noting that the RDA for potassium is being disputed, and that any source of naturally occurring potassium, including supplements, contains 0.012% of radioactive K40, which is the largest source of radioactivity in the human body.

Comment author: Kevin 08 October 2012 11:39:11AM 2 points [-]

It's pretty much unknown in the literature and only researched at all in athletic contexts, but there is a lot of overlap between physically enhancing interventions and mentally enhancing interventions. Whenever I'm lacking in creativity for possible interventions, I can always look at the World Doping Organization's list.

I would like to do some research on electrolytes with undergrads eventually, maybe next year. At this point I don't just supplement potassium but try and target a high water, high electrolyte, high trace mineral diet for cognitive enhancing purposes. I'm weary enough about the dangers of potassium to not trust most people enough to spoon it themselves out of bulk potassium citrate bags.

Apollinaris is my favorite off the shelf bottled water (check Whole Foods) and Trace Minerals Research makes my favorite electrolyte supplements, particularly Endure and 40,000 Volts, available on Amazon and often Amazon Prime.

Comment author: wallowinmaya 11 October 2012 01:17:41PM 1 point [-]

try and target a high water, high electrolyte, high trace mineral diet for cognitive enhancing purposes.

What do you mean by high water diet? (I ask, because I'm concerned with my high water intake. Per day I usually drink about 2l tea, 1-2l coffee and 2-3l water. There were times when I drank 3l coke zero in addition to that. Problem is, if I don't drink that much, I get headaches and heart burn. And I love to drink, obviously.)

And you really should make a post about your thoughts on supplementation, diet, etc., if you have the time. I think a lot of folks here would be interested.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 October 2012 08:49:24AM 3 points [-]

About the same as drinking a cup of coffee - i.e., it works as a perker-upper, somehow. I'm not sure, since it doesn't do anything for me except possibly mitigate foot cramps.

Comment author: V_V 08 October 2012 11:28:50AM *  0 points [-]

Might be just placebo effect.

I don't have a reference at hand, but I recall hearing of a study where they gave the same sport drink to two groups of atletes and then measured their performances. Researchers told one group that they were testing a new, high quality super-duper sport drink, while they told the other group that it was a somewhat subpar product. Guess what happened to the performances of the two groups?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 20 March 2013 03:59:24PM 0 points [-]

I just got TwinLab capsules because I thought it might be easier to take capsules than get used to something that tastes bad. This might be true even if I take 10 or 20 of them a day, since at least they're smallish.

In any case, it's potassium aspartate. Any thoughts about apartate?

Comment author: Morendil 21 March 2013 07:01:53AM 0 points [-]

I suspect you're replying to the wrong comment.

Comment author: Spurlock 09 October 2012 08:12:54PM *  4 points [-]

This post should really be (also) a part of the Craft and the Community sequence. The insight in conveys seems very relevant and very valuable, and I don't recall it being stated anywhere near as explicitly.

Comment author: gwern 07 October 2012 03:41:47AM 4 points [-]

Does anyone know any good dubstep mixes of classical music, by the way?

Can't say I do. On the other hand, there's always Vocaloid (eg. The Symphonic Pilgrimage of Luka)...

Comment author: David_Gerard 07 October 2012 08:26:20AM 1 point [-]

I was amazed to see results from the obvious Google search.

Comment author: MTGandP 01 November 2012 08:54:58PM 1 point [-]

I don't generally listen to dubstep so I can't pull anything from memory, but I found this one by browsing. I think it's pretty good.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 08 October 2012 09:46:55PM 3 points [-]

"It's rational to vote for Party X" deflates to "It's optimal to vote for Party X" or just "I think you should vote for Party X".

I'm starting to get very confused about what Eliezer means by "deflates to". I thought he meant "has the same meaning as" or "conveys the same meaning as", but now I think maybe he means "most of the time when you want to use the former, you should use the latter instead". Sorry if I'm still stuck on the by-now-not-quite-central topic of semantics, but I don't see how "rational" has the same meaning as "should", either according to my own understanding, or according to definitions given by Eliezer in the past. (My understanding is that "should" conveys some hard-to-define sense of normativity, whereas "rationality" is a subset of normativity that seems more objective than the other parts, which we usually call "morality".)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 08 October 2012 10:00:25PM 3 points [-]

FWIW, I understood "X deflates to Y" in this context to mean something like "most of the time when people say X, their beliefs about the world are such that if their goal was to express those beliefs maximally accurately they should instead say Y."

I also expect that Eliezer would say that the bundle of computation to which "should" properly refers includes but is not limited to what "rational" refers to, but I don't think that's relevant to what we're looking at here.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 October 2012 10:00:43PM 2 points [-]

I had in mind, "I think you were really trying to say X" which is closer to your second meaning, not "This means X under all possible circumstances even when actually used correctly".

Comment author: MTGandP 01 November 2012 08:57:48PM 1 point [-]

"has the same meaning as"

"most of the time when you want to use the former, you should use the latter instead"

I think, in general, these statements amount to the same thing. "It's rational to __" generally means the same thing as the "deflated" statement; the key difference is its use of the word "rational" or "rationality" that ends up weakening the term.

Comment author: hankx7787 08 October 2012 08:56:52PM *  5 points [-]

Coming from a hard-core Objectivist, the Objectivist community is unfortunately rife with all sorts of so-called "schisms". I think this is intrinsic in any community of thinkers who are focused on objectivity/optimality/rationality/etc in general, because inevitably people will feel differently on a given issue, and then everyone goes around blaming the other group that they aren't really objective or rational or optimal, etc.

This leads to me having to qualify a statement about some issue X with something like this:

As a result of pretty much universal confusion, here is a list of things I am not saying in this post:

I am not saying everyone who does not agree with X should or should not be "purged from Objectivism".
I am not saying people with varying views on different issues should or should not be called "objectivists".
I am not saying this group should or should not be limited to only "real objectivists".

Now it should be said of course that one group is actually right - but schisms are very unhealthy for any community, or any social group in general. The success of a social group per se is based very much on all-inclusiveness. That being said, identifying optimal, mainstream positions of a given philosophy is absolutely good for the philosophy per se.

So I would add something like: "firewall optimal philosophy from optimal community"

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 09 October 2012 07:22:52AM *  5 points [-]

Now it should be said of course that one group is actually right

I think this ignores the whole concept of probability.

If one group says tomorrow it will rain, and another group says it will not, of course tomorrow one group will be right and one group will be wrong, but that would be not enough to mark one of those groups irrational today. Even according to best knowledge available, the probabilities of raining and not raining could possibly be 50:50. Then if tomorrow one group is proved right, and another is proved wrong, it would not mean one of them was more rational than the other.

Even if we are not talking about a future event, but about a present or past event, we still have imperfect information, so we are still within the realm of probability. It is still sometimes possible to rationally derive different conclusions.

The problem is that to get perfect opinion about something, one would need not only perfect reasoning, but also perfect information about pretty much everything (or at least a perfect knowledge that those parts of information you don't have are guaranteed to have no influence over the topic you are thinking about). Even if for the sake of discussion we assume that Ayn Rand (or anyone trying to model her) had perfect reasoning, she still could not have perfect information, which is why all her conclusions were necessarily probabilistic. So unless the probability is like over 99%, it is pretty legitimate to disagree rationally.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 10 October 2012 09:20:58AM 3 points [-]

I think this ignores the whole concept of probability.

I thought it was ignoring the possibility that everyone involved could be wrong.

Worse, they could all be not even wrong.

Comment author: hankx7787 10 October 2012 06:51:01PM *  2 points [-]

You entirely missed the point of my including that statement.

My intention was merely to stress that I'm not merely trying to say something like, "nobody can every really know what the right answer is, so we should all just get along," or any such related overly "open-minded" or "tolerationist" nonsense like that.

My point was to say that such differences are perfectly fine and meaningful to fight about philosophically, but that you shouldn't use one's position on whatever derivative philosophical issues as the basis for community membership.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 09 October 2012 03:20:00PM 1 point [-]

Even if for the sake of discussion we assume that Ayn Rand (or anyone trying to model her) had perfect reasoning, she still could not have perfect information, which is why all her conclusions were necessarily probabilistic. So unless the probability is like over 99%, it is pretty legitimate to disagree rationally.

Hm. There's an implicit "...iff the disagreeer has access to better information than she had" here, right?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 10 October 2012 07:10:03AM *  1 point [-]

There's an implicit "...iff the disagreeer has access to better information than she had" here, right?

If the disagreer has access to different information. Or just has different priors.

(I want to avoid the connotation "better information" = "strict superset of information".)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 10 October 2012 01:59:46PM 1 point [-]

Point.

Comment author: Peterdjones 08 October 2012 09:00:46PM *  1 point [-]

I think this is intrinsic in any community of thinkers who are focused on optimality/rationality/etc in general, because inevitably people will feel differently on a given issue, and then everyone goes around blaming the other group that they aren't really rational or optimal, etc.

That is at least "inevitable" in groups that habitually mistake feelings for something objective.

That being said, identifying optimal, mainstream positions of a given philosophy is absolutely good for the philosophy per se.

Good grief, how can you do that when there is no agreement about what optimal means?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 08 October 2012 09:31:20PM *  6 points [-]

That being said, identifying optimal, mainstream positions of a given philosophy is absolutely good for the philosophy per se.

Good grief, how can you do that when there is no agreement about what optimal means?

Unilaterally.

Comment author: hankx7787 08 October 2012 10:15:53PM *  2 points [-]

That is at least "inevitable" in groups that habitually mistake feelings for something objective.

People inevitably feel differently on given issues in any group. Blaming the other side for not really being objective/rational/etc happens no more in Objectivism than any other group.

Let me add that there is no inherent propensity in Objectivism to substitute one's feelings for objective evaluations; if that's what you think, you're misunderstanding something. For example, Ayn Rand had an entire branch of her philosophy talking about art, music, and "aesthetics" in general. Her opinion on music wasn't purely based on her trying to pass off her personal feelings for an objective judgment, but rather was indeed a derivative position of her philosophical system. And there's nothing wrong with trying to identify objectively best or optimal music or other things, that's actually perfectly fine to do in philosophy - but if you're going to use differences as a basis for building a community, you're going to produce a horrible mess with schisms and splinter groups galore, which unfortunately hit the Objectivist community pretty badly. Hence: "firewall optimal philosophy from optimal community"

Good grief, how can you do that when there is no agreement about what optimal means?

Well each person does it for themselves. Naturally the creators and leaders in the philosophy set the mainstream (er, sort of by definition)...

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 October 2012 06:30:24AM 0 points [-]

I think you're more likely to get schisms if you generally don't trust people to be willing and able to learn.

Comment author: Abd 11 November 2012 09:53:56PM 2 points [-]

In comments on this thread, the issue of diet and "consensus" came up. Why I consider this topic important here, quite in line with what EY asserted in his post, is shown in this New York Times column by John Tierney.

The issue is not this or that alleged fact. ("Saturated Fat is Harmful," or "Saturated Fat is Good" or even "We don't know") The issue is how we know what we know, and what we don't know, and how individual and social fallacies lead to possible error.

Tierney writes about cascades, social phenomena that can afflict scientists, whom we might imagine would know better, creating the appearance of a "scientific consensus" that is not rooted in science and the scientific method.

Usually, most scientists get it right most of the time, but I've seen several such cascades create a false "scientific consensus" that is almost invulnerable, and it can take generations for that false consensus to unravel, so strong are the social mechanisms that maintain it. A few who are willing to risk their careers in pursuit of real science eventually prevail -- the scientific method is ultimately powerful --, but the cost can be enormous to all of us in terms of poor decisions and delayed benefits.

We might consider creating some case studies. Unless we reach back to old controversies, these will be, by nature, controversial-in-the-present. The goal would not be an answer about "the truth." The value would be in examining the reasoning, the sources and processes of what people (including experts) believe or trust.

Many people readily fix on conclusions, and politics ("importance") easily leads to belief that anyone with a contrary conclusion -- or even who only presents contrary evidence -- is a positive danger, a menace to health or science, to be condemned and sanctioned.

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 October 2012 09:12:41PM 2 points [-]

Many readers may already have appreciated this point, but one of the Go stones placed to block that failure mode is being careful what we bless with the great community-normative-keyword 'rational'. [...] Nonetheless, the second Go stone placed to block the Objectivist Failure Mode is trying to define ourselves as a community around the cognitive algorithms;

I don't think that Go constitutes good metaphor. Go isn't much a game about preventing certain outcomes, It's a game where you trade territory for influence. It's a game about leaving aji open.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 07 October 2012 11:58:28AM 2 points [-]

One possible strategy for making this easier is explicitly having sub-communities for each optimal thing, that all explicitly include some non-rationalists and exclude some rationalists. Just based on the naive model that people want to identify their behaviour with a community or it will feel odd, and that there is some pressure not to have overlapping signals of membership in different tribes since it be confusing.

Comment author: ema 07 October 2012 09:29:33PM 2 points [-]

I like that idea, but i think there can be too much granularity. The feeling of 'People who agree with me on X also agree with me on completely unrelated Y' is awesome.

Comment author: twanvl 08 October 2012 11:22:44AM 2 points [-]

'People who agree with me on X also agree with me on completely unrelated Y'

I smell a recommender system. Think of what sites like amazon.com do with "people who like X also liked Y".

This is just an observation. I'm not saying that we should go out and build a system to match these people and these Xs and Ys.

Comment author: common_law 07 October 2012 10:52:53PM 5 points [-]

The feeling of 'People who agree with me on X also agree with me on completely unrelated Y' is awesome.

The halo effect may be awesome ... but it's deadly!

Comment author: wedrifid 08 October 2012 03:53:19AM 1 point [-]

The feeling of 'People who agree with me on X also agree with me on completely unrelated Y' is awesome.

The halo effect may be awesome ... but it's deadly!

The halo effect is not necessarily either a cause or a consequence of the quoted phenomenon.

Comment author: common_law 09 October 2012 01:27:25AM 3 points [-]

Do you agree then that it is a potential explanation? If so, what's a more plausible one? It may limitations of my imagination, but I don't see one.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 October 2012 04:12:03AM 1 point [-]

It may limitations of my imagination, but I don't see one.

Try.

Comment author: MTGandP 01 November 2012 10:53:11PM 1 point [-]

I posted a comment with a similar sentiment. I think it's not necessarily important to explicitly include non-rationalists in communities (although I'm not sure that's what you're saying, so forgive me if I misinterpreted you). But I do think it's a good idea to promote rationalist leanings in groups that don't necessarily identify as rationalist.

In fact, that's how I discovered LW. I participate in the utilitarianism community, and a large proportion of utilitarians (on the internet, at least) also identify as rationalist. I started reading LW as an indirect result of my reading about utilitarianism. Utilitarians certainly seem to perform better as rationalists, and other communities should, too.

Comment author: aceofspades 08 October 2012 02:46:12PM 3 points [-]

You say that paleo-inspired diets "have helped many other people in the community." What percent of people in this community have benefited from those diets how much, and how does this compare with other diets, e.g. DASH?

Comment author: pcm 09 October 2012 04:43:17PM 3 points [-]

When I switched to a mostly paleo diet this spring, I stopped needing willpower to prevent weight gain. I suspect I experienced other advantages, but don't have good evidence for them.

It will be hard to tell what fraction have benefited, because people who found it hard or ineffective are less likely to write about it.

Comment author: aceofspades 14 October 2012 09:02:39PM 2 points [-]

Maybe I should be more clear.

The anecdotes of a few people on this site mean very little to me in regards to the efficacy of a particular diet. There doesn't seem to be any experimental evidence with a reasonable sample size to suggest that Paleo diets actually lead to weight loss (there is evidence that DASH leads to weight loss). The paleo diet is relatively high in saturated fat (and there is a scientific consensus that high saturated fat intake causes heart disease) while DASH is not. Omitting grain and dairy eliminates the sources of some nutrients and I would hypothesize that a significant percent of people switching to a paleo diet don't actually compensate for that loss by getting those nutrients from other sources.

It just doesn't make sense to advocate for a paleo diet when there is no evidence of it performing better in the aggregate than diets which are supported by the scientific consensus. If I'm mistaken please link me to some good quality studies.

Comment author: Abd 09 November 2012 03:48:35AM *  2 points [-]

There is a lot of really bad "science" out there on diet, there was a political decision made in the 1970s to promote low-fat diets, in spite of what most scientists thought. For a detailed story on this, and on what is known about fat and carbohydrates in diet, I suggest Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories.

While little about diet is certain, the bulk of the scientific evidence is that "high saturated fat intake," in the context of a low-carbohydrate diet, does not increase real cardiac risk. On the contrary, high-fat low-carb diets, like the Atkins diet, lower cardiac risk factors.

The "scientific consensus" described above isn't.

This isn't about "paleo diet," as such, except that paleo diets do tend to be high-fat and low-carb. We did not evolve eating grain, and then the grain may be highly processed to remove most fiber, creating rapid absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, requiring, then, fast insulin release to avoid toxic levels.

We can eat carbohydrrates, but they were a small part of our diet, generally mixed with fiber, which slows digestion. Fat also does this. It's being claimed with substantial evidence that the "diseases of civilization," i.e., heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, are largely caused by diets with high carb content, especially highly processed carbs. High natural fat content does not seem to be a problem, the opposite.

I did the research and am bettiing my life on this. And I wish we knew more than we do. Taubes has started a Nutrition Science Initiative.

Comment deleted 07 October 2012 08:21:42PM *  [-]
Comment author: Nornagest 07 October 2012 09:21:29PM *  4 points [-]

Moreover, if you want to prevent Less Wrong from becoming a cult like the Objectivists, it may be advisable to absolutely avoid to perform rituals explicitly modeled after religious ceremonies, like this or this.

Mmm. I think it's fairly clear that modeling ceremonies on religious rites (or doing much ritual at all outside a certain narrow scope, for that matter) is more likely than the alternative to lead to undesirable perceptions of LW. And PR is important, yes. But I'm not convinced that they're actually epistemically dangerous to any significant degree.

There's a lot of possible reasons to do ritual. The two ceremonies you link seem to mainly fall under the general heading of "affirmation of shared values", which could be used as part of a more general Dark Artsy scheme but don't seem terribly dangerous in themselves; rituals with those aims show up in dozens of secular contexts, from the Boy Scouts to martial arts dojos to the Pledge of Allegiance recited by American schoolchildren. I might have been given pause if it snuck in some seriously controversial content, like a pledge to sign up for cryonics or that believers in the collapse postulate were stupid and also evil, but as long as it limits itself to cheering for a materialistic humanism I don't think there's much to object to. That's way too general to be epistemically risky, and attempts to cast it as such would probably be more funny than menacing.

Now, why pull from a theological source when there's all these other sources available? Well, religions have been doing it the longest, for one thing. In the absence of a deep understanding of the mechanics of something, a good heuristic for getting it done is to find someone that does it well and plagiarize.

Comment author: Kindly 08 October 2012 12:40:16AM *  11 points [-]

One man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens: I, for one, found the Pledge of Allegiance really frigging creepy as a kid, and I'm not sure how I feel about it even now.

Comment author: Nornagest 08 October 2012 01:25:36AM *  2 points [-]

The Pledge being creepy, sure, I can see that. (I wasn't entirely comfortable with reciting it either, after a certain age.) Culty? Not without throwing out any conventional definition of "cult".

I may have been a little hasty in implying that there's no epistemic danger in public avowal of shared values; I'd expect it to be a reinforcer of those values and to contribute to unanimity effects, although probably not very strongly. But I don't think it's anywhere near as much of a red flag as V_V seemed to be suggesting.

Comment author: MaoShan 08 October 2012 02:21:19AM 8 points [-]

Expecting small children to give a solemn vow filled with patriotic propaganda every weekday morning that they can't even begin to know the ramifications of, OR ELSE, sounds like something you'd find in a totalitarian state.

Comment author: wedrifid 08 October 2012 03:34:01AM *  8 points [-]

Expecting small children to give a solemn vow filled with patriotic propaganda every weekday morning that they can't even begin to know the ramifications of, OR ELSE, sounds like something you'd find in a totalitarian state.

It also sounds like something you would find in all sorts of other states that aren't totalitarian.

Comment author: Alejandro1 08 October 2012 03:56:42AM 9 points [-]

Maybe, but as one small data point, I was really surprised (and creeped out) to just now infer from MaoShen's comment and check on Wikipedia that the Pledge of Allegiance is recited at the beginning of every school day. In my country, the closest cultural equivalent is done once per year, in "Flag Day", and I had previously assumed the American Pledge was like that, being said on July 4th or similar specially significant moments.

Comment author: army1987 08 October 2012 01:45:03PM 6 points [-]

Pledge of Allegiance is recited at the beginning of every school day

[Googles for it and reads it] Whaaaaaat??? O.o

Comment author: Epiphany 09 October 2012 03:53:35AM 1 point [-]

Yep. I'm American. My school did it.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 October 2012 06:07:12AM 0 points [-]

Mine, too, though I'd say it worked backwards in my case-- I'm very cynical about formal group-bonding.

Comment author: Nornagest 08 October 2012 08:36:08AM *  2 points [-]

For what it's worth, I only remember doing so until fourth grade, or about nine years of age. I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse.

I now regret using it as an example, though. Evidently I grossly underestimated its potential sensitivity, and I really should have known better.

Comment author: wedrifid 08 October 2012 04:04:57AM 2 points [-]

Maybe, but as one small data point, I was really surprised (and creeped out) to just now infer from MaoShen's comment and check on Wikipedia that the Pledge of Allegiance is recited at the beginning of every school day.

Likewise (except now I'm only creeped out, the surprise came a long time ago).

In my country, the closest cultural equivalent is done once per year, in "Flag Day", and I had previously assumed the American Pledge was like that, being said on July 4th or similar specially significant moments.

I don't recall whether we have one at all. I remember we have a national anthem that we sung occasionally. Something about "wealth for toil" is involved.

Comment author: Blueberry 23 October 2012 06:16:28AM 0 points [-]

For what it's worth, I've never seen it said in any of the US schools I've attended. It's not universal.

Comment author: army1987 10 October 2012 01:05:30PM *  2 points [-]

Are there countries generally regarded as non-totalitarian, other than the US, where people do anything like that?

Comment author: eurg 10 October 2012 06:10:35PM 3 points [-]

If "anything like that" includes reciting prayers, practically all catholic private schools in Europe will count.

Comment author: thomblake 10 October 2012 06:12:11PM 2 points [-]

Yes, FWIW catholic schools in the US do that too.

Comment author: army1987 10 October 2012 07:07:40PM *  1 point [-]

Well, that's what I thought too, but in those schools everyone is (supposed to be) a Catholic, and if not you (well, your parents) can choose a different school, whereas if I understand correctly children are asked to say the Pledge in all American schools, so (short of emigrating) you (and your parents) have no choice.

(Then again, some otherwise non-confessional schools in Italy keep a crucifix in each classroom -- I think it used to be mandated by law, but it no longer is and a few years ago a Muslim sued his son's school for that and managed to have it removed. But keeping around a sculpture that pupils might not even notice --I honestly can't even remember which of certain classrooms in my high school had one and which hadn't-- is a lot less scary than have everyone pledge allegiance every morning, IMO.)

Comment author: Blueberry 23 October 2012 06:19:09AM 0 points [-]

I actually never was asked to say the Pledge in any US school I went to, and I've never even seen it said. I'm pretty sure this is limited to some parts of the country and is no longer as universal as it may have been once. If someone did go to one such school, they and their parents would have the option of simply not saying the Pledge, transferring to a different school (I doubt private or religious schools say it), or homeschooling/unschooling.

Comment author: wedrifid 10 October 2012 01:44:28PM *  1 point [-]

Are there countries generally regarded as non-totalitarian, other than the US, where people do anything like that?

It is highly likely (that there is at least one). It is a kind of insane practice but it isn't quite that out of character for human social groups that I'd expect it to be a quirk unique to the USA.

Do all totalitarian states bother making all the children go to school and recite pledges?

Comment author: army1987 11 October 2012 03:22:22PM 0 points [-]

Oh wait... Now that I think about it, Ireland's Irish language policy is probably the biggest thing-like-that in the world. (Yeah, it's saddening that people don't know their great-grandparents' language, but if the Irish government actually cared about preserving Irish, and not just about seeming to care about preserving Irish to an inattentive observer, they could achieve that in waaaaaaay more cost-effective ways.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 October 2012 05:11:07PM 3 points [-]

What would be better methods of preserving Irish?

Comment author: army1987 11 October 2012 06:57:24PM *  2 points [-]

AFAIK things are slowly changing for the better, but this is my impression of how they were until recently. (People who have spent more time in Ireland than I have (EDIT: eight months) are welcome to correct me.)

1. Forcing every single school child in Ireland to study it four hours a week fourteen years (even in areas where Irish hasn't been spoken for centuries, and in a way reminiscent of the study of dead languages and that it is nearly useless for actually having conversations with native speakers, or for remembering anything after a few years out of school) is just a huge waste of time and money, IMO. Making it optional would make much more sense, and make sure that only people actually interested will learn it.

1b. They also spend lots of money for translations of official acts hardly anyone will read. Changing the rule from “the public administration must write all documents in both languages” to (say) “the public administration can write all documents in either language, but must prepare a translation in the other language if requested with a thirty days' notice” would save lots of money that could be spent otherwise.

2. They don't even seriously try to assess what the situation in the Gaeltacht is actually like, which IMO is a fundamental prerequisite to fixing it. For example, the 2011 census asked the question “Can you speak Irish?” with possible answers “Yes” and “No” -- cf “How well can you speak English?” with answers “Very well”, “Well”, “Not well” and “Not at all” (I'm told that this one was only added in the last census, but why didn't they do the same with Irish?); and the question “How often do you speak Irish?” has answers “Daily, within the educational system”, “Daily, outside the educational system”, “Weekly”, “More rarely” (IIRC) and “Never” -- and the first two were only split in the last census, after people realized that having an answer “Daily” would inflate the numbers because all school children would pick that. (Why didn't they just ask “How often do you speak Irish, not counting language classes and the like?”?) And I'm not aware of any large-scale survey asking people in the Gaeltacht which language they prefer to use in which circumstances, as there have been for Welsh. (Are they scared of the answers?)

2b. They hardly do anything to make sure that children of living native speakers are comfortable with continuing speaking Irish, i.e. that they are able to cope with Irish in everyday life whenever possible and are forced to recur to English only when actually necessary. For example, they don't even require Irish on food labels and the like. Living as a monolingual Irish speaker in present-day Ireland would be pretty much impossible, even in the Gaeltacht.

Comment author: Epiphany 09 October 2012 03:38:41AM 1 point [-]

One interesting thing to note is that if you're accustomed to pledging your allegiance to something every day as a child, while you're still unable to enter into legal agreements and aren't thinking about them, it may not occur to you that when you go to school on your 18th birthday, you've just pledged your allegiance in a way that... might be legally binding?

Regardless of what sort of government expects it's children to pledge allegiance every day, do you agree with the practice of making people pledge allegiance?

Allegiance is kind of vague. It could be interpreted to mean doing normal responsibilities (not being a criminal, paying your taxes) or it might be interpreted to mean total obedience. I'm not sure whether to agree or disagree with the pledge. Maybe I should disagree with it on the grounds that it is too vague and therefore doesn't protect reciters from feeling obligated to obey a tyrant, were one to end up in power.

Comment author: Troshen 11 October 2012 11:46:55PM 3 points [-]

This is actually has been a problem with real-life examples. I've read that the oaths in NAZI Germany were specifically to Hitler himself, and that many members of the military felt bound by their oaths to obey orders, even when it was clear the orders shouldn't be obeyed. I think the critical danger is in giving oaths to an individual (any of which have a very real chance of being corrupted by power, unless they take action to prevent it).

I see the difference that the U.S. pledge of alliegence is to the republic and it's symbol, the flag. The saving factors to prevent abuses of power are:

The focus on alliegence to the nation as a whole, including all it's members, it's leaders, and it's ideals.

The "with liberty and justice for all" line, which is the guarantee of what the State offers in return. The U.S. has to be worthy of the alliegence.

The extreme other war example is the U.S Civil War, where many military officers left the army to join the Confederacy. They formed ranks and marched right out of West Point because they opposed the U.S. leadership. And the soldiers who stayed let them go, knowing they were going to help the seceding states fight. Even if they disagreed, it was felt the honorable thing to do was to let them go.

This idea shows up specifically in our military training and culture in the definition of lawful orders. The military culture and legal rules define your duty to obey all lawful orders from your chain of command, up to the President. So that if you feel that an order is unlawful it's actually your duty to disobey. Now, of course, that carries with it all the weight of being the first one to be the opposition, so it's no guarantee to prevent abuses of power, but it does exist.

I gues my point is that the danger is in making oaths to a person.

I agree that it's a form of indoctrination for children. But as long as the trade of alliegence and freedom it describes is a true and real one, I think it's a good thing to keep those principles in their minds.

Comment author: Epiphany 12 October 2012 12:16:58AM 0 points [-]

Ooh, I like these points, Troshen. You might be right that there's enough "security" built into the pledge. Now you've got me questioning whether it might actually protect us.

If nothing else, it would make tyrannical pledges look bad by comparison, perhaps blocking them.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 October 2012 04:32:01AM 2 points [-]

One interesting thing to note is that if you're accustomed to pledging your allegiance to something every day as a child, while you're still unable to enter into legal agreements and aren't thinking about them, it may not occur to you that when you go to school on your 18th birthday, you've just pledged your allegiance in a way that... might be legally binding?

I suppose it could, yet countries don't require you to do anything to place you in such legal binds. They have laws about "treason" that they can apply when people from their population don't act out allegiance, whether they have pledged it or not.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 October 2012 04:27:09AM 2 points [-]

Regardless of what sort of government expects it's children to pledge allegiance every day, do you agree with the practice of making people pledge allegiance?

Of course not. I was stabbing one of our soldiers in the back. Because, frankly, that metaphorical soldier had it coming.

Comment author: ciphergoth 10 October 2012 06:01:13PM 3 points [-]

I have seen footage of a documentary about Cuba, that used kids reciting their allegiance to the State, Party etc as a way of showing what an evil place it was. To this Londoner, yes, the whole thing of kids reciting the Pledge is very creepy.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 08 October 2012 06:51:24PM 3 points [-]

Yeah. I can pledge allegiance, now, and when I do, I mean it - but coming out of the mouth of a child, it's as meaningless as they all know it is. When I was a kid, I knew it was all kinds of messed up. I suspected that I would agree with it when I was older, and I was right. That doesn't make it valid.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 09 October 2012 07:39:12AM *  9 points [-]

As a child I had to pledge that I will become a law-abiding citizen of my country, and a member of the Communist party.

I have failed to adhere to both parts. The first part, because "my beloved homeland" does not exist anymore. The second part, knowingly and willingly. (Although, as a 6-years old child, I would probably also guess that I will agree with both parts when I grow up. Mostly because of: "if that wouldn't be a good thing, they would not ask me to promise it".)

Or maybe it's just because I had to recite the pledge only once. ;-)
(OK, technically I had to practice it a few times first.)

Comment author: shminux 08 October 2012 06:58:19PM 5 points [-]

I can pledge allegiance, now, and when I do, I mean it

Brainwashing success!

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 09 October 2012 02:54:23PM *  1 point [-]

I don't agree with everything the country does, that's for sure. But on the broad strokes, I'm willing to stand for it.

Comment author: shminux 09 October 2012 03:00:31PM 0 points [-]

Why? In other words, which parts of the pledge would you keep, and which would you change/remove and why?

Comment author: Exetera 09 October 2012 03:59:29AM 1 point [-]

It's not actually required that children say it; it would, in fact, violate the Constitution to mandate political speech, even from students. But it's expected that students recite the Pledge, and most do.

Comment author: MaoShan 10 October 2012 03:18:51AM 0 points [-]

Because if they don't, they are looked at with suspicion and ostracized.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 October 2012 06:16:32AM 1 point [-]

For what it's worth, another student noticed I wasn't actually saying the pledge and hassled me mildly about it. I gave in immediately and started saying the pledge-- it didn't seem worth the effort of opposition.

This didn't increase my (very minimal) sense of patriotism. Oddly enough, I don't think it lowered my sense of patriotism, either.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 09 October 2012 07:44:14PM 5 points [-]

I would recite the Pledge of Allegiance ending, "With freedom, and justice, for all except the children."

I'm not sure it would be a bad thing if they had a ceremony where those students who wanted to recited the Twelve Virtues once a week, or Frankena's list of terminal values, or the rules of algebra. Repetition is a perfectly good way to install association and thereby skill - you can use it to repeat good things or bad things. It's not much different from printing that way.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 October 2012 08:49:07PM 3 points [-]

I would recite the Pledge of Allegiance ending, "With freedom, and justice, for all except the children."

I don't think anyone has suggested that 'freedom and justice for all' should mean that children be treated as if they were morally responsible and independent agents. I think children probably aren't capable of freedom in any meaningfully political sense, and it seems like it would be enormously cruel to subject them to everything justice demands of an adult. At the very least, we'd be up to our ears in assault trials: kids are both violent and litigious.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 09 October 2012 09:09:16PM 2 points [-]

If I believe that a subset of the population ought not receive justice, or is not capable of freedom, then it seems I ought not declare universal liberty and justice among the defining characteristics of the Republic I'm pledging allegiance to.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 October 2012 09:21:55PM *  1 point [-]

So, I expect we agree that 'freedom and justice for all' isn't only the proper motto of a republic which lets violent criminals do what they like, and prosecutes children for assault whenever they get into a schoolyard fight.

If so, then we agree that 'freedom and justice for all' can be the motto of a republic which makes exceptions of certain classes of people freedom-and-justice-wise. ETA: Clearly not every kind of exception is a fulfillment of the motto. So then the question is just whether or not children should be accorded whatever it is we promise by 'freedom and justice for all'. What do you think?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 09 October 2012 10:06:08PM 1 point [-]

Well, there's two questions here.

The first is, if we don't believe that everyone is entitled to freedom and justice, is "freedom and justice for all" a proper motto for our republic? To which in principle my answer is "no," though in practice I would not, for example, endorse rewriting it to read "freedom and justice for those entitled to it," even if it turns out that's what we actually mean, because the political signalling effects of doing so would be too expensive.

The second is, to what degree are children entitled to freedom and justice? That's a much more complicated question, and I'm not sure I can answer it in any detailed way. At a very high level, my answer is "to the extent that granting them those things improves both their experience of life and that of the community, rounded to the nearest Schelling point."

That's also my answer for adults, incidentally.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 October 2012 10:16:12PM *  1 point [-]

Okay, I think we roughly agree then. Though I'd say that 'freedom and justice for all' can straightforwardly mean 'freedom and justice for everyone capable and worthy of being free and responding to the demands of justice' (where I take that to exclude children, the insane, criminals, etc. but include nearly everyone else).

As to the freedom and justice we accord children and adults, we agree at a general kind of level, though in particular cases I don't think the improvement of someone's experience should settle the question of whether or not (or the extent to which) they're entitled to freedom or justice.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 09 October 2012 11:24:35PM 0 points [-]

If giving someone justice makes their experience of life worse and makes their community's experience of life worse, ought I endorse giving them justice? If so, why?

Comment author: Bugmaster 09 October 2012 09:22:44PM *  1 point [-]

Well, sure, repeating the multiplication table or the digits of Pi every day can be quite useful. It helps you memorize products of single-digit numbers and also Pi.

But repeating a pledge to obey an institution is, IMO, irrational at best. Imagine that the United States did something insane (well, more insane than all the things it's doing right now), like starting World War III with no provocation whatsoever. Would it still be deserving of your allegiance ? That is to say, would you still do your best to uphold its principles and further its goals, which now include "kill everyone on Earth with nukes" ?

Now, if the Pledge said something like, "I pledge to support those institutions who have a reasonably good chance of improving the lives of all humans, and to reform or abolish those institutions that hinder progress toward this goal", then I could probably get behind it.

Similarly, I wouldn't pledge to drive my current car to work every day, be it rain, hail, or shine -- but I could reasonably promise to stick with my car while it functions, fix it when it breaks down if fixing it is financially feasible, or get a new car if I can afford it. Such an oath may not sound as solemn, but at least it's practical.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 09 October 2012 10:30:05PM 2 points [-]

I agree the Pledge sounds a bit creepy in retrospect - I was only disagreeing with the idea that any possible thing you repeat at the start of class is creepy.

Comment author: Bugmaster 10 October 2012 05:07:54PM 1 point [-]

Ah, understood, that makes sense. Repeating the multiplication at the beginning of class would not be creepy at all (unless you also pledged allegiance to it, somehow, I suppose).

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 October 2012 06:43:11PM 7 points [-]

I pledge allegiance to the prime number 2, the prime number 3, and the prime number 5. And to their product, 30, and their sum, 10...

Comment author: Epiphany 09 October 2012 03:58:02AM 2 points [-]

Wait, there are rituals? And someone deleted the links to them? Anyone want to tell me what they're talking about?

Comment deleted 09 October 2012 04:29:22AM *  [-]
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 09 October 2012 07:30:16PM -1 points [-]

The rituals in question were my rationalist marriage ceremony and Raemon's solstice ritual. Obviously I have no objection to these being discussed, though I would strongly recommend doing so in a separate Discussion thread. As this thread is a part of a new sequence that may be used to introduce newcomers to LW, I am especially interested in keeping it clean.

Comment author: Epiphany 10 October 2012 12:37:48AM 2 points [-]

Sure. I saved my thoughts for a different thread where they'll be more on-topic.

Comment author: wedrifid 10 October 2012 06:26:09AM 1 point [-]

Sure. I saved my thoughts for a different thread where they'll be more on-topic.

The question you asked me on this thread was deleted too. If you happen to ask it again I'll respond.

Comment author: V_V 08 October 2012 12:44:35PM *  2 points [-]

Many secular institutions perform ceremonies of typically two kinds:

Celebrating members who enter, leave or change rank within the organization (e.g. academic graduation, martial art belt change, ...). These rituals seem don't seem to pose an hazard to epistemical or instrumental rationality, and can be actually quite useful to ensure that members of the organization know who the other members are and what their role is.

Celebrating anniversaries, typically the founding date of the organization, or some other date related to prominent past members or relevant historical figures (e.g., a physics departement celebrating 100 years from Annus Mirabilis, or a computer science department celebraring the 100th birthday of Alan Turing). Again, these rituals don't seem harmful, and they might be useful to reaffirm the mission of the organization.

Making children recite the Pledge of Allegiance, on the other hand, is indeed a form of essentially religious indoctrination, even without the "under God" bit.

There is a very thin line between government and organized religion, and instances of crossing it are not unknown of, in one direction (theocracies) or the other (political religions, such as North Korea's Juche or Bolshevism in the former Communist states). Even countries which are in general considered to do a good job at keeping the state separated from religion, like the US, occasionally resort to religious techniques of indoctrination.

Now, why pull from a theological source when there's all these other sources available? Well, religions have been doing it the longest, for one thing. In the absence of a deep understanding of the mechanics of something, a good heuristic for getting it done is to find someone that does it well and plagiarize.

Religious rituals are effective at indoctrinating people: make people recite your "Truths" until they memorize and chant them mechanically without paying attention to their implications, associate them with all kinds of positive rewards, from large carbohydrate-rich meals to the sense of belonging to a close-knit community, and the effect you get is that you lower people's critical thinking skills and make them more prone to accept your "Truths" without question, and become emotionally attached to them so that they will find rationalizations instead of throwing them away when presented with contrary evidence.

Is this the proper way of disseminating rationalist values? I don't think so.

Even if you were 100% sure that whatever you are endorsing is so indisputable that there will be never the need to change it, people should believe rational arguments because they critically analyzed them and found that they stand on their own merits, not because they have been psychologically conditioned to believe them.

Comment author: Vaniver 08 October 2012 12:55:10PM 4 points [-]

Religious ritual are effective at indoctrinating people: make people recite your "Truths" until they memorize and chant them mechanically without paying attention to their implications, associate them with all kinds of positive rewards, from large carbohydrate-rich meals to the sense of belonging to a close-knit community, and the effect you get is that you lower people's critical thinking skills and make them more prone to accept your "Truths" without question, and become emotionally attached to them so that they will find rationalizations instead of throwing them away when presented with contrary evidence.

Is this the proper way of disseminating rationalist values? I don't think so.

Sure, people believing in truths because they've repeated them a lot rather than because they've digested them and updated all their beliefs correspondingly is a problem. But it's also a problem to see a new belief, agree with it, and then not repeat it enough to update all of your beliefs correspondingly. Getting a skill to the 5-second level takes practice, and often a lot of practice.

Comment author: V_V 08 October 2012 02:59:18PM 1 point [-]

Sure, but the way to practice these skills is to apply them to actual problems, not to mindlessly recite their principles.

Recitation and worship can turn even good rational principles into articles of faith, disconnected from anything else, which you just "believe to believe" rather actually understand and apply.

Comment author: Troshen 12 October 2012 12:04:40AM *  1 point [-]

V_V and Vaniver both make really good points, but the fact is that the U.S was not built to be completely rationalist, and people in general are not rationalists.

It's a communal set of rules for a people and a place that's designed to give the members the most freedom while still ensuring stability and order. And it has a really good track record of success in doing that.

I agree that it's not an optimal solution in a future, ideally rationalist world. But it's not a tool for teaching children to think for themselves. It's a tool to get them to follow the social rules. And I'll tell you, children want their own way and DO NOT want to follow rules. And if you let them have their way all the time you WILL spoil them. There's a time to teach rules-following (especially rules that protect liberties and freedoms) and a time to teach mistrust of authority and rules-breaking.

What other device would you propose for a future, ideally rationalist world? I'm not being fecetious here. I'm curious. Spawned by the Wierdtopia idea, can you think of a better solution?

I personally think of it as like teaching an apprentice. Apprentices weren't taught the why's. They were taught the how's. As a journeyman and a master you discovered the why's. Kids are apprentice citizens.

Comment deleted 07 October 2012 11:05:35PM [-]
Comment deleted 08 October 2012 12:08:01AM [-]
Comment author: TsviBT 07 October 2012 06:29:10PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: ChristianKl 09 October 2012 09:23:00PM 0 points [-]

Seth Roberts's "Shangri-La diet", which was propagating through econblogs, led me to lose twenty pounds that I've mostly kept off, and then it mysteriously stopped working...

What does stopped working mean? Your weight got stable? You regained the pounds you lost? You regained more than you lost?

Comment author: [deleted] 11 October 2012 06:40:50PM 2 points [-]

that I've mostly kept off

Comment author: DavidPlumpton 07 October 2012 11:55:29PM 0 points [-]

But of course this whole post is really about playing Go... ;-)

Comment author: MTGandP 01 November 2012 08:42:42PM 1 point [-]

[R]ationalist opinion leaders are better able to . . . give up faster when things don't work.

Why is this a good thing? It seems to me that people give up too easily just as much as—if not more than—the opposite, especially when they're trying something that they don't expect to work. You have to stick with it long enough to collect a reasonable amount of data.

The deeper danger is in allowing your de facto sense of rationalist community to start being defined by conformity to what people think is merely optimal, rather than the cognitive algorithms and thinking techniques that are supposed to be at the center.

This is true. Wouldn't it be beneficial, though, for any particular community to focus on upholding rationalist principles? If the LW community is specifically committed to rationality, other communities should be committed to rationality as a side effect—as an optimization heuristic.

The effective altruism community, for example, already does a pretty good job of this. Effective altruists tend to be aware of the sorts of biases that get in the way of effective giving. On the other hand, most charities and charity-based communities don't have this focus on rationality. The breast cancer movement, for instance, does not give the same attention to rationality as the effective altruism movement.

Of course, if the breast cancer movement did give attention to rationality, it probably wouldn't be the breast cancer movement anymore—if would be the effective altruism movement. If you're looking for the optimal method for preventing breast cancer, why not generalize that and just look for the optimal method for helping people (which is almost certainly not breast cancer research)?

Comment author: Decius 15 October 2012 04:37:45AM 1 point [-]

Is it the intention here to exclude people from the community who have doubts as to the universal applicability of Rationalism, in the general sense? Or someone who argues (even from a non-Rational standpoint) that a non-Rational method is optimal in a specific case? Or even someone who believes that from a Rational standpoint, a non-Rational method is optimal in general?

Obviously someone who uses non-Rational methods to conclude that non-Rational methods are in general superior has nothing to contribute on that subject. How closely do decisions about Rationality have to conform to the local norm for someone to be a real community member?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 October 2012 04:17:29PM 1 point [-]

My own thoughts about these and related words are here.

Comment author: katydee 07 October 2012 03:09:05AM 1 point [-]

Typo report: there appears to be an underscore rather than a space in the sentence "personal_identity follows individual particles."

Comment author: yew 07 October 2012 05:02:43AM *  2 points [-]

The sixth paragraph should probably have "the second Go stone placed to block".

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 October 2012 03:26:35AM 1 point [-]

Fixed.

Comment author: Insert_Idionym_Here 17 October 2012 01:10:59AM 0 points [-]

May I ask how many people any of you have seen walking around entirely barefoot, as opposed to wearing minimalist footwear of any kind?

Comment author: MichaelVassar 11 October 2012 02:08:41AM 0 points [-]

I heard an amazing classical performance of Amon Tobin by the cover group for the proper Amon Tobin recently.