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ohdotoh comments on The Third Alternative - Less Wrong

55 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 May 2007 11:47PM

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Comment author: ohdotoh 19 September 2009 06:04:39PM 5 points [-]

'They' is a gender neutral pronoun and like Schrodinger's cat it shows the superposition of he and she in an unknown state. Until observed, the human is simultaneously male and female.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 19 September 2009 09:55:33PM *  1 point [-]

It's ugly, though. "They" is a plural. I just used it in my last post, but I didn't like doing it; now it is gender-sensitive, but ungrammatical.

I also used the phrase "a new man", because "a new person" doesn't have the history of use that invokes the noble/creepy feelings that I wanted to communicate. I couldn't think of any gender-neutral way around it.

If we took a vote, I'd vote for "it". It also has a nice, dehumanizing ring to it, which would probably be good, given our anthropic tendencies.

Comment author: Johnicholas 19 September 2009 10:01:53PM 7 points [-]

I can't help linking Hofstadter's very funny and apropos "Person Paper":


Wikipedia points out that the singular or indeterminate-number "they" has a pretty long history in the english language - Shakespeare used it, for example.


Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 19 September 2009 10:06:23PM 3 points [-]

When you are speaking of people, "anthropic" is the right stance!

Comment author: PhilGoetz 19 September 2009 10:13:44PM 2 points [-]

What an anthropic thing to say!

"Anthropic" means human-centric. I want humans to think of "people" as a more general term, not as a synonym for "human".

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 19 September 2009 10:15:27PM 0 points [-]

People are human.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 19 September 2009 10:23:22PM 2 points [-]

That's not a statement with a true/false value; it's a philosophical/ethical assertion.

In any case, regardless of whether that statement is extensionally true at present, it will not be in the future, and we need to prepare for that future in advance.

Additionally, philosophy routinely finds it useful to ask hypothetical questions. Equipping ourselves with mental categories that make us incapable of comprehending hypotheticals about people from most possible worlds will lead to error.

Comment author: Toddling 22 January 2013 04:23:23AM 2 points [-]

This is interesting, because I've never found 'they' particlulary ugly or awkward. I do like 'it', though I suspect that the 'dehumanizing ring' to it would disappear if it were regularly used to refer to humans. The main reason I use 'they' instead is because, as far as I'm aware, it's accepted by a reasonably large contingent of authorities on the language as grammatically correct. I also find it less awkward than 'he/she' (I never know whether to say "he-she" or "he or she"), and popular alternatives like 'zie' (of which there are too many variations, none of which is used often enough that a general audience will not require an explanation). I think the main problem we'd have no matter what we chose would be effectively encouraging widespread use, and I don't have any very good ideas on how to do this.