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ericn comments on Scope Insensitivity - Less Wrong

46 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 May 2007 02:53AM

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Comment author: ericn 28 December 2010 02:22:31PM -2 points [-]

Vegetarianism is similar. I know many vegetarians who only think about the poor cow who now is served as dinner instead of the thousands of animals who are killed by pesticides, fertilizers, and mechanized farming equipment needed to grow a bowl of soy beans.

We should not make decisions based on emotional reactions. They do not scale.

I haven't read the studies. I'd like your opinion on the following idea. Could it be that the way to ask the question relates to the type of curve you get? Could you lead someone to come up with a linear ramp-up of money?

Also: how does the amount the subjects stated compare to the actual cost? If I have to save one bird, it might cost me a few hundred dollars in travel expenses, etc. But saving two birds is only slightly more.

Comment author: Vaniver 28 December 2010 02:32:58PM *  21 points [-]

Vegetarianism is similar. I know many vegetarians who only think about the poor cow who now is served as dinner instead of the thousands of animals who are killed by pesticides, fertilizers, and mechanized farming equipment needed to grow a bowl of soy beans.

If they did, would their opinion change?

I think mining is nasty, dirty, and dangerous. But I love uranium mining, even though the ore is radioactive. Why? Because each kilogram of uranium ore you pull out of the ground replaces at least ten* kilograms of coal. Uranium mining represents a net reduction to the total amount of mining that happens (with a constant energy load).

Likewise, when you go from growing plants to feed a cow to feed a human to growing plants to feed a human, you reduce the amount of plants necessary at least tenfold,* which similarly sounds like a tenfold reduction in the animals killed by farming processes.

So the thing that vegetarians aren't thinking about strengthens their argument. Are you sure you're thinking clearly about this issue, instead of trying to score points?

* I don't have the time/energy to look up the actual numbers at the moment- I'm >98% confident they're over 10 times, and strongly suspect they're less than 100.

Comment author: Catprog 03 September 2011 02:03:16PM 2 points [-]

Yes 10 times as many plants need to be grown but the harvest methods are quite different.

A cow provides fertilizer(manure) and the farming equipment(it eats the grass there) .

I suspect based on my recollections sun->plants is 1% and plants->animals is 10% and animal->animal is also 10%.

Also per kg meat is more dense so you are shipping less of it.

Comment author: lsparrish 03 September 2011 02:47:22PM 5 points [-]

A cow provides fertilizer(manure) and the farming equipment(it eats the grass there) .

That's for free range grass fed cattle. I doubt that is >10% of the beef market.

Comment author: Catprog 04 September 2011 02:42:40AM 2 points [-]

true.

I am from Australia though.

http://www.anra.gov.au/topics/agriculture/beef/index.html

20 million total cows vs half a million in feedlots.

http://micpohling.wordpress.com/2007/04/08/world-top-15-country-on-highest-number-of-cattle/

Brazil is one of the countries with the most cows

http://beefmagazine.com/mag/beef_brazilian_beef/

One “missing picture” in the Brazilian cattle industry though, is that of a North American-style feedlot. Only 4% of the cattle killed each year are “fattened” in feedlots. With Europe being Brazil's main beef export market, the majority is grown to finish under a hormone-free regime on grass pastures.

Comment author: Spencer_Sleep 12 September 2011 01:16:52AM 3 points [-]

Likewise, when you go from growing plants to feed a cow to feed a human to growing plants to feed a human, you >reduce the amount of plants necessary at least tenfold,* which similarly sounds like a tenfold reduction in the animals >killed by farming processes.

This is the main motivation for many vegetarians, from an energy reduction perspective. Ten times (approximately) more plants means ten times (approximately) the energy taken for the same amount of food/energy for the consumer.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 18 November 2011 12:22:45PM 6 points [-]

So the thing that vegetarians aren't thinking about strengthens their argument.

This is only somewhat related, as it is less true of overtly political domains, but I am confused by the frequency with which seemingly reasonable methods support naively counter-intuitive conclusions against naively intuitive conclusions where ultimately the naively intuitive conclusions win, i.e. where bullet biting loses to traditionalism. E.g. mathematical or statistical arguments, even solid-seeming ones, often lose in practice due to leaving out important considerations which the brain's automatic algorithms don't miss.

Ironically this is especially true in the heuristic and biases literature where normative math is often misunderstood and experimental results are often misinterpreted. The weakness of the findings in the heuristics and biases literature undermines the most commonly cited support of the "the world is mad" hypothesis and so there is a lack of alternative wide-scale explanations for any perceived wide-spread irrationality. Lack of incentives for "rationality" in various domains remains a blanket explanation but it can explain almost anything and is perhaps unjustifiably hinged on a notion of rationality that might or might not be well-supported. In general any behavior can be explained away as a response to a set of incentives that does not include objective truth.

If conclusions reached via common human intuitions or epistemic practices are generally more valid than is suggested by their cited supporting arguments, and if uncommon epistemic practices often lead to conclusions that are less valid than those practices seem to suggest, then it may be wise for those who utilize uncommon epistemic practices to be relatively more wary of their uncommon conclusions and relatively more curious about possible explanations of common conclusions than they otherwise would have been. Scientism/falsificationism, Bayesianism, skepticism, and similar philosophically-inspired memeplexes are examples of sources of uncommon epistemic practices.