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Dpar comments on Your Strength as a Rationalist - Less Wrong

69 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 11 August 2007 12:21AM

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Comment author: Dpar 14 January 2010 06:36:07PM *  6 points [-]

I don't see that you did anything at all irrational. You're talking to a complete stranger on the internet. He doesn't know you, and cannot have any possible interest in deceiving you. He tells you a fairly detailed story and asks for you advice. For him to make the whole thing up just for kicks is an example of highly irrational and fairly unlikely behavior.

Conversely, a person's panicking over chest pains and calling the ambulance is a comparatively frequent occurrence. Your having read somewhere something about ambulance policies does not amount to having concrete, irrefutable knowledge that an ambulance crew cannot make an on-site determination that there's no need to take a person to the hospital. To a person without extensive medical knowledge there is nothing particularly unlikely about the story you were told.

Therefore, the situation is this -- you are told by a complete stranger that has no reason to lie to you a perfectly believable story. You have no concrete reason ("read something somewhere" does not qualify) to doubt either the story or the man's sanity. Thus there is nothing illogical about taking the story at face value. You did the perfectly rational thing.

Since there was no irrationality in your initial behavior, the conclusions that you arrive at further in your post are unfounded.

DP

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 04 April 2010 09:26:49AM *  12 points [-]

You're talking to a complete stranger on the internet. He doesn't know you, and cannot have any possible interest in deceiving you.

There's plenty of evidence that some people (a smallish minority, I think) will deceive strangers for the fun of it.

Comment author: Dpar 11 May 2010 06:20:12AM *  0 points [-]

Which, as I said later on in the same paragraph, is irrational and unlikely behavior. Therefore, when lacking any factual evidence, the reasonable presumption is that that's not the case.

DP

Comment author: RobinZ 11 May 2010 03:14:00PM 5 points [-]

I think many of us have actually encountered liars on the Internet. I'm not sure what you mean when you say "lacking any factual evidence".

Comment author: Dpar 07 June 2010 11:07:01AM *  2 points [-]

I presume that you have encountered liars in the real world as well. Do you, on that basis, habitually assume that a random stranger engaging in casual conversation with you is a liar?

My point is that pathological liars are a small minority. So if you're dealing with a person that you know absolutely nothing about, and who does not have any conceivable reason to lie to you, there is nothing unreasonable in assuming that he's telling you the truth, unless you have factual evidence (i.e. you have accurate, verifiable knowledge of ambulance policies) that contradicts what he's saying.

DP

Comment author: RobinZ 07 June 2010 12:06:04PM 4 points [-]

I think at this point the questions have become (a) "how many bits of evidence does it take to raise 'someone is lying' to prominence as a hypothesis?" and (b) "how many bits of evidence can I assign to 'someone is lying' after evaluating the probability of this story based on what I know?"

I believe your argument is that a > b (specifically, that a is large and b is small), where the post asserts that a < b. I'm not going to say that's unreasonable, given that all we know is what Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote, but often actual experience has much more detail than any feasible summary - I'm willing to grant him the benefit of the doubt, given that his tiny note of discord got the right answer in this instance.

Comment author: Dpar 09 August 2010 05:41:54PM *  1 point [-]

My argument is what I stated, nothing more. Namely that there is nothing unreasonable about assuming that a perfect stranger that you're having a casual conversation with is not trying to deceive you. I already laid out my reasoning for it. I'm not sure what more I can add.

DP

Comment author: persephonehazard 07 June 2011 10:33:45PM 3 points [-]

"Do you, on that basis, habitually assume that a random stranger engaging in casual conversation with you is a liar?"

Yes. Absolutely. Almost /everyone/ lies to complete strangers sometimes. Who among us has never given an enhanced and glamourfied story about who they are to a stranger they struck up a conversation with on a train?

Never? Really? Not even /once/?

Comment author: Alicorn 07 June 2011 10:43:55PM 0 points [-]

Yes. Absolutely. Almost /everyone/ lies to complete strangers sometimes. Who among us has never given an enhanced and glamourfied story about who they are to a stranger they struck up a conversation with on a train?

Never? Really? Not even /once/?

If everyone regularly talked to strangers on trains, and exactly once lied to such a stranger, it would still be pretty safe to assume that any given train-stranger is being honest with you.

Comment author: persephonehazard 08 June 2011 02:55:40AM 1 point [-]

Actually, yes, you're entirely right.

In conversations I've had about this with friends - good grief, there's a giant flashing anecdata alert if ever I did see one, but it's the best we've got to go off here - I would suspect that people do it often enough that it's a reasonable thing to consider in a situation like the one being discussed here, though.

Not that I think it's a bad thing that the person in question didn't, mind you. It would be a very easy option not to consider.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 04 April 2010 10:17:29AM 5 points [-]

("read something somewhere" does not qualify)

Wait, why not?

Comment author: Dpar 11 May 2010 06:22:01AM *  0 points [-]

I read somewhere that if spin about and click my heels 3 times I will be transported to the land of Oz. Does that qualify as a concrete reason to believe that such a land does indeed exist?

DP

Comment author: thomblake 09 August 2010 05:49:31PM 7 points [-]

I read somewhere that if spin about and click my heels 3 times I will be transported to the land of Oz. Does that qualify as a concrete reason to believe that such a land does indeed exist?

That indeed serves as evidence for that fact, though we have much stronger evidence to the contrary.

N.B. You do not need to sign your comments; your username appears above every one.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 August 2010 05:54:49PM *  8 points [-]

That indeed serves as evidence for that fact, though we have much stronger evidence to the contrary.

And not just because clicking the heels three times is more canonically (and more often) said to be way to return to Kansas from Oz. and not to Oz.

Comment author: Dpar 09 August 2010 06:44:57PM -2 points [-]

So the fact that something was written somewhere is sufficient to meet your criteria for considering it evidence? I take it you have actually tried clicking your heels to check whether or not you would be teleported to Oz then?

Also, does my signing my comments offend you?

DP

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 09 August 2010 06:48:38PM *  10 points [-]

Also, does my signing my comments offend you?

It hurts aesthetically by disrupting uniformity of standard style.

Comment author: Dpar 09 August 2010 07:13:23PM 8 points [-]

Fair enough. It's a habit of mine that I'm not married to. If members of this board take issue with it, I can stop.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 August 2010 07:06:48PM 2 points [-]

So the fact that something was written somewhere is sufficient to meet your criteria for considering it evidence?

Yes. It's really sucky evidence.

I take it you have actually tried clicking your heels to check whether or not you would be teleported to Oz then?

This doesn't remotely follow and is far weaker evidence than other available sources. For a start, everyone knows that you get to Oz with tornadoes and concussions.

Also, does my signing my comments offend you?

It makes you look like an outsider who isn't able to follow simple social conventions and may have a tendency towards obstinacy. (Since you asked...)

Comment author: Dpar 09 August 2010 07:19:32PM *  0 points [-]

"This doesn't remotely follow and is far weaker evidence than other available sources. For a start, everyone knows that you get to Oz with tornadoes and concussions."

Let's not get bogged down in the specific procedure of getting to Oz. My point was that if you truly adapt merely seeing something written somewhere as your standard for evidence, you commit yourself to analyzing and weighing the merits of EVERYTHING you read about EVERYWHERE. Do you mean to tell that when you read a fairy tale you truly consider whether or not what's written there is true? That you don't just dismiss it offhand without giving it a second thought?

"It makes you look like an outsider who isn't able to follow simple social conventions and may have a tendency towards obstinacy. (Since you asked...)"

Like I said above to Vladimir, it's not a big deal, but you're reading quite a bit into a simple habit.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 09 August 2010 07:29:03PM 2 points [-]

The fact that something is really written is true; whether it implies that the written statements themselves are true is a separate theoretical question. Yes, ideally you'd want to take into account everything you observe in order to form an accurate idea of future expected events (observable or not). Of course, it's not quite possible, but not for the want of motivation.

Comment author: Dpar 09 August 2010 07:36:30PM 0 points [-]

Well I didn't think I needed to clarify that I'm not questioning whether or not something that's written is really written. Of course, I'm questioning the truthfulness of the actual statement.

Or not so much it's truthfulness, but rather whether or not it can be considered evidence. Though I realize that you take issue with arguing over word definitions, to me the word evidence has certain meaning that goes beyond every random written sentence, whisper or rumor that you encounter.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 09 August 2010 07:39:17PM *  3 points [-]

The fact that something is written, or not written, is evidence about the way world is, and hence to some extent evidence about any hypothesis about the world. Whether it's strong evidence about a given hypothesis is a different question, and whether the statement written/not written is correct is yet another question.

(See also the links from this page.)

Comment author: Cyan 09 August 2010 07:43:10PM *  6 points [-]

Though I realize that you take issue with arguing over word definitions, to me the word evidence has certain meaning that goes beyond every random written sentence, whisper or rumor that you encounter.

Around these parts, a claim that B is evidence for A is a taken to be equivalent to claiming that B is more probable if A is true than if not-A is true. Something can be negligible evidence without being strictly zero evidence, as in your example of a fairy story.

Comment author: jimrandomh 09 August 2010 07:39:10PM *  7 points [-]

Let's not get bogged down in the specific procedure of getting to Oz. My point was that if you truly adapt merely seeing something written somewhere as your standard for evidence, you commit yourself to analyzing and weighing the merits of EVERYTHING you read about EVERYWHERE.

No, you can acknowledge that something is evidence while also believing that it's arbitrarily weak. Let's not confuse the practical question of how strong evidence has to be before it becomes worth the effort to use it ("standard of evidence") with the epistemic question of what things are evidence at all. Something being written down, even in a fairy tale, is evidence for its truth; it's just many orders of magnitude short of the evidential strength necessary for us to consider it likely.

Comment author: Dpar 09 August 2010 07:53:50PM 0 points [-]

Vladimir, Cyan, and jimrandomh, since you essentially said the same thing, consider this reply to be addressed to all three of you.

Answer me honestly, when reading a fairy tale, do you really stop to consider what's written there, qualify its worth as evidence, and compare it to everything else you know that might contradict it, before making the decision that the probability of the fairy tale being true is extremely low? Do you really not just dismiss it offhand as not true without a second thought?

Comment author: Cyan 09 August 2010 07:58:18PM *  3 points [-]

When I pick up a work of fiction, I do not spend time assessing its veracity. If I read a book of equally fantastic claims which purports to be true, I do spend a little time. You might want to peruse bounded rationality for an overview.

Comment author: Oligopsony 09 August 2010 08:00:05PM 2 points [-]

No, but only because that would be cognitively burdensome. We're boundedly rational.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 09 August 2010 08:11:46PM 2 points [-]

Immediate observation is only that something is written. That it's also true is a theoretical hypothesis about that immediate observation. That what you are reading is a fairy tale is evidence against the things written there being true, so the theory that what's written in a fairy tale is true is weak. On the other hand, the fact that you observe the words of a given fairy tale is strong evidence that the person (author) whose name is printed on the cover really existed.

Comment deleted 10 August 2010 08:18:14AM [-]
Comment author: Dpar 10 August 2010 12:35:58PM -2 points [-]

Duly noted. God forbid I do something that annoys you. Won't be able to live with myself.

Comment author: ciphergoth 10 August 2010 12:41:33PM 5 points [-]

As always, I recommend against sarcasm, which can hide errors in reasoning that would be more obvious when you speak straightforwardly.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 10 August 2010 01:25:13PM 5 points [-]

Generally, when some minor formatting issue annoys a long-standing member of an internet community it is a good idea to listen to what they have to say. Many internet fora have standard rules about formatting and style that aren't explicitly expressed. These rules are convenient because they make reading easier for everyone. There's also a status/signaling aspect in that not using standard formatting signals someone is an outsider. Refusing to adopt standard format and styling signals an implicit lack of identification with a community. Even if one doesn't identify with a group, the effort it takes to conform to formatting norms is generally small enough that the overall gain is positive.