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Viliam comments on "Flinching away from truth” is often about *protecting* the epistemology - Less Wrong

72 Post author: AnnaSalamon 20 December 2016 06:39PM

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Comment author: Viliam 18 January 2017 03:36:46PM *  1 point [-]

There is a group (not CFAR) that allegedly uses the following tactics:

1) They teach their students (among other things) that consistency is good, and compartmentalization is bad and stupid.
2) They make the students admit explicitly that the seminar was useful for them.
3) They make the students admit explicitly that one of their important desires is to help their friends.
...and then...
4) They create strong pressure on the students to tell all their friends about the seminar, and to make them sign up for one.

The official reasoning is that if you want to be consistent, and if you want good things to happen to your friends, and if the seminar is a good thing... then logically you should want to make your friends attend the seminar. And if you want to make your friends attend the seminar, you should immediately take an action that increases the probability of that, especially if all it takes is to take your phone and make a few calls!

If there is anything stopping you, then you are inconsistent -- which means stupid! -- and you have failed at the essential lesson that was taught to you during the previous hours -- which means you will keep failing at life, because you are a comparmentalizing loser, and you can't stop being one even after the whole process was explained to you in a great detail, and you even paid a lot of money to learn this lesson! Come on, don't throw away everything, pick up the damned phone and start calling; it is not that difficult, and your first experience with overcoming compartmentalization will feel really great afterwards, trust me!

So, what exactly is wrong about this reasoning?

First, when someone says "A implies B", that doesn't mean you need to immediately jump and start doing B. There is still an option that A is false; and an option that "A implies B" is actually a lie. Or maybe "A implies B" only in some situation, or only with certain probability. Probabilistic thinking and paying attention to detail are not the opposite of consistency.

Second, just because something is good, it is not necessarily the best available option. Maybe you should spend some time thinking about even better options.

Third, there is a difference between trying to be consistent, and believing in your own infallibility. You are allowed to have probabilistic beliefs, and to admit openly that those beliefs are probabilistic. That you believe that with probability 80% A is true, but you also admit the possiblity that A is false. That is not an opposite of consistency. Furthermore, you are allowed to take an outside view, and admit that with certain probability you are wrong. That is especially important in calculating expected utility of actions that strongly depend on whether you are right or wrong.

Fourth, the most important consistency is internal. Just because you are internally consistent, it doesn't mean you have to explain all your beliefs truthfully and meaningfully to everyone, especially to people who are obviously trying to manipulate you.

...but if you learned about the concept of consistency just a few minutes ago, you probably don't realize all this.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 19 January 2017 04:56:12AM 3 points [-]

I would describe the problem as a combination of privileging the hypothesis and privileging the question. First, even granted that you want to both be consistent and help your friends, it's not clear that telling them about the seminar is the most helpful thing you can do for your friends; there are lots of other hypotheses you could try generating if you were given the time. Second, there are lots of other things you might want and do something about wanting, and someone's privileging the question by bringing these particular things to your attention in this particular way.

This objection applies pretty much verbatim to most things strangers might try to persuade you to do, e.g. donate money to their charity.