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Dark Side Epistemology

31 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 17 October 2008 11:55PM

Followup toEntangled Truths, Contagious Lies

If you once tell a lie, the truth is ever after your enemy.

I have previously spoken of the notion that, the truth being entangled, lies are contagious.  If you pick up a pebble from the driveway, and tell a geologist that you found it on a beach—well, do you know what a geologist knows about rocks?  I don't.  But I can suspect that a water-worn pebble wouldn't look like a droplet of frozen lava from a volcanic eruption.  Do you know where the pebble in your driveway really came from?  Things bear the marks of their places in a lawful universe; in that web, a lie is out of place.  [Edit:  Geologist in comments says that most pebbles in driveways are taken from beaches, so they couldn't tell the difference between a driveway pebble and a beach pebble, but they could tell the difference between a mountain pebble and a driveway/beach pebble.  Case in point...]

What sounds like an arbitrary truth to one mind—one that could easily be replaced by a plausible lie—might be nailed down by a dozen linkages to the eyes of greater knowledge.  To a creationist, the idea that life was shaped by "intelligent design" instead of "natural selection" might sound like a sports team to cheer for.  To a biologist, plausibly arguing that an organism was intelligently designed would require lying about almost every facet of the organism.  To plausibly argue that "humans" were intelligently designed, you'd have to lie about the design of the human retina, the architecture of the human brain, the proteins bound together by weak van der Waals forces instead of strong covalent bonds...

Or you could just lie about evolutionary theory, which is the path taken by most creationists.  Instead of lying about the connected nodes in the network, they lie about the general laws governing the links.

And then to cover that up, they lie about the rules of science—like what it means to call something a "theory", or what it means for a scientist to say that they are not absolutely certain.

So they pass from lying about specific facts, to lying about general laws, to lying about the rules of reasoning.  To lie about whether humans evolved, you must lie about evolution; and then you have to lie about the rules of science that constrain our understanding of evolution.

But how else?  Just as a human would be out of place in a community of actually intelligently designed life forms, and you have to lie about the rules of evolution to make it appear otherwise; so too, beliefs about creationism are themselves out of place in science—you wouldn't find them in a well-ordered mind any more than you'd find palm trees growing on a glacier.  And so you have to disrupt the barriers that would forbid them.

Which brings us to the case of self-deception.

A single lie you tell yourself may seem plausible enough, when you don't know any of the rules governing thoughts, or even that there are rules; and the choice seems as arbitrary as choosing a flavor of ice cream, as isolated as a pebble on the shore...

...but then someone calls you on your belief, using the rules of reasoning that they've learned.  They say, "Where's your evidence?"

And you say, "What?  Why do I need evidence?"

So they say, "In general, beliefs require evidence."

This argument, clearly, is a soldier fighting on the other side, which you must defeat.  So you say:  "I disagree!  Not all beliefs require evidence.  In particular, beliefs about dragons don't require evidence.  When it comes to dragons, you're allowed to believe anything you like.  So I don't need evidence to believe there's a dragon in my garage."

And the one says, "Eh?  You can't just exclude dragons like that.  There's a reason for the rule that beliefs require evidence.  To draw a correct map of the city, you have to walk through the streets and make lines on paper that correspond to what you see.  That's not an arbitrary legal requirement—if you sit in your living room and draw lines on the paper at random, the map's going to be wrong.  With extremely high probability.  That's as true of a map of a dragon as it is of anything."

So now this, the explanation of why beliefs require evidence, is also an opposing soldier.  So you say:  "Wrong with extremely high probability?  Then there's still a chance, right?  I don't have to believe if it's not absolutely certain."

Or maybe you even begin to suspect, yourself, that "beliefs require evidence".  But this threatens a lie you hold precious; so you reject the dawn inside you, push the sun back under the horizon.

Or you've previously heard the proverb "beliefs require evidence", and it sounded wise enough, and you endorsed it in public.  But it never quite occurred to you, until someone else brought it to your attention, that this provreb could apply to your belief that there's a dragon in your garage.  So you think fast and say, "The dragon is in a separate magisterium."

Having false beliefs isn't a good thing, but it doesn't have to be permanently crippling—if, when you discover your mistake, you get over it.  The dangerous thing is to have a false belief that you believe should be protected as a belief—a belief-in-belief, whether or not accompanied by actual belief.

A single Lie That Must Be Protected can block someone's progress into advanced rationality.  No, it's not harmless fun.

Just as the world itself is more tangled by far than it appears on the surface; so too, there are stricter rules of reasoning, constraining belief more strongly, than the untrained would suspect.  The world is woven tightly, governed by general laws, and so are rational beliefs.

Think of what it would take to deny evolution or heliocentrism—all the connected truths and governing laws you wouldn't be allowed to know.  Then you can imagine how a single act of self-deception can block off the whole meta-level of truthseeking, once your mind begins to be threatened by seeing the connections.  Forbidding all the intermediate and higher levels of the rationalist's Art.  Creating, in its stead, a vast complex of anti-law, rules of anti-thought, general justifications for believing the untrue.

Steven Kaas said, "Promoting less than maximally accurate beliefs is an act of sabotage. Don't do it to anyone unless you'd also slash their tires."  Giving someone a false belief to protect—convincing them that the belief itself must be defended from any thought that seems to threaten it—well, you shouldn't do that to someone unless you'd also give them a frontal lobotomy.

Once you tell a lie, the truth is your enemy; and every truth connected to that truth, and every ally of truth in general; all of these you must oppose, to protect the lie.  Whether you're lying to others, or to yourself.

You have to deny that beliefs require evidence, and then you have to deny that maps should reflect territories, and then you have to deny that truth is a good thing...

Thus comes into being the Dark Side.

I worry that people aren't aware of it, or aren't sufficiently wary—that as we wander through our human world, we can expect to encounter systematically bad epistemology.

The "how to think" memes floating around, the cached thoughts of Deep Wisdom—some of it will be good advice devised by rationalists.  But other notions were invented to protect a lie or self-deception: spawned from the Dark Side.

"Everyone has a right to their own opinion."  When you think about it, where was that proverb generated?  Is it something that someone would say in the course of protecting a truth, or in the course of protecting from the truth?  But people don't perk up and say, "Aha!  I sense the presence of the Dark Side!"  As far as I can tell, it's not widely realized that the Dark Side is out there.

But how else?  Whether you're deceiving others, or just yourself, the Lie That Must Be Protected will propagate recursively through the network of empirical causality, and the network of general empirical rules, and the rules of reasoning themselves, and the understanding behind those rules.  If there is good epistemology in the world, and also lies or self-deceptions that people are trying to protect, then there will come into existence bad epistemology to counter the good.  We could hardly expect, in this world, to find the Light Side without the Dark Side; there is the Sun, and that which shrinks away and generates a cloaking Shadow.

Mind you, these are not necessarily evil people.  The vast majority who go about repeating the Deep Wisdom are more duped than duplicitous, more self-deceived than deceiving.  I think.

And it's surely not my intent to offer you a Fully General Counterargument, so that whenever someone offers you some epistemology you don't like, you say:  "Oh, someone on the Dark Side made that up."  It's one of the rules of the Light Side that you have to refute the proposition for itself, not by accusing its inventor of bad intentions.

But the Dark Side is out there.  Fear is the path that leads to it, and one betrayal can turn you.  Not all who wear robes are either Jedi or fakes; there are also the Sith Lords, masters and unwitting apprentices.  Be warned, be wary.

As for listing common memes that were spawned by the Dark Side—not random false beliefs, mind you, but bad epistemology, the Generic Defenses of Fail—well, would you care to take a stab at it, dear readers?

 

Part of the Against Rationalization subsequence of How To Actually Change Your Mind

Next post: "The Sacred Mundane"

Previous post: "Of Lies and Black Swan Blowups"

Comments (99)

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Comment author: Daniel_Franke 18 October 2008 12:20:23AM 37 points [-]

The most dangerous dark side meme I can think of is the idea of sinful thoughts: that questioning one's faith is itself a sin even if not acted upon. A close second is "don't try to argue with the devil -- he has more experience at it than you".

Comment author: lockeandkeynes 06 July 2010 07:05:36AM 11 points [-]

Especially when it's explicitly enforced, a la death penalty for leaving Islam in Islamic countries.

Comment author: TGGP4 18 October 2008 01:32:19AM 5 points [-]

Not all who wear robes are either Jedi or fakes What do you mean by "wear robes"? Could we move away from references to fictional stories?

Comment author: Roland2 18 October 2008 01:37:34AM 3 points [-]

Eliezer,

I agree with you what regards people deceiving themselves. But I disagree regarding people that are deceiving others with purpose. Some of these people can be very smart and know very well what they are doing and on what biases they are playing. They have elevated the art of deception to a science, ohhh yes, read marketing books as an example. Otherwise a superintelligence would become stupid in the process of lying to the human operator with the intention to get out of the box.

Comment author: PK 18 October 2008 01:41:24AM 7 points [-]

-faith: i.e. unconditional belief is good. It's like loyalty. Questioning beliefs is like betrayal. -The saying "Stick to your guns.": Changing your mind is like diserting your post in a war. Sticking to a belief is like being a heroic soldier. -The faithfull: i.e. us, we are the best, god is on our side. -the infedels: i.e. them, sinners, barely human, or not even. -God: Infenetly powerful alpha male. Treat him as such with all the implications... -The devil and his agents: They are always trying to seduce you to sin. Any doubt is evedence the devil is seducing you to sin and suceeding. Anyone opposed to your beliefs is cooperating with/being influenced by the devil. -Assasination fatwas: Whacking people who are anti-Islam is the will of Allah. -a sexually satisfying lifestyle is bad: This makes people more angsty(especially young men). This angst is your fault and it's sin. To be less angsty you should be less sinful ergo fight your sexual urges. And so the cycle of desire, guilt, angst and confusion continues. -no masturbation: see above. -you are born in debt to Jesus because he died for your sins 2000 years ago. That's all I could think of right now.

Comment author: Carl_Shulman 18 October 2008 01:43:20AM 2 points [-]

The endorsement of information cascades: claiming that X is indisputably true in the name of philosophical majoritarianism, and thus biasing research and statements to foster belief in X is desirable as a way to foster true beliefs (where the majority only exists because of such biased efforts).

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 October 2008 01:45:35AM 6 points [-]

Just to be clear, I'm not looking for random false beliefs defended by Dark Side epistemology, I'm looking for Dark Side epistemology itself - the Generic Defenses of Fail.

Roland, these are the Sith masters.

Comment author: Peter3 18 October 2008 01:58:07AM 2 points [-]

In general, beliefs require evidence.

In general? Which beliefs don't?

Think of what it would take to deny evolution or heliocentrism

Or what it would take to prove that the Moon doesn't exist.

As for listing common memes that were spawned by the Dark Side - would you care to take a stab at it, dear readers?

Cultural relativity. Such-and-such is unconstitutional. The founding fathers never intended... (various appeals to stick to the founding fathers original vision) Be reasonable (moderate) Show respect for your elders It's my private property _____ is human nature. Don't judge me. _____ is unnatural and therefore wrong. _____ is natural and therefore right. We need to switch to alternative energies such as wind, solar, and tidal. The poor are lazy The entire American political vocabulary (bordering on Orwellian) Animal rights

.. much more.

Comment author: simplicio 06 March 2010 05:17:27AM 15 points [-]

"'In general, beliefs require evidence.' In general? Which beliefs don't?"

This is a language problem. "In general" or "generally" to a scientist/mathematician/engineer means "always," whereas in everyday speech it means "sometimes."

For example I could tell you that a fence with 2 sections has 3 posts ( I=I=I ), or I could tell you that "in general" a fence with N sections has N+1 posts.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 March 2010 09:57:21AM 4 points [-]

Where N >= 3 the fence can (and often does) have N posts.

Comment author: simplicio 06 March 2010 04:26:27PM 2 points [-]

Ya, if it wraps in on itself, for sure.

Or if the farmer uses a tree instead. ;)

Comment author: kpreid 06 March 2010 05:18:37PM 7 points [-]

“How many posts does a fence have, if you call the tree a post?”

Comment author: PlacidPlatypus 27 May 2012 04:24:56PM 8 points [-]

"We need to switch to alternative energies such as wind, solar, and tidal. The poor are lazy ... Animal rights"

I don't think these fit. Regardless of whether you agree with them, they are specific assertions, not general claims about reasoning with consistently anti-epistemological effects.

Comment author: DanielLC 26 September 2012 03:46:47AM 1 point [-]

In general? Which beliefs don't?

The probability is the prior times the evidence ratio, so the higher the prior probability, the less evidence you need. If there's a lottery with one million numbers, and you have no evidence for anything, you'll think there's a 0.0001% chance of it getting 839772 exactly, a 50% chance of it getting 500000 or less, and a 99.9999% chance of it getting something other than 839772. Thus, you can be pretty sure it won't land on 839772 even without evidence.

Comment author: hannahelisabeth 11 November 2012 07:25:47PM 2 points [-]

I think knowing a prior constitutes evidence. If you know that the lottery has one million numbers, that is a piece of evidence.

Comment author: DanielLC 11 November 2012 08:44:59PM 4 points [-]

You need a prior to take evidence into account. If the prior is evidence, then what is the prior?

Comment author: hannahelisabeth 11 November 2012 09:20:12PM 3 points [-]

Hm... You make a good point. I'm not sure I understand this conceptually well enough to have any sort of coherent response.

Comment author: VAuroch 10 November 2013 09:23:10PM -1 points [-]

Your knowledge of the rules of probability is evidence. It's not evidence specific to this question, but it is evidence for this question, among others.

Comment author: Dave5 18 October 2008 01:59:02AM 17 points [-]

>Everyone has a right to their own opinion. When you think about it, where was that proverb generated?

In the words of the great sage Emo Phillips, "I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this."

Comment author: PK 18 October 2008 02:01:24AM 1 point [-]

I thought of some more. -there is a destiny/Gods plan/reason for everything: i.e. some powerful force is making things the way they are and it all makes sense(in human terms, not cold heartless math). That means you are safe but don't fight the status quo. -everything is connected with "energy"(mystically): you or special/chosen people might be ably to tap into this "energy". You might glean information you normally shouldn't have or gain some kind of special powers. -Scientists/professionals/experts are "elitists". -Mystery is good: It makes life worth while. Appreciating it makes us human. As opposed to destroying it being good. That's it for now.

Comment author: Dave5 18 October 2008 02:07:14AM 4 points [-]

>I'm looking for Dark Side epistemology itself - the Generic Defenses of Fail.

Relax. It will be over soon.

We're past that now.

X is supernatural.

X is natural.

You're correct, but it will make people uncomfortable.

You're smart. You should go to college.

Comment author: VAuroch 10 November 2013 09:24:09PM *  2 points [-]

Why do you consider

You're smart. You should go to college.

among these? It seems like the odd one out.

Comment author: Polymeron 04 February 2014 05:33:26AM *  2 points [-]

I've had forms of this said to me; it basically means "I'm losing the debate because you personally are smart, not because I'm wrong. Whichever authority I listen to in order to reinforce my existing beliefs would surely crush all your arguments. So stop assailing me with logic..."

It's Dark Side because it surrenders personal understanding to authority, and treats it as a default epistemological position.

Comment author: wedrifid 04 February 2014 10:29:44AM 3 points [-]

It's Dark Side because it surrenders personal understanding to authority, and treats it as a default epistemological position.

Dark side or not it is quite often valid. People who do not trust their ability to filter bullshit from knowledge should not defer to whatever powerful debater attempts to influence them.

It is no error to assign a low value to p(the conclusion expressed is valid | I find the argument convincing).

Comment author: Polymeron 04 February 2014 07:55:31PM 0 points [-]

No, and argument from authority can be a useful heuristic in certain cases, but at least you'd want to take away the one or two arguments you found most compelling and check them out later. In that sense, this is borderline.

Usually, however, this tactic is employed by people who are just looking for an excuse to flee into the warm embrace of an unassailable authority, often after scores of arguments they made were easily refuted. It is a mistake to give a low value to p(my position is mistaken | 10 arguments I have made have been refuted to my satisfaction in short order).

Comment author: Fronken 05 February 2014 07:40:29PM 1 point [-]

Isn't "Dark Side" approximately "effective, but dangerous"?

Comment author: michael_vassar3 18 October 2008 02:07:57AM 14 points [-]

I'm pretty confident that ""Everyone has a right to their own opinion." was generated by people trying to protect themselves from people who were trying to protect themselves from the truth.

We really need some talk about what the consequences of an AI with access to its own source code and self-protecting beliefs would be.

Comment author: Peter3 18 October 2008 02:08:01AM 0 points [-]

I'm looking for Dark Side epistemology itself - the Generic Defenses of Fail.

In that case - association, essentialism, popularity, the scientific method, magic, and what I'll call Past-ism.

Comment author: raptortech97 19 April 2012 07:04:14PM 6 points [-]

Wait a second - the scientific method? How? It may not be the most efficient way to get the truth, and it may not take into account Baye's theorem that could speed it up, but I don't see how the scientific method is epistemologically (is that a word?) wrong.

Comment author: thomblake 19 April 2012 07:09:19PM 0 points [-]

Wait a second

Too late - it's been 3 and a half years.

(is that a word?

"epistemologically " is a word, but it's hard to tell when to instead say "epistemically".

Comment author: Vaniver 19 April 2012 07:35:00PM 2 points [-]

Too late - it's been 3 and a half years.

Somewhat amusing, but it should not be surprising that most of the commentary on old sequence posts is people reading them and engaging with the ideas for the first time.

Comment author: thomblake 19 April 2012 07:46:46PM 1 point [-]

Yes, it's the time language that got me.

Comment author: PK 18 October 2008 02:28:23AM 0 points [-]

We are missing something. Humans are ultimatly driven by emotions. We should look for which emotions beliefs tap into in order to understand why people seek or avoid certain beliefs.

Comment author: outofculture 18 October 2008 03:32:56AM 2 points [-]

A particular flavor of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" that points to established traditions as "having worked for ages". Playing off the fear of the unknown? The meme of traditions in general adds weight to many of these.

I second "cultural relativity" as being an extension of "everyone having a right to their opinion", but in both cases point to them as also being tools to find things in one's own life that *are* arbitrary and in need of evaluation on a more objective basis.

Comment author: Nominull3 18 October 2008 03:35:44AM 0 points [-]

Isn't the scientific method a servant of the Light Side, even if it is occasionally a little misguided?

Comment author: Roland2 18 October 2008 03:47:03AM 1 point [-]

@Eliezer: Roland, these are the Sith masters.

Ok, got your point. One thing I worry though is how much those movie analogies end up inducing biases in you and others.

Comment author: Roland2 18 October 2008 03:56:06AM 0 points [-]

@Eliezer:

To drive home my earlier point. The whole idea of jedis vs. siths reflects a Manichaeistic worldview(good vs. bad). Isn't this a simplification?

Comment author: Peter3 18 October 2008 03:56:09AM 1 point [-]

Isn't the scientific method a servant of the Light Side, even if it is occasionally a little misguided?

Too restrictive. Science is not synonymous with the hypothetico-deductive method, and nor is there any sort of thing called the "scientific method" from which scientists draw their authority on a subject. Neither is it a historically accurate description of how science has done its work. Read up on Feyerabend.

Science is inherently structureless and chaotic. It's whatever works.

Comment author: Mat 20 August 2012 10:12:54PM *  0 points [-]

Read up on Feyerabend

Aehm, was Feyerabend a scientist?

Comment author: Richard_Hollerith2 18 October 2008 04:20:40AM 0 points [-]

Eliezer writes, "In general, beliefs require evidence."

To which Peter replies, "In general? Which beliefs don't?"

Normative beliefs (beliefs about what should be) don't, IMHO. What would count as evidence for or against a normative belief?

Comment author: robertskmiles 07 October 2011 11:38:27PM 3 points [-]

What would count as evidence for or against a normative belief?

In isolation, almost certainly nothing, but you can play normative beliefs against one another. If you can demonstrate that a person's normative belief is inconsistent with another of their normative beliefs, that demonstrates that one of them must be 'false'. You can't check them against reality directly, but they must still be consistent.

Comment author: savageorange 04 March 2014 12:44:31AM *  0 points [-]

Evidence that would substantially inform a simulation of the enforcement of those beliefs. For example, history provides pretty clear evidence of the ultimate result of fascist states/dictatorships, partisan behaviour, and homogeneous group membership The qualities found in this projected result is highly likely to conflict with other preferences and beliefs.

At that point, the person may still say 'Shut up, I believe what I want to believe.' But that would only mean they are rejecting the evidence, not that the evidence doesn't apply.

Comment author: celeriac 18 October 2008 04:25:52AM 7 points [-]

How about "Comparing Apples and Oranges," or "How Dare you Compare," a misrepresentation of the scope of analogies. For a recent example, see the response to John Lewis's drawing an analogy between certain aspects of the McCain campaign and those of George Wallace -- the response is not a consideration of the scope and aptness of the analogy but a rejection that any analogy at all can be drawn between two subjects when one is so generally recognized to be Evil. The McCain campaign does not attempt to differentiate the aspects under analogy (rhetoric and its potential for the fomentation of violence) from those of Wallace, but rather condemns the idea that the analogy can be considered at all. Under the epistemology of Fail, any difference between two subjects of comparison is enough to reject its validity, regardless the relevance of the distinction to the actual comparison being drawn. See also: Godwin's Law.

Some self-entitled males like to use this one, particularly in defense of the notion that one has in inviolate right to make sexual advances toward other people regardless of circumstance or outward sign. Sooner or later, after demonstrating how each of their justifications also justify sexual assault, it leads to "how dare you compare me to a rapist," which is where the fun begins. After I have done epistemologically belittling them I point out that the obvious fact that sexual assault is known to be bad is a manifestation of general principles of ethical interaction among humans, and not a special case handed down from a God who says that everything that is not expressly forbidden by a law is good.

Comment author: anon895 17 July 2011 06:32:40PM *  1 point [-]

Somehow I doubt that "regardless of circumstance or outward sign" is their wording and not yours.

(Edit) Also, the converse of "not everything that is not expressly forbidden by a law is good" is "not everything that causes the slightest incidental harm is unforgivable babyeating evil".

Comment author: Peter3 18 October 2008 04:52:43AM 0 points [-]

Normative beliefs (beliefs about what should be) don't [require evidence], IMHO. What would count as evidence for or against a normative belief?

That's correct if you don't consider pure reason to be evidence - but I consider it to be so. So morality and ethics and all these normative things are, in fact, based on evidence - although it is a mix of abstract evidence (reason) with concrete evidence (empirical data). If you base your morality, or any normative theory (how the world should be) on anything other than how things actually are (including mathematics), you necessarily have to invoke ascribe some supernatural property onto it

Comment author: Marcello 18 October 2008 05:26:50AM 17 points [-]

One giant category of dark side reasoning looks like "That idea is _____" Where the idea is an "is" (not a "should") and _____ is any negative affect word with a meaning other than "untrue".

Examples include {unpatriotic, communist, capitalist, liberal, conservative, provincial, any-demonym-goes-here, cultish, religious, atheistic, sinful, evil, dangerous, repugnant, elitist, condescending, out-of-touch, politically incorrect, offensive, argumentative, hateful, cowardly, fool-hardy, inappropriate, indecent, unsettling, lewd, silly, idiotic, new-fangled, old-fashioned, staid, dead, uncool, too simple, too complicated} and many more.

Important note: The exception to this rule is if the speaker could goes on to show how _____ is evidence about the truth of the proposition. If you can say why something is idiotic, that's fine. A seasoned scientist has the right to say "that theory looks too complicated" if the they have many examples of surprisingly simple theories explaining things well, but a creationist doesn't earn the right to accuse the theory of evolution of being "too complicated," until they explain what whatever it is they mean by "too complicated" has to do with the idea being wrong.

To avoid concluding that an idea is true, the Dark Side's first line of defense is to avoid even considering *whether* the idea is true. Those who are good enough at suppressing contradictions can simply save themselves the trouble of building up "a vast complex of anti-law, rules of anti-thought". After all, building such a complex is a risky business from the standpoint of protecting the precious belief. The larger the complex gets, the more close scrapes it could have with real sensory experience.

Just as a murderer ties the corpse of his victim to a heavy stone before throwing it into the water, so too do victims of the Dark Side tie ideas they want to dispose of to negative affect words. It really does make them less likely to resurface.

The same caution applies to tying positive affect words to desired ideas.

Comment author: JamesAndrix 18 October 2008 06:43:07AM 0 points [-]

Saying 'There is lots of evidence for it' When in fact there is little to none. I guess the epistemology is 'It is ok to believe something if you believe there is evidence to support it.'

Creationists are told the fossil record supports X and Y, and they run with it.

Comment author: Bo2 18 October 2008 07:44:37AM 3 points [-]

The concept of different epistemological magisteria. E gave an example of it in this post (and also in the post about scientists outside the laboratory), but his example is just the tip of the iceberg. This failure of rationality doesn't manifest itself explicitly most of the time, but is engaged in implicitly by almost everybody that I know that isn't into hardcore rationality.

It's definitely engaged in by people who are into, or at least cheer for, science and (traditional) rationality and/or philosophy. It's the double standard between what epistemological standards you explicitly endorse, and what are the actual beliefs on the basis of which you act. Acting as if the sun will rise tomorrow even though you endorse radical scepticism, accepting what Richard Dawkins says on his authority while seeking out refutations for creationist arguments. I think one big reason for this is that people who are interested in this sort of thing are exposed too much to deductive reasoning and hardly at all to rigorous inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is the practical form of reasoning that actually works in the real world (many fallacies of deductive reasoning are actually valid probabilistic inferences), and we all have to engage in it explicitly or implicitly to cope in the world. But having been exposed only the "way" of deductive rationality, and warned against it's fallacies, people may come to experience a cognitive dissonance between what epistemological techniques are useful in real life and which epistemological techniques they ought to be using - and therefore to see science, rationality and philosophy as disconnected from real life, things to be cheered for and entertaning diversions. Such people don't hold every part of their epistemological self under the same level of scrutiny, because implicitly they believe that their methods of scrutinizing are imperfect. I recognize my past self in this, but not my present self, who knows about evo psych, inductive reasoning etc. and has seen that these methods actually work and can therefore criticize his own epistemological habits using the full force of his own rationality...

This might concern mistaken, well-meaning people more than the actual Dark Side but it seems to me to be an important point anyway.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 18 October 2008 08:13:31AM 9 points [-]

A few general schemas:

"True for", as in, "That may be true for you, but not for me. We each choose our own truths."

"I feel that X." Every sentence of this form is false, because X is an assertion about the world, not a feeling. Someone saying "I feel that X" in fact believes X, but calling it a feeling instead of a belief protects it from refutation. Try replying "No you don't", and watch the explosion. "How dare you try to tell me what I'm feeling!"

Write obscurely.

Never explicitly state your beliefs. Hint at them in terms that the faithful will pick up and applaud, but which give nothing for the enemy to attack. Attack the enemy by stating their beliefs in terms that the faithful will boo, while giving the enemy nothing to dispute.

Ignore the entire machinery of rationality. Treat all human interaction as nothing more than social grooming or status games in a tribe of apes.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 02 April 2013 06:41:36AM 2 points [-]

Never explicitly state your beliefs.

Argument by innuendo. Politicians love this. Imply, then deny. "I never said that."

Comment author: RichardKennaway 18 October 2008 08:15:46AM 4 points [-]

Daniel: A close second is "don't try to argue with the devil -- he has more experience at it than you".

Would you still disagree with that one if "the devil" was replaced by "a strong AI"?

Comment author: Alexandros3 18 October 2008 10:51:55AM 3 points [-]

How about the notion of an insult as a first-order offence? "Don't insult God/Our Nation/The People/etc.". It is an explicit emotional fortress that reason cannot by definition scale. When it goes near there, all the 'intelligence defeating itself' mechanisms come into play. We take the fortress as our starting argument and start to think backwards until our agitated emotions are satisfied by our half-reasonable but beautiful explanation of why the fortress is safe and why what caused us to doubt it is either not so or can be explained some other way. Ergo, one step deeper into dark epistemology.

Comment author: Daniel_Franke 18 October 2008 11:14:51AM 0 points [-]

Would you still disagree with that one if "the devil" was replaced by "a strong AI"?

Yes. Suffice it to say I don't think I'd be a very reliable gatekeeper :-).

(Conversely, I don't even think the AI's job in the box experiment is even hard, much less impossible. Last week, I posted a $15 offer to play the AI in a run of the experiment, but my post disappeared somehow.)

Comment author: Jef_Allbright 18 October 2008 01:43:33PM 0 points [-]

I'm in strong agreement with Peter's examples above. I would generalize by saying that the epistemic "dark side" tends to arise whenever there's an implicit discounting of the importance of increasing context. In other words, whenever, for the sake of expediency, "the truth", "the right", "the good". etc., is treated categorically rather than contextually (or equivalently, as if the context were fixed or fully specified.)

Comment author: Caledonian2 18 October 2008 01:47:00PM 1 point [-]

Too restrictive. Science is not synonymous with the hypothetico-deductive method, and nor is there any sort of thing called the "scientific method" from which scientists draw their authority on a subject. Neither is it a historically accurate description of how science has done its work. Read up on Feyerabend.

Science is inherently structureless and chaotic. It's whatever works.

See, now there's a prime example of corrupted reasoning right there. Science is carefully structured chaos, ordered according to certain fundamental principles. Meeting those principles is what we mean when we talk about something 'working'.

The recognition of what 'working' is, and the tools that have been found useful in reaching that state, is what constitutes the scientific method.

Scientists do not concern themselves with what philosophers say about science -- it is my experience that they are actively contemptuous of such. Yet science goes on. Strange, isn't it? It's almost as though the philosophers didn't know what they were talking about.

(Additional: the central metaphor of this discussion is flawed - the Light and Dark sides define and require each other; contrastingly, both Jedi and Sith are corruptions and failures to properly represent the two sides of the Force. Accept one, and you reject the truth of things.)

Comment author: Misovlogos 02 September 2014 09:56:03PM *  0 points [-]

"Scientists do not concern themselves with what philosophers say about science -- it is my experience that they are actively contemptuous of such. Yet science goes on. Strange, isn't it? It's almost as though the philosophers didn't know what they were talking about."

This is a rather tribalistic disciplinary dogmatism, which is really quite out of step with your subsequent claim to universal monological truth (scientists think it works, so who cares what philosophers think) - a clear demonstration of Archimedean rationality...

Comment author: Keith_Coffman 03 September 2014 12:48:05PM 0 points [-]

Do scientists think it works, or does it work? The end result is a model for a particular phenomenon which can be tested for accuracy. When we use a cell phone we are seeing the application of our understanding of electromagnetism, among other things. It's not scientists saying that science works - it's just working.

Comment author: Misovlogos 03 September 2014 04:44:48PM 0 points [-]

Can you clarify what your point is?

My original objection, to which you responded, although not explicit, was that 'science going on' is not sufficient reason for the philosophy of science 'not knowing what they are talking about' - the entire post is puerile dogmatism.

Comment author: Keith_Coffman 03 September 2014 05:07:22PM 0 points [-]

My point was not really related to your discussion, I just wanted to clarify on your paraphrasing of "scientists think it works, so who cares what philosophers think."

I think it is slightly silly to worry about who thinks it works when the fact of the matter is that it works - this is not a point directly against your comments, just a point of clarification in general.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 03 September 2014 05:30:19PM 0 points [-]

Scientists do not concern themselves with what philosophers say about science -- it is my experience that they are actively contemptuous of such.

These comments are largely true

Yet science goes on. Strange, isn't it? It's almost as though the philosophers didn't know what they were talking about.

These comments don't follow from the above. Yes,scientists dont need philosophers to tell them how to science, which they can do on the riding-a-bike basis. That doesn't mean philosophers are wrong. Birds don't need scientists to tell them how to fly..doesn't mean the scientists are wrong.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 October 2008 02:06:30PM 5 points [-]

Roland: The whole idea of jedis vs. siths reflects a Manichaeistic worldview(good vs. bad).

That was part of my point - that, in this one facet of human endeavor, and in modern times rather than ancient ones, it's remarkable the extent to which an actual Light Side Epistemology and Dark Side Epistemology have developed. Like the sort of contrast that naive people draw between Their Party and the Other Party, only in real life.

Comment author: Paul_Crowley2 18 October 2008 04:27:21PM 4 points [-]

- There's a huge conspiracy covering it up

- Well, that's just what one of the Bad Guys would say, isn't it?

- Why should I have to justify myself to you?

- Oh, you with your book-learning, you think you're smarter than me?

- They said that to Einstein and Galileo!

- That's a very interesting question, let me show you the entire library that's been written about it (where if there were a satisfactory answer it would be shortish)

- How can you be so sure?

Comment author: Douglas_Knight3 18 October 2008 04:32:43PM 1 point [-]

Marcello, I think your list generalizes too much. I see three main types of words on the list. The first type indicates in-group out-group distinction and seems pretty poisonous to me. The second are ad hominem arguments which are dangerous, but do apply sometimes. And then there are a few like "too complicated." You call those "negative affect words"? Surely it is better to say "that is too complicated to be true" than to say simply "that is not true"?

Comment author: IL 18 October 2008 04:49:42PM 4 points [-]

-You can't prove I'm wrong!

-Well, I'm an optimist.

-Millions of people believe it, how can they all be wrong?

-You're relying too much on cold rationality.

-How can you possibly reduce all the beauty in the world to a bunch of equations?

Comment author: Marcello 18 October 2008 04:56:02PM 1 point [-]

Douglas says: """ And then there are a few like "too complicated." You call those "negative affect words"? Surely it is better to say "that is too complicated to be true" than to say simply "that is not true"? """

Well, yes, but that's only when whatever you mean by complicated has something to do with being true. Some people though, just use the phrase "too complicated" just so they can avoid thinking about an idea, and, in that context it really is an empty negative-affect phrase.

Of course, it is better for a scientist to say "that's too complicated to be true" rather than just "that's not true." You're not done by any means once you've made a claim about whether something is true or false; the claim still needs to be backed up. The point was simply that any characterization of an idea is bad unless that characterization really does have something to do with whether the idea is true.

Comment author: JamesAndrix 18 October 2008 05:24:58PM 1 point [-]

That was part of my point - that, in this one facet of human endeavor, and in modern times rather than ancient ones, it's remarkable the extent to which an actual Light Side Epistemology and Dark Side Epistemology have developed. Like the sort of contrast that naive people draw between Their Party and the Other Party, only in real life.

That sounds a lot more like you're being subject to the same bias. "Some people have this view, even though reality is more complex, but what's amazing is that in a subject area I care a lot about, that's what's there."

Yes, if you label the things you accept Light, and the things you reject Dark, you'll see that dichotomy, but why that grouping?

Is traditional rationality Light side? or just bayesianism?

The dark side might be more appropriately grouped into a few different schools.

There will be classes of similar rules that contain both light and dark members.

The both sides have always been around, some of the light side rules might be new, and it is new to group the light side together as the things that work best.

But they are not opposed to each other. Just as physics doesn't care if you suffer, logic doesn't care if you get the right answer. There is no battle for our minds. Humans argue about the origin of life, but all existing humans use a combination of light and dark thinking. Creationists can look for evidence and evolutionists can say irrational things for their own psychological defense. The 'sides' coexist quite peacefully, not at all like competing bands of primates.

And this might be a reason that it's so hard to get rid of bad thinking even in ourselves. The light side doesn't have any alarm bell defenses against the dark side.

Comment author: Alan_Crowe 18 October 2008 05:53:23PM 1 point [-]

"one man's modus ponens in another man's modus tollens."[1][2] is maxim that is easily weaponised by the Dark Side by taking it in a one sided way. One sees ones own implications as proving their consequents and the other sides implications as casting doubt on their antecedents.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 October 2008 06:20:01PM 1 point [-]

If you once tell a lie, the truth is ever after your enemy.

That isn't true.

I've told lies when I was a kid. If I got caught I gave up rather than doing an epistomological attack.

Richard Kennaway: "I feel that X." Every sentence of this form is false, because X is an assertion about the world, not a feeling. Someone saying "I feel that X" in fact believes X, but calling it a feeling instead of a belief protects it from refutation. Try replying "No you don't", and watch the explosion. "How dare you try to tell me what I'm feeling!"

If I say I feel something, I'm talking about an emotion. I don't intend it to be an objective statement about the world, and I'm not offended if someone says it doesn't apply to everyone else.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 18 October 2008 07:16:48PM 2 points [-]

Nancy Lebovitz: If I say I feel something, I'm talking about an emotion.

That prohibits you from saying "I feel that X". No emotion is spoken of in saying "I feel that the Riemann hypothesis is true", or "I feel that a sequel to The Hobbit should never be made", or "I feel that there is no God but Jaynes and Eliezer (may he live forever) is His prophet", or in any other sentence of that form. "I feel" and "that X" cannot be put together and make a sensible sentence.

If someone finds themselves about to say "I feel that X", they should try saying "I believe that X" instead, and notice how it feels to say that. It will feel different. The difference is fear.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 02 April 2013 06:44:23AM -1 points [-]

There is no God but Jaynes and Eliezer is His prophet

That's kind of catchy.

Comment author: Phil_Boncer 18 October 2008 08:43:43PM 0 points [-]

I believe that there are circumstances in which you can say "I feel that X". What that could rationally mean is that you yourself recognize that you do not have enough evidence or knowledge to justify a belief about X vs. not-X, but that without evidence you lean toward X because you like that alternative. You are admitting ignorance on the subject. Ideally, this would then also imply an openness with regard to forming a belief about X or not-X given some evidence -- that recognition that all you have is a feeling about it means a very weak attachment to the idea of X.

PhilB

Comment author: Peter3 18 October 2008 08:55:07PM 1 point [-]

Caledonian: What fundamental principles? As far as I can tell the only fundamental principle is that it has to work. But I'm open to counterexamples, if you are.

The recognition of what 'working' is, and the tools that have been found useful in reaching that state, is what constitutes the scientific method.

The scientific method is actually pretty specific - and it is not a set of tools. There is no systematic method of advancing science, no set of rules/tools which are exclusively the means to attaining scientific knowledge.

Scientists do not concern themselves with what philosophers say about science -- it is my experience that they are actively contemptuous of such. . . It's almost as though the philosophers didn't know what they were talking about.

That's actually my point. Scientists do what works, and employ methodological diversity - the "scientific method" is not an actual description of how real scientists do their work, nor how real science has advanced. It's propaganda, made up by certain people who were/are absolutely horrified that science has no defining and fundamental underlying principles - which would throw their entire schema of epistemology into turmoil.

The "rules" of science, if they exist, are subject to change at any time. Science has physical reality at the input and useful models at the output - and no bona fide, tried and true, structure in between.

Comment author: Keith_Coffman 31 August 2014 04:13:03PM *  0 points [-]

The "rules" of science, if they exist, are subject to change at any time.

Here's a rule of science: Your hypothesis must make testable predictions. It must be falsifiable. Is that "subject to change at any time" ? I bet there are more.

While it may not perfectly describe how actual scientists do their work all the time, the scientific method is a description of the process of how we sort out good ideas/models from bad ones, which is the quintessential goal of science (the "advancement of science," if you will).

Just to be clear on what we are discussing, here is the Oxford English Dictionary definition (I don't like using dictionaries as authorities; I think it's stupid. this is just to have a working definition on the table): "A method or procedure... consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses."

In order for the scientific community to take a claim seriously, there are certain expectations that must be satisfied such as a reproducible experiment, peer reviewed publication, etc. When a hypothesis is proposed (assuming it has already met the baseline requirement of making testable predictions), it is thrust into the death pit of scientific inquiry where scientists do everything they can to test and falsify it. While the subject matter may span vastly different areas of science, this process is still generally followed.

Scientists who do science for a living may have gotten good at this process, so much so that they do it without belaboring each element as you would in a middle school science class, but they do it never the less. It is true that in the past, bad science happened, and even today lapses in scientific integrity happen; however, the reason science is given the authority that it is is due to it's strict adherence to the above process. (Also, as a disclaimer, there are many nuances to said process that I glossed over; I just wanted to get the general idea.)

If I may go out on a limb here, it sounds to me like the chaos you are talking about is the unavoidably arbitrary nature of observation of phenomena and the unavoidably arbitrary nature of proposing hypotheses. Often times throughout history we have encountered entirely new areas of science by sheer accident. Likewise (unless they are making a phenomenological model) scientists have no better way to propose hypotheses than to guess at what the answer is based on observations that they currently have and then make new observations/experiments to see if they were right.

So I definitely agree with you on the chaotic nature of our stumbling across new phenomena on on our quest to understand reality, but to say that the process we go through to establish scientific knowledge is not systematic seems a bit extreme.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 18 October 2008 09:17:59PM 3 points [-]

You haven't earned the right to say X.

Comment author: Daniel_Franke 18 October 2008 10:07:21PM 2 points [-]

You haven't earned the right to say X.

I think that one is poorly-phrased but defensible. You can think of it as short hand for "Your life experiences have provided you with an insufficient collection of Bayesian priors to permit you to assert X with any reasonable certainty".

Comment author: JulianMorrison 18 October 2008 10:40:30PM 7 points [-]

The worst one is "this is my truth". The ultimate victory of map over territory. In the universe I create, rocks fall up. Forcing me to believe in "gravity" puts you in my proper role as divine map-maker. Your "reason" and "evidence" are just a power grab. I choose not to believe the rock I'm about to drop on my toes will hurt. Ouch! You bastard, you contaminated my purity of self-definition.

Comment author: Thom_Blake 19 October 2008 02:26:00AM 11 points [-]

"Everyone has a right to their own opinion" is largely a product of its opposite. For a long period many people believed "If my neighbor has a different opinion than I do, then I should kill him". This led to a bad state of affairs and, by force, a less lethal meme took hold.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 19 October 2008 07:25:07AM 0 points [-]

To Richard Kennaway:

Your original point, which I didn't read carefully enough:

"I feel that X." Every sentence of this form is false, because X is an assertion about the world, not a feeling. Someone saying "I feel that X" in fact believes X, but calling it a feeling instead of a belief protects it from refutation. Try replying "No you don't", and watch the explosion. "How dare you try to tell me what I'm feeling!"

"No, you don't" sounds like a chancy move under the circumstances. Have you tried "How sure are you about X?" and if so, what happens?

More generally, statements usually imply more than one claim. If you negate a whole statement, you may think that which underlying claim you're disagreeing with is obvious, but if the person you're talking to thinks you're negating a different claim, it's very easy to end up talking past each other and probably getting angry at each other's obtuseness.

My reply: If I say I feel something, I'm talking about an emotion.

You again: That prohibits you from saying "I feel that X". No emotion is spoken of in saying "I feel that the Riemann hypothesis is true", or "I feel that a sequel to The Hobbit should never be made", or "I feel that there is no God but Jaynes and Eliezer (may he live forever) is His prophet", or in any other sentence of that form. "I feel" and "that X" cannot be put together and make a sensible sentence.

If someone finds themselves about to say "I feel that X", they should try saying "I believe that X" instead, and notice how it feels to say that. It will feel different. The difference is fear."

It sounds to me as though you've run into a community (perhaps representative of the majority of English speakers) with bad habits. I, and the people I prefer to hang out with, would be able to split "I feel that x" into a statement about emotions or intuitions and a statement about the perceived facts which give rise to the emotions or intuitions.

I believe that "I believe that a sequel to The Hobbit should never be made" is emotionally based. Why would someone say such a thing unless they believed that the sequel would be so bad that they'd hate it?

Here's something I wrote recently about the clash between trying to express the feeling that strong emotions indicate the truth and universality of their premises and the fact that real world is more complicated.

Comment author: pdf23ds 19 October 2008 07:57:13AM 1 point [-]

"I feel that X" really means, "I believe X, and accept that others will likely disagree." The purpose is to serve as a conversational marker showing that disagreement is expected. When used properly, this is simply to grease the wheels of discourse a bit, making it more likely that the respondent will have the proper idea about the attitude the speaker takes towards the idea, not to imply that the disagreement will be taken as unresolvable. It makes discourse more efficient. Of course, it can be misused in the way that Richard complains about, but I think he's being obtuse to be against the phrase in every manifestation, and especially obtuse in the way he frames his disagreement.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 19 October 2008 09:52:12AM 0 points [-]

I am being forthright, not obtuse. I say again that there is no statement of the form "I feel that X", which would not be rendered more accurate by replacing it with "I believe that X". That people use the word "feel" in this way does not make it a statement about feelings: it remains a statement about beliefs. Neither of those statements actually contains any expression of a feeling about X. Here is one that does: "I am angry that X". Compare "I feel that X" -- what is the feeling? It is not there. In a larger context, the listener may be able to tell, but if they can, they can do so equally well from "I believe that X".

I believe that "I believe that a sequel to The Hobbit should never be made" is emotionally based.

It might well be. But the emotions would not be communicated any better by using the word "feel". They are not communicated at all by either word. (I can think of other reasons why someone might object to a sequel: for example, some people have an ethical objection to fanfiction.)

And no, I've never actually responded to an "I feel that" with a blunt "No you don't". It would rarely help. But I do know people that would call me on it if I ever used the expression, as I would them. A lot of the time -- I am talking about actual, specific experience here, not vague generalisation -- people react emotionally to beliefs they are holding that they have never actually stated out loud as beliefs, and asked "Are these actually true?" Until you have noticed what you believe, you cannot update your beliefs. I-feel-thats avoid that confrontation.

To use "feel", as a couple of people suggested, to mean "tentative belief" changes only the map: there are still no actual feelings being expressed, just a word that has been blurred. This does not grease the wheels of discourse, it gums them up. Better to reserve "feel" for feelings and "believe" for beliefs, for it is a short step from calling them both by the same name to passing them off as the same thing, and then you are on the Dark Side, whether you know it or not. State something as a belief and you open yourself to the glorious possibility of being proved wrong. Call it a feeling and you give yourself a licence to ignore reality.

Comment author: mantis 21 August 2012 04:46:31PM *  1 point [-]

Probably silly to reply almost four years later, but what the heck. I think that in a lot of cases "I feel that X" is a statement of belief in belief. That is, what the person really means is "I believe that X should be true," or "I have an emotional need to believe that X is true regardless of whether it is or not." Since you're very unlikely to get someone who think "I feel that X" is a valid statement in support of X to admit what they really mean, it is indeed an excellent example of Dark epistemology.

Comment author: outofculture 19 October 2008 06:12:12PM 0 points [-]

Hyperbole as a perversion of projection, arguments like: "...and next you'll be killing AI developers who disagree with FAI, to prevent them posing an existential threat." that contain both sufficient clear reasoning and sufficient unknowable elements as to sound possible, sure, plausible, even. This is used to discredit the original idea, not the fantastical extrapolation.

Comment author: Tiedemies2 20 October 2008 10:21:00AM 0 points [-]

How about the all-time great, now better than ever:
This time it will be different

Comment author: alexandros2 20 October 2008 03:27:00PM 4 points [-]

Another good candidate may be revealed in the following Dostoevsky quote:

"If someone were to prove to me that Christ is outside of the truth, and it were truly so, that the truth was outside of Christ, I would prefer to remain with Christ, rather than with the truth."
[http://books.google.co.uk/books?ct=result&q=%22Christ+is+outside+of+the+truth%22&btnG=Search+Books]

Substitute 'Christ' for your favourite deity/belief system. This was the epistemological line I was not able to cross during my christian journey. Others may however, and once it is crossed, there may be little that can be done to rescue that person (other than perhaps pure shock and awe at the reprecussions of such a departure from reality). If this is not the root of a 'dark side epistemology', it is certainly the pinnacle of it, the final lie that must be accepted to justify all the ones that came before it.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 21 October 2008 06:17:00AM 1 point [-]

An interesting contrast to that is C.S. Lewis (through one of his characters): "I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can, even if there isn’t any Narnia."

Comment author: Jeff4 29 October 2008 02:28:00AM 2 points [-]

I agree with Thom Blake: "Everyone has a right to their own opinion" is a defense against unreliable hardware. Your opinion is wrong so I must kill you and take your women, or even just your opinion is wrong so I must repress you.

Comment author: Chris_Wegford 01 November 2008 12:50:00PM 0 points [-]

For a long time, I've had problems with phrases that treat Pride as a good thing. i.e. "Take some pride in X" "Where is your pride?" "Have you no pride?"

I realize that in the past, Pride may have had many positive evolutionary values, but in modern times, we have more efficient and accurate ways to test for usefulness and prowess among our population.

Comment author: taryneast 30 January 2011 04:05:11PM 0 points [-]

From what I can tell - this is actually just the flip-side of shame. Shame is often used to coerce people into (or out of) certain behaviours.

Contrast with: "Where is your shame?", "Have you no shame?"

Comment author: AndySimpson 11 March 2009 07:06:00AM 4 points [-]

There are two of these Generic Defenses, iterations of this species of logical fallacy, that I've found particularly vile. They may collapse into one. First, the extension of "tolerance" to assertions, e.g. "Be tolerant of my creationist beliefs", which means "My creationist beliefs are immune to discourse or thought: they command respect simply because they are my assertions," but disguises itself in the syntax of a honeyed pluralistic truism like "Be tolerant of people who hold opinions that aren't yours."

The other is the notion of false balance, which is a palatable and pervasive trope of people who are talking nonsense, e.g. "There are two sides to the dinosaur debate: Some scientists believe in dinosaurs, and others think God has put fossils in the ground to test our faith in Him. Isn't it interesting to consider the arguments of both sides? I guess we'll never know the real answer!"

That stuff drives me mad.

Comment author: Fyrius 05 March 2010 11:55:30AM *  11 points [-]

Arguably, another one is the adage that when people disagree on anything very strongly, "the truth is usually in the middle."

It's not entirely nonsensical to anticipate and correct for people's tendency to exaggerate away from their perceived enemy, but it's not a reliable rule of thumb at all. It's not all that hard to find situations where one side is just wrong.

Here's a better way to take polarisation into account: instead of concluding that "both sides are probably a bit right", it would be more realistic to say "both sides are probably wrong". Or better yet: "what both sides think is irrelevant, I'm just going to ignore the whole business and figure it out for myself."

Comment author: simplicio 06 March 2010 05:29:02AM 5 points [-]

The worst of them all is probably to judge an idea by some real or perceived characteristics of its proponents (e.g., "strident"). Taken to an extreme this leads to whining about issues like tone while ignoring content.

Sometimes jerks are right.

Comment author: Swimmy 15 October 2010 01:30:10AM *  7 points [-]

"Cui bono?" Who benefits?

I believe the Dark Side coopted "cui bono?" because it has a valid usage: those who benefit from various policies may falsify or embelish their opinions, and "cui bono?" can sometimes identify faked opinions. (For instance, why do many businesses support minimum wage hikes?) A rationalist should count a suspect opinion as weaker evidence than a non-suspect opinion.

But the dark side uses it thus: if someone benefits, the belief is wrong and the evidence in its favor can be dismissed.

Example: "Who benefits from the story of the Holocaust? Israel. The Holocaust raises sympathy for Jews worldwide, and sympathizing voters and politicians in the United States and Europe enable Israel's continued existence."

This is 1) Not the rationalist use of "cui bono" and 2) COMPLETELY INSANE. Holocaust deniers use "cui bono?" to question if the Holocaust actually happened. They figure that the fact someone benefits is enough to support a worldwide, 65-year long conspiracy theory. No matter how much suspicious motives may make us weary of someone, the independent lines of evidence leading to the historical event of the Holocaust blow them out of the water. "Cui bono?" is so weak in comparison that it can be completely ignored when estimating the likelihood of "The Holocaust happened."

This usage can probably be categorized as a subset of all Type M arguments.

Comment author: ata 05 January 2011 12:52:51AM *  5 points [-]

An amusing Onion parody of anti-epistemology and crackpots: Rogue Scientist Has His Own Scientific Method

Comment author: quinsie 29 September 2011 09:59:40PM 23 points [-]

One method I've seen no mention of is distraction from the essence of an argument with pointless pedantry. The classical form is something along the lines of "My opponent used X as an example of Y. As an expert in X, which my opponent is not, I can assure you that X is not an example of Y. My opponent clearly has no idea how Y works and everything he says about it is wrong." which only holds true of X and Y are in the same domain of knowledge.

A good example: Eliezer said in the first paragraph that a geologist could tell a pebble from the beach from a driveway. As a geologist, I know that most geologists, myself included, honestly couldn't tell the difference. Most pebbles found in concrete, driveways and so forth are taken from rivers and beaches, so a pebble that looks like a beach pebble wouldn't be suprising to find in someone's driveway. That doesn't mean that Eliezer's point is wrong, since he could have just as easily said "a pebble from a mountaintop" or "a pebble from under the ocean" and the actual content of this post wouldn't have changed a bit.

In a more general sense, this an example of assuming an excessively convenient world to fight the enemy arguments in, but I think this specific form bears pointing out, since it's a bit less obvious than most objections of that sort.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 29 October 2011 05:13:31AM *  0 points [-]

The dangerous thing is to have a false belief that you believe should be protected as a belief ...

Time for some Stirner:

No thought is sacred, for let no thought rank as "devotions";* no feeling is sacred (no sacred feeling of friendship, mother's feelings, etc.), no belief is sacred. They are all alienable, my alienable property, and are annihilated, as they are created, by me .

The Christian can lose all things or objects, the most loved persons, these "objects" of his love, without giving up himself (i.e., in the Christian sense, his spirit, his soul) as lost. The owner can cast from him all the thoughts that were dear to his heart and kindled his zeal, and will likewise "gain a thousandfold again," because he, their creator, remains.

Comment author: Sengachi 09 December 2012 10:09:36PM 4 points [-]

You know, the Jedi had bad epistemology, same as the Sith. For instance: "Only the Sith speak in absolutes!" .... Give it a moment. Think about it. Only is what kind of modifier again?

Comment author: Rixie 22 December 2012 12:01:00AM -1 points [-]

I love this. I just . . . this is awesome. You rock. Thank you.

Comment author: ikrase 12 January 2013 02:09:49AM 2 points [-]

Here are some: - Your epistemology is just a ploy so that only the university-educated can defend opinions - If I credibly claim that I have suffered a sufficiently large wrong imposed at the national culture level, then I may dictate my proper place and anybody who questions me, even just to ask whether my claim is really credible, is participating in that national-culture-level wrong. - Endless hypothesis privileging.