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A few questions on International Rationality

15 Post author: Locke 30 April 2012 10:27PM

Disclaimer: I'm still fairly new here, and though I did use the search bar it's entirely possible this has been discussed before. Just point me in the right direction if this is so.

 

While reading about 4chan's Japanese progenitor website, it occurred to me that I know nothing about the state of rationality in the non-English-speaking world, and more specifically the non-English-speaking internet. Is there a Russian version of SIAI? A Japanese Less Wrong? What about Korean Robin Hansons and Eliezer Yudkowskys?

If we take Religion as any indication of irrationality then America should be one of the least rational countries in the world. So if there are like-minded individuals out there speaking in languages we don't know, are we doing anything to collaborate with them? Do they have their own sequences and their own HPMORs which we could be reading?

And if there are no Singularitarian, Cryonics-Supporting, Utilitarianism-Advocating websites for the majority of the human race, isn't that a huge deal? Aren't Europeans and Asians more likely to be open to rationality, if only because of their atheism? If we want Friendly-AI to be developed, should we be translating the sequences into Chinese and Hindu as quickly as possible?

Comments (85)

Comment author: [deleted] 01 May 2012 02:15:19AM 4 points [-]

Hindu is not a language. Did you mean Hindi?

Comment author: Locke 01 May 2012 03:41:05AM 4 points [-]

I believe I do.

Comment author: Thomas 02 May 2012 04:39:47PM 0 points [-]

I don't see the necessity to talk that much about rationality.

It's only the correct way of thinking, nothing less and nothing more. Everybody should do it, but the majority refuses. What is very stupid, but nothing new.

You have to follow the path of arithmetic also and there is no need to declare yourself as "arithmetically rational". The same should be with the (classical!) logic and the probability based reasoning. Just do it and do no fuss about.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 04 May 2012 11:30:57AM 2 points [-]

There is a difference -- while most people don't do math, at least they don't invent and spread alternative math. People who don't do rationality usually spread their preferred version of irrationality.

This is why trying to be rational in a society of irrational people is more difficult than trying to do good maths in a society of mostly math-illiterate people. The math person cannot cooperate with most of his neighbors, but also does not have to fight them. Also, the math-illiterate people usually don't pretend that they are great in math. Learning math can be difficult, but learning rationality is more difficult when so many people are trying to deceive you.

Comment author: C9AEA3E1 01 May 2012 11:58:54AM 3 points [-]

To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing quite like SIAI or lesswrong in continental western Europe. People aren't into AI as much as in the US, and if there's rationality thinking being done, it's mostly traditional rationality, skepticism, etc.

Atheism can score high in many countries, as a rule of thumb countries to the north are more atheistic, those to the south (Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc.) are more religious.

There are a few scattered transhumanist as well as a few life-extension organizations, which are loosely starting to cooperate together.

The European commission itself started prioritizing small-scale healthy life extension a year or two ago. This could help focus more people on such questions in the years to come.

Comment author: Cthulhoo 02 May 2012 01:19:51PM *  2 points [-]

To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing quite like SIAI or lesswrong in continental western Europe. People aren't into AI as much as in the US, and if there's rationality thinking being done, it's mostly traditional rationality, skepticism, etc.

This is true, at least in Italy. Most of the concept of LW version of rationality are simply not known.

Atheism can score high in many countries, as a rule of thumb countries to the north are more atheistic, those to the south (Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc.) are more religious.

While Spain and Italy are nominally quite religious (i.e. most people would classify themselves as christian), the majority of people are definitely not fervent believers . Nothing to do with what I understood is the situation in the U.S.: most people never go to church if not for weddings and funeral, and even fewer people follow the (catholic) religious orthodoxy. It's usually a classic case of belief in belief/cached thought: it has happened to me more than once to have a discussion with a "religious" person, only for her to realize in the end that she was more likely agnostic or mildly theist.

Religion has still his enormous political and social weight, of course, but it's mostly inertia.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 May 2012 02:53:17PM 0 points [-]

Religion [in Italy] has still his enormous political and social weight, of course, but it's mostly inertia.

No, it's more than inertia. Think about lobbies instead.

Comment author: Cthulhoo 11 May 2012 09:40:54AM 0 points [-]

No, it's more than inertia. Think about lobbies instead. Sure, the whole picture is rather complicate, and my purpose wasn't to fully analyze it. I was mostly focusing on the bottom view, i.e. most people without any specific economical/political interest in supporting religion. For them it's mostly inertia.

At the higher levels, for sure, there's an intricate web of relationships that has to be balanced, and religion is still a powerful instrument for some power groups.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 May 2012 09:48:35AM 1 point [-]

(You need to put a blank line after a quotation, otherwise the rest of the paragraph is shown as if it were part of the quotation too.)

Comment author: [deleted] 11 May 2012 10:00:24AM 0 points [-]

I was mostly focusing on the bottom view, i.e. most people without any specific economical/political interest in supporting religion.

Since the second-last paragraph of your post was indeed about such people, I assumed that the last (one-sentence) paragraph was about the higher levels for contrast.

Comment author: DanArmak 02 May 2012 01:37:46AM 4 points [-]

as a rule of thumb countries to the north are more atheistic, those to the south (Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc.) are more religious.

Is that just the historical Catholic-Protestant divide?

Comment author: Jesper_Ostman 02 May 2012 12:24:37PM 0 points [-]

In the scandinavian countries SIAI-style thinking seems at least as common to me as in the US (eg comparing Sweden to New York, which I believe is of similar size).

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 30 April 2012 10:50:14PM 14 points [-]

Americans being more willing to be weird could explain both rationality as a project and religiosity.

Comment author: Locke 30 April 2012 10:51:59PM 4 points [-]

What reason do you have to believe we're more inclined to weirdness?

Comment author: atucker 02 May 2012 12:27:47AM 2 points [-]

The fact that Americans are almost entirely descended from people who decided to uproot themselves and move to a foreign country where they don't have the same institutions, culture, or friends.

This is pretty not normal.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 02 May 2012 12:44:22AM 0 points [-]

This assumes a large genetic aspect of being "weird".

Comment author: Jesper_Ostman 02 May 2012 12:19:20PM 3 points [-]

Not unreasonable. Eg personality traits like openness have a decent heritability and are closely related to weirdness.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 May 2012 03:19:54AM 6 points [-]

Not necessarily, this was recent enough that it could be cultural.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 May 2012 01:11:31AM 13 points [-]

It was a commonality between rationality as a project and religiosity. I was intending a very weak form of "could explain".

What I actually believe is that Americans have a default of "doing something". Thinking about whether the something makes sense is permitted but optional.

Comment author: hankx7787 01 May 2012 02:11:46PM 5 points [-]

This is the best answer I've seen so far. At the risk of losing karma, I'll point out nevertheless that America is the land of libertarian individualism like no other, which in my opinion explains everything.

Comment author: Jesper_Ostman 02 May 2012 12:15:46PM 1 point [-]

"Weirdness" is closely related to a high score in the psychological trait openness in the big5.

According to this meta-analysis the correlations between religiosity and openness are somewhat mixed:

"while Openness is negatively related to religious fundamentalism (weighted mean r=−0.14, P<0.01) and, to some extent, intrinsic-general religiosity (r=−0.06, P<0.01), it is positively related to measures of open or mature religiosity and spirituality (r=0.22, P<0.0001)."

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 02 May 2012 03:43:18PM 1 point [-]

"Weirdness" is in the mind of the beholder.

Also, I bet they didn't check the openness level of people who start or join new religions-- such people are pretty rare, but they're the ones who keep the religious landscape lively.

Comment author: Jesper_Ostman 02 May 2012 05:23:59PM 1 point [-]

I was assuming you meant something like "willing to go against the dominant norms in one's society" by it, which is close related to Openness.

I'd expect those people joining/starting new religions to be more open, thus the operalization of your hypothesis in terms of big5-Openness. There should probably be studies on smaller religions, such as new age, which might aptly be called new.

Comment author: djcb 01 May 2012 04:26:23PM 6 points [-]

But in what way is being religious considered 'weird' in the US?

Comment author: juliawise 03 May 2012 12:48:40PM *  1 point [-]

Hare Krishna? Shakers? Mormons? Hasidic Jews? America mostly tolerated these religions, but the neighbors still considered them weird.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 May 2012 05:46:14PM 5 points [-]

Actually, it depends on which religion and where you are. Any new religion (or new variant on a religion, and that happens a lot) is going to be considered weird.

Also, a person's amount of religiousness can easily be considered weird.

Comment author: prase 01 May 2012 07:41:58PM *  10 points [-]

state of rationality in the non-English-speaking world

And if there are no Singularitarian, Cryonics-Supporting, Utilitarianism-Advocating websites for the majority of the human race, isn't that a huge deal?

Please don't equate rationality with Singularitarianism, cryonics support, utilitarianism and AI. Even better, consider all these topics separately. Outside the English speaking world, there are Singularitarians, there are (of course!) utilitarians, there are cryonics supporters (however cryonics subscribtion is not available in most countries), there are AI researchers, but you would have much harder job seeking a cluster isomorphic to LW with all its idiosyncrasies together.

Comment author: beoShaffer 30 April 2012 11:29:50PM 5 points [-]

There is a sequence translation project but it does not seem to be going to well. Fairly few pages translated, almost no comments on the translated posts.

Comment author: Nisan 01 May 2012 01:00:33AM 8 points [-]

I've been wondering about this. A related thought: Much of the sequences are an antidote to various memes that make their way into educated minds in our culture. Do those memes exist outside of the West? Would a non-Anglophone Chinese person find any value in "The Simple Truth"? Are there universities that only teach quantum physics without wavefunction collapse?

(Of course, the sequences are also an antidote to defects of thinking that are part of our shared genetic heritage. Then again, how much research has been done into cross-cultural variation of cognitive biases?)

Comment author: JoshuaZ 01 May 2012 01:32:37AM 8 points [-]

how much research has been done into cross-cultural variation of cognitive biases?

Some research has been done, but not that much. The resources required for such studies is generally pretty intensive. But most of the literature suggests that cognitive biases don't change that much between cultures. For example, the literature on the Monty Hall problem shows that the the answer rates look nearly identical in all tested cultures (which include the US, Britain, China and Brazil among others). This is discussed with further references in Jason Rosenhouse's book "The Monty Hall Problem." I'm under the impression that there's similar literature for confirmation bias, but I don't have any citations off hand.

Comment author: Incorrect 30 April 2012 10:38:05PM 8 points [-]

If we take Religion as any indication of irrationality then America should be one of the least rational countries in the world.

If you consider America homogenous but then you're probably using an insufficient model.

Comment author: Locke 30 April 2012 10:50:39PM 2 points [-]

I realize that even a small percentage of English-speakers is still a huge number of people, but I don't think it's more than half of all the potential rationalists in the world.

Comment author: Vaniver 01 May 2012 12:29:25PM 5 points [-]

So, about 30% of the population of the OECD is in countries where the majority of the population is a native-born English speaker, and I would be unsurprised if at least two sevenths of the population of the remaining countries speaks English well enough to interact on the internet. I'm pretty sure English connects you to at least half of the developed world.

Comment author: aelephant 01 May 2012 01:19:42AM 14 points [-]

As someone living in China, I feel pretty confident saying that most Chinese are not skeptical or interested in rationality. Even "Science" in China is deficient. We think we have a problem with publication bias in the West; I heard a terrifying statistic that there are ZERO negative studies published in the field of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). And while the country is atheist, huge numbers of people still go the Buddhist temples, bang their heads on the ground and worship statues with blue skin.

Comment author: Sarokrae 03 May 2012 10:51:38AM *  8 points [-]

Having grown up in China, it took a LONG time to shake off all the belief in belief that primary school instilled in me (if you read the singing and dancing article recently: I marched together with the entire school every day from the age of 6. Infer about my personality what you will.) Deconstructing the ridiculous amounts of blatantly untrue cached thoughts I have takes a lot of mental willpower, even now. Indoctrination doesn't have to be about religion.

The problem with TCM is that it's just not been scientifically researched. There's bound to be lots of good stuff, especially in the herbal stuff (it's not homeopathy, there's at least active ingredients in there), and there's bound to be lots of bs, especially in the chi stuff, but it needs a significant western pharmaceutical team to dig through everything, find the useful chemicals and isolate the effects, with the expertise but without the biases of Chinese researchers. Unfortunately, that's a massive undertaking that I don't see happening any time soon. I mean, the success story of artemisinin in malaria treatment should be encouraging, and I personally assign a 90%+ probability that somewhere in TCM there are useful treatments/cures for things that western medicine don't cope with very well yet, but isolating them could be a difficult task.

Comment author: Plasmon 01 May 2012 11:11:36AM 2 points [-]

the field of TCM

This nature article on TCM shows a similar lack of scepticism.

Comment author: aelephant 02 May 2012 12:28:03AM 4 points [-]

From the article you linked:

Within Asia, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is the system with the longest history. TCM was developed through thousands of years of empirical testing and refinement.

I cringed. Not only do I question what they are calling "empirical testing" but this Time Fallacy (I don't know what else to call it, perhaps there is a better name) is everywhere in China. "Well, we've been doing it the wrong way for over 2000 years so it must be the right way!"

No, actually if you tell me 2+2=5 for 6 billion years, you will still be wrong and 2+2 will still equal 4.

The Economist recently had a much better, much more skeptical piece on TCM:

Medicine & its rivals

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 May 2012 03:33:38AM 3 points [-]

No, actually if you tell me 2+2=5 for 6 billion years, you will still be wrong and 2+2 will still equal 4.

Except the belief that 2+2=5 isn't going to survive for 6 billion years.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 02 May 2012 01:30:55PM *  2 points [-]

Is there a google map of LW users? I think we could use the number of LW users in different countries as a proxy for LW-style rationality, together with information how many people in given country are able to discuss in English.

(By "LW-style rationality" I mean trying to be rational even outside the laboratory, both epistemically and instrumentally, and trying to become even stronger.)

In Slovakia, it's pretty much me and Barbara, although I am still trying to spread information around me. But when we went to a meetup in Rome, that was even worse -- the only people who came were foreigners. Thus a hypothesis: traditionally Catholic lands are not friendly to LW-style rationality.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 May 2012 02:59:01PM *  1 point [-]

But when we went to a meetup in Rome, that was even worse -- the only people who came were foreigners. Thus a hypothesis: traditionally Catholic lands are not friendly to LW-style rationality.

It's more due to the fact that very few Italians (or southwestern Europeans generally) have fluent English. I mean, in my experience the average English teacher in Italy has worse English than the average bartender or policeman in Prague. I don't think religion wouldn't have a large effect, at least not around Rome (though it possibly would further south and east).

Have LW meetups been held in the Republic of Ireland (an English-speaking “traditionally Catholic land”)?

Comment author: Konkvistador 02 May 2012 08:40:51AM *  14 points [-]

If we take Religion as any indication of irrationality then America should be one of the least rational countries in the world.

A ridiculous statement to make. America is moderately religious on a global scale. I think it is a mistake made for similar reasons as the mistake of thinking conservative American Protestants are roughly equivalent to conservative Muslims.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 May 2012 02:51:42PM 0 points [-]

The US is less religious than Africa, South America or the Middle East but more religious than pretty much everywhere else. IIRC there's an absurdly large percentage of Americans who says they would never vote for an atheist president -- higher than for any other group of people they asked the question about.

Comment author: Konkvistador 07 May 2012 03:59:40PM *  3 points [-]

The US is less religious than Africa, South America or the Middle East but more religious than pretty much everywhere else.

You forgot tiny irrelevant places like Indonesia, Bangladesh and India. Your statement only works if you define "pretty much everywhere" else as Europe and East Asian, about 2.5 billion people, a lot but not the majority on our world of 7 billion. Oh sure there are a few demographically irrelevant pockets in addition to that like say Australia or Canada, but thinking a bit about them and adding their populations together one has a hard time matching just Indonesia.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 May 2012 05:48:00PM 1 point [-]

(I was initially going to type "southern Asia" instead of "Middle East", which would have included those places too. Dunno why I switched.)

Comment author: Multiheaded 02 May 2012 06:25:29AM *  5 points [-]

An online resource in English is much more international in effect (as in "facilitating communication across national borders") than one in just 1 or 2 or 3 other languages. English is a decent language to use for any number of third parties who can't be bothered to translate from each others' languages. Therefore, setting up something with many sections in various languages is prohibitively expensive by contrast (unless your project is language-centered in the first place, maybe).

Comment author: Athrelon 01 May 2012 06:29:01PM *  8 points [-]

"If we take Religion as any indication of irrationality then America should be one of the least rational countries in the world."

Strongly disagree with this premise. Religion is one non-rational meme, but it is one of many and is neither the highest-status nor the most prevalent of the many popular irrational belief systems. Atheists may well be more rational on the one issue of religion, but can and frequently do subscribe to even more irrational belief systems, whether political ideologies, spiritual-but-not-religiousness, or delusions around their life strategy.

Many smart people are indeed atheists,but evidence is very much mixed as to whether atheists in general are more intelligent than the religious (1). In the same way, many people may come to atheism through rationality, but among the general population I don't see any evidence that atheism vs. belief corresponds strongly with rationality.

1.http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2010/06/half-sigma-asserts-that-church.html

Comment author: djcb 01 May 2012 04:41:53PM 5 points [-]

If we take Religion as any indication of irrationality then America should be one of the least rational countries in the world.

There are parts in Europe where there are many more non-believers, but those are not necessarily more rational. To a large extent it is environment, parents, friends etc. that determine religiosity or lack thereof. It seems that when people are gradually getting more rational, religion is not the first thing that gets thrown out the window. I notice that superstition, medical quakery and various supernatural beliefs are alive and well in secular Europe.

It'd be great if there were some survey comparing the degree to which such ideas flourish in different parts of the world.

Comment author: hankx7787 01 May 2012 02:05:25PM *  1 point [-]

Evidently your premises are wrong. Good question though!

Comment author: gwern 30 April 2012 11:16:10PM *  19 points [-]

Is there a Russian version of SIAI?

No, although Russia is interesting for other reasons: they are still unusually atheistic, have old proto-transhumanists and rocketry enthusiasts, and recently have begun efforts into SENS-style life extension and cryonics. (Russian scientists apparently did a lot of investigation into nootropics, and there are multiple interesting substances I've seen where all the info was basically in Russian.)

As far as I know, there's little to no real transhumanism in Japan. This is weird and I do not understand it. The ideas are certainly in circulation, through SF, the leisure & wealth are also there (as proven by the infinite works of the otaku), and there is tolerance of robots and software (eg. Vocaloid) you don't see even in America.

China may not be important: they're still busy getting wealthy, their nonprofit/philanthropy is non-existent (thanks in part to Communist Party paranoia about non-commercial organizations), and Chinese intellectuals worth reaching quite possibly speak English already.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 30 April 2012 11:29:18PM 3 points [-]

tangential: have you compiled a list of interesting substances where the info is in Russian?

Comment author: gwern 01 May 2012 01:00:07AM 0 points [-]

No.

Comment author: paper-machine 01 May 2012 03:55:57AM 6 points [-]

It could be quite valuable to translate that material.

Comment author: C9AEA3E1 01 May 2012 09:17:39PM 1 point [-]

Can someone recommend good Russian learning material? Preferably something that could be found online (books count).

Comment author: juliawise 03 May 2012 12:45:01PM 1 point [-]

I bet a lot of medical terms are borrowed from Western European languages, so just learning the alphabet might get you a good way.

Comment author: Yuu 07 May 2012 12:01:05PM 0 points [-]

Could you clarify, what do you want to learn, and for what reason? I think I may help you with specific book or manuals.

Comment author: Yuu 07 May 2012 12:12:08PM *  0 points [-]

I can add, that there are more at least slightly religious people in Russia today, than 10-20 years ago. Transhumanism may be supported by people, who was graduated in USSR, but now Russia Orthodox Church becomes more influential and helps to support irrationality and biases. Science fiction in Russia is dominated by the fantasy book, which can't support any rational ideas and transhumanism.

But, there are also people, who have studied natural sciences in colleges and may want to become more rational and support, for example, cryonics.

I have also met some Japanese people, and I can say, that they prefer to be practical and even utilitarian in their life, and this can be seen as rational approach. Comparing with Russia, they have much more "user friendly" things in their daily life, for example, remote controlled WCs.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 May 2012 03:02:14PM 0 points [-]

I guess that most of the people who would be interested in LW-style rationality already have functional written English.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 May 2012 04:07:16PM 2 points [-]

Can you expand on your reasons for believing that? It's my intuition as well, but I mostly disregard that intuition because it's so obviously distortable by the fact that the vast majority of my interactions with such people have been on English-language forums.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 May 2012 06:05:35PM *  1 point [-]

The first reason which springs to my mind is that, in the last survey,

In order of frequency, we include 366 computer scientists (32.6%), 174 people in the hard sciences (16%) 80 people in finance (7.3%), 63 people in the social sciences (5.8%), 43 people involved in AI (3.9%), 39 philosophers (3.6%), 15 mathematicians (1.5%), 14 statisticians (1.3%), 15 people involved in law (1.5%) and 5 people in medicine (.5%).

and I think it'd be very difficult to become a computer scientist or a hard scientist without learning to at least read English. (For example, graduate-level physics textbooks, when they're translated in Italian at all, are, like, five times as expensive as the English originals. And good luck finding translations of (say) arXiv preprints -- I don't think I've ever seen any such thing.)

ETA: See also Weber (1995):

From, a certain level upwards, in business, sport, politics, science and many other fields, a knowledge of English has become not a matter of prestige but of necessity. Also: the level at which this occurs is moving ever downwards.

In science and technology the grip of English is complete. With growing computer sophistication it is becoming easier to put even the most awkward languages and script on screen but that does not alter the big picture. The Chinese trader, scientist, manufacturer who wants to talk to his foreign contacts is not helped much by even the most carefully presented Chinese characters on his screen. He has to tell his non-Chinese customers - in English.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 May 2012 06:18:39PM 0 points [-]

OK. Thanks for clarifying.