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Stupidity as a mental illness

15 Post author: PhilGoetz 10 February 2017 03:57AM

It's great to make people more aware of bad mental habits and encourage better ones, as many people have done on LessWrong.  The way we deal with weak thinking is, however, like how people dealt with depression before the development of effective anti-depressants:

  • Clinical depression was only marginally treatable.
  • It was seen as a crippling character flaw, weakness, or sin.
  • Admitting you had it could result in losing your job and/or friends.
  • Treatment was not covered by insurance.
  • Therapy was usually analytic or behavioral and not very effective.
  • People thus went to great mental effort not to admit, even to themselves, having depression or any other mental illness.
"Stupidity," like "depression," is a sloppy "common-sense" word that we apply to different conditions, which may be caused by genetics (for instance, mutations in the M1 or M3 pathways, or two copies of Thr92Ala), deep subconscious conditioning (e.g., religion), general health issues (like not getting enough sleep), environment (ignorance, lack of reward for intelligent behavior), or bad habits of thought.

Like depression, it may not be possible to develop effective behavioral therapy for stupidity until its causes are understood, the most severe cases may have physiological causes, and pharmaceutical interventions will probably be much more effective than behavioral interventions for such cases.

Like depression, as long as it's seen as shameful and incurable, people won't admit to having it and won't seek help for it, regardless of the type they have.

The only "anti-stupidity drugs" we have are nootropics.  But the nootropics we have weren't developed as nootropics.  Piracetam was, I think, developed to treat seizures.  L-DOPA was developed to treat Parkinson's.  No one knows who started using ginkgo biloba or what they used it for; it was used to treat asthma 5000 years ago.  Adderall derives from drugs used to keep soldiers awake in World War 2.

And none of them are very good against stupidity.  AFAIK, to date, not one drug has been developed by understanding and targeting the causes of different types of stupidity.  We have the tools to do this--we could, for instance, sequence a lot of peoples' DNA, give them all IQ tests, and do a genome-wide association study, as a start.

We don't research these things because society doesn't want to research them.  People don't conceive of stupidity as a disease that can be cured.  We need, somehow, to promote thinking of stupidity as a mental illness.  As something drug companies could make billions of dollars off of.

This could backfire horribly.  We could see affirmative action for stupid people.  Harvard would boast about how many stupid people it admitted.

But if we don't, we could see something worse--people will argue that stupidity isn't any worse than being smart (much as some deaf activists claim that deafness is a culture, not a disability), and demand protection of the stupid as an oppressed minority (or majority).  Like this:

We must stop glorifying intelligence and treating our society as a playground for the smart minority. We should instead begin shaping our economy, our schools, even our culture with an eye to the abilities and needs of the majority, and to the full range of human capacity. The government could, for example, provide incentives to companies that resist automation, thereby preserving jobs for the less brainy. It could also discourage hiring practices that arbitrarily and counterproductively weed out the less-well-IQ’ed. ...

When Michael Young, a British sociologist, coined the term meritocracy in 1958, it was in a dystopian satire. At the time, the world he imagined, in which intelligence fully determined who thrived and who languished, was understood to be predatory, pathological, far-fetched. Today, however, we’ve almost finished installing such a system, and we have embraced the idea of a meritocracy with few reservations, even treating it as virtuous.

                    -- David Freedman [no, not David Friedman], "The War on Stupid People," The Atlantic, July/Aug 2016

An obvious and simple first step to destigmatizing stupidity is to stop making fun of and heaping scorn on stupid people ourselves.  I've done this a lot myself, and so have many others on LW.

Stupid people controlling technology and civilizations developed by smart people are an existential threat.  To address the problem, we must destigmatize stupidity as being a disease, and treat it, before it's normalized as a protected class.

Comments (130)

Comment author: Lumifer 10 February 2017 05:56:02PM 9 points [-]

Let's define "stupidity" as "low IQ" where IQ is measured by some standard tests.

IQ is largely hereditary (~70%, IIRC) and polygenic. This mean that attempting to "cure" it by anything short of major genetic engineering will have quite limited upside.

There are cases where IQ is depressed from its "natural" level (e.g. by exposure to lead) and these are fixable or preventable. However if you're genetically stupid, drugs or behavioral changes won't help.

we could, for instance, sequence a lot of peoples' DNA, give them all IQ tests, and do a genome-wide association study, as a start.

We could and people do that. If you're interested in IQ research, look at Greg Cochran or James Thompson or Razib Khan, etc. etc.

We could see affirmative action for stupid people. Harvard would boast about how many stupid people it admitted.

That, ahem, is exactly what's happening already :-/

Comment author: Vaniver 10 February 2017 08:13:46PM 7 points [-]

IQ is largely hereditary (~70%, IIRC) and polygenic. This mean that attempting to "cure" it by anything short of major genetic engineering will have quite limited upside.

It is worth pointing out that the heritability estimates are determined from current variation, and thus are only weakly predictive of what interventions are possible but unknown. (I do expect that if there were an easy way to make improvements here, we would know about it already, but it's very possible that there are hard ways to do this.)

Comment author: Houshalter 10 February 2017 10:15:52PM 5 points [-]

Just because it's genetic doesn't mean it's incurable. Some genetic diseases have been cured. I've read of drugs that increase neurogenesis, which could plausibly increase IQ. Scientists have increased the intelligence of mice by replacing their glial cells with better human ones.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 February 2017 01:21:45AM 3 points [-]

A fair point, but I still expect gene-level interventions to work better and be developed noticeably earlier than any "cures" for low IQ in adults or even kids. Notably, after the low-hanging fruits have been picked (malnutrition, lead, etc.), there are no clear avenues for advancement. At the moment we don't have a clue as to where even to start looking.

Comment author: Houshalter 11 February 2017 07:40:36PM 0 points [-]

Well there is a lot of research into treatments for dementia, like the neurogenesis drug I mentioned above. I think it's quite plausible they will stumble upon general cognitive enhancers that improve healthy people.

Comment author: RainbowSpacedancer 11 February 2017 08:45:14AM *  2 points [-]

Let's define "stupidity" as "low IQ" where IQ is measured by some standard tests.

That already seems pretty different to what OP is talking about. See -

"Stupidity," like "depression," is a sloppy "common-sense" word that we apply to different conditions, which may be caused by genetics (for instance, mutations in the M1 or M3 pathways, or two copies of Thr92Ala), deep subconscious conditioning (e.g., religion), general health issues (like not getting enough sleep), environment (ignorance, lack of reward for intelligent behavior), or bad habits of thought.

This seems more like stupidity is anything anti-instrumental rationality rather than IQ based. I don't necessarily disagree with anything you've said, but I'm pointing out you might be talking past one another.

Comment author: Lumifer 13 February 2017 03:40:14PM 0 points [-]

stupidity is anything anti-instrumental rationality

Instrumental rationality is often hard to judge since you don't know what the person is optimizing for (not necessarily consciously).

The classic Hansonianism ("X is not about X", e.g. "Politics is not about policy", etc.) is one way is which you can be wrong about someone's instrumental rationality.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 10 February 2017 10:30:40PM *  2 points [-]

IQ is largely hereditary (~70%, IIRC) and polygenic. This mean that attempting to "cure" it by anything short of major genetic engineering will have quite limited upside.

Depression is, according to Google and web pages I haven't studied, polygenic and 40-50% heritable, yet medicine often works for it.

It isn't especially hard to develop drugs for genetic diseases. Genetic diseases have single points of attack--receptors to block, proteins to disrupt. "Polygenic" may not matter at all; that may just mean there is one pathway with 30 genes in it, and 300 genes impinging on it, and you need to supplement the pathway's end product.

That, ahem, is exactly what's happening already :-/

I wasn't going to mention it, but I thought of that example because Harvard's current admissions website boasts that it provides no merit-based financial aid. I thought that was odd when I read it, but it fits in with the idea that a meritocracy is morally objectionable.

Comment author: ChristianKl 12 February 2017 04:42:19PM 2 points [-]

Depression is, according to Google and web pages I haven't studied, polygenic and 40-50% heritable, yet medicine often works for it.

When placebo's have more of an effect on depression than the actual drug I'm not sure that's s good description.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 February 2017 01:28:06AM 0 points [-]

It isn't especially hard to develop drugs for genetic diseases.

For simple genetic diseases where an uncomplicated biochemical mechanism has been knocked out and you know how to fix it. We don't know where even to start for intelligence.

Here is a different angle of view on basically the same problem: after people turn 60-70 years old, they start to become stupider and it's a fairly rapid and continuous decline. Why? We don't know. How to fix it? We don't know.

Harvard's current admissions website boasts that it provides no merit-based financial aid.

You misunderstand. Harvard, being a very rich and a very prestigious school, has a what's known as "need-blind" admission. That means that if they accept you, they will find money to pay for your education even if you're dirt poor. They will not turn away anyone who got accepted but doesn't have the money. Given this, there is no particular need for merit aid.

Comment author: Protagoras 13 February 2017 02:25:22AM 0 points [-]

I'm curious about your claim that at 60-70 years old people start rapidly becoming stupider for reason we don't know. I thought that I recalled reading that while the various forms of dementia become immensely more common with age, those who are fortunate enough to avoid any of them experience relatively little cognitive decline. Unless you mean only to say that our present understanding of Alzheimer's and the other less common dementia disorders is relatively limited, so you're counting that as a reason we don't know (it is certainly something we don't know how to fix, so you win on that point).

Comment author: Lumifer 13 February 2017 06:56:08AM 0 points [-]

I mean things like this.

Comment author: Protagoras 14 February 2017 01:33:07AM 0 points [-]

Hmmm, thanks, but that research doesn't seem to make any effort to distinguish people with diagnosable dementia conditions from those without, and does mention that the rates can be quite different for different people, so I can't tell whether there's anything about it which contradicts what I thought I remembered encountering in other research.

Comment author: Lumifer 14 February 2017 02:31:08AM *  1 point [-]

You can look at the UK study directly: paper. They explicitly mention that they are interested in "normative (i.e. non-pathological) age-related differences in cognition" and that they took pains to get a representative sample.

If you accept that their sample is representative, it does show major cognitive decline with age regardless of who got diagnosed with what. That decline is not subtle.

Comment author: SolveIt 12 February 2017 01:17:17PM 0 points [-]

I agree. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that all their aid is merit-based. Certainly they would believe it is.

Comment author: Pimgd 10 February 2017 10:16:09AM *  8 points [-]

So, on one hand, I agree that it would be better if people were smarter on average.

On the other hand, you're using a lot of scary labels. ... Actually, after reflecting a bit, "Stupidity is a mental illness" is the only scary label. But it is a REALLY SCARY label. As in, my overton window is probably shifted, I dunno, 2 or 3 or 4 standard deviations in your direction, compared to the average person. I know about nootropics (at the very least, that they exist). And I'm sort of familiar with this community. And I still got scared reading this.

One of the issues is is that it takes something which has previously enjoyed somewhat protected status (intelligence), and puts it on a same level of importance as ... ... I don't have an example. Weird.

I know a lot of people who are stupid in one way or another. I would hate to see "treatment" forced onto them because they're not as smart as we'd like. I get the feeling that not speaking up now means being next on the list - "when they came for X I didn't speak up because I wasn't X, when they came for Y I didn't speak up because I wasn't Y, and when they came for me there was no-one else to speak up for me".

I don't know what constitutes "stupid" for you. Is it people with, say, an IQ of 70, where their intelligence impairs them on a daily basis? Or is it people who are capable of holding down a job, but live paycheck to paycheck and vote in elections based on very questionable grounds (I don't have proper examples for you)?

I think that because there is no definition of "stupid people" provided, this becomes scary. You're targeting a population group, which was previously okay, but now they're no longer okay, and this feels like you're trying to invoke "look at these people, they need to be fixed", and maybe I'm shaping some of that feeling myself, but I don't see the underlying tone of doing good. This isn't helping others, this is helping yourself. Maybe everyone benefits. But this essay reads as something that helps just you.


In short.

Promoting research into intelligence boosting drugs: Yay

Destigmatizing stupidity into favoring intelligence: Yay

Classifying stupidity as a mental illness, forcing things like the American health system onto people who are already missing one of the success factors in life: Nay.

...

And I don't think mental illness is seen as something positive either. People with mental illnesses are dangerous, not fit for society, scary, should be kept someplace safe... I think that's the sentiment you'll get if you ask the average person (maybe they're stupid too? I don't know). Now, I don't mean to say these traits apply to people who are stupid, I mean to say that people on average think these traits apply to people with a mental illness, and that as a result, you don't want to be mentally ill, and reclassifying people who are stupid as mentally ill won't go over well. Even only because people won't actually say they can't see the emperor's clothes, lest they lose their job.


Honestly, I think if you want to go this way, you'd be better off trying to develop things that people can use for their kids. They'll buy organic foods "because it's more healthy", so they might also buy intelligence boosters for their kids so they can go to a prestige university and do great in life.

And you don't want to classify stupidity as a mental illness. You want it to be seen as a physical injury. You go to the hospital, they fix you, you're better. No shrink visits, no endless talks, no getting locked up in an internment facility.

Comment author: Pimgd 10 February 2017 10:37:21AM *  8 points [-]

Disclaimer: I have autism. I sometimes worry that despite functioning pretty well in society, some day, people will say "hey, these people have problems integrating with society sometimes! We should cure all the autisms!" and I'll be forcibly "cured" and have my personality (autism is a way of thinking, sometimes, so I think that this counts as part of someone's personality) altered against my will.

Compare with the deaf people, which is BOTH a culture and a disability. Same thing goes on here. I believe that a way should be found to prevent people from being born deaf/with autism (preferrably via curing in the womb, not via abortion, but if people want to abort because their unborn child is deaf/has autism I think they should be allowed to do that because it places a higher burden on the parents). I don't believe you should forcibly (or via social pressure) intervene in people who, for their entire lives, have been deaf/have autism in order to cure them. You should make the means available to them, but it's their decision.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 10 February 2017 11:08:50PM *  4 points [-]

From what I've read, most of the protest in the deaf community currently is deaf parents insisting they have the right to deny treatment and audible education to their children--which they want to do because it will be too late for the children to get the treatment themselves when they're adults. If it were possible for their children to get the treatment and learn spoken language once they grew up, and potentially leave the deaf community, parents would have less motivation to deny treatment to them as children.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 10 February 2017 05:37:52PM 1 point [-]

Sometimes I worry that we'll find a way of curing autism in the womb and then all progress in mathematics will grind to a halt.

Comment author: DanArmak 11 February 2017 04:14:56PM 2 points [-]

Another reason to find a cure for stupidity first, then.

Comment author: Applesauce 10 February 2017 06:11:38PM 0 points [-]

yes. Forced treatment might not end well...in terms of emotional scarring, loss sense of identity.

Comment author: gjm 10 February 2017 01:07:25PM 7 points [-]

I would hate to see "treatment" forced onto them because they're not as smart as we'd like.

If the analogy here is with depression, that doesn't seem a likely outcome. Depressed people don't normally have anything forced onto them, unless they make it clear that there's a substantial imminent risk that they'll actually kill themselves.

I think the things that will get a mental illness forcibly treated are (1) that it genuinely makes the person who has it unable to function independently, or (2) that it puts other people at substantial risk. Stupidity has to be really severe before it causes #1; I suppose the question is whether (in a hypothetical world where stupidity is medicalized and treatable) it would often be seen as causing #2.

I do, though, very much agree that the combination of giving "stupidity" a broad enough definition that it applies to a substantial fraction of the population and treating it as a disease seems really dangerous and open to abuse.

Comment author: bogus 10 February 2017 09:08:14PM *  0 points [-]

or (2) that it puts other people at substantial risk. ...I suppose the question is whether (in a hypothetical world where stupidity is medicalized and treatable) it would often be seen as causing #2.

Carlo Maria Cipolla's definition of stupidity is clearly relevant here. (Link is from the Less Wrong Wiki.)

Comment author: PhilGoetz 10 February 2017 11:04:38PM 2 points [-]

I know a lot of people who are stupid in one way or another. I would hate to see "treatment" forced onto them because they're not as smart as we'd like.

Do we force people to be treated for diabetes, cancer, or gout? No; we at most work to make it possible for them to get treatment.

Comment author: DanArmak 11 February 2017 04:14:02PM 1 point [-]

"Stupidity is a mental illness" is the only scary label. But it is a REALLY SCARY label.

That's the point of this post, I think.

Mental illness is a very scary label - because it's a terrible thing to be. And we should work hard on being able to cure mental illness.

Stupid is an equally terrible thing to be - terrible to yourself and to your friends and to society at large. We should work just as hard on making people not-stupid as we do on making them not-depressed. But we don't actually work hard on that, and that's a real problem.

Comment author: Applesauce 10 February 2017 06:05:53PM 0 points [-]

Yes, calling stupidity as a mental illness is very offending and dangerous... This can be seen as verbally attacking someone because of its aggressive lying undertones.

Comment author: Brillyant 10 February 2017 03:09:50PM 7 points [-]

"Stupidity" is a...word that we apply to different conditions which may be caused by deep subconscious conditioning (e.g., religion).

Wow.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 11 February 2017 03:43:20AM 4 points [-]

Seems a bit harsh, though after you've debated a few creationists, it doesn't seem so unsupportable.

Comment author: DanArmak 11 February 2017 04:11:34PM 3 points [-]

Do you think it's factually untrue, or normatively wrong, or something?

Comment author: username2 12 February 2017 05:09:08AM 1 point [-]

What's materially different about a God-based religion and the science-centered rationality cult? Other than our miracles actually being real, that is.

I almost said "verifiably real", but therein lies the crux of the issue. A religion is basically a foundational system of beliefs, and a framework for constructing new beliefs. That includes even how you verify the truthfulness of statements. Blanket calling religion of all sorts 'stupidly' is oversimplifying the situation, to say the least.

Comment author: DanArmak 12 February 2017 05:52:20PM 1 point [-]

The post doesn't say that all religion is stupidity. It says that one of the things we cal stupidity is subconscious conditioning, and one of the common case of such conditioning is religion. A subset of religion and a subset of stupidity, intersecting. Do you think that's wrong?

Comment author: siIver 12 February 2017 07:27:24PM *  6 points [-]

L. : While obviously being rational is good, LW as a community seems to be promoting elitism and entitlement.

s: Rationality can be scary that way. But it is about seeking truth, and the community does happen to consist of smart people. Denying that is false humility. Similarly, a lot of ideas many people support just happen to be false. It's not our fault that our society got it wrong on so many issues. We're just after truth.

L. : How does it serve truth to label people which aren't smart as mentally ill?

s: That's terrible, of course. But that's not a flaw of rationality, nothing about rationality dictates "you have to be cruel to other people". In fact if you think about this really hard you'll see that rationality usually dictates being nice.

L: Then how come this post on LessWrong is the most upvoted thing of the last 20 submissions?

s: ...

s: I can't defend that.

L. : Oh, okay. So I'm right and Yudkowsky's site does promote entitlement and sexism.

s: wait, sexism?

L. : Yeah. The last thing I saw from LW was two men talking about what a woman needs to do to fit the role they want her to have in society.

s: Okay, but that's not Yudkowsky's fault! He is not responsible for everyone on LW! The sequences don't promote sexism-

L. : I heard HPMoR is sexist, too.

s: That's not remotely true. It actually promotes feminism. Hermione is-

L. : I'm sorry, but I think I value the thoughts of other people who are more knowledgeable about sexism over yours. At least you condemn this article, but you still hang out on this site.


Scott Alexander has said that it's society's biggest mistake to turn away from intelligence (can't find the article). Even minor increases of intelligence correlate meaningfully with all sorts of things (a negative correlation with crime being one of them afaik). Intelligence is the most powerful force in the universe. A few intelligence points on the people working on Friendly AI right now could determine the fate of our entire species. I want to make it extra clear that I think intelligence is ultra-important and almost universally good.

None of this excuses this article. None of it suggests that it's somehow okay to label stupid people as mentally ill. Rationality is about winning, and this article is losing in every sense of the word. It won't be good for the reputation of LW, it won't be good for our agenda, and it won't be good for the pursuit of truth. The only expected positive effect is making people who read it feel good. It essentially says "being intelligent is good. Being stupid is bad. Other people are stupid. They are the problem. We are better than them." Which is largely true, but as helpful as making an IQ test, and emailing a friend saying "look here I am verifiable smarter than you and being smart is the most important thing in our society!"

Okay, but that's not a content critique. I just said I think this is bad and went from there. If the article was actually making a strong case, well then it could still be bad for having an unnecessarily insulting and harmful framing that is bad for our cause, but it might be defend-able on other grounds. Maybe. We want to do both; to win and to pursue truth, and those aren't the same thing. But I strongly feel the article doesn't succeed on that front, either. Let's take a look.


It's great to make people more aware of bad mental habits and encourage better ones, as many people have done on LessWrong.

sure.

The way we deal with weak thinking is, however, like how people dealt with depression before the development of effective anti-depressants:

seems to be true.

"Stupidity," like "depression," is a sloppy "common-sense" word that we apply to different conditions, which may be caused by genetics (for instance, mutations in the M1 or M3 pathways, or two copies of Thr92Ala), deep subconscious conditioning (e.g., religion), general health issues (like not getting enough sleep), environment (ignorance, lack of reward for intelligent behavior), or bad habits of thought.

There is an implicit assumption here that being stupid requires some kind of explanation, but nothing at all in the article provides a reason of why this would be the case. Stupidity is not depression. The reason why it makes sense to label depression as a mental illness is (I assume) that it corresponds to an anomaly in the territory. Suppose we had a function, depressedness(human, time) which displayed how depressed each person on earth has been for, say, the past 10 years. I would expect to see weird behavior of that function, strange peaks over intervals of time on various people, many of whom don't have unusually high values most of the time. This would suggest that it is something to be treated.

If you did the same for intelligence, I'd expect relatively low change on the time axis (aside from an increase at young age and a decrease in the case of actual mental illnesses) and some kind of mathematically typical distribution among the person axis ranging from 60 to dunno 170 or something. I feel really strange about having to make this argument, but this is really the crux of the problem here. The article doesn't argue "here and here are stats suggesting that there are anomalies with this function, therefore there is a thing which we could sensibly describe as a mental illness" it just says "some people are dumb, here are some dumb things they do, let's label that mental illness." To sum the fallacy committed here up in one sentence, it talks about a thing without explaining why that thing should exist.

It is implied that people being ashamed of admitting to depression is a problem, and I infer that the intention is to make being stupid feel less bad by labeling their condition a "mental illness." But it clearly fails in this regard, and is almost certainly more likely to do the opposite.. It's sort of a Lose-Lose dynamic: it implies that there is some specific thing influencing a natural distribution of intelligence, some special condition that covers "stupid "people which explains why they are stupid – which likely isn't the case, in that way having low IQ is probably worse than the article was meant to imply, since there is no special condition, you just got the lower end of the stick – while also being framed in such a way that it will make unintelligent people feel worse than before, not better.

And where is the reverse causation of believing in religion causing stupidity coming from? Postulating an idea like this ought to require evidence.

The article goes on to say that we should do something to make people smarter. I totally, completely, whole-heartedly agree. But saying high IQ is better than low IQ is something that can and has been done without all of the other stuff attached to it. And research in that direction is being done already. If you wanted to make a case for why we should have more of that, then you could do that so much more effectively without all the negativity attached to it.

Here are the accusations I am making. I accuse this article of not making a good case for anything that is both true and non-obvious, on top of being offensive and harmful for our reputation, and consequently our agenda. (Even if it is correct and there is an irregularity in the intelligence function, it doesn't make a good case.) I believe that if arguments of the same quality were brought forth on any other topic, the article would be treated the same way most articles with weak content are treated: with indifference, few upvotes, and perhaps one or two comments pointing out some flaws in it (if Omega appeared before me, I would bet a lot of money on that theory with a pretty poor ratio). I'll go as far as to accuse upvoting this as a failure of rationality. I agree with Pimgd on everything they said, but I feel like it is important to point out how awful this article is, rather than treating it as a simple point of disagreement. The fact that this has 12 upvotes is really, really really bad, and a symptom of a much larger problem.

This is not how you are being nice. This is not how you promote rationality. This is not how you win.

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 February 2017 03:19:56PM 3 points [-]

It essentially says "being intelligent is good. Being stupid is bad. Other people are stupid. They are the problem. We are better than them."

I don't think that's all what the article is about.

There's also the fact that our society only allows people to take drugs to fix illnesses. If you redefine what happens to be an illness you redefine what can be treated with drugs. You redefine what drugs get developed by Big Pharma. You redefine what our insurance system pays for.

There's a reason about why we care about whether the FDA sees aging as a disease.

It might be that the present administration completely deregulated the FDA so that we can treat things that aren't illnesses with drugs, but that's not where we are at the moment.

Comment author: Lumifer 13 February 2017 03:44:51PM 0 points [-]

our society only allows people to take drugs to fix illnesses

<looks at a coffee cup> Oh, really?

A better approach would be to notice that only the regulated bioactives are called "drugs".

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 February 2017 04:25:35PM 3 points [-]

I might be able to easily buy coffee because of its tradition but I can't buy modafinil as easily.

A company that wants to develop a proper drug that raises the IQ of a person from 90 to 100 likely wouldn't get FDA approval for that if they couldn't argue that it cures a proper illness.

Comment author: Applesauce 14 February 2017 06:45:40PM 2 points [-]

Well said!

a thought/idea can only go so far before they fall on deaf ears. Does not matter how "rational" a thought is...if you cannot convey it to people...you just have an idea that is in your head.

Comment author: Lumifer 13 February 2017 03:55:05PM 2 points [-]

I am a bit confused by this comment.

Is it, basically, a rant how LW is not woke enough?

Comment author: siIver 13 February 2017 07:26:51PM 2 points [-]

It's about a set of mannerisms which many people on LW have that are really bad. I don't know what you mean by woke.

Comment author: Lumifer 13 February 2017 07:53:48PM 0 points [-]

Well, there are these words and expression sprinkled throughout your comment:

... promoting elitism and entitlement ... and sexism ... value the thoughts of other people who are more knowledgeable about sexism over yours ... being offensive and harmful ...

All of this seems to go deeper than "mannerisms".

Your basic beef with the post seems to be that it is mean and insensitive and I think such an approach missed the post's main point. It seems that you think the main point is to stigmatize stupid people, label them sub-human, and, possibly, subject them to mandatory treatments with drugs and such. I think the main point is to stress that stupidity is not an unchanging natural condition ("sky is blue, water is wet, some people are stupid") but something that could be changed.

Comment author: siIver 13 February 2017 09:02:00PM 2 points [-]

No, I fully acknowledge that the post tries to do those things, see the second half of my reply. I argue that it fails at doing so but is harmful for our reputation etc.

Comment author: Lumifer 13 February 2017 09:28:31PM 0 points [-]

So if both you and me clearly understand the main point, and if the main point seems reasonably uncontroversial (everyone agrees that it's better to be smart than to be dumb, right?), then why do you describe this post as an epic fail? I'm sure that it makes some people's undergarments undergo interesting topological transformations, but that's hardly unusual or cause for such a.. forceful rejection.

Comment author: siIver 13 February 2017 10:09:02PM *  3 points [-]

I feel like I am repeating myself. Here is the chain of arguments

1) A normal person seeing this article and its upvote count will walk away having a very negative view of LessWrong (reasons in my original reply)

2) Making the valid points of this article is in no way dependent on the negative consequences of 1). You could do the same (in fact, a better job at the same) without offending anyone.

3) LessWrong can be a gateway for people to care about existential risk and AI safety.

4) AI safety is arguably the biggest problem in the world right now and extremely low efforts go into solving it, globally speaking.

5) Due to 4) getting people to care about AI safety is extrmely important. Due to that and 3), harming the reputation of LessWrong is really bad

6) Therefore, this article is awful, harmful, and should be resented by everyone.

Comment author: Lumifer 13 February 2017 10:21:24PM *  2 points [-]

A normal person seeing this article and its upvote count will walk away having a very negative view of LessWrong

I feel it very much depends on your idea of a "normal person".

Someone I consider a "normal person" would zone out after the first couple of paragraphs and go do something else. People who are sufficiently abnormal to finish that post (but still someone I'd consider "close to normal") would NOT walk away with a very negative view of LW.

Clearly we have a different idea of what's normal or close-to-normal.

LessWrong can be a gateway for people to care about existential risk and AI safety.

Citation needed. Especially in 2017. I think you're mistaken about the direction of causality.

Due to 4) getting people to care about AI safety is extrmely important. Due to 3), harming the reputation of LessWrong is really bad

Oh, boy.

First let me point out that people who I would consider as close-to-normal, on hearing that chain of logic would make an rude gesture (physically or mentally, depending on how polite they are) and classify you as a crank they should probably keep away from. What did you call it? ah! "harming the reputation of LW".

Second, do you really believe that the best way to attract people to LW is to be as... milquetoast as possible?

Third, let's look at me. Here I am, snarking at everyone and generally unwilling to give out gold stars and express benevolence and empathy towards clueless newbies (and not only newbies). Doesn't it follow that I'm a great threat to the safety of humanity? Something must be done! Think of the children!

Comment author: AmagicalFishy 14 February 2017 04:21:46PM *  3 points [-]

I'm not sure where you're from, or what the composition of your social circle is, Lumifer—but I think you should find as many people as you can (or use whatever reasonable metric you have for determining a "normal person") and say: "Being stupid is a disease. The first step to destigmatizing this disease is to stop making fun of stupid people; I too am guilty of this," and then observe the reaction you get.

Personally, I'm baffled as to how you could think that this wouldn't engender a negative response from someone who's never been on LW before.

That being said, simply changing the theme from "anti-stupidity" to "pro-intelligence" would change the post dramatically.

Comment author: Lumifer 14 February 2017 04:55:35PM *  0 points [-]

I expect most of my social circle to agree that stupidity is a pathological condition ("disease" is too much associated with infections and contagion for me), albeit very widespread. I don't know why would you want to destigmatize is, though -- incentives matter.

Comment author: whpearson 13 February 2017 08:07:09PM 1 point [-]

We can have the idea that something is changeable about people (e.g. fitness levels) without having to label its lack an illness.

I can see where silver is coming from. The language in this article is probably harmful. Imagine a bunch of body builders calling a nerds inability to bench press 50KG an illness, which can be fixed by steroids.

Comment author: Lumifer 13 February 2017 08:20:00PM *  0 points [-]

We can have the idea that something is changeable about people (e.g. fitness levels) without having to label its lack an illness.

True

The language in this article is probably harmful

I don't understand what that means.

Imagine a bunch of body builders calling a nerds inability to bench press 50KG an illness, which can be fixed by steroids.

Not a very good metaphor, I think, because inability to bench press is, generally speaking, fixable by practice (that is, weightlifting). Low IQ is not fixable by practice. Moreover, I don't think that the OP advocates specifically drugs -- he advocates something-anything which works. At the moment we have nothing that works.

Comment author: AmagicalFishy 14 February 2017 04:25:23PM *  0 points [-]

Low IQ is not fixable by practice

I don't believe you, and I'm especially skeptical of IQ—and a lot of other fetishizations of overly confident attempts to exactly quantify hugely abstract and fluffy concepts like intelligence.

Comment author: Lumifer 14 February 2017 04:45:29PM *  1 point [-]

You don't have to believe me: there is a LOT of literature on the subject. IQ research -- precisely because it's so controversial -- is one of the more robust parts of psychology. It does not suffer from a replication crisis and its basic conclusions have been re-confirmed over and over again.

Comment author: chaosmage 14 February 2017 11:37:34AM 0 points [-]

I agree it isn't nice. I upvoted it anyway, because it is a very original idea that merits a discussion with not entirely predictable outcomes.

This isn't just the most-upvoted submission in a while, it is also the most-discussed in an even longer while.

Comment author: Bound_up 10 February 2017 09:54:47PM 5 points [-]

Love the idea...

I think the key disconnect here is that (AFAICT) you mean that we should treat stupidity as a mental illness in the idealized way we're trying to get everyone to treat the mentally ill (see this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0B5nfkaeplc)

We don't think of mental illness in such an accepting way yet. Maybe when we do, saying that stupidity is like mental illness is like physical illness is like something that deserves sympathy and help will make sense, but right now it sounds more like prejudice.

I see what you're saying and appreciate the insight, and will try to treat stupid people with sympathy instead of frustration, but think that this comparison doesn't quite work yet.

Comment author: ChristianKl 10 February 2017 08:26:19PM 5 points [-]

Our way to measure IQ is build on the core assumption that IQ doesn't really change. Our way to measure depression is on the other hand build on the assumption that depression changes over our lifetime.

We likely need a new way to measure intelligence or stupidity to say well that a treatment increases it within a span of a year.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 10 February 2017 10:21:47PM 2 points [-]

That's a good point--if a type of question on an IQ test shows variability from year to year, do psychologists say it's a bad type of question and remove it from the test?

Comment author: gwern 13 February 2017 02:55:22AM *  4 points [-]

Yes. A high test-retest correlation is one of the most basic criteria for an IQ test question or any inventory/item intended to measure something which is considered reasonably stable. (If it can't even measure itself, how is it going measure anything else?)

Comment author: ChristianKl 10 February 2017 10:54:05PM 1 point [-]

As far as I understand, they do. Or they say that there are training effects and those count really count for the true IQ.

Comment author: Grothor 12 February 2017 04:06:35PM 0 points [-]

They do, but there are also efforts to develop tests that measure other important aspects of cognition, which have an important bearing on things like how well you can function in society and how much of a risk you are to other people (these tests are, more or less, measuring what the rationality community might refer to as rationality). See, for example, What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought by Keith Stanovich.

Comment author: username2 12 February 2017 05:20:21AM 1 point [-]

The situation here is a bit comparable to the standard test for psychopathy, which includes questions like "did the patient ever harm animals as a child?" The test was designed by a psychologist, and not meant to be used in a criminal justice context. But it has nevertheless become standard. The problem is that it makes rehabilitation extremely difficult -- you can't change answers to historical questions, so rehabilitated criminal psychopaths are sometimes unable to score high enough to have their status changed, which affects parole options.

Not directly relevant, but a comparable to study if someone seriously takes a stab at a "stupidity test."

Comment author: ChristianKl 12 February 2017 08:38:19AM 1 point [-]

I'm not sure that's completely true. Rehabilitation is difficult in principle. Parole boards should not put dangerous people on the street even if they have improved slightly.

In a perfect world, parole boards would give the credence for recidivism and have credence calibration based on it. People on such a board can use questions like "did the patient ever harm animals as a child?" to inform themselves to the extend it helps them make better predictions.

Comment author: username2 13 February 2017 07:10:11AM 0 points [-]

Put "psychopath test parole" in your favorite search engine and you'll find plenty of media coverage over the issue.

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 February 2017 09:45:07AM 0 points [-]

Yes, there's are people who complain about the metrics and who think they are unfair. The makers of these scales also don't like them to be used for this purpose. At the same time I'm not convinced that the metrics aren't up to the task.

Comment author: c0rw1n 12 February 2017 08:31:26PM 4 points [-]
Comment author: gwern 26 February 2017 02:48:55AM *  5 points [-]

One interesting aspect of my analysis I would like to highlight is the part on multiple selection and genetic correlations. The immediate implication is that estimates of the value of embryo selection for IQ will be considerable underestimates if they ignore the many other traits that this selection will improve, and also that it is both feasible & desirable to make selection choices based on a weighted average of many polygenic scores. But this has had much broader implications for how I conceptualize the genetics of intelligence. (The following is based on too many papers to easily list at the moment, but if you read through my genetics bibliography compilation you'll find cites for a lot of these.)

I used to think that IQ variants were relatively neutral and specific to IQ, and variance in the population was maintained by selective neutrality (ie pro-IQ variants being too metabolically expensive or developmentally fragile to be selected for) and so arguments like in OP that 'we should describe IQ boosting as instead reducing stupidity or reducing the risk of intellectual disability' were, more or less, dishonest rhetorical tricks. (The ID claim is particularly questionable; most ID is from single mutations of large effect, stuff like embryo selection isn't going to override that.) Cochran had discussed the possibility of genetic load and 'grit in the gears' from rare variants, but the GCTAs indicated that most of the additive variance was explained by rather common genetic variants (common being >1% of the population having it) and whole-genome studies looking into de novo mutations and counting rare mutation load and finding it not hugely predictive eliminated that as an explanation. So it looked to me like it was more the case that the glass was half-full and there were 'genes for IQ' rather than 'lack of genes against IQ', and the highly general benefits across health & longevity were due to downstream effects like Gottfredson argued, in being able to take care of yourself, having a long-term perspective etc.

Then a twin study suggested that the health benefits were actually genetic; the 'generalist genes' hypothesis kept popping up in psychological traits like IQ with latent factors like overall brain size not fractionating into lots of more specific traits; the high-IQ D-F and GWAS studies failed to turn up any rare positive variants which ought to exist under neutrality; the GCTA estimates kept increasing when done using better measurements & better GCTA algorithms even for diseases that could not possibly be selectively neutral or beneficial in any way and must always be selected against; studies of recent human evolution over the past few thousand years demonstrate that common variants are constantly being selected for and against, implying considerable mutation load even on common variants, and even the harmful variants from the Neanderthals still haven't been purged in Europeans; rare variants are almost always harmful but surprisingly even common SNPs up to 50% frequency tend to be harmful too*; dysgenics has been confirmed; historical human population sizes imply poor purging of bad variants; and later I began poring over the intelligence & education genetic correlations that began pouring in thanks to GCTA & LD score regression. The correlations are almost all good (except for autism) regardless of behavior or organ or disease, to the extent it's very difficult to tell plausible stories about how higher income/education/intelligence could affect all of these simultaneously so much, and the intercorrelations go well beyond as correlations between diseases are everywhere as well. (I even tried some factor analysis to see if I could pull out a single grand factor.) In short, the 'bodily integrity' hypothesis appears to be explaining the big picture.

* for example, if you take the IQ and education polygenic scores from Benyamin et al 2014 and Okbay et al 2016 and simply sum the effects from each majority SNP variant (negating as necessary), corresponding to a hypothetical modal person, both scores are >2SDs, even though you would expect ~0 since it's far from obvious that the 25% frequency version of a random SNP can be a priori expected to be harmful to education or intelligence; and a linear regression also shows that higher frequencies predict better effects. I don't know how general this is but I'm definitely curious now.

So under this scenario, what we see is not good genes 'for' intelligence so much as a high level of genetic load from lots of unexpectedly common broken genes floating around the population which haven't been able to be purged due to small individual bad effects, small effective human population sizes, fast-changing environments, introgression from other hominids like the Neanderthals, which by degrading 'upstream' biological systems like mitochondria or key proteins then have global downstream effects across the whole body & mind (regardless of conditioning on measured IQ), producing these broad genetic and phenotypic correlations between intelligence & everything under the sun. Intelligence, which so far has only been reified by neuroscience & neuroimaging down to very global brain traits like overall speed & connectivity & white-matter integrity, pops up everywhere because it is the most fragile trait, affected by coordination between the most bodily systems, more easily pushed off-kilter and degraded than traits like eye color or height. Perhaps Cochran was right all along that someone with the modal human would be much smarter, healthier, saner, and happier than the rest of us - he was just wrong in thinking the mutation load would be in rare and de novo mutations, when most of it has been lurking in common variants all along, and we're all far more screwed up than anyone guessed.

From this perspective, the fact that doing embryo selection against schizophrenia will usually also be embryo selection for intelligence, and be safe to do without nasty unintended effects, is not a surprise at all. Of course it would tend to reduce the chance of schizophrenia; it would also reduce other mental illnesses like depression or anorexia or bipolar, as well as behavioral problems like BMI, or cardiovascular problems, or...

It's not about playing God or 'being better than well', it's just realizing that no one was 'well' to begin with (anymore than people centuries ago were 'well' rather than all, even the elites, stunted from malnutrition and parasites and pandemic childhood disease and hard labor) and everyone is carrying a considerable burden of many thousands of broken variants, and some people by chance & inheritance have fewer bad variants than others and 'healthy' people merely are very similarly sick due to lots of small variants adding up to a tight normal distribution and the variance written off as simple normal variation which no one can do anything about and shouldn't worry anyone. It would be perfectly honest to describe this as trying to cure 'micro-disabilities' or 'micro-illnesses' (hey, if we can have 'micromorts' or 'microaggressions', why not?) rather than 'enhancement' or adopt a slogan like 'leveling the genetic playing field'.

If everyone is suffering these micro-sicknesses, the precautionary argument drops away, as do the fears of some suitably ironic cosmic punishment for tampering with the genome, the worries about 'selecting only for one thing', and maybe some of the Puritan objections to 'enhancement' or 'cheating'. It also provides a powerful informative prior for selection and synthesis: if in doubt, choose the most common variant.

Comment author: EmilOWK 27 February 2017 07:20:25AM 0 points [-]

Multiple selection is discussed in the animal breeding literature. See e.g. this review.

Samorè, A. B., & Fontanesi, L. (2016). Genomic selection in pigs: state of the art and perspectives. Italian Journal of Animal Science, 15(2), 211–232. doi.org/10.1080/1828051X.2016.1172034

Sometimes the traits selected for are negatively genetically correlated. This slows down the process, but does not make it impossible unless the genetic correlation is -1.00. For humans, most of the traits we want seem to be positively related, with a few exceptions. Sometimes bipolar and IQ have positive relationships, which may be undesirable. Bipolar is associated with creativity however, so perhaps it's not entirely bad. A larger problem is the negative genetic correlation between fertility and IQ. There's also myopia and IQ.

Comment author: dglukhov 10 February 2017 07:38:51PM *  4 points [-]

I urge you to read the first book of the Evans Third Reich trilogy, in which one of the interesting topics mentioned revolved around eugenics. I fear that the way you've framed your point will prime people towards this direction.

To approach "stupidity", an already vague concept, from a diagnostic point of view would be a disaster. One reason being the history I linked to earlier, eugenics was a popular -enough sentiment then to be a problematic primer, and I fear that while having stupid people around is an existential risk, I think another existential risk exists in trying to optimize on human intellect without a firm foundation on the concept of "stupidity" and its communicability to the general public.

Another issue I have is your seemingly apparent faith in the psychiatric approach. The DSM 5 is, to put it lightly, a highly biased diagnosis tool with practitioners who may not be using the tool appropriately. This may not be exactly relevant, but I've noticed that the better practitioners in the social and psychiatric fields don't trust this resource. In fact, some will go out of their way to say it is an insurance scam. I personally haven't had a chance to delve into the history of the DSM, but I have noticed that the constantly shifting variability in diagnostic definitions and criteria hint at the idea that a) the DSM isn't perfect and, more importantly, b) large heaps of money is being made off of the vague notions described by this tome. Pretentious writing, even in such technical documents, are great examples of such attempts. Taking the diagnostic approach might make the stigma problem WORSE by labeling the "unfit" for later treatment, especially with an already pretentious diagnostic system. The message you're trying to send is a virtuous one to be sure, but trying to use the current psychiatric infrastructure to tackle this issue is a trap. A very profitable trap.

Comment author: Applesauce 10 February 2017 07:51:53PM 1 point [-]

a) the DSM isn't perfect

Of course not... I wonder when/if the DSM 6 will come out...

practitioners who may not being using the tool appropriately

Example Intermittent Explosive Disorder... The names speaks for itself in that some children become totally enraged and..explode.

Sometimes used to label kids and be done for the day. The implication of this is that, this diagnosis can act as a band aid and not getting down to the root of things for WHY the child is upset. This is how a person can fall through the cracks.

Comment author: ChristianKl 12 February 2017 04:32:23PM *  1 point [-]

Of course not... I wonder when/if the DSM 6 will come out...

Most of the problems with the DSM are institutional. I would expect the DSM 6 to have them as well. The way forward would be for another institution to provide a new medical diagnostic system.

The European medical establishment might do this.

http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/oe0/predictionbased_medicine_pbm/ might also lead to an organization that has the capability to develop a new and better diagnostic system. An organisation that could easily provide treatments for stupidity.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 February 2017 06:25:09PM *  3 points [-]

No one is going to impose mandatory treatments for stupidity.

A much more likely version is that at some point in the future, parents will be offered an "IQ enhancement package" for their potential kids. Do you accept? This is a much more interesting question.

Comment author: ChristianKl 12 February 2017 04:40:11PM *  5 points [-]

In some sense bans on lead are mandatory treatments for stupidity. The same goes for government-mandated addition of iodine to salt.

Comment author: JenniferRM 26 February 2017 08:13:44AM *  1 point [-]

It makes me sad to see non-iodized sea salt become trendy in the kinds of circles where vaccines are considered "unnatural" and kids get whooping cough.

I think there is a general issue here where "libertarianism" and "paternalism" come into conflict.

My preference in nearly all such cases is to default people into the thing that seems to honestly be the best policy, and let people opt out in a way that involves some larger or smaller trivial inconviences if they want to be contrarian for some reason.

Comment author: ingive 26 February 2017 09:40:18AM 0 points [-]

Non-iodized sea salt is trendy everywhere, I blame partly the TV cooks using it in the iconic "grab a pinch"-fashion. I'm not sure sea salt should be mandatory iodized, but areas affected more by IQ loss probably eat processed food which is iodized anyway compared to the new age health crowd.

There are a lot of other interventions worthwhile alongside pushing iodized sea salt to 'new health' crowds, like breastfeeding and peaceful parenting. The latter two probably more important in certain areas.

Comment author: Elo 26 February 2017 09:47:54AM 1 point [-]

It's okay, in Australia we have iodine in bread and used to be milk too.

Comment author: chaosmage 11 February 2017 09:47:13AM 1 point [-]

You're right, but gene editing companies might additionally lobby for pathologizing everything they can fix, in order to get the government or charities to make their services affordable for the less affluent.

Comment deleted 11 February 2017 02:20:30AM [-]
Comment author: Lumifer 11 February 2017 02:47:11AM 0 points [-]

That's a bit different and goes back at least to "how can anyone be so stupid as to risk the fires of the eternal damnation". Treatments tended to be... rather drastic.

Comment author: ChristianKl 11 February 2017 10:31:18AM 0 points [-]

It's worth noting that any DNA enhancement package comes with artificial insemination. If parents get a child because their condom broke, they can't use standard DNA enhancement.

Whether or not to abort children that are produced naturally will be a big issue even if a parent would prefer IQ enhancement.

Comment author: Applesauce 10 February 2017 06:27:56PM *  0 points [-]

That is a more approachable way. ..and still preserves the respect of others.

Comment author: chaosmage 10 February 2017 05:01:29PM 3 points [-]

The simple inroad would be intellectual disability.

Right now you're disabled if your IQ is below 70 and you have trouble functioning in your everyday life. These are 2 to 3 % of the population and there's a societal framework already in place for them.

If you could gradually raise that IQ threshold, you'd achieve much of what you want to achieve here.

I don't know who determines that threshold, but whoever it is is probably more approachable, and more likely to listen to reason, than the public at large.

Comment author: SolveIt 12 February 2017 01:43:22PM 1 point [-]

Indeed. I'd also like to point out that even though already having this framework in place, we're pretty much clueless om what to do about it. This is despite the fact that these cases should be the most treatable!

Comment author: Dagon 10 February 2017 04:31:34PM 3 points [-]

We're not very good at destigmatizing and treating depression. why would we want to carry that model onto anything else?

Comment author: chaosmage 10 February 2017 05:21:44PM 4 points [-]

We're quite good at both, actually, compared to every generation that came before us.

Comment author: dglukhov 10 February 2017 07:46:29PM 2 points [-]

Please name examples to the affirmative. I'm actually quite curious to see such statistics.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 10 February 2017 10:57:16PM *  4 points [-]

This is not a thing that we need to check statistics for. Americans now talk openly about seeing a psychologist or having depression. Americans two generations prior did not. Depression was not recognized as a legitimate disease; it was considered a weakness, and psychotherapy was an act of desperation.

Comment author: DanArmak 11 February 2017 04:22:17PM *  4 points [-]

I was under the impression that two generations ago, Freudian psychotherapy was all the rage and pretty much universal in certain high-status social circles? Of course, it probably didn't help anyone much. I think that "there's something mentally wrong with many/most people, maybe even everyone by default" has existed for decades as a common belief in some places.

Comment author: ChristianKl 10 February 2017 11:40:33PM 3 points [-]

The fact that it does treated doesn't mean that it can be effectively treated. Kirsch et al (2008) suggested that the treatment with anti-depressives produces only a gain of 1.80 points on the 50 point Hamilton Rating Scale of Depression.

What makers you think that it's treated effectively?

Comment author: chaosmage 11 February 2017 09:11:28AM 0 points [-]

Those 1.8 points are 1.8 points over placebo when it is well known that depression responds particularly well to placebo. This study also only looked at first line (least side effects, relatively low effect) antidepressants, it averaged in Serzone which is a particularly weak one that was discontinued 4 years before the study, and it calculated the difference between average drug responses and average placebo responses rather than the average of differences between drug responses and placebo responses, which reduces the perceived effect.

For much more, check out http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/07/ssris-much-more-than-you-wanted-to-know/

Comment deleted 11 February 2017 04:57:16PM [-]
Comment author: chaosmage 11 February 2017 05:56:59PM 0 points [-]

No I don't. Enlighten me.

Comment deleted 11 February 2017 07:29:04PM [-]
Comment author: chaosmage 11 February 2017 08:04:06PM 0 points [-]

Depression responds to placebo better than pneumonia does. That's what I mean when I say it responds well to placebo. But depression still responds to modern psychiatric care better than to placebo. That's the linked analysis' main takeaway from the study ChristianKl mentioned.

SSRIs alone do somewhat better than placebo. Modern psychiatric care is way more than SSRIs, these are only one of many tools. There are also anxiolytics and iodine and MAO inhibitors and relaxation exercises and CBT and a whole bunch of other things that all work better than placebo for some patients. And all of them only became available a few years or decades ago.

Comment author: ChristianKl 11 February 2017 09:30:11AM 0 points [-]

Do you think that in the past depressives didn't get any treatment that's as good as placebo because they were told that their depression doesn't matter?

Comment author: chaosmage 11 February 2017 10:57:27AM 0 points [-]

Yes.

But of course the framing wasn't "your depression doesn't matter" - the concept of "depression" wouldn't even come up. Even doctors would frequently not think to check for it. If it manifested psychosomatically, you'd get painkillers. If it manifested as difficulty sleeping, you'd get sleeping pills. And of course there was always self-medication with alcohol. All of these are worse than placebo in the long term. You could get a depression diagnosis, especially if you made a suicide attempt, but it was much rarer, and not a desirable diagnosis because you could get institutionalized into a psychiatric ward and stay there for months or years (especially if being there depressed you).

Before modern times of course, it was basically nothing. If you were lucky enough to see a doctor, and so lucky the doctor was at least equipped with the concept of "melancholia" (basically a catch-all category for mental illnesses), you might be prescribed hot baths and opium, which would have temporarily helped a little. But other than that, your prescription would be prayer and other placebos.

Comment author: ChristianKl 12 February 2017 08:42:55AM 1 point [-]

But other than that, your prescription would be prayer and other placebos.

But what's the problem with that if the difference between placebo's and the drugs is only so small?

It's not even clear that praying to a god who supposedly loves you has no positive effects and is worse than the the drugs.

There are also a variety of traditional remedies that should at least have placebo effects.

Comment author: chaosmage 13 February 2017 12:16:06PM *  0 points [-]

But what's the problem with that if the difference between placebo's and the drugs is only so small?

On the treatment side, the difference between placebos and SSRIs is small. But again, SSRIs are only a small part of "the drugs". They're what we try first because they require very little oversight by the doctor and they work often enough, whether by large placebo response or by smaller genuine effect. But if they don't, there are second and third and fourth and more things we can try, ending with electroconvulsive therapy that works really well but is super difficult/expensive to administer.

But the bigger difference isn't in the treatment, it is in the diagnosis. Today we distinguish between about a dozen different mood disorders with different treatment plans (although most of these plans do involve SSRIs at some point). And most of all, we've gotten a lot better (though still not perfect) at distinguishing what is pathological and what is, say, a normal reaction to bereavement or an adaptive response to an abusive partner.

Without this knowledge, depression would often go unnoticed or one form of it would be mistaken for another. You have depression caused by a testosterone deficiency? You seem to be troubled, go pray. You have depression caused by lead poisoning? You seem to be troubled, go pray. You're decompensating and probably going to have a psychotic break within the month? You seem to be troubled, go pray.

It's not even clear that praying to a god who supposedly loves you has no positive effects and is worse than the the drugs.

Oh, prayer does have some positive effects. We call it religious coping and there are studies that prove it can help with (for example) fear of death in end stage cancer patients. But you have to be fairly intensely religious to get a measurable benefit, and it doesn't help a lot.

There are a few studies showing religiosity to be weakly negatively correlated with depression (example), and a few others showing it to be weakly positively correlated (example). If prayer helped a lot with depression the evidence would be much more clear cut.

There are also a variety of traditional remedies that should at least have placebo effects.

Yes. And terrible side effects, too. St John's Wort and Kava are among the worst examples. Or, again, Opium.

And if you count religious practice as a remedy, you should count the time and sacrifice it requires, as well as the wrong beliefs it entails, as side effects as well.

Comment author: dglukhov 10 February 2017 11:06:42PM 2 points [-]

I wasn't aware mental illness was strictly an American phenomenon, as you comment implies. Or perhaps there is a distinct lack of international or foreign effort in characterizing such phenomena, as your comment also potentially implies?

I'd like the statistics, please!

Comment author: James_Miller 10 February 2017 04:59:20PM *  2 points [-]

A necessary condition for anything to be a illness in people not too old to have children should be that it reduces reproductive fitness. Having a sufficiently low IQ does, but having a moderately low IQ, from what I've read, might be correlated with greater reproductive fitness.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 10 February 2017 05:36:10PM 3 points [-]

Why? Reproductive fitness just doesn't seem relevant.

Comment author: James_Miller 10 February 2017 06:43:42PM 4 points [-]

"Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution"

If a condition actually causes you to do a better job of spreading your genes, then to call it a disease seems like to miss the entire point of evolution.

Comment author: gjm 10 February 2017 07:43:40PM 8 points [-]

There is no reason why our values need to be evolution's values.

Comment author: James_Miller 10 February 2017 08:52:06PM 6 points [-]

In the short run yes, but in the long run the only stable equilibrium is for our values to become evolution's values.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 February 2017 09:22:16PM 4 points [-]

There is no stable equilibrium in the long run.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 10 February 2017 10:42:02PM *  1 point [-]

This is technically correct, but misleading in context. James' point is, I think, directed towards the idea that for a culture to embrace values that decrease its fitness has a cost, and increases the odds of your culture going extinct. More relevant to us in practice is that such values have an economic cost that inevitably reduces our individual happiness. This is correct regardless of whether you are at equilibrium.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 February 2017 01:31:22AM 1 point [-]

for a culture to embrace values that decrease its fitness has a cost, and increases the odds of your culture going extinct

Correct, by so what? We're are talking about what to call a "disease", in the medical sense. You don't want to medicalize "wrong" kinds of culture, do you?

such values have an economic cost that inevitably reduces our individual happiness

That's not obvious to me at all. The point of human life is not to minimize economic costs and I can easily see economically inefficient values generating much happiness.

Comment author: gjm 11 February 2017 12:52:28AM 1 point [-]

The fitness of a culture is not necessarily the same as the genetic fitness of its individuals.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 March 2017 09:06:08PM *  0 points [-]

I was talking about the fitness of a culture. That's why I said I was talking about the fitness of a culture. Individual happiness is not fitness, but it is of interest to us.

Comment author: gjm 08 March 2017 02:31:59PM 0 points [-]

I know you were talking about the fitness of a culture. But James was talking about the fitness of individuals (that is what is allegedly not harmed by stupidity, after all). Which is why I pointed out that the two are different.

Maybe I misunderstood you; I confess it wasn't very clear to me what actual point you were making. I took you to be defending James (even though he was disagreeing with your original proposal). Perhaps that wasn't your intention?

I agree that we are interested in happiness as well as fitness (and that was kinda my point in distinguishing our values from evolution's values). I'm not sure exactly what you're intending to say about happiness. On the face of it you seem to be saying that values that reduce a culture's fitness necessarily bear an economic cost (I don't see why that need be true, on timescales shorter than those on which the culture goes extinct as a result) and that economic cost necessarily implies reduced happiness (which also seems doubtful, at least on a timescale of say 50-100 years) but again maybe I've misunderstood.

Comment author: CellBioGuy 11 February 2017 02:58:52AM 2 points [-]

Humans are FULL of weird shit that is not adaptive.

Comment author: James_Miller 11 February 2017 04:03:45AM 2 points [-]

But the weird shit that harms reproductive fitness is under negative selection.

Comment author: CellBioGuy 11 February 2017 04:59:31AM *  4 points [-]

But it still sticks around. Simple adaptationism is wrong and all kinds of other processes are also at work in evolving systems, especially in multicellular animals with structured populations and piddlingly tiny population sizes compared to microbes.

Comment author: gjm 11 February 2017 12:51:57AM 1 point [-]

That can happen in two ways: we can give up our own values and embrace evolution's, or we can force our own values on the evolutionary process. The latter seems like the better option to me. Or we could go extinct (in the long run we are all dead). Or we could decouple ourselves from evolution entirely (mumble uploading mumble).

In the really long run the only stable equilibrium is for us and everything around us to turn into a super-low-density scattering of photons and leptons, too tenuous for gravity to outweigh metric expansion or for any other interactions to occur more than vanishingly often. Does that mean that we should consider something a disease if it tends to move us further away from the condition of being composed of a tenuous gas of photons and leptons?

Comment author: entirelyuseless 11 February 2017 03:04:56AM 0 points [-]

I'm not sure this response is actually coherent. "Force our own values on the evolutionary process" is probably impossible in principle, as is "decouple ourselves from evolution entirely"; uploading would still result in creatures that would make imperfect imitations of themselves, which would mean still more selection, and even faster than before.

"Consider something a disease if it tends to move us further away from the condition of being composed of a tenuous gas of photons and leptons"... I do not see a real question here, because nothing can tend to move us further away from that condition. We are always moving toward that condition. In fact when we do things that seem better to us, we are usually moving towards it faster, by expending more energy.

Comment author: gjm 11 February 2017 03:55:38AM 0 points [-]

"Force our own values on the evolutionary process" is probably impossible in principle

Really? Consider, for a particularly clear-cut instance which I am not especially endorsing, eugenics.

(I don't mean to imply that we could hope to force all our values on the evolutionary process. Any more than evolution can reasonably be said to have, as it were, opinions on most questions of value.)

nothing can tend to move us further away from that condition

We could move towards it faster or slower. Obviously we should blow ourselves up as violently as possible, in order to be more in tune with the Values of the Universe.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 11 February 2017 04:46:09AM 0 points [-]

I disagree that blowing ourselves up violently would be in tune with the Values of the Universe in the sense we are talking about, for the reason I suggested at the end: if we build Dyson spheres we will generate entropy at a far higher rate and therefore progress far faster towards the tenuous gas. Blowing ourselves up is slow; the high tech things we might really want to do would be fast.

Comment author: username2 12 February 2017 05:23:12AM 1 point [-]

There's no reason to presuppose that intelligence correlates with likelihood of spreading genes.

Comment author: chaosmage 10 February 2017 05:23:48PM 0 points [-]

Even completely asymptomatic infections are diseases, so it would seem that the people who decide what is and what isn't a disease happen to disagree with you.

Comment author: ingive 25 February 2017 12:50:51PM 0 points [-]

Rather than forcing people to undergo an alteration of, for example, their genes, you can simply make it a requirement to receiving funding. For example in welfare states (or in a libertarian society, private charities). Other enhancements can be done in a similar fashion, or voluntarily obviously.

If you heap scorn on 'stupid' people or by attribute whatsoever, it's great to note the cause, many times it is probably psychological projection with an underlying anxiety of not being up to part to one's standards.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 25 February 2017 12:14:05PM 0 points [-]

"We have the tools to do this--we could, for instance, sequence a lot of peoples' DNA, give them all IQ tests, and do a genome-wide association study, as a start."

I remember a few years ago the Chinese offering free genomic scans for the sufficiently intelligent. Did anyone sign up for that? Anyone know of how that story turned out? I assume they weren't going to share that info.

Comment author: gwern 26 February 2017 02:06:32AM 2 points [-]

A number of LWers signed up (it was posted here) for the BGI high-IQ project; I believe they got copies of their data. As for the project as a whole: Hsu has mentioned some of how it went, including in a podcast last year which I believe got transcribed; basically, BGI made some disastrous strategic decisions in trying to develop & use a genome-sequencing competitor to Illumina and the high-IQ project got orphaned in the chaos, and is largely irrelevant now as similar high-IQ samples turned up nothing special (so the original premise, that either enrichment would increase power dramatically or that rare variants would be found, I forget which, turned out to be wrong) and the regular GWASes like SSGAC+UK Biobank have made much progress & rendered their relatively small sample mostly irrelevant. Hsu sounded moderately hopeful that something might still be finished & published, but hu knows.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 26 February 2017 01:17:41PM *  0 points [-]

So how many 150+ IQ samples did the latest studies have access to?

More generally, what's the equivalent general population sample size for the tail sampled high IQ populations?

Article about the Chinese Study and it's linking up with the SMPY study
http://www.nature.com/news/chinese-project-probes-the-genetics-of-genius-1.12985

Comment author: gwern 26 February 2017 06:27:46PM *  2 points [-]

I think they got in the single-digit thousands, perhaps 5-10,000, but I don't really recall.

There must have been power estimates done internally, but if there was one ever made public explaining how much power they expected from enrichment, I didn't hear about it. I won't pretend I know the details of what they were thinking sufficient to do my own power analysis, but I didn't think it was a terrible idea at the time; it was worth trying, and the results could always (I assumed) be meta-analyzed with later bigger results.