Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

LW Women- Minimizing the Inferential Distance

58 [deleted] 25 November 2012 11:33PM

Standard Intro

The following section will be at the top of all posts in the LW Women series.

About two months ago, I put out a call for anonymous submissions by the women on LW, with the idea that I would compile them into some kind of post.  There is a LOT of material, so I am breaking them down into more manageable-sized themed posts. 

Seven women submitted, totaling about 18 pages. 

Crocker's Warning- Submitters were told to not hold back for politeness. You are allowed to disagree, but these are candid comments; if you consider candidness impolite, I suggest you not read this post

To the submittrs- If you would like to respond anonymously to a comment (for example if there is a comment questioning something in your post, and you want to clarify), you can PM your message and I will post it for you. If this happens a lot, I might create a LW_Women sockpuppet account for the submitters to share.

Standard Disclaimer- Women have many different viewpoints, and just because I am acting as an intermediary to allow for anonymous communication does NOT mean that I agree with everything that will be posted in this series. (It would be rather impossible to, since there are some posts arguing opposite sides!)

Please do NOT break anonymity, because it lowers the anonymity of the rest of the submitters.

continue reading »

Forager Anthropology

11 WrongBot 28 July 2010 05:48AM

(This is the second post in a short sequence discussing evidence and arguments presented by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá's Sex at Dawninspired by the spirit of Kaj_Sotala's recent discussion of What Intelligence Tests MissIt covers Part II: Lust in Paradise and Part III: The Way We Weren't.)

Forager anthropology is a discipline that is easy to abuse. It relies on unreliable first-hand observations of easily misunderstood cultures that are frequently influenced by the presence of modern observers. These cultures are often exterminated or assimilated within decades of their discovery, making it difficult to confirm controversial claims and discoveries. But modern-day foraging societies are the most direct source of evidence we have about our pre-agricultural ancestors; in many ways, they are agriculture's control group, living in conditions substantially similar to the ones under which our species evolved. The standard narrative of human sexual evolution ignores or manipulates the findings of forager anthropology to support its claims, and this is no doubt responsible for much of its confused support.

Steven Pinker is one of the most prominent and well-respected advocates of the standard narrative, both on Less Wrong and elsewhere. Eliezer has referenced him as an authority on evolutionary psychology. One commenter on the first post in this series claimed that Pinker is "the only mainstream academic I'm aware of who visibly demonstrates the full suite of traditional rationalist virtues in essentially all of his writing." Another cited Pinker's claim that 20-60% of hunter-gatherer males were victims of lethal human violence ("murdered") as justification for a Malthusian view of human nature. 

That 20-60% number comes from a claim about war casualties in a 2007 TED talk Pinker gave on "the myth of violence", for which he drew upon several important findings in forager anthropology. (The talk is based on an argument presented in the third chapter of The Blank Slate; there is a text version of the talk available, but it omits the material on forager anthropology that Ryan and Jethá critique.)

At 2:45 in the video Pinker displays a slide which reads

Until 10,000 years ago, humans lived as hunter-gatherers, without permanent settlements or government.

He also points out that modern hunter-gatherers are our best evidence for drawing conclusions about those prehistoric hunter-gatherers; in both these statements he is in accordance with nearly universal historical, anthropological, and archaeological opinion. Pinker's next slide is a chart from The Blank Slate, originally based on the research of Lawrence Keeley. Sort of. It is labeled as "the percentage of male deaths due to warfare," with bars for eight hunter-gatherer societies that range from approximately 15-60%. The problem is that of these eight cultures, zero are migratory hunter-gatherers.

continue reading »

Against the standard narrative of human sexual evolution

7 WrongBot 23 July 2010 05:28AM

(This post is the beginning of a short sequence discussing evidence and arguments presented by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá's Sex at Dawn, inspired by the spirit of Kaj_Sotala's recent discussion of What Intelligence Tests Miss. It covers Part I: On the Origin of the Specious.)

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality was first brought to my attention by a rhapsodic mention in Dan Savage's advice column, and while it seemed quite relevant to my interests I am generally very skeptical of claims based on evolutionary psychology. I did eventually decide to pick up the book, primarily so that I could raid its bibliography for material for an upcoming post on jealousy management, and secondarily to test my vulnerability to confirmation bias. I succeeded in the first and failed in the second: Sex at Dawn is by leaps and bounds the best evolutionary psychology book I've read, largely because it provides copious evidence for its claims.1 I mention the strength of my opinion as a disclaimer of sorts, so that careful readers may take the appropriate precautions.


The book's first section focuses on the current generally accepted explanation for human sexual evolution, which the authors call "the standard narrative." It's an explanation that should be quite familiar to regular LessWrong readers: men are attracted to fertile-appearing women and try to prevent them from having sex with other men so as to confirm the paternity of their offspring; women are attracted to men who seem like they will be good providers for their children and try to prevent them from forming intimate bonds with other women so as to maintain access to their resources.

continue reading »

Of Exclusionary Speech and Gender Politics

63 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 July 2009 07:22AM

I suspect that the ick reaction being labeled "objectification" actually has more to do with the sense that the speaker is addressing a closed group that doesn't include you.

Suppose I wrote a story about a man named Frank, whose twin brother (Frank has learned) is in the process of being framed for murder this very night.  Frank is in the middle of a complicated plot to give his brother an alibi.  He's already found the cabdriver and tricked him into waiting outside a certain apartment for an hour.  Now all he needs is the last ingredient of his plan - a woman to go home with him (as he poses as his brother).  Frank is, with increasing desperation, propositioning ladies at the bar - any girl will do for his plan, it doesn't matter who she is or what she's about...

I'd bet I could write that story without triggering the ick reaction, because Frank is an equal-opportunity manipulator - he manipulated the cabdriver, too.  The story isn't about Frank regarding women as things on the way to implementing his plan, it's about Frank regarding various people, men and women alike, as means to the end of saving his brother.

If a woman reads that story, I think, she won't get a sense of being excluded from the intended audience.

continue reading »

Outside Analysis and Blind Spots

68 orthonormal 21 July 2009 01:00AM

(I originally tried to make this a comment, but it kept on growing.)

I was looking through the Google results for "Less Wrong" when I found the blog of a rather intelligent Leon Kass acolyte, who's written a critique of our community.  While it's a bit of a caricature, it's not entirely off the mark.  For example:

Trying to think more like a mathematician, whose empiricism resides in the realm of pure thought, does not predispose these 'rationalists' to collect evidence from the real world. Neither does the downplaying of personal experiences. Many are computer science majors, used to being in the comfortable position of being capable of testing their hypotheses without needing to leave their office. It is, then, an easy temptation for them to come up with a nice-sounding theory which appears to explain the facts, and then consider the question solved. Reason must reign supreme, must it not?

How seriously do you take this critique?  Do you wonder why I'm bothering with this straw-man criticism of Less Wrong?

continue reading »

Sayeth the Girl

47 Alicorn 19 July 2009 10:24PM

Disclaimer: If you are prone to dismissing women's complaints of gender-related problems as the women being whiny, emotionally unstable girls who see sexism where there is none, this post is unlikely to interest you.

For your convenience, links to followup posts: Roko says; orthonormal says; Eliezer says; Yvain says; Wei_Dai says

As far as I can tell, I am the most active female poster on Less Wrong.  (AnnaSalamon has higher karma than I, but she hasn't commented on anything for two months now.)  There are not many of us.  This is usually immaterial.  Heck, sometimes people don't even notice in spite of my girly username, my self-introduction, and the fact that I'm now apparently the feminism police of Less Wrong.

My life is not about being a girl.  In fact, I'm less preoccupied with feminism and women's special interest issues than most of the women I know, and some of the men.  It's not my pet topic.  I do not focus on feminist philosophy in school.  I took an "Early Modern Women Philosophers" course because I needed the history credit, had room for a suitable class in a semester when one was offered, and heard the teacher was nice, and I was pretty bored.  I wound up doing my midterm paper on Malebranche in that class because we'd covered him to give context to Mary Astell, and he was more interesting than she was.  I didn't vote for Hilary Clinton in the primary.  Given the choice, I have lots of things I'd rather be doing than ferreting out hidden or less-than-hidden sexism on one of my favorite websites.

Unfortunately, nobody else seems to want to do it either, and I'm not content to leave it undone.  I suppose I could abandon the site and leave it even more masculine so the guys could all talk in their own language, unimpeded by stupid chicks being stupidly offended by completely unproblematic things like objectification and just plain jerkitude.  I would almost certainly have vacated the site already if feminism were my pet issue, or if I were more easily offended.  (In general, I'm very hard to offend.  The fact that people here have succeeded in doing so anyway without even, apparently, going out of their way to do it should be a great big red flag that something's up.)  If you're wondering why half of the potential audience of the site seems to be conspicuously not here, this may have something to do with it.

continue reading »

An interesting speed dating study

15 CronoDAS 07 July 2009 07:09AM

I recently found an article in the New York Times that talks about a speed dating study that is going to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science. Given the usual state of science journalism, the fact that the article includes links that let me find a press release about the upcoming paper and a 20-page PDF file containing the paper itself was very helpful.

According to most studies and in accordance with popular stereotypes, men are normally less selective than women when it comes to evaluating potential romantic partners - in general, it appears that men are more likely to want to date any given woman than women are to want to date any given man. In a typical speed dating experiment, men and women rate potential partners as either a "yes" or a "no" depending on whether or not they want to see that person again. Men almost always rate a larger percentage of women as a "yes" than women do men, and, according to this paper, this is a fairly robust finding that generalizes over many different contexts. The usual explanation of this phenomena is based on evolutionary psychology: a female has a lot more to lose from a bad mate choice than a male does. If there were a biological, genetic basis for this tendency, it should be difficult to come up with an experimental setup in which women are less selective and men are more selective.

However, that's not the case at all. This study demonstrates that a small, seemingly trivial change in the speed dating ritual results in a (partial) reversal of the normal results. You see, in practically every speed dating setup, when it is time to interact with a new partner, men physically leave their seat and move to the table where the next woman is sitting, while the women remain seated and wait for the men to approach them. The authors of this study had the men remain still and had the women change seats, and found that this was all it took to wipe away the usual pattern: when the women were required to physically approach while the men remained still, the women became less selective then the men, reporting greater romantic interest and "yes"ing partners at a higher rate. "Rotaters" also reported greater self-confidence than "sitters", regardless of gender.

I suggest that you go read the paper, or at least the press release, yourself; my summary doesn't really do it justice, and I'm leaving the implications for the evolutionary psychology-based analysis of gender as an exercise for the reader.

EDIT: Having had some more time to look over the study, I think I should point out that it wasn't a complete reversal of the usual gender behavior: female rotators were only moderately less selective than male sitters, while male rotators were significantly less selective than female sitters. (Sitters of both genders were equally selective.)

My Way

33 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 17 April 2009 01:25AM

Previously in seriesBayesians vs. Barbarians
Followup toOf Gender and Rationality, Beware of Other-Optimizing

There is no such thing as masculine probability theory or feminine decision theory.  In their pure form, the maths probably aren't even human.  But the human practice of rationality—the arts associated with, for example, motivating yourself, or compensating factors applied to overcome your own biases—these things can in principle differ from gender to gender, or from person to person.

My attention was first drawn to this possibility of individual differences in optimization (in general) by thinking about rationality and gender (in particular).  I've written rather more fiction than I've ever finished and published, including a story in which the main character, who happens to be the most rational person around, happens to be female.  I experienced no particular difficulty in writing a female character who happened to be a rationalist.  But she was not an obtrusive, explicit rationalist.  She was not Jeffreyssai.

And it occurred to me that I could not imagine how to write Jeffreyssai as a woman; his way of teaching is paternal, not maternal.  Even more, it occurred to me that in my writing there are women who are highly rational (on their way to other goals) but not women who are rationalists (as their primary, explicit role in the story).

It was at this point that I realized how much of my own take on rationality was specifically male, which hinted in turn that even more of it might be specifically Eliezer Yudkowsky.

continue reading »

Of Gender and Rationality

41 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 April 2009 12:56AM

Among all self-identified "rationalist" communities that I know of, and Less Wrong in particular, there is an obvious gender imbalance—a male/female ratio tilted strongly toward males.

Yet surely epistemic and instrumental rationality have no gender signature.  There is no such thing as masculine probability theory or feminine decision theory.

There could be some entirely innocuous explanation for this imbalance.  Perhaps, by sheer historical contingency, aspiring rationalists are recruited primarily from the atheist/libertarian/technophile cluster, which has a gender imbalance for its own reasons—having nothing to do with rationality or rationalists; and this is the entire explanation.

Uh huh.  Sure.

And then there are the less innocuous explanations—those that point an accusing finger at the rationalist community, or at womankind.

continue reading »

Failed Utopia #4-2

52 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 January 2009 11:04AM

Followup toInterpersonal Entanglement

    Shock after shock after shock—
    First, the awakening adrenaline jolt, the thought that he was falling.  His body tried to sit up in automatic adjustment, and his hands hit the floor to steady himself.  It launched him into the air, and he fell back to the floor too slowly.
    Second shock.  His body had changed.  Fat had melted away in places, old scars had faded; the tip of his left ring finger, long ago lost to a knife accident, had now suddenly returned.
    And the third shock—
    "I had nothing to do with it!" she cried desperately, the woman huddled in on herself in one corner of the windowless stone cell.  Tears streaked her delicate face, fell like slow raindrops into the décolletage of her dress.  "Nothing!  Oh, you must believe me!"
    With perceptual instantaneity—the speed of surprise—his mind had already labeled her as the most beautiful woman he'd ever met, including his wife.

continue reading »

View more: Next