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

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 29 September 2014 09:07:22AM 2 points [-]

Anyone who believes in miracles doesn't believe the laws of physics are entirely reliable.

Yeah, but they may have the concept (not necessarily explicit) of separate magisteria... so they may believe that the laws of physics are entirely reliable when constructing a microwave oven and similar stuff, but unreliable when God purposefully decides to break them.

In other words, if you believe we live in the Matrix, but you also believe that the Lords of Matrix don't micromanage most of the stuff, you can still scientifically research the (default) rules of the Matrix.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 29 September 2014 11:53:30AM 0 points [-]

I also think the vast majority of religious people think large miracles are something that used to happen, but can't reasonably be expected any more.

Comment author: CCC 29 September 2014 10:26:17AM 6 points [-]

I think that there is quite a lot that is implicit if you are reading this from an open rather than defensive perspective.

One thing that I have noticed - as a general rule - is that, in any debate, no two debaters will ever agree on what is implicit in any argument. Anything that needs to be said, that forms an important part of the desired point, pretty much has to be stated explicitly, or most of the readers will fail to notice it.

Or, to put it another way; I, too, agree that your post would be much improved if you were a lot more explicit about precisely what you meant.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 29 September 2014 11:52:05AM 4 points [-]

Voted up for "One thing that I have noticed - as a general rule - is that, in any debate, no two debaters will ever agree on what is implicit in any argument.".

Comment author: ShannonFriedman 29 September 2014 01:55:27AM *  0 points [-]

What he said about microwaves is noteworthy.

My understanding was that he gave the example to show why there is a problem with all religion and mystical thinking - that it is less reasonable than how rationalists and scientists think.

If what Viliam said was true regarding all mystical thinking, then he would have been giving what would be more or less a proof of how rationalists are more reasonable in their thinking than religious people.

That's why his comment was interesting.

The truth is, that the assumption that all religious and mystical people do not believe in the laws of physics is entirely false. My guess is that in truth, the vast majority of people with spiritual beliefs do believe int he laws of physics. I gave one concrete example to make my case.

Thus, he was only disproving an example of one particular type of belief, and not really saying much at all about all religious/mystically inclined people.

Thus, the point he was making is not very useful, in that disproving one person - be they mystic or rationalist, or one type specific type of mysticism is easy.

You missed that point initially and your comment is continuing to make the same mistake that Viliam initially made, in that you are writing based on your personal belief about what "religious people" think.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 29 September 2014 02:18:25AM 1 point [-]

Anyone who believes in miracles doesn't believe the laws of physics are entirely reliable. This is most but not all religious people.

On the other hand, it's probably more important to find out how often, in what way, and under what circumstances someone believes the laws of physics break down rather than whether they believe the laws of physics are absolutely true all the time.

Comment author: gjm 26 September 2014 09:49:39AM 2 points [-]

a conspiracy only requires a single government agent telling them to do it

Maybe I'm misusing the terminology somehow, but I wouldn't regard a theory that says the September 11 attack was carried out by a generic terrorist group asked to do it by a single rogue government official acting alone as a "conspiracy theory", and I don't think that's close to what "9-11 truthers" mostly think. (Also, I'm not sure how it would work. Most terrorist organizations don't take instructions from random rogue government officials.)

Isn't the usual "truther" story that the US government -- meaning something like "the President, some of his senior staff, and enough people further down to make it actually happen" -- were responsible, with the goal of justifying an invasion of Iraq or stirring up support for the administration on the back of fear and anger, or something like that?

(Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you mean by "a single government agent"?)

if your priors for the USG are sufficiently faulty as to equate it with Russia, you might be so foolish as to become a 9-11 truther.

Yes, you might. Were you expecting me to disagree? My claim isn't that (what are commonly called) conspiracy theories are all so insane that no one could embrace them unless seriously mentally disordered. It's that they have enough features in common, other than being disapproved of by the person mentioning them, that "conspiracy theory" isn't a mere term of abuse.

(For my part, though my opinion of the Russian government is extremely negative, I would not at all expect it to start massacring random Russian citizens in order to manufacture outrage against "Galician fascist terrorists", not least because they'd be likely to get caught and I'd expect them not to want that.)

when "conspiracy theories" get good evidence, they stop being called such.

I agree that there's (so to speak) an evaluative element in the term "conspiracy theory". But I don't think it's what you say it is (i.e., that the only difference is whether the person using the term wants to ridicule the theory in question). It's more like the evaluative element in the term "murder". You don't call a killing a murder if you think it was justified, but that doesn't mean that "murder" just means "killing the speaker disapproves of". Most opponents of the death penalty don't call executions murders. Most pacifists don't call deaths in war murders. (Some might, in both cases.)

Conspiracy theories become pathological when absence of evidence is taken as evidence of a cover up.

And it seems to me that this is precisely part of what distinguishes "conspiracy theories" from other theories involving conspiracies.

If the NSA secretly undermining public cryptography [...] was part of your model [...] what on earth do you mean you don't believe in conspiracy theories?

Some theories about NSA attacks on crypto would have been rightly classed as conspiracy theories, although unusually plausible ones because, e.g., doing things of that general sort and keeping them secret is the NSA's job. Some of those now turn out to be true. So something formerly classed as a conspiracy theory is true, and conventionally is no longer called a conspiracy theory. I have no problem with any of this, and I don't see why anyone else should have either.

I have the impression that you have a not-quite-correct impression of my opinions, so let me make some things more explicit. I think that for something to be called a "conspiracy theory" it is neither necessary nor sufficient for it to involve a conspiracy and be thought ridiculous by the person so calling it. Rather, it needs to be lacking in evidence, explain this in terms of an implausible large-scale conspiracy to keep it secret, require the people involved to be more evil than there's other reason to think they are, and be thought untrue by the person referring to it. When a conspiracy theory turns out to be true after all, it is simply a conspiracy and belief in it is no longer called a "theory" (unsurprisingly as the word "theory" in common use is restricted to things that don't have a convincing preponderance of evidence in their favour; this differs from scientific usage). And I think some things classified as conspiracy theories turn out to be true, but relatively few because to be a conspiracy theory something needs to involve unlikely elements and be widely thought untrue.

So, for instance, if someone believed a few years ago that the NSA was deliberately attempting to insert backdoors into widely available cryptographic software, that would have been something of a borderline case. There wasn't a lot of evidence; for the theory to be true the activity would indeed have had to be kept secret by a lot of people, but it was actually pretty plausible that they'd do so; it would maybe require a slightly higher level of evil than a naive observer might expect from an agency like the NSA, but not much; and it was thought untrue by a lot of people. Now we have better evidence that they did it, which has raised general expectations of their level of evil, and fewer people think it's untrue, so this has made the shift from "maybe just about a conspiracy theory" to "not really a conspiracy theory, just a plausible and probably correct theory about a conspiracy". (The Snowden revelations have maybe pushed it in the other direction a little, by reducing our confidence in the NSA's ability to keep such things covered up. But I think the direction of the overall effect is clear.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 September 2014 01:44:13PM 0 points [-]

I wouldn't regard a theory that says the September 11 attack was carried out by a generic terrorist group asked to do it by a single rogue government official acting alone as a "conspiracy theory",

I remember September tenth, and if you'd said that to me then, I'm not sure I would have called it a conspiracy theory (I might have), but I certainly would have thought you were wildly overconcerned.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 27 September 2014 07:59:07AM 0 points [-]

If HPJEV were a forum-dweller instead of a wizard, he would do the very same.

Given the strong ethical view that HPJEV takes of lying, that would be grossly against his character. He might also say, as would I, that it's a short step from mass downvoting to what Yvain reports here.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 September 2014 01:00:31PM 1 point [-]

I see a qualitative difference between mass downvoting and malicious impersonation--- malicious impersonation is a much stronger effort to damage reputation. Mass downvoting is a way of saying "this person is disliked", while malicious impersonation is supplying false evidence that the person is detestable.

Comment author: Punoxysm 28 September 2014 01:37:04AM 0 points [-]

Well, HPJEV's ethics are wildly inconsistent moment-to-moment, so...

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 September 2014 12:57:02PM 1 point [-]


Comment author: Punoxysm 27 September 2014 02:29:45AM -1 points [-]

Exactly what I'm saying. Don't know who would downvote you for that!

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 September 2014 12:55:25PM 2 points [-]

I didn't downvote, but I can see downvoting for bringing in a larger political issue.

See also: Like an amoral politician, he revealed flaws in our moderation system that really ought to be addressed in a less ad-hoc way.

Comment author: Coscott 23 September 2014 03:50:51AM 3 points [-]

Rank the Greg Egan books from best to worst. I have read Permutation City, Quarantine, and Diaspora, loved them all, and am trying to decide which to read next.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 September 2014 12:50:15PM *  0 points [-]


I haven't read the short story collections close enough together to rank them, but I'd generally recommend them

Permutation City
Schild's Ladder

Didn't finish (more physics than I could appreciate)

The Clockwork Rocket

Comment author: Azathoth123 28 September 2014 01:19:04AM -2 points [-]

English doesn't have any gender-neutral pronouns

Yes, it does: "he".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 September 2014 12:20:35PM 1 point [-]

Unfortunately, the mental image of maleness overrides any hope of that working consistently in people's imagination.

Example: "Man is the animal that suckles his young".

Comment author: DanielLC 24 September 2014 10:38:31PM 2 points [-]

People are more likely to believe true things, so someone believing something is evidence that it's true. If you find out that they're especially likely to believe this even if it's not true, but not proportionately more likely to believe it if it is, then the fact that they believe it is not as strong evidence. Thus, if it's a given that they believe it, finding out that they'd believe it either way is evidence against it.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 25 September 2014 02:27:42AM 2 points [-]

I'd throw in a modifier that people are most likely to believe true things about areas where they have direct experience and get feedback. It's something like near and far, and the near has to be very near. Give extra points if the experience is recent.

The less a theory meets those constraints, the less you should think belief is evidence that it's true.

View more: Next