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

Comment author: ChristianKl 12 August 2014 09:15:53PM 1 point [-]

We have a right to feel morally superior to ISIS, although probably not on genetic grounds.

The Stanford prison experiment suggests that you don't need that much to get people to do immoral things. ISIS evolved over years of hard civil war.

ISIS also partly has their present power because the US first destabilised Iraq and later allowed funding of Syrian rebels. The US was very free to avoid fighting the Iraq war. ISIS fighters get killed if they don't fight their civil war.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 13 August 2014 02:37:22AM 1 point [-]

The Stanford prison experiment suggests that you don't need that much to get people to do immoral things.

The Stanford prison "experiment" was a LARP session that got out of control because the GM actively encouraged the players to be assholes to each other.

Comment author: James_Miller 11 August 2014 09:10:36PM 1 point [-]

Would you say the same about groups of humans? Is genocide worse than killing an equal number of humans but not exterminating any one group?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 12 August 2014 03:47:59AM 4 points [-]

I suspect that the reason we have stronger prohibitions against genocide than against random mass murder of equivalent size is not that genocide is worse, but that it is more common.

It's easier to form, motivate, and communicate the idea "Kill all the Foos!" (where there are, say, a million identifiable Foos in the country) than it is to form and communicate "Kill a million arbitrary people."

Comment author: James_Miller 08 August 2014 01:25:47AM *  1 point [-]

Thanks, you make some good points. Reading your comments caused me to realize that I'm not interested in taking the time to find out why the professors didn't want Lagarde to speak at Smith because I assign a low probability to my finding their arguments reasonable. (The time I would need to spend doing this could be much better used, for example, reading your past LW contributions.) I don't think this is because of confirmation bias, but of course if it were I wouldn't think it was.

The first sentence was supposed to be a line of retreat in which I admitted that it is appropriate to exclude some people.

It is pretty much always poor form to psychoanalyze your political opponents and present their beliefs or behaviors as a consequence of the pathology you ascribe to them

Poor form perhaps, but not necessarily inaccurate.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 08 August 2014 09:54:24PM 0 points [-]

I'm not interested in taking the time to find out why the professors didn't want Lagarde to speak at Smith because I assign a low probability to my finding their arguments reasonable.

I expect your opponents think the same of you; albeit with different phrasing. And thus by symmetry you each defect against the other, and thus is elucidated the old theorem regarding the bitterness of academic disputes.

Comment author: ChristianKl 08 August 2014 09:38:59AM 0 points [-]

That depends probably a lot of what you mean with "really believe". They probably didn't believe in the same sense of "believe" that 21st century Christians in their Gods.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 08 August 2014 06:24:59PM 1 point [-]

Not all 21st-century Christians "believe" in the same sense, either. If a future anthropologist or classicist were to reconstruct the "beliefs" of modern Christianity from the kind of patchwork sources that we have for ancient Greek myth, they might have a pretty hard time.

Comment author: Azathoth123 08 August 2014 04:14:04AM 1 point [-]

Yvain's post is confused in a number of ways, in fact I get the feeling that he hasn't added much to the articles he links at the beginning.

The most blatant problem is his Las Vegas example. He asserts:

Like all good mystical experiences, it happened in Vegas. I was standing on top of one of their many tall buildings, looking down at the city below, all lit up in the dark. If you’ve never been to Vegas, it is really impressive. Skyscrapers and lights in every variety strange and beautiful all clustered together. And I had two thoughts, crystal clear:

It is glorious that we can create something like this.

It is shameful that we did.

What reason does Yvain give for it being shameful? That it's an inefficient use of resources. This is an interesting objection, given that the rest of the essay consists of him objecting to the process of Moloch/Gnon destroying all human values in the name of efficiency. So when faced with an example of Gnon doing the opposite, i.e., building something beautiful the the middle of the desert despite concerns about inefficiency how does he react? By declaring that "there no philosophy on earth that would endorse" its existence.

Yeah, Yvain is not off to a good start here.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 08 August 2014 05:38:13PM 17 points [-]

It doesn't seem to me that the author's objection to Las Vegas is that it is an inefficient use of resources. He does mention use of resources, but that isn't the main point of that section. (Italics in the original; boldface added.)

Like, by what standard is building gigantic forty-story-high indoor replicas of Venice, Paris, Rome, Egypt, and Camelot side-by-side, filled with albino tigers, in the middle of the most inhospitable desert in North America, a remotely sane use of our civilization’s limited resources?

And it occurred to me that maybe there is no philosophy on Earth that would endorse the existence of Las Vegas. Even Objectivism, which is usually my go-to philosophy for justifying the excesses of capitalism, at least grounds it in the belief that capitalism improves people’s lives. Henry Ford was virtuous because he allowed lots of otherwise car-less people to obtain cars and so made them better off. What does Vegas do? Promise a bunch of shmucks free money and not give it to them.

Las Vegas doesn’t exist because of some decision to hedonically optimize civilization, it exists because of a quirk in dopaminergic reward circuits, plus the microstructure of an uneven regulatory environment, plus Schelling points. A rational central planner with a god’s-eye-view, contemplating these facts, might have thought “Hm, dopaminergic reward circuits have a quirk where certain tasks with slightly negative risk-benefit ratios get an emotional valence associated with slightly positive risk-benefit ratios, let’s see if we can educate people to beware of that.” People within the system, following the incentives created by these facts, think: “Let’s build a forty-story-high indoor replica of ancient Rome full of albino tigers in the middle of the desert, and so become slightly richer than people who didn’t!”

It isn't just that Vegas pours money into a hole in the desert that could be better used on something that makes people a lot better off. It's that Vegas makes people worse off by exploiting a bug in human cognition. And that the incentive structure of modern capitalism — with a little help from organized crime, historically — drove lots of resources into exploiting this ugly bug.

A self-aware designer of ants would probably want to fix the bug that leads to ant mills, the glitch in trail-following behavior that allows hundreds or thousands of ants to purposelessly walk in a loop until they walk themselves to death. But for an ant, following trails is a good (incentivized) behavior, even though it sometimes gets "exploited" by an ant mill.

The point isn't "Vegas is bad because it's not optimal." It's "Vegas is a negative-sum condition arising from a bug in an economic algorithm implemented cellularly. Reflection allows us to notice that bug, and capitalism gives us the opportunity to exploit it but not to fix it."

Ants aren't smart enough to worry about ant mills. Humans are smart enough to worry about civilization degenerating into negative-sum cognitive-bug-exploiting apparatus.

Comment author: James_Miller 07 August 2014 02:10:25PM 3 points [-]

If you have the time, I would be grateful if you provided more of a justification of this, but I will understand if you don't however as written your criticism doesn't provide any guidance as to how I can better write the article. My main political identity is being a free market economist, and like many of my type I do not support the IMF.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 07 August 2014 11:47:30PM *  5 points [-]

If you are actually interested in writing an article about confirmation bias, use examples that are not political flamebait to the community you're speaking to. Doing so primes your audience to dismiss you as an axe-grinder or troll, and thus to mistakenly associate the idea "confirmation bias" with hostility ... or just with your particular political position. Cognitive biases are bigger than your political position; don't diminish the science by implying that rejecting your politics implies rejecting the science.

If you are interested in making political points about Smith College not being welcoming toward Christine Lagarde, do not present it as an article about confirmation bias. Doing so is intellectually dishonest. Instead, investigate and respond to the arguments made by those who objected to Lagarde's invitation. To their argumentsnot to the psychological processes you conjecture are behind them.

It is pretty much always poor form to psychoanalyze your political opponents and present their beliefs or behaviors as a consequence of the pathology you ascribe to them. Doing so is a failure to leave a line of retreat, and is is also a form of the genetic fallacy — even if you're right about the pathology, just because I'm crazy doesn't mean I'm wrong.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 07 August 2014 08:33:46AM 3 points [-]

This is not an article about confirmation bias. It is an article about your political beliefs, rationalized by accusing your opponents of confirmation bias. It does both subjects a disservice.

Comment author: Azathoth123 05 August 2014 03:33:05AM *  7 points [-]

I don't really want to pay the electric bill, or the rent.

Oh dear, now I'm sitting in the dark and the landlord is evicting me onto the street.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 05 August 2014 04:53:55PM 1 point [-]

I'm pretty sure you've construed the quote entirely backwards — and that Matt's point is that any "I should do X" statement can be rephrased as "part of me wants to do X."

Comment author: fubarobfusco 04 August 2014 09:32:34PM 6 points [-]

On the limits of rationality given flawed minds —

There is some fraction of the human species that suffers from florid delusions, due to schizophrenia, paraphrenia, mania, or other mental illnesses. Let's call this fraction D. By a self-sampling assumption, any person has a D chance of being a person who is suffering from delusions. D is markedly greater than one in seven billion, since delusional disorders are reported; there is at least one living human suffering from delusions.

Given any sufficiently interesting set of priors, there are some possible beliefs that have a less than D chance of being true. For instance, Ptolemaic geocentrism seems to me to have a less than D chance of being true. So does the assertion "space aliens are intervening in my life to cause me suffering as an experiment."

If I believe that a belief B has a < D chance of being true, and then I receive what I think is strong evidence supporting B, how can I distinguish the cases "B is true, despite my previous belief that it is quite unlikely" and "I have developed a delusional disorder, despite delusional disorders being quite rare"?

Comment author: CronoDAS 04 August 2014 09:18:56AM 5 points [-]

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/ is considered a good one on the single issue of creationism vs. evolution.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 04 August 2014 09:07:20PM *  2 points [-]

Yes, it is, and The Counter-Creationism Handbook sits next to Darwin, Dawkins, and Diamond on my shelf. It would be a Good Thing if folks in other bullshit-fighting arenas had the level of scholarship exhibited by Mark Isaak and his collaborators.

(Hell, every time I see a "bingo card" ridiculing an Other Side's arguments, I wish its creators had the time and scholarly dedication of the talk.origins folk.)

View more: Next