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Social prerequisites of rationality

-4 DeVliegendeHollander 24 March 2015 12:33PM

Summary: it is a prerequisite that you think you are entitled to your own beliefs, your beliefs matter, you think your actions follow your own beliefs and not from commands issued by others, and your actions can make a difference, at the very least in your own life. This may correlate with what one may call either equality or liberty.

Religion as not even attire, just obedience

I know people, mainly old rural folks from CEE, who do not think they are entitled to have a  vote in whether there is a God or not. They simply obey. This does NOT mean they base their beliefs on Authority: rather they think their beliefs do not matter, because nobody asks them about their beliefs. They base their behavior on Authority, because this is what is expected of them. The Big Man in suit tells you to pay taxes, you do. The Big Man in white lab coat tells you to take this medicine, you do. The Big Man in priestly robes tells you to kneel and cross yourself, you do. They think forming their own beliefs is above their "pay grade". One old guy, when asked any question outside this expertise, used to tell me "The Paternoster is the priests's business." Meaning: I am not entitled to form any beliefs regarding these matters, I lack the expertise, and lack the power. I think what we have here is not admirable epistemic humility, rather a heavy case of disempoweredness, inequality, oppression, lack of equality or liberty and of course all that internalized

Empoweredness, liberty, equality

Sure, on very high levels liberty and equality may be enemies: equality beyond a certain level can only be enforced by reducing liberties, and liberty leads to inequality. But only beyond a certain level: low and mid-levels they go hand in hand. My impression is that Americans who fight online for one and against the other simple take the level where they go hand in hand for granted, having had this for generations. But it is fairly obvious that on lower levels, some amount of liberty presumes some about of equality and vice versa. Equality also means an equality of power, and with that it is hard to tyrannize over others and reduce their liberties. You can only succesfully make others un-free if you wield much higher power than theirs and then equality goes out the window. The other way around: liberty means the rich person cannot simply decide to bulldoze the poor persons mud hut and build a golf range, he must make an offer to buy it and the other can refuse that offer: they negotiate as equals. Liberty presumes a certain equality of respect and consideration, or else it would be really straightforward to force the little to serve the big, the small person goals and autonomy and property being seen as less important (inequal to) the grand designs and majestic causes of the big people. 

The basic minimal level where equality and liberty goes hand in hand is called being empowered. It means each person has a smaller or bigger sphere (life, limb, property) what his or her decisions and choices shape. And in that sphere, his or her decisions matter. And thus in that sphere, his or her beliefs matter and they are empowered to and entitled to make them. And that is what creates the opportunity for rationality. 

Harking back to the previous point, your personal beliefs of theism or atheism matter only if it is difficult to force you to go through the motions anyway. Even if it is just an attire, there is a difference between donning that voluntarily or being forced to. If you can be forced to do so, plain simply the Higher Ups are not interested in what you profess and believe. And your parents probably not try to convince you that certain beliefs are true, rather they will just raise you to be obedient. Neither a blind believer nor a questioning skeptic be: just obey, go through the Socially Approved Motions. You can see how rationality seems kind of not very useful at that point.

Silicon Valley Rationalists

Paul Graham: "Materially and socially, technology seems to be decreasing the gap between the rich and the poor, not increasing it. If Lenin walked around the offices of a company like Yahoo or Intel or Cisco, he'd think communism had won. Everyone would be wearing the same clothes, have the same kind of office (or rather, cubicle) with the same furnishings, and address one another by their first names instead of by honorifics. Everything would seem exactly as he'd predicted, until he looked at their bank accounts. Oops."

I think the Bay Area may already have had this fairly high level of liberty-cum-equality, empoweredness, maybe it is fairly easy to see how programmers as employees are more likely to think freely about innovating in a non-authoritarian workplace athmosphere where both they are not limited much (liberty) and not made to feel they are small and the business owner is big (equality). This may be part of the reason why Rationalism emerged there (being a magnet for smart people is obviously another big reason).


Having said all that, I would be reluctant to engage in a project of pushing liberal values on the world in order to prepare the soil for sowing Rationalism. The primary reason is that those values all too often get hijacked - liberalism as an attire. Consider Boris Yeltsin, the soi-disant "liberal" Russian leader who made the office of the president all-powerful and the Duma weak simply because his opponents at there, i.e. a "liberal" who opposed parliamentarism (arguably one of the most important liberal principles), and who assaulted his opponents with tanks. His "liberalism" was largely about selling everything to Western capitalists and making Russia weak, which explains why Putin is popular - many Russian patriots see Yeltsin as something close to a traitor. Similar "sell everything to Westerners" attitudes meant the demise of Hungarian liberals, the Alliance of Free Democrats party, who were basically a George Soros Party.  The point here is not to pass a judgement on Yeltsin or those guys, but to point out how this kind of "exported liberalism" gets hijacked and both fails to implement its core values and sooner or later falls out of favor. You cannot cook from recipe books only.

What else then? Well, I don't have a solution. But my basic hunch would be to not import Western values into cultures, but more like try to tap into the egalitarian or libertarian elements of their own culture. As I demonstrated above, if you start from sufficiently low levels of both, it does not matter which angle you start from.  A society too mired in "Wild West Capitalism" may start from the equality angle, saying that the working poor do not intrinsically worth less than the rich, do not deserve to be mere means used for other people's goals but each person deserves a basic respect and consideration that includes their beliefs and choices should matter, and those beliefs and choices ought to be rational. A society stuck in a rigid dictatorship may start from the liberty angle, that people deserve more freedom to choose about their lives, and again, those choices and the beliefs that drive them better be rational.

Michael Oakeshott's critique of something-he-called-rationalism

-2 DeVliegendeHollander 24 March 2015 09:20AM

Ideally participants in this discussion would have read his relevant essays (collected in the Rationalism in Politics book) but as an introduction this will do  and this one is also good.

Clealy Oakeshott means something different under Rationalism than LW. I will call it SOCR (Something Oakeshott Calls Rationalism) now.

SOCR is the the idea that you can learn to cook from a recipe book, following the algorithms. He argues it  used to be a popular idea in early 20th century Britain and it is false. Recipe books are written for people who can already cook, and this knowledge only comes from experience, not books. Either self-discovery, or apprenticing. Try to learn to cook from a recipe book and the book will not teach you, but you own failed experiments will, the hard way, you end up rediscovering cooking by a trial and error basis. Apprenticing is easier. The recipe book writer assumes the recipe works on an empty mind, while it only works on a mind already filled with experience. And what is worse, often minds are filled with the wrong kind of experience.

While Oakeshott can be accusing of endorsing "life experience as conversation stopper" his main argument is basically how is knowledge communicable. You have knowledge in your head, much of it gathered through experience, you may not be able to communicate all aspect of it through training an apprentice and even less through writing a book. Doing things is often more of an art than science. Worse, you would expect having the students cup pre-filled by the right kind of stuff, but often it is empty or filled with the wrong kind of stuff, which makes your book misunderstood.

Oakeshott focused on politics because his main point was that following a recipe book like Marxism-Leninism or Maoism is not simply a bad idea, but literally impossible, the doctrine you learn will be colored by your pre-existing experience and you will do whatever your experience dictates anyway. The issue is misleading yourself and others into thinking you are implementing a recipe, an algorithm, when it is not the case. 

Oakeshott is basically saying e.g. you can never predict what the Soviet Union will do by looking at the Marxist books they read. However, if you add up the experience of the Tzarist imperialism and the experience of being a very reasonably paranoid revolutionary on the run from the Ohrana and fearing betrayal at every corner, you may predict what they are up to better.

SOCR is clearly not LWR and it is unfortunate the word "Rationalism" appears in both. Since I was exposed to Oakeshott and similar ideas earlier than LW I would actually prefer different terms for LWR, like "pragmatic reason", but it is not up to me to make this choice, at least not in English, I may try to influence other languages though. 

Ultimately, Oakeshott ends up with a set of ideas very similar to LW, such as coming down on the side of the shepherd in The Simple Truth, not on the side of Marcos Sophisticus. In fact, Oakeshotts' SOCR he criticizes is clearly the later:

>As knowledge of the realm of the shadows is a real and hard-won achievement, the theorist goes gravely astray when he relies on his theoretical insights to issue directives to the practitioner, ridiculously trying to “set straight” the practical man on matters with which the theorist has no familiarity. The cave dwellers, first encountering the theorist on his return, might be impressed “when he tells them that what they had always thought of as ‘a horse’ is not what they suppose it to be . . . but is, on the contrary, a modification of the attributes of God. . . . But if he were to tell them that, in virtue of his more profound understanding of the nature of horses, he is a more expert horse-man, horse-chandler, or stable boy than they (in their ignorance) could ever hope to be, and when it becomes clear that his new learning has lost him the ability to tell one end of a horse from the other . . . [then] before long the more perceptive of the cave-dwellers [will] begin to suspect that, after all, he [is] not an interesting theorist but a fuddled and pretentious ‘theoretician’ who should be sent on his travels again, or accommodated in a quiet home.”

Ultimately both LW and Oakeshott support the cavemen. It is just unfortunate they use the term "Rationalist" in entirely opposite meanings.

Succeess depends on finding a balance between "geek" and "jock"

-9 DeVliegendeHollander 12 March 2015 12:50PM

Summary: title + LW seems to be already coming from a culture like that, I just want to make it conscious. Also, it is true for individuals and true for groups like nations.

Why too much "jock" is bad

Anti-intellectualism, black-and-white tribalism, impulsivity etc. Social experiment: if you know smart people in/from Latin America ask them about what they dislike there, I think they will tell things along the lines of too much machismo in the culture not being a good environment for intellectualism.

Why too much "geek" is bad

It turns people and cultures into "Markos Sophisticus".

I was shaped largely by "Sophisticos". Too much Vienna and too much Budapest in me, thankfully some Birmingham in me too (Anglo cultures healthily tend away from this) but not enough. It was kind of shocking or me to see LW using intelligence not for intellectual masturbation but for solving problems, getting things done, making actionable things and actioning on them.

This has a bit of a "jock" in it, a bit of that attitude that: problem? Hit it over the head with a suitable club. Problem solved. Next problem. This "checkmark-checkmark-checkmark" attitude.

All this challenging real world problems head-on is a bit of a "jock" thing but you probably don't realize it if you are socialized to Silicon Valley, Paul Graham kinds of cultures. In these cases all you notice is that you are smarter, geekier than the "jocks" around you. But actually you are "jockier" than some of the more "geekier" cultures around the world e.g. the kind of "Sophisticos" attitudes that are all too common here in the Mitteleuropa - read some Stefan Zweig. Or rather not, he will bore you to death, you may as well take my word for it that I was shaped into using intelligence as simply something to bask in it, in my sophisticatedness, and not for making the world or my life better. It was a very novel idea  for me that ideas should be actionable. I think there is also a power problem : things that needed to be actioned were usually prescribed by others and usually not by very smart people.

I mean I know a lot of "Sophisticus" people who would dislike that above mentioned essay. Darwin i.e. dying if you are a wrong as an argument, nature being cruel? "How impossibly crude and  barbarous to reason like that in a debate between intellectuals!" That kind of stuff. The "it is a tough world out there" message of the essay is clearly a bit "jocky". Some people would even consider that essay borderline "reactionary" for its tough-world "assumption".

And that is how too much geek hurts you. Of course you want a lot of geek. You want to be smart and rational, knowledgeable and learned. But you also need that bit of jock in you who actually wants to hit problems over the head with all this and check-off to-dos and changes things.

I suspect that was part of our problems in Europe around 1920-1930 that led to WW2! You observe the era and you find various kinds of fascists e.g. in Italy or even Action Française glorifying "direct action" and having an ultra-masculinist outlook. But why? Or at least, why did this had appeal even to people who were not, at least initially not, evil? Well, at least partially its appeal is explained by it being a reaction against an era of intellectual elites being all too talky and never being able to decide something, make an action plan, and do it. Too many smart words and not enough strength to actually do something to improve things. So other people went the other extreme and began worshipping direct action, strength and violence.

Of course this model does not even begin to try to predict all that happened in that era, I am just saying when non-intellectual people start worshipping direct action and strength, that is a canary in a coalmine signalling intellectuals are being too geeky, ineffectual, and not actually proposing actionable ideas nor insisting enough on following them through.

The "too geek" has smart but unactionable ideas, the "too jock" just takes direct action without much thinking, "smart, rational, actionable" ideas are a balance.

Again, if you are a Silicon Valley type you are probably too much used to this balance and assume you are being "geeky" when in fact you are  actually being a healthy balance of "geeky" and "jocky".

E.g. the term "hacker" a lot of Valley people identify with originally came from someone making furniture with an axe - a definitely crude and unsophisticated, not too classy profession, but very practical and someone who is not too upset from the fact the world out there is tough!

Why does this matter?

To improve the world, try to move things toward this balance everywhere. At the very least, move your friends. Move your jocky friends towards gathering knowledge before acting, move your geeky friends towards focusing on actionable knowledge not intellectual masturbation.

And, if possible, move whole nations.

(Also, I realized I am using very stereotypcially and narrowly male terminology here. It all boils down to thinking without acting vs. acting without thinking vs.  both, so thinking and acting, but this is a very textbook male view of things. My wife rather likes to move within the triangle of thinking - feeling - speaking, so adds the feeling component which my geek-jock axis completely ignores, and focuses more on speaking than physically doing. However, it is also true that speaking and doing should not be contrasted much, speaking is a form of doing. I am just saying this to signal I am not entirely unaware of my viewpoint here being a bit too narrowly male and not really inclusive enough.)

What am I even trying to say?

Reading what I wrote so far sounds like I am saying nothing. Actionable ideas that pay rent etc. have always been a core idea on LW. I am simply saying it is not just being a better geek, it is actually being a bit of a jocky geek, I am saying geeks to some extent picked it up from jocks. Possibly, in places where jocks do not hate geeks much but tend to have some respect of shrewd people, jocks push geeks toward practical problems and geeks accept this, or geeks, not hating jocks that much, observe and learn the practicality.

I am simply saying that his kind of instrumental rationality is a crossover between being a philosopher and being a plumber and not an entirely new dimension of things. There are clearly a lot of cultures where plumbers should be more like philosophers and scientists. But there are also a lot of cultures or even individuals even in Anglo cultures who are too much of a philosopher, and need being more of a plumber.

My point is simply that instrumental rationality is not a new kind of geekery but a way of learning from non-geeks: I suspect that in Silicon Valley type cultures this learning happens automatically and subconsciously, maybe it happened so long ago that now geeks learn it from each other, not directly from non-geeks. But this learning needs exported.

Is status really that simple?

-4 DeVliegendeHollander 04 March 2015 11:15AM

I am reading The other kind of status and it seems to me that status is seen as a single number, either objective, or in the eyes of other people in the group, or your own, either ordinal or cardinal, but at the end of the day you can say your status is 67 points or 12th in rank. And I think it is not actually the case! A few examples why it is more complicated:


Intimidation, power, authority

People behave in a respectful, deferential, submissive way to people they are afraid of, be that their personal scariness or power and authority. However this is not genuine respect. (Well, it is hard to say exactly - I would say for most of you it is not so, but OTOH there are people out there who like strength or authority so much that they truly respect those who can intimidate them, because they too would like to be intimidating people. Let's say it is not genuine respect in all cases.) If your neighbor is a cop and people behave with him extra tactfully because if he gets pissed off he may find an excuse for an arrest, is that status? Better example: crimelords, The Godfather (by "normal" people, not their fellow criminals).


The opposite: the purely moral status

People who are very, very good, and their goodness also means they are very meek, they are very much the kind of people who would not hurt anyone not even in self defense, and it is obviously showing - they get a strange kind of respect. Many people genuinely treat them with respect, but somehow it lacks certain aspects of the respect a high-ranking businessman gets, somehow it seems if people are so obviously harmless, the respect has less depth.


Most common status

I think most common cases of status have elements of both. To be high status you need to have power - not necessarily in the social-political sense, but in the sense of "the ability to affect things". For example, a good example is being very intelligent and learned. It is a kind of power. And you need to use that power in ways we generally morally approve of, for we don't really respect a criminal mastermind. But you also need to have a bit of an intimidation potential too, you should not look too harmless, of course you don't need to behave in intimidating ways, but still if people think "wow, I would not want such a smart person as my enemy, I could get a check-mate", that gives more depth to the respect. Perhaps it is better  - less disturbing - if you call it not intimidation potential, but _ally potential_: if someone else would want to hurt you, does this person have anything to assist you in the conflict? Anything could mean intelligence, knowledge, social influence, charisma, political position, physical strength...

I dislike made-up evo-psy as much as everybody else, but this sort of makes sense in an ancestral environment. We respect people who are useful allies, tribe members, who have power i.e. abilitites or resources usable in affecting the world, but what makes them useful allies also makes them dangerous as potential enemies so there is also a bit of an intimidation potential as well, and generally we want them to use these abilities or resources for the tribe, not against it, which is probably where morality comes from.


But that is only the beginning

In the example above, status is not one number but two: power status 43, morality status 51.  This alone demonstrates the problem with the single-number approach. However there can be so many numbers... I have seen very, very confusing and ambiguous status-setups in my life that probably came from many numbers.


- For example, some people assign high status to people who wear business suits and their female equivalents because it suggests a powerful social position, but also some people (young-ish) were more like "Ah, so you work. How boring. Worky worky working bee tehehee. Why aren't you a rich playboy or gangster who does not need to work?" So I saw a kind of a wants-to-work vs. must-work split here or I am not even sure exactly what.

- I saw people who were generally materialistic and yet valued wearing designer clothes more than driving an expensive car in China-Mart clothes, so apparently they assigned a number to style and a number to wealth and it interacted in non-obvious ways.

- Or simply at school - it was not-obvious, whether the students with good grades had higher status, or those who considered it a romantic rebellion against authority to not study and not write tests and not answer teacher questions. Many kids envied the courage of the second group but were still afraid of punishment and studied conscientously anyway and the funniest part was that in trying to satisfy both goals, they studied conscientously, got good grades, then lied about it and boasted they did not study at all and got that good grade purely on luck or smarts! Because studying was seen like being a teacher boot licker, almost as bad as a snitch... but of course getting and admittance letter into a university of law (= "Wow Rob is gonna be a rich lawyer!!") made him a hero so both studying and not-studying conferred status!

- Still school, easier example: in the breaks, being funny and entertaining was valued. In the phys ed class, skill, as we played a lot of ball sports (and it was not considered being a teacher's pet to be good at it), high skilled players were respected. The hierarchy visibly changed in the break before and after phys ed class. This is a fairly clear example of status consisting of multiple numbers, like Humor 43, Skill 71.

Of course one could say it is just different people valuing different things and that is that, but I think the multiple-number hypothesis is better: the same people valuing other people in different ways, as in the very first example (intimidated respect to the crime boss or policeman, respect but without depth to the moral saint), or valuing other people differently in different circumstances...

Towards a theory of nerds... who suffer.

-9 DeVliegendeHollander 02 March 2015 05:11PM

Summary: I will here focus on nerds who suffer, from the lack of self-respect and sexual, romantic, social success.  My thesis this stems from self-hatred, and the self-hatred stems from childhood bullying, and the solution will involve fixing things that made one a "tempting" bullying target, and some other ways to improve self-respect.

Motivated reasoning and offense

SSC wrote we don't yet have a science of nerds. http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/09/25/why-no-science-of-nerds/ My proposal is to use motivated reasoning and focus on the subset of nerds who suffer and need helping. I am mostly familiar with the white straight male demographic and in this, suffering nerds are often called "neckbeards", or "omega males".

One danger of such motivated reasoning is giving out offense, because problems that cause suffering and in need of helping have a huge overlap with traits that can be used as insults, many disabilities are good parallels here, it is possible to use disabilities as insults mainly for people who don't actually have them, especially when using emotionally loaded language like "cripple" or "retard". Any helpful doctor needs to be careful if he wants to diagnose a child with low IQ, parents will often be like, "my kid is not stupid!" and we have a similar issue here.

The solution to the offense issue is: if you are a nerd, and you find what I write here does not apply to you, good: you are not in the subset of nerds who need helping! You are a happy, well-adjusted person with some "nerdy" interests and preferences, which is entirely OK but also relatively uninteresting, I simply don't want to discuss that because that is mostly like discussing why some people don't like mushroom on their pizza: maybe borderline curious, but not important. I focus on nerds who suffer. Human suffering is what matters, and if I can help a hundred people who suffer while offending ten who do not understand that I am not talking about them, it is a good trade.

I am largely talking about the guys who are mocked and bullied by being called "forever a virgin", those whose traits cluster around interest in D&D, Magic: The Gathering, fantasy, anime, have poor body hygiene, dress and groom in ways considered unattractive, have poor social skills, very low chances of ever finding a girlfriend, and not have any social life besides teaming up with fellow social outcasts.


I propose the core issue of suffering nerds, "neckbeards", "omega males" is self-hatred. I see three reasons for this:

A) Engaging in fantasy, D&D, discussing superheroes, Star Wars etc. can be seen as escaping from a self and life one hates.

Against1: every novel and movie is a way to that. Not just fantasy or superhero comics.

Pro1: have you noticed non-nerdy people like movies and novels that are more or less cast in the here and now, with heroes that are believable contemporary characters? While nerds are often bored by "mainstream" crime novels, Ludlum type spy novels, by stuff "normal people" read?

Against2: this can simply mean disliking the current, real world, but not necessary their own self.

Pro2: admittedly, unreal, magical adventures can have an allure to all. Our modern world really is disenchanted, as Max Weber had put it. Things were more interesting when people believed stone arrow heads found are from elves, not cavemen. Still, people who are happy with their own self are happy enough with seeing an improved version of their own self overcoming realistic obstacles in a "mainstream" crime or war novel or movie. Dreaming about being a fireball caster wizard or a superhero with superpowers means you do not trust yourself you could ever be like a guy in a "mainstream" movie, throwing punches, shooting guns and kissing models, it does not inspire you to become like that, it rather frustrates you  that you could be something like that and you are not, and thus you want your heroes and idols to be safely non-imitable. Nobody will give you shit why you cannot cast a lightning bolt spell. It does not remind you of your inadeqacies and the shit you were given for them. Instead of a real-world fantasy that gives you a painful reminder of your inadequacy, a magical fantasy allows you to fantasize about a completely different life, being a completely different person, someone you could never expected to be. Instead of these dreams painfully reminding you to improve yourself, in your fantasy you basically die as your current self and be reborn as someone entirely different in an entirely different life with entirely different rules.

Against3: so everybody who enjoys LOTR movies and the GoT series is hating himself?  Have you not noticed fantasy went mainstream in the recent years?

Pro3: indeed it did. But a version of it that lacks the unreal appeal. Game of Thrones is almost historical, it is just normal medieval people fighting and scheming for power, with very little supernatural thrown in. LOTR got hollywoodized in the movies, much more focus on flashy sword fighting against stupid looking brutes, less about supernatural stuff. They are to fantasy what Buck Rogers was to sci-fi.  And non-nerds just watch them, maybe read them, but do not obsess about them.

B) Their poor clothing and grooming habits suggest they do not think their own self deserves to be decorated.

Against1: maybe they are just not interested  in their looks.

Pro1: life is a trade-off. Time you invest into looks is time you take away from something else. How could people who spend their time fantasizing about Star Wars think their time is that important? Eliezer Yudkowsky thinks his time is invested into literally saving humankind from extinction and still takes time away from it to invest into grooming and dressing in an okay way and finding eyeglasses that match his face, because he knows otherwise his message will not be taken seriously enough. It is a worthy investment. People don't want to listen to someone with a "crazy scientist" or similar look. He knows he needs to look like he is selling software, kind of. I don't think anyone could seriously think the social gains from a basic okay wardrobe and regular barber visits do not worth taking some time away from D&D. Obesity is often a neckbeard problem too, and it is also unhealthy.

Against2: Okay, but maybe they either do not realize it, due to some kind of social blindness, or lack the ability to figure out how to look in a way that society approves. Chalk it up to poor social skills, not self-hatred?

Pro2: The heroes suffering nerds fantasize about actually look good in their own fantasy world. Often even in the real one. In the sense that Superman was a good looking journalist when he was not Superman and even Peter Parker being borderline okay, and most fantasy heroes look like someone who is appropriate in that social circumstance (simplified/heroized/sanitized/mythologized European middle ages). First of all they are not fat and rather muscular, they are well groomed, and so on. Suffering nerds don't even imitate their own heroes. Although someone trying to look like Aragorn would be weird today, basically being a tall and muscular guy with a long hair and short cropped, well groomed beard and maybe leather clothes would look like a biker rocker, which is leaps and bounds cooler in society's eyes than an obese neckbeard with greasy hair and Tux t-shirt with dirty baggy jeans and dirtier sneakers. If nerds would really try to look like fantasy heroes, the would be more popular. But they look more like, they feel don't deserve to improve their looks. But there is also something more:

C) When they sometimes improve their looks, this does not come accross as improving their real selves or finding something that matches who they are, rather as a symbolic imitation of an entirely different person. A good example is the fedora, which symbolizes an old fashioned gentleman in 1950 which does not match the rest of their clothes or the fact it is not 1950. This suggests self-hatred.

Against1: Doesn't it contradict the previous point?

Pro1: I think it strenghtens it. Any guy with a fedora or something like that cannot be said to be uninterested in looks, and misjudging what society considers to be attractive cannot possible mean you wear Dick Tracy's hat but not his suit, muscles, lack of paunch, and lack of neckbeard. I think it is more of a symbol that I don't want to be me, I want to be someone totally different.


Against1: fine, neckbeards hate themselves and dream about being someone else. How do we know it is the source of their problems, and not an effect? How about lack of socio-sexual success making them both suffering and self-hating and they react to this like that?

Pro1: we don't, and it is a good point, something like autism may play a role. Socio-sexual success, being borderline "cool" or at least accepted is something not exactly bright high school dropouts can figure out, how comes often highly intelligent men cannot? Indeed, autism or Asperger may play a role. However there are charming, sexy people on the spectrum, this cannot possible be the cause. Besides certain symptoms overlap with self-hatred: if someone avoids eye contact, how to know if it comes from their Asperger syndrome or from self-hatred making them afraid to meet a gaze directly and rather wanting to hide from other people's eyes? Cannot obsessive tendencies be a way to avoid thinking about one's own self? It is entirely possible that many men on the spectrum developed a self-hatred due to the bullying the received for being on the spectrum and much of their problems come from that. One thing is clear - whatever other reasons there are for lacking socio-sexual success, the above characteristics make the situation much worse.

Against2: Satoshi Kanazawa argued high IQ suppresses instincts and makes you basically lack "common sense". Maybe it is just that?

Pro2: Yes. But the instinct in question is not simply basic social skills. I will get back to this.

Against3: Paul Graham wrote nerds are unpopular because they simply don't want to invest into being popular, having other interests.

Pro3: This seems to be true for non-suffering nerds. Primarily the nerds who are into this-worldly, productive, STEM stuff. Why care about fashionable clothes when you are learning fascinating things like physics? Slightly irritated about the superficiality of other people, the non-suffering nerd gets a zero-maintenance buzz cut and 7 polo shirts of the same basic color of a brand a random cute looking girl has recommended, so that he does not have to think about what to put on, and has a presentable look with minimal effort. Of course we know "neckbeards", "omegas" don't look like that. Much worse. Suffering nerds seem to have deeper problems than not wanting to invest a minimal amount of time into their looks. Besides, look at their interests. STEM nerds are into things that are useful in this today's real world. D&D nerds want to escape it.

Against4: Testosterone?

Pro4: Plays a role both ways, see below.

The cause of self-hatred

Other people despising you. Sooner or later you internalize it. There could be many causes for that... sometimes parents of the kind who always tell their kids they suck. Some people hit walls like racism or homophobia... some people get picked on as kids because they are disabled or disfigured.

Actually this latest is a good clue and a good proof of we are on a good track with this here. I certainly have seen an above-average % of disabled or disfigured youths playing D&D. It seems if you are a textbook target for bullying, if other kids tell you you are a worthless piece of feces in various ways for years, you will want to escape into a fantasy where you are a wizard casting fireballs burning the meanines to death. So we are getting a clue about what may cause this self-hatred.

However in my experience simply being a weak or cowardly boy causes the same shitstorm of bullying, humiliations, and beatings. Kids are cruel. It is basically a brutal form of setting up a dominance hierarchy by trying to torture everybody, those who don't even dare to resist get assigned the lowest rank, those who try and fail only slightly higher, and the bravest, bolderst, cruelest, most aggressive fighters being on top. And intelligence may be an obstacle here by suppressing your fighting instinct.

Being bullied into the lowest level of social rank basically destroys your serum teststerone levels. It also makes you depressed. Both depend on your rank in the pecking order. Low-T combined with depression is probably something really close to what I call "self-hatred", since high-T is often understood as pride and confidence, so the opposite of it is probably shame and submissiveness, and SSC wrote depressed people who are suicidial often say "I feel I am a burden" i.e. you are not worthy to others, a liability, not an asset. Shame, submissiveness and feeling worthless is precisely what I called self-hatred.

Thus these two well-documented aspects of getting a low social rank already cause something akin to self-hatred, but I think it is also important how it happens in childhood. If it would be simply kids e.g. respecting those with higher grades, or richer parents more but still behaving borderline polite with everybody, the way how adults do it, I think it would be less of an issue. Kids, boys, however, establish social rank with brutal beatings, humiliation, bullying, and making sure the other boy got the "you suck" message driven in with a sledgehammer. A textbook example of the "wedgie" which Wiki calls a prank: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedgie and perhaps it is possible to do it in harmless pranky that way, too, but when four muscular boys boys capture a weak, scared, squealing one in the toilet, immobilize him, and give him an atomic one then force him to walk out like that so that everybody can laugh at his humiliation, this is no prank. This is the message hammered in: you suck, you are worthless, you are helpless, you are no man, you got no balls, we do whatever we want to you and you have no "figther rank" whatsoever, you did not even try to defend yourself.  And I have seen many such events when I was a child.

Against1: Ouch. But is this really about fighting ability? Don't you think other ways how kids rank each other, rank their popularity matters, especially in modern schools where fighting is strictly forbidden and surveillance is strong?

Pro1: not 100% sure. After all they do it teaming up. It is perfectly possible that if a brown skinned boy and a bunch of racist classmates interacted it would be the same for him even if he is strong and does MMA. Still... in my experience, it was usually about that. I mean, not about what karate belt you have, it was more like testing your masculinity, like courage, aggression, strength. If you are "man enough" they would respect you and leave you alone, basically assigning a higher rank. The whole thing felt like testing whatever I later learned about testosterone levels, both prenatal and serum. It seems bullies were trying to sniff out weakness, both emotional and physical, and T is the best predictor to a combination of both.  For example, the worst thing was to cry, you got called a girly boy and bullied even more, get the lowest possible rank. Surely boys being raised in patriarchical and homophobic cultures had something to do with it, but the whole thing still reminded me of something biological like reindeer "locking horns".  I think if there is ever such a thing as males establishing a dominance hierarchy largely through  testing each others prenatal or serum testosterone i.e. manly courage and strength and fierceness, it was that.

But I also find it likely being "different" in any way, race, sexuality, disability, must have made you much more of a target.

Obviously this reflects the values of society, too. In Russia even grown up soldiers and prison inmates do this, which probably reflects the highly toxic-masculinity values they have or the oppression they themselves receive from officers, or even formerly from fathers. Two fascinating links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dedovshchina http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thief_in_law#Ponyatiya so you can imagine what goes on in schools. And yes, on the other hand growing up in a textbook NY liberal community must be a lot easier in this regard. Most of Europe will be somewhere in between.

Against1: So, your argument is that bullying destroys your self-respect much more than any other way of achieving a low social rank, and this leads to self-hatred, which leads to fantasy escapism and typical nerd-neckbeard behaviors, which then adds up and results in the lack of socio-sexual success? Isn't it a job for Occam's razor?

Pro1: well, the argument is more like, whatever happens with you in your childhood is very important, boys tend to establish rank by bullying and fighting or even in the best case, by testing each others courage and masculinity by other means, daring each other to climb trees etc. My point is, not simply that bullying or even childhood bullying matters so much, my point is rather that bullying or courage tests in childhood make you realize the fact that indeed you are lacking in important masculine abilities like courage, fierceness or strength, so probably low prenatal T, and low social rank established via this cuts much deeper in a man's soul than simply low social rank because you are poor or get bad grades. It affirms you don't worth much as a man and this makes you hate yourself much more than simply internalizing that you are poor or something like that. This alone - such as the depressed T levels and general depression due to low social rank - could explain the suffering and lack of later socio-sexual success of nerds, but the fantasy-escapism as a coping method makes it worse. Without that, nerds, neckbeards would not be a noticable and much ridiculed type - without that, all you would see is that some guys are kind of sad and timid, but otherwise look and behave like all the other guys!

Against1: do you think anti-bullying policies could solve "neckbeards" for the next generation ?

Pro1: Trying to make people behave less cruel is ought to reduce the suffering of the victims and a good thing. Having said that, while this demographic I am talking about would suffer less victimization as a child, I am not entirely convinced they would end up with much less self-hatred and better socio-sexual success, thus less adult suffering.  Why? Because my thesis is not that victimization hurts, obviously it does, my thesis is that being truly, indeed, actually less masculine than other boys and having your nose rubbed into it so that you realize you are indeed not much of a man is what generates self-hatred, perhaps partially due to biology and partially to patriarchy, I don't know why. I mean, the bullies are ethically wrong, but truthfully right - they bully you because you are indeed weak, in emotion or body, and you hate yourself for being indeed, truly weak.  So for example something as light as not daring to climb a rope during gym class and the other boys giving you a contemptuous look could destroy your self-respect here, especially if afterwards you are interacted with as a low-rank social pariah. And this is not something the anti-bullying teachers can solve. Perhaps you can try to pressure boys to not judge each others for courage, not express it so, never treat anyone like a social outcast etc. but it would be a lot like trying to destroy their masculinity too, trying to destroy that competititve, dominant, judgemental spirit that is so strongly linked to testosterone. I don't think it can succeed and I don't think it would be ethical to try do so. This is what they are. You can teach them to express their views in less agressive ways, but human freedom means if you want to frown because you think another guys suck, you can. Nevertheless, still it is good to not tolerate bullies, it is better to force high-To boys to express their contempt in more civilized ways, to reduce the suffering of their victims, just don't expect it prevents later "nerd problems".

Against1: I am still not convinced other forms of discrimination or low social rank do not generate more self-hatred.

Pro1: Well, just look at those American blacks who are both poor and black, both giving them a lower social rank at school, and end up being gangsta-rappers or even criminal inmates, but still strong, tattooed, masculine as hell, really the opposite of neckbeards-nerds who typically have characteristics that are considered unmasculine. It seems you could be bullyed for many a thing, but apparently nerdiness, neckbeardery tends to be formed when it is specifically your lack of a masculine fighter spirit that made you a target.

Against1: Any ways to easily test all this?

Pro1: Yes. Ask your neckbeard friend to consent to a test that will not be physically harmful but may cause emotional triggering. Then pretend to slap or munch him in the face. Do you get a panicky, nervous reaction, like turtling up and blinking, or you get a "manly" one like leaning back and catching your hand? This predicts if he is used to fighting back, or used to getting beaten and not daring to fight.

The cure

How to fix all this? Well, I have found that some neckbeards have managed to fix themselves to a certain extent without really even planning to, via the following means:

- Career success giving you a certain sense of social rank and self-confidence. Being higher on the social ladder increases testosterone, which also gets you the feedback from others and yourself that you are less unmasculine now, which makes you hate yourself for being unmasculine less.

- During career, many neckbeards did the same thing as Eliezer and opted for a simple, easy smart-casual wardrobe and better groomed in a low-maintenance way. This improved feedback from others and thus their confidence.

- It seems sports, martial arts, to some extent even basic body building helped many a man.

- All this led to better self-acceptance.

But let's try to go deeper here.

Neckbeards need to find self-respect WHILE accepting they are intellectuals. The goal is neither to accept yourself the way you are - they way you currently are sucks - nor to hate yourself so much that you do not feel you deserve to be improved and thus projecting a false public image. The goal is to self-improve WHILE accepting you are an intellectual.

Step 1 is to realize that it is not intellectualism that makes people marginalized, ridiculed, and unable to find girlfriends. It is the lack of other skills than intellectual ones, largely, the lack of masculine virtues. Here the idea of a writer is a useful mental crutch: you as a neckbeard are probably a voracious reader, thinking you are made from the same material writers are made from is not entirely wrong, it is realistic, it is close enough to your real self or essence. As a voracious reader, you are as to writers what power users are to programmers. Close enough. It is not a fake persona for you if you make some writers your role models: you both are intellectuals in essence. And yes, sexy, masculine, socially and sexually succesful male writers exist: Richard Dawkins, Robert Heinlein, Albert Camus. Shaping yourself after them is both true to your real self and a way to improve yourself.

The basics are not hard.

- Sports (more about it later)

- Smart casual wardrobe, nice low maintenance haircut, facial hair probably to be completely avoided until you learn more about style. That is an advanced level milestone, postpone it.

- Dropping a nuke on your social shyness by joining Toastmasters - a writer should be able to give a speech on a podium? Toastmasters International (and the later is not just a name, they are in Europe etc. too) says on the can that they are about public speaking skills, which is true, but public speaking is simply the hardest kind of speaking for introverted, shy, or self-hating people, go through the Comm manual giving the 10 speeches, participate in table topics, and compared to that 1:1 socializing or chatting will be easy.

- One more thing you need to learn there, namely to develop a genuine interest in other people and not just obsessively talk about your interests to them, but also be interested in their stuff, or even in small talk. This is annoying,  but once you get a bit used to it, you realize that you are gaining validation from respectable looking people choosing to discuss the weather or similar stupid topics with you. If they "wasted" a minute or two on a worthless topic with you, then perhaps it is your own person that is not worthless for them. This helps with the self-hatred issue. Toastmasters tends to be very good at this. Old time members are happy to chat with newbies just about anything, because these meetings are marked as communicate, communicate, communicate in their calendar.

- Therapy, focusing on your childhood bullying for being perceived weak and cowardly, or general feedbacks about being less masculine. Well, this is one of the advices that is almost useless, because if you are the type of guy who goes to shrinks you have did it long ago and if you are the type who would not go near a shrink unless borderline suicidial you won't take this advice, but it simply had to be given, for the sake of my conscience more than for your benefit.

- So, back to sports. Yes, you need to get in shape. But also you need to convince your inner boy that you could not be bullied, beaten, your masculinity brutally challenged and your self humiliated and oppressed anymore. You need to compensate, and do it hard.  There are three schools of thought here. Many people recommend gym type body-building, weight-lifting. On one hand it is good, on the other hand it can make you feel fake: you feel you look like a fighter, but you feel you are still a timid, cowardly boy inside and it makes you feel faking it. It works better at 17, when you are more superficial, it does not work at 40.  A second school says martial arts, and indeed there are many a neckbeard in the local karate dojo, the issue is, that doing katas and kumite of the kind that stops at the first succesful hit is still not fighting. It is not going through figther moves that you need. It is to awaken a raw sense of masculinity in you, to face your fears and overcome them, and feel courage and fierceness. You need to get in touch with your inner animal a bit, and that is not karate. I recommend boxing. A light boxing sparring - done after about 6 months - is the closest thing to simulating someone really trying to beat you. Not at full force, but your opponent is really lauching a hundrend punches right in your face. This is why boxing has this rules. This is why it was a primary way to teach British intellectual boys to man up. It is not supposed to teach you street fighting techniques. It is supposed to help you conquer your fears and find your courage, your inner fierce animal with bared fangs, by focusing on the kinds of attacks that are most fearsome: punches right into your face. A grappling lock or MMA thigh kick may immobilize or hurt you, and they are effective at fighting, but they are not as effective at scaring people. This is the whole point. You need to get scared many times, until you learn courage. Boxing is courage training. And courage, not strength or skill, is what makes a man - and what makes an ex-unmanly-boy not hate himself.


Socially speaking, anti-bullying and reducing the worst aspects of toxic masculinity or highly patriarchical values should help but be careful! Natural born high-T bullies fly under the radar much more than bullied nerds who are trying to man up and thus doing spectacularly manly things. Do it the wrong way around, and you end up handicapping precisely those you are trying to help! Anyone who obsesses about guns, MMA or choppers, while wearing fatigues and Tapout tees are not the masculine bullies: they are the nerds trying to cope with not actually being or not having been masculine. While this is a questionable way to cope, it is not them you want to handicap, so if you want to fight toxic masculinity or patriarchy, do NOT focus on its lowest hanging fruits! The true bullies don't do these, they don't need to.

Virtue, group and individual prestige

0 DeVliegendeHollander 19 February 2015 02:55PM

Let's assume now that people respect other people who have or appear to have high levels of  virtue.  Let's also say that Alice has Level 10 virtue and for this reason she has Level X prestige in other people's eyes, purely based on her individual merits.

Now let's assume that Alice teams up with a lot of other people who have Level 10 virtue and form the League of Extraordinarily Virtuous People. How high a prestige would membership in the League would convey on its members? Higher or lower than X?

I would say, higher, for two reasons. You give Alice a really close look, and you judge her virtue levels must be somewhere around Level 10. However you don't trust your judgement very much and for that reason you discount a bit the prestige points you award to her. However, she was accepted into the League by other people who also appear to be very virtuous. This suggests your estimation was correct, and you can afford to award her more points. Every Well Proven Virtue a League member has increases the chance that the virtues of other members are not fake either or else he or she would not accept to be in the same League with them, and this increases the amount of prestige points you award to them.  Second, few people know Alice up close and personally. The bigger the distance, the less they know about her, her personal fame radiates only so far. But the combined fame of the League radiates much farther. Thus more people notice their virtuousness and award prestige points to them.

In other words, if virtuous people want to maximize the prestige points they have, it is a good idea for them to form famous groups with strict entry requirements.

And suddenly Yale class rings make sense now. They get more prestige for being a member of a group who is famous for having whatever virtues it takes to graduate from Yale, than the prestige they could get for simply having those virtues.

The flip side of it, if you want to motivate people to be more virtuous, and if you think prestige assigned to virtue is a good way to do that, encourage them to form famous groups with strict entry requirements.

One funny thing is that the stricter you make the entry requirements (base minimum level of virtue), the more prestige the group will _automatically_ get. You just design the entry test, basically the cost paid, but you don't need to design the reward, it is automatically happening! That is just handy.

Well, the whole thing is fairly obvious as long as the virtue in question is "studying your butt off". It is done all the time. This is what the term "graduated from a prestigious university" means. 

It is less obvious once the virtue in question is something like "stood up for the victims of injustice, even facing danger for it".

Have you ever wondered why the same logic is not done there? Find a moral cause. Pick out the people who support it the most virtuously, who took the most personal danger and the least personal benefit etc. make them examples and make them form an elite club. That club will convey a lot of prestige on its members. This suggests other people will take more pains to support that cause in order to get into that club.

Yet, it is not really done. What was the last time you saw strict entry requirements for any group or club or association related to any social cause? It is usually the opposite, making entry easy, just sign up for the newsletter here, which means it does not convey much prestige.

If there is anything that matters to you, not even necessarily a moral social cause, but just anything you wish more people done, just stop for a minute and think over if such high prestige famous elite groups with strict entry requirements should be formed with regard to that.

And now I don't understand why I don't see badges like "Top MIRI donator" beside usernames around here. Was the idea not thought before, or is it more like I am missing something important here?

It can also be useful to form groups of people who are virtuous at _anything_, putting the black-belt into the same group as the scholar or the activist who stood up against injustice. "Excel at anything and be one of us." This seems to be the most efficient prestige generator and thus motivator, because different people notice and reward with prestige points different kinds of virtues. If I respect mainly edge.org level scientists, if they are are willing to be in the same club as some political activist who never published science, I will find that activist curious, interesting and respectable.  That is partially why I toy with the idea of knightly orders.

Sidekick Matchmaking

7 diegocaleiro 19 February 2015 12:13AM

Thanks linkhyrule5 for suggesting this.  

Post your request for Sidekicks or your desire to be a sidekick in the comment section below. 

Send a personal message to your potential match to start communicating instead of replying in the thread, to save space and avoid biases, besides privacy. 

[edit] Mathias Zamman suggests some questions: 

Questions for both Heroes and Sidekicks (and Dragons, etc.)

  • Post a short description of yourself: personality, skills, general goals.
  • Where do you live?
  • How do you see the contact between the two of you going?
  • What you require in your counterpart: This can be a bit vague but it might be too hard to verbalize for some people

Questions for Heroes:

  • What is your goal?
  • Why are you a Hero?
  • Why do you require a Sidekick?
  • What specific tasks would a Sidekick perform for you?
  • What qualities would you not want in a Sidekick?

Questions for Sidekicks:

  • What sort of goals are you looking for?
  • Why are you Sidekick material?
  • Why do you require a Hero?
  • What sort of tasks could you do for a Hero?
  • What qualities don't you want in a Hero?

The Galileo affair: who was on the side of rationality?

35 Val 15 February 2015 08:52PM


A recent survey showed that the LessWrong discussion forums mostly attract readers who are predominantly either atheists or agnostics, and who lean towards the left or far left in politics. As one of the main goals of LessWrong is overcoming bias, I would like to come up with a topic which I think has a high probability of challenging some biases held by at least some members of the community. It's easy to fight against biases when the biases belong to your opponents, but much harder when you yourself might be the one with biases. It's also easy to cherry-pick arguments which prove your beliefs and ignore those which would disprove them. It's also common in such discussions, that the side calling itself rationalist makes exactly the same mistakes they accuse their opponents of doing. Far too often have I seen people (sometimes even Yudkowsky himself) who are very good rationalists but can quickly become irrational and use several fallacies when arguing about history or religion. This most commonly manifests when we take the dumbest and most fundamentalist young Earth creationists as an example, winning easily against them, then claiming that we disproved all arguments ever made by any theist. No, this article will not be about whether God exists or not, or whether any real world religion is fundamentally right or wrong. I strongly discourage any discussion about these two topics.

This article has two main purposes:

1. To show an interesting example where the scientific method can lead to wrong conclusions

2. To overcome a certain specific bias, namely, that the pre-modern Catholic Church was opposed to the concept of the Earth orbiting the Sun with the deliberate purpose of hindering scientific progress and to keep the world in ignorance. I hope this would prove to also be an interesting challenge for your rationality, because it is easy to fight against bias in others, but not so easy to fight against bias on yourselves.

The basis of my claims is that I have read the book written by Galilei himself, and I'm very interested (and not a professional, but well read) in early modern, but especially 16-17th century history.


Geocentrism versus Heliocentrism

I assume every educated person knows the name of Galileo Galilei. I won't waste the space on the site and the time of the readers to present a full biography about his life, there are plenty of on-line resources where you can find more than enough biographic information about him.

The controversy?

What is interesting about him is how many people have severe misconceptions about him. Far too often he is celebrated as the one sane man in an era of ignorance, the sole propagator of science and rationality when the powers of that era suppressed any scientific thought and ridiculed everyone who tried to challenge the accepted theories about the physical world. Some even go as far as claiming that people believed the Earth was flat. Although the flat Earth theory was not propagated at all, it's true that the heliocentric view of the Solar System (the Earth revolving around the Sun) was not yet accepted.

However, the claim that the Church was suppressing evidence about heliocentrism "to maintain its power over the ignorant masses" can be disproved easily:

- The common people didn't go to school where they could have learned about it, and those commoners who did go to school, just learned to read and write, not much more, so they wouldn't care less about what orbits around what. This differs from 20-21th century fundamentalists who want to teach young Earth creationism in schools - back then in the 17th century, there would be no classes where either the geocentric or heliocentric views could have been taught to the masses.

- Heliocentrism was not discovered by Galilei. It was first proposed by Nicolaus Copernicus almost 100 years before Galilei. Copernicus didn't have any affairs with the Inquisition. His theories didn't gain wide acceptance, but he and his followers weren't persecuted either.

- Galilei was only sentenced to house arrest, and mostly because of insulting the pope and doing other unwise things. The political climate in 17th century Italy was quite messy, and Galilei did quite a few unfortunate choices regarding his alliances. Actually, Galilei was the one who brought religion into the debate: his opponents were citing Aristotle, not the Bible in their arguments. Galilei, however, wanted to redefine the Scripture based on his (unproven) beliefs, and insisted that he should have the authority to push his own views about how people interpret the Bible. Of course this pissed quite a few people off, and his case was not helped by publicly calling the pope an idiot.

- For a long time Galilei was a good friend of the pope, while holding heliocentric views. So were a couple of other astronomers. The heliocentrism-geocentrism debates were common among astronomers of the day, and were not hindered, but even encouraged by the pope.

- The heliocentrism-geocentrism debate was never an ateism-theism debate. The heliocentrists were committed theists, just like  the defenders of geocentrism. The Church didn't suppress science, but actually funded the research of most scientists.

- The defenders of geocentrism didn't use the Bible as a basis for their claims. They used Aristotle and, for the time being, good scientific reasoning. The heliocentrists were much more prone to use the "God did it" argument when they couldn't defend the gaps in their proofs.


The birth of heliocentrism.

By the 16th century, astronomers have plotted the movements of the most important celestial bodies in the sky. Observing the motion of the Sun, the Moon and the stars, it would seem obvious that the Earth is motionless and everything orbits around it. This model (called geocentrism) had only one minor flaw: the planets would sometimes make a loop in their motion, "moving backwards". This required a lot of very complicated formulas to model their motions. Thus, by the virtue of Occam's razor, a theory was born which could better explain the motion of the planets: what if the Earth and everything else orbited around the Sun? However, this new theory (heliocentrism) had a lot of issues, because while it could explain the looping motion of the planets, there were a lot of things which it either couldn't explain, or the geocentric model could explain it much better.


The proofs, advantages and disadvantages

The heliocentric view had only a single advantage against the geocentric one: it could describe the motion of the planets by a much simper formula.

However, it had a number of severe problems:

- Gravity. Why do the objects have weight, and why are they all pulled towards the center of the Earth? Why don't objects fall off the Earth on the other side of the planet? Remember, Newton wasn't even born yet! The geocentric view had a very simple explanation, dating back to Aristotle: it is the nature of all objects that they strive towards the center of the world, and the center of the spherical Earth is the center of the world. The heliocentric theory couldn't counter this argument.

- Stellar parallax. If the Earth is not stationary, then the relative position of the stars should change as the Earth orbits the Sun. No such change was observable by the instruments of that time. Only in the first half of the 19th century did we succeed in measuring it, and only then was the movement of the Earth around the Sun finally proven.

- Galilei tried to used the tides as a proof. The geocentrists argued that the tides are caused by the Moon even if they didn't knew by what mechanisms, but Galilei said that it's just a coincidence, and the tides are not caused by the Moon: just as if we put a barrel of water onto a cart, the water would be still if the cart was stationary and the water would be sloshing around if the cart was pulled by a horse, so are the tides caused by the water sloshing around as the Earth moves. If you read Galilei's book, you will discover quite a number of such silly arguments, and you'll see that Galilei was anything but a rationalist. Instead of changing his views against overwhelming proofs, he used  all possible fallacies to push his view through.

Actually the most interesting author in this topic was Riccioli. If you study his writings you will get definite proof that the heliocentrism-geocentrism debate was handled with scientific accuracy and rationality, and it was not a religious debate at all. He defended geocentrism, and presented 126 arguments in the topic (49 for heliocentrism, 77 against), and only two of them (both for heliocentrism) had any religious connotations, and he stated valid responses against both of them. This means that he, as a rationalist, presented both sides of the debate in a neutral way, and used reasoning instead of appeal to authority or faith in all cases. Actually this was what the pope expected of Galilei, and such a book was what he commissioned from Galilei. Galilei instead wrote a book where he caricatured the pope as a strawman, and instead of presenting arguments for and against both world-views in a neutral way, he wrote a book which can be called anything but scientific.

By the way, Riccioli was a Catholic priest. And a scientist. And, it seems to me, also a rationalist. Studying the works of such people like him, you might want to change your mind if you perceive a conflict between science and religion, which is part of today's public consciousness only because of a small number of very loud religious fundamentalists, helped by some committed atheists trying to suggest that all theists are like them.

Finally, I would like to copy a short summary about this book:

Journal for the History of Astronomy, Vol. 43, No. 2, p. 215-226
In 1651 the Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Riccioli published within his Almagestum Novum, a massive 1500 page treatise on astronomy, a discussion of 126 arguments for and against the Copernican hypothesis (49 for, 77 against). A synopsis of each argument is presented here, with discussion and analysis. Seen through Riccioli's 126 arguments, the debate over the Copernican hypothesis appears dynamic and indeed similar to more modern scientific debates. Both sides present good arguments as point and counter-point. Religious arguments play a minor role in the debate; careful, reproducible experiments a major role. To Riccioli, the anti-Copernican arguments carry the greater weight, on the basis of a few key arguments against which the Copernicans have no good response. These include arguments based on telescopic observations of stars, and on the apparent absence of what today would be called "Coriolis Effect" phenomena; both have been overlooked by the historical record (which paints a picture of the 126 arguments that little resembles them). Given the available scientific knowledge in 1651, a geo-heliocentric hypothesis clearly had real strength, but Riccioli presents it as merely the "least absurd" available model - perhaps comparable to the Standard Model in particle physics today - and not as a fully coherent theory. Riccioli's work sheds light on a fascinating piece of the history of astronomy, and highlights the competence of scientists of his time.

The full article can be found under this link. I recommend it to everyone interested in the topic. It shows that geocentrists at that time had real scientific proofs and real experiments regarding their theories, and for most of them the heliocentrists had no meaningful answers.



- I'm not a Catholic, so I have no reason to defend the historic Catholic church due to "justifying my insecurities" - a very common accusation against someone perceived to be defending theists in a predominantly atheist discussion forum.

- Any discussion about any perceived proofs for or against the existence of God would be off-topic here. I know it's tempting to show off your best proofs against your carefully constructed straw-men yet again, but this is just not the place for it, as it would detract from the main purpose of this article, as summarized in its introduction.

- English is not my native language. Nevertheless, I hope that what I wrote was comprehensive enough to be understandable. If there is any part of my article which you find ambiguous, feel free to ask.

I have great hopes and expectations that the LessWrong community is suitable to discuss such ideas. I have experience with presenting these ideas on other, predominantly atheist internet communities, and most often the reactions was outright flaming, a hurricane of unexplained downvotes, and prejudicial ad hominem attacks based on what affiliations they assumed I was subscribing to. It is common for people to decide whether they believe a claim or not, based solely by whether the claim suits their ideological affiliations or not. The best quality of rationalists, however, should be to be able to change their views when confronted by overwhelming proof, instead of trying to come up with more and more convoluted explanations. In the time I spent in the LessWrong community, I became to respect that the people here can argue in a civil manner, listening to the arguments of others instead of discarding them outright.


Making a Rationality-promoting blog post more effective and shareable

1 Gleb_Tsipursky 16 February 2015 07:09PM

I wrote a blog post that popularizes the "false consensus effect" and the debiasing strategy of "imagining the opposite" and "avoiding failing at other minds." Thoughts on where the post works and where it can be improved would be super-helpful for improving our content and my writing style. Especially useful would be feedback on how to make this post more shareable on Facebook and other social media, as we'd like people to be motivated to share these posts with their friends. For example, what would make you more likely to share it? What would make others you know more likely to share it?

For a bit of context, the blog post is part of the efforts of Intentional Insights to promote rational thinking to a broad audience and thus raise the sanity waterline, as described here. The target audience for the blog post is reason-minded youth and young adults who are either not engaged with rationality or are at the beginning stage of becoming aspiring rationalists. Our goal is to get such people interested in exploring rationality more broadly, eventually getting them turned on to more advanced rationality, such as found on Less Wrong itself, in CFAR workshops, etc. The blog post is written in a style aimed to create cognitive ease, with a combination of personal stories and an engaging narrative, along with citations of relevant research and descriptions of strategies to manage one’s mind more effectively. This is part of our broader practice of asking for feedback from fellow Less Wrongers on our content (this post for example). We are eager to hear from you and revise our drafts (and even published content offerings) based on your thoughtful comments, and we did so previously, as you see in the Edit to this post. Any and all suggestions are welcomed, and thanks for taking the time to engage with us and give your feedback – much appreciated!


Does consciousness persist?

-10 G0W51 14 February 2015 03:52PM

Edit: the below paragraphs are wrong. See the comments for an explanation.


Some people believe that the consciousness currently in one's body is the "same" consciousness as the one that was in one's body in the past and the one that will be in it in the future, but a "different" consciousness from those in other bodies. In this post I dissolve the question.

The question is meaningless because the answer doesn't correspond to any physical state in the universe and in no way influences or is influenced by sensory experiences. If one's consciousness suddenly became a totally different one, we know of no quantum particles that would change. Furthermore, swapping consciousnesses would make no changes to what is perceived. E.g. if one agent perceives p and time t and p' at the next time t+1, and another agent perceives q at time t and q' at time t+1, then if their consciousnesses are "swapped," the percepts would still be identical: p and q will be perceived at time t, and p' and q' will be perceived at t+1. One could argue that the percepts did change because the consciousness-swapping changed what a particular consciousness at time t will perceive at t+1, but that presupposes that a future consciousness will be in some meaningful way the "same" consciousness as the current one! Thus, the statement that two consciousnesses are the same consciousness is meaningless.

Can you find any flaws in my reasoning?



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