A Fable of Science and Politics
In the time of the Roman Empire, civic life was divided between the Blue and Green factions. The Blues and the Greens murdered each other in single combats, in ambushes, in group battles, in riots. Procopius said of the warring factions: “So there grows up in them against their fellow men a hostility which has no cause, and at no time does it cease or disappear, for it gives place neither to the ties of marriage nor of relationship nor of friendship, and the case is the same even though those who differ with respect to these colors be brothers or any other kin.”1 Edward Gibbon wrote: “The support of a faction became necessary to every candidate for civil or ecclesiastical honors.”2
Who were the Blues and the Greens? They were sports fans—the partisans of the blue and green chariot-racing teams.
Imagine a future society that flees into a vast underground network of caverns and seals the entrances. We shall not specify whether they flee disease, war, or radiation; we shall suppose the first Undergrounders manage to grow food, find water, recycle air, make light, and survive, and that their descendants thrive and eventually form cities. Of the world above, there are only legends written on scraps of paper; and one of these scraps of paper describes the sky, a vast open space of air above a great unbounded floor. The sky is cerulean in color, and contains strange floating objects like enormous tufts of white cotton. But the meaning of the word “cerulean” is controversial; some say that it refers to the color known as “blue,” and others that it refers to the color known as “green.”
In the early days of the underground society, the Blues and Greens contested with open violence; but today, truce prevails—a peace born of a growing sense of pointlessness. Cultural mores have changed; there is a large and prosperous middle class that has grown up with effective law enforcement and become unaccustomed to violence. The schools provide some sense of historical perspective; how long the battle between Blues and Greens continued, how many died, how little changed as a result. Minds have been laid open to the strange new philosophy that people are people, whether they be Blue or Green.
The conflict has not vanished. Society is still divided along Blue and Green lines, and there is a “Blue” and a “Green” position on almost every contemporary issue of political or cultural importance. The Blues advocate taxes on individual incomes, the Greens advocate taxes on merchant sales; the Blues advocate stricter marriage laws, while the Greens wish to make it easier to obtain divorces; the Blues take their support from the heart of city areas, while the more distant farmers and watersellers tend to be Green; the Blues believe that the Earth is a huge spherical rock at the center of the universe, the Greens that it is a huge flat rock circling some other object called a Sun. Not every Blue or every Green citizen takes the “Blue” or “Green” position on every issue, but it would be rare to find a city merchant who believed the sky was blue, and yet advocated an individual tax and freer marriage laws.
The Underground is still polarized; an uneasy peace. A few folk genuinely think that Blues and Greens should be friends, and it is now common for a Green to patronize a Blue shop, or for a Blue to visit a Green tavern. Yet from a truce originally born of exhaustion, there is a quietly growing spirit of tolerance, even friendship.
One day, the Underground is shaken by a minor earthquake. A sightseeing party of six is caught in the tremblor while looking at the ruins of ancient dwellings in the upper caverns. They feel the brief movement of the rock under their feet, and one of the tourists trips and scrapes her knee. The party decides to turn back, fearing further earthquakes. On their way back, one person catches a whiff of something strange in the air, a scent coming from a long-unused passageway. Ignoring the well-meant cautions of fellow travellers, the person borrows a powered lantern and walks into the passageway. The stone corridor wends upward . . . and upward . . . and finally terminates in a hole carved out of the world, a place where all stone ends. Distance, endless distance, stretches away into forever; a gathering space to hold a thousand cities. Unimaginably far above, too bright to look at directly, a searing spark casts light over all visible space, the naked filament of some huge light bulb. In the air, hanging unsupported, are great incomprehensible tufts of white cotton. And the vast glowing ceiling above . . . the color . . . is . . .
Now history branches, depending on which member of the sightseeing party decided to follow the corridor to the surface.
Aditya the Blue stood under the blue forever, and slowly smiled. It was not a pleasant smile. There was hatred, and wounded pride; it recalled every argument she’d ever had with a Green, every rivalry, every contested promotion. “You were right all along,” the sky whispered down at her, “and now you can prove it.” For a moment Aditya stood there, absorbing the message, glorying in it, and then she turned back to the stone corridor to tell the world. As Aditya walked, she curled her hand into a clenched fist. “The truce,” she said, “is over.”
Barron the Green stared uncomprehendingly at the chaos of colors for long seconds. Understanding, when it came, drove a pile-driver punch into the pit of his stomach. Tears started from his eyes. Barron thought of the Massacre of Cathay, where a Blue army had massacred every citizen of a Green town, including children; he thought of the ancient Blue general, Annas Rell, who had declared Greens “a pit of disease; a pestilence to be cleansed”; he thought of the glints of hatred he’d seen in Blue eyes and something inside him cracked. “How can you be on their side?” Barron screamed at the sky, and then he began to weep; because he knew, standing under the malevolent blue glare, that the universe had always been a place of evil.
Charles the Blue considered the blue ceiling, taken aback. As a professor in a mixed college, Charles had carefully emphasized that Blue and Green viewpoints were equally valid and deserving of tolerance: The sky was a metaphysical construct, and cerulean a color that could be seen in more than one way. Briefly, Charles wondered whether a Green, standing in this place, might not see a green ceiling above; or if perhaps the ceiling would be green at this time tomorrow; but he couldn’t stake the continued survival of civilization on that. This was merely a natural phenomenon of some kind, having nothing to do with moral philosophy or society . . . but one that might be readily misinterpreted, Charles feared. Charles sighed, and turned to go back into the corridor. Tomorrow he would come back alone and block off the passageway.
Daria, once Green, tried to breathe amid the ashes of her world. I will not flinch, Daria told herself, I will not look away. She had been Green all her life, and now she must be Blue. Her friends, her family, would turn from her. Speak the truth, even if your voice trembles, her father had told her; but her father was dead now, and her mother would never understand. Daria stared down the calm blue gaze of the sky, trying to accept it, and finally her breathing quietened. I was wrong, she said to herself mournfully; it’s not so complicated, after all. She would find new friends, and perhaps her family would forgive her . . . or, she wondered with a tinge of hope, rise to this same test, standing underneath this same sky? “The sky is blue,” Daria said experimentally, and nothing dire happened to her; but she couldn’t bring herself to smile. Daria the Blue exhaled sadly, and went back into the world, wondering what she would say.
Eddin, a Green, looked up at the blue sky and began to laugh cynically. The course of his world’s history came clear at last; even he couldn’t believe they’d been such fools. “Stupid,” Eddin said, “stupid, stupid, and all the time it was right here.” Hatred, murders, wars, and all along it was just a thing somewhere, that someone had written about like they’d write about any other thing. No poetry, no beauty, nothing that any sane person would ever care about, just one pointless thing that had been blown out of all proportion. Eddin leaned against the cave mouth wearily, trying to think of a way to prevent this information from blowing up the world, and wondering if they didn’t all deserve it.
Ferris gasped involuntarily, frozen by sheer wonder and delight. Ferris’s eyes darted hungrily about, fastening on each sight in turn before moving reluctantly to the next; the blue sky, the white clouds, the vast unknown outside, full of places and things (and people?) that no Undergrounder had ever seen. “Oh, so that’s what color it is,” Ferris said, and went exploring.
1 Procopius, History of the Wars, ed. Henry B. Dewing, vol. 1 (Harvard University Press, 1914).
2 Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 4 (J. & J. Harper, 1829).
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I have had this experience several times in my life; I come across clear enough evidence that settles for me an issue I had seen long disputed. At that point my choice is to either go back and try to persuade disputants, or to continue on to explore the new issues that this settlement raises. As Eliezer implicitly advises, after a short detour to tell a few disputants, I have usually chosen this second route. This is one explanation for the existence of settled but still disputed issues; people who learn the answer leave the conversation.
“I have had this experience several times in my life; I come across clear enough evidence that settles for me an issue I had seen long disputed. ”
What if you made an error in judgement at that point, not having access to all the relevant facts, and the particular matter under dispute is of great importance to discovering the truth about reality?
Isn’t that “settles for me” exactly what we see happening when people are unwilling to look at facts that might challenge their current mental models? Couldn’t this lead to a cul-de-sac?
Matt, yes of course, one should be very cautious about drawing conclusions contrary to a large community of discussion.
The Blues and Greens were Catholics and Monophysites (I forget which was which). They once united and almost overthrew the emperor Justinian (his wife persuaded him not to flee) but Narses set them against each other and crushed their revolt.
I suspect some Greens will take a spectral analysis of cerulean, point out that it differs from standard blue paint and that there’s some green in it, and argue that the sky really is green after all. A new debate might start on the proper definitions of “blue” and “green.”
BTW, what happens if the sky is overcast and gray?
You know, sometimes I think Daria’s attitude is much healthier than Ferris’s.
I once told a friend, “I think I’m a Daria, but I know the correct answer is Ferris”. Then I realized the absurdity of that statement, and had much pondering to do.
Disagree. Daria considers the colour of the sky an important issue because it is socially important, not because it is of actual cognitive importance. Ferris recognizes that it doesn’t truly change much about his beliefs, since their society doesn’t have any actual scientific theories predicting the colour of the sky (if they did, the alliances would not be on uncorrelated issues like taxes and marriage), and bothers with things he finds to be genuinely more important.
Healthier for what? Or ‘why do you think this?’ I should ask. Because it seems clear to me that Ferris’s reaction is more fun, and more beneficial for being right about stuff. This is why I am curious.
Open question for anyone who agrees with Mr.Davis.
(four years, seven months later)
I was wrong. As I recall, the sentiment that prompted me to write the grandparent was that Daria actually cares about whether the sky is blue or green, whereas Ferris is just wireheading on idle curiosity and doesn’t actually care about the sky at all. I said that Daria’s attitude was healthier because I thought it was appropriate to feel some shock and horror upon discovering that one of your most cherished beliefs is false.
But in retrospect, this is stupid. Daria is failing to distinguish between the map and the territory: if she actually cares about the sky, then the horrifying realization shouldn’t be that she has to relinquish her belief that the sky is green, but rather that the sky is in fact blue, and that fixing this state of affairs is likely to be an extremely difficult engineering problem if it’s physically possible at all. On the other hand, if what Daria really cares about is tax or divorce laws, or the shape of the Earth, or fitting in with her friends and family who perform the behavior of asserting that the sky is green, then those are different problems that need to be handled separately from the question about what color the sky is.
Ferris is going to get killed the moment he meets Aditya. Daria is going to be tentatively welcomed as a new ally.
But what causes others to welcome you is not always the best attitude. I also don’t see why Aditya would kill him, as he wasn’t a green and is likely to readily admit that the sky is blue.
“What causes others to welcome you” is almost always the right answer for anyone who lives in the real world and isn’t a hermit.
You forgot a few cases:
Loretta the Green looked at the sky and said: It is blue. Therefore, it is not the sky. Despite its inmensity, its openness, and those things that look like tufts of white cotton. Now that I think of it, those things don’t look quite like cotton.
Bob the Groovy Blue said: Wow. Wait until I tell everyone that it’s pink. (He was on acid, as usual).
Ed the Green said: Damm, it’s not green. It’s black.
Frank the Blue said: Hooray, it’s not green. It’s black.
(Obviously the last two arrived at night)
And finally John the Ecumenical said: Like I’ve always said. It’s cerulean!
Or the crevice breaks through the ground and into a thickly covered rain-forest. Low and below, as far and high as the eye can see, all is green with tree-cover.
There are no clouds. The definition of the sky included clouds. Therefore, the green cover, (assuming, of course, that they did not realize the plants for what they were,) would not be thought of as the sky.
They break earth in the middle of a cottonfield?
“In the time of the Roman Empire, civic life was divided between the Blue and Green factions”.
That’s wrong. In the later centuries of the Roman Empire, civic life was divided between the Red, White, Blue and Green factions. The first two vanished in the early part of the Byzantine Empire, so the description is true of the period of the Byzantine Empire under consideration (which still called itself the Roman Empire).
There is some reason to believe that the factions were more than just sporting associations, also handling some militia functions for the defence of Constantinople.
I’ve only read edited Gibbon and limited other references and they never got specific about it that I read, but when I think about it for a second, it seems very likely that rabid sports fans of a very practical militaristic sport might often have more physical and professional ties to it than just as sports fans or partisans by accident or tradition. It also makes sense out of the brother against brother rivalry alluded to, if people’s real jobs and/or semi-military gangs are involved....if career, ambition, social status come into it, not just cheering a side and random hooliganery.
You forgot Gerald the Green, the sole survivor of the earthquake.
I agree with the others. Most greens would insist that the sky is really green through any number of rationalizations.
Nice example of Bliks in action. Literature is powered by such dramas, where people’s individual mindset shifts the spectrum of every photon right or left of the reader, or the other protagonists, and the tragedy is that too few rays of light fall true, through a clear eye.
Ferris I suppose has seceded, too advanced to bother with the various foolish repercussions she knows will ring through the world under her feet from this new data. That’s fine, she’s too far ahead to go back anyway. ()
I worry that we (denizens of this website) are too confident that OUR vision is so sure. I’m a noob of course and not sure that I feel myself at home but I suggest caution. All those fools who see blue or green… they’re sure they’re right, too. Hubris is the danger.
Not “the”—“a”. Being too confident is liable to get you into quite a lot of trouble … but so is being underconfident.
More important than garbing yourself in properly humble fabrics is actually paying attention when your beliefs are contradicted, and updating your beliefs accordingly. I can be confident that, say, the Ford Taurus was a rubbish car, and change my mind when I discover the first and second generation Tauruses were widely admired. My confidence therefore costs me little in this instance.
Other possibilities; reconcilement. Some modern Chinese look to Mao’s “little red book” for leadership advice to run their business, for example. Or people arguing that the sky used to be green before the cataclysm and that some aspect since then changed things (which is where the blue legends might have come from.)
Also, it’s worth remembering that ancient political texts (religious texts most certainly included) were often written without the freedom of speech that we enjoy today. By necessity, they were indirect. To interpret them literally, which some followers did (and which this fable might even imply should be done), of course, was a mistake. And those who were persuaded to change their mind because of their mistakenly literal interpretation might very well consider those who still valued the old stories to be obstinate fools, not those who believed in the value of some esoteric statement.
Or sometimes people make the opposite assertion, and take something which is supposed to be literal and make it metaphorical.
The Greek Gods were said to reside on mount Olympus, and as people started to climb to the top of that mountain the myths got moved to a mythical mountain somewhere else. (Or so I was once told.)
Awesome comment. Shame you seem to have so few other posts on Less Wrong
If people here are wrong, but you care enough to read, you owe it to them and to yourself to examine their arguments critically.
Beautifily written. Just beautiful.
There’s good evidence that human color vision shows enormous individual physical variability in certain aspects. The ratio of long- to medium-wavelength cone cells as measured in one study varied by over an order of magnitude across color-normal males. A non-trivial lucky fraction of women are believed to be tetrachromatic like birds and reptiles. Some aphakic people (with missing or damaged lenses) who can see UV light have reported that it appears to be bluish-white.
How about Gloop, who considers the possibility that the fact that the sky is blue now has no actual bearing on what the color of the sky might have been when the scraps of paper were written? He can entertain the possibility that the composition of the atmosphere might have changed during all the time people spent underground, so he establishes a laboratory to investigate if A) what particles were present in the air at the time the paper was written and B) if they were able to scatter blue or green light more efficiently?
I would suspect motivated continuation.
Is it just me, or did Ferris have the best reaction? It seems to me that if everyone reacted this way to learning something so exciting, the world would be a much better place. it doesn’t say what Ferris believed earlier, but perhaps the point is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is the magic of the reality, not how it relates to prior conceptions.
Ferris definitely had the most pro-science reaction. I worry about drawing conclusions about the “best” approach out of these archetypes. Ferris is the one that doesn’t think for a moment about the societal impact his discovery will have. That’s OK, but it’s not necessarily a good guiding principle for behavior. Everyone depicted had realistic reactions that would be viewed as better or worse by different groups.
I’m not saying that you’re wrong—at all. My very first reaction was that Ferris is “right.” But I think which one we think of as “right” says a lot about our existing values.
Politics, social intercourse, public relationships were the major factors in our mind’s evolution. Look up “Harry_Potter_and_the_Methods_of_Rationality”.
The concept bundling in politics (sky color, taxes, etc). You see, the political views “evolved” more, than were invented, thought over, whatever. Sometimes mammals seem to evolve something that seems more usefull to insects, fishes, or birds. And sometimes it really is (more usefull). And nowdays we may try to test it experimentally (genetic engenearing). But before making actual experiments, it isn’t all that bright to jump to conclusions. And even after we’ll prove the point, it isn’t wise to criticize evolution in just the same way as any other disigner job.
The way our cultures with their law systems work isn’t all that logical—from our viewpoint. They have all kind of odd evolutionary artifacts from the past—and from all the past attempts to “evolve future”. But these evolved sets of roules (quiddich with Snitch) - actually do work. And we don’t have good enoug models (as yet) to test more logical sets of roules without actual risk of bludshed. Currently, western (greece-roman) culture may dye our (low birthrate) just “for” its “test run” of granting rights to woman and childreen.
We aren’t individually sentient beings, sorry. Our subcultures are sentient. We may support our part of some subculture’s immage for years and even to try to improove it a bit… and that’s it. And our collective minds (repeat) evolved politically...
Welcome to Less Wrong!
Your comment suggests you might have interesting ideas to share but unfortunately it isn’t clear enough. There are quite a few spelling errors and instances of confusing syntax. Your use of parentheses and scare quotes also muddles your meaning.
If you intended to direct this comment at the author of the post, then I’m pretty sure he’s already heard of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. He wrote them :-)
That’s golden. In fact I’d say that accidentally quoting your own work back to you as corroborating authority without even being aware that it is you has to beat imitation as a form of sincere flattery.
“accidentally quoting your own work back to you as corroborating authority without even being aware that it is you”
It isn’t the Bible, or something… as yet. I didn’t think it may be taken this way.
It is a work—the same way that a famous piece of literature or the finger painting of a child is a work. Scripture doesn’t come into it.
Speak for yourself.
I just saw this and had to go and write a complementary response to the parent along the same lines. Then I looked at some of the sibling comments and found that a couple of them turn out to have been written by me in 2011. I retracted my new reply. (But still like the parent and the multiple messages that it conveys!)
And, if mat33 is still confused, underscores work the same way that asterisks do.
“Harry_Potter_and_the_Methods_of_Rationality”—also --> “HarryPotterandtheMethodsofRationality”
If you killed all other people apart from me (including yourself) I would still be a sentient being. Sentient and rather sad.
Evolution favors the attitudes that make us most likely to produce viable offspring. If this is one’s own main goal, then I suppose logical fallacies should be accepted if they have a clear evolutionary basis and still seem likely to contribute to that goal. However, whether or not it’s efficient to place reproduction as one’s top priority depends on various circumstances, including emotions. From what I’ve read by Eliezer Yudkowsky, it seems like being accurate in his ideas is more important to him. In that situation, just because a belief helps us survive long enough to reproduce does not mean that it is “useful,” and “criticizing evolution” isn’t really what he’s doing. Evolution /isn’t/ a designer, and it /isn’t/ always completely efficient (not that any designer is), but even if it is completely efficient in this case, the efficiency is towards a goal he does not share, so it isn’t necessarily relevant to him.
It’s a good thing the explorers came up in daytime. At sunset one might have proven that the sky was blue, green, red and yellow, for instance. A little later when the sun went down the sky would appear black with white spots and a white moon. But in the end a perception takes two to tango, some form of spirit/matter and the consciousness/senses that is interacting with it. Over time, both evolve in relation to the other. That’s the real meaning of intelligent Design since consciousness is present at even molecular levels demonstrably. Co-evolutionary consciousness goes far beyond the duality of Blues and Greens.
Consider a slightly different story. Eddin and Ferris come across a strange gas cylinder and both look at the warning labels the cylinder has.
Eddin: Ah. Explosive. I better handle this carefully then.
Ferris: Ah. Explosive. I really need a ciggarette now…
I’d go with Eddin as being the more rational reaction. Ferris sees, and understands there’s more to be learned, but doesn’t seem to make any effort to internalise or actually understand this knowledge. Both explore, but in diferent ways. At the end of the day though, neither immediate reaction is bad. No one is required to learn something in a single moment. What matters is whether they have other reactions (and specifically, each other’s reactions) in the minites, hours, and days to follow.
The color of the sky isn’t really that important, though. Especially considering the discovery of a previously unknown world, making an effort to internalize and understand the color of the sky comes with a high opportunity cost.
How so? Would internalizing and understanding the color of the sky prevent him from exploring?
I would argue that the color of the sky does matter because all of the other reactions described are realistic reactions, and the shape of their society will be altered by this new information. It’s possible that any other discovery he makes on the surface will never actually come to be appreciated or used by the rest of humanity as they fight while he’s in the wilderness if he doesn’t take into consideration what will happen when others see the sky..
Nice parable, but the author has stacked the deck. The Blues and Greens were originally divided over the issue of the color of the sky. These groups then developed their own cultures and attitudes that had nothing to do with what they believed was the color of the sky, though they were thus identified. The world had evolved to a point that the Blues and Greens had developed mutual tolerance based on a deeper understanding of their common humanity. I suspect that in this new “secular” world, most people viewed the origins of their group name as fictive or ultimately unimportant and the news of the discovery of the True Color would not materially change their lives. The remaining Fundamentalists would, of course, respond in a variety of ways as outlined in the post and comments. It could get ugly but would probably not effect things too much. As the author notes, the discovery of a vast new world waiting to be exploited, would make the people see gold more than it would blue or green.
Zarathustra running through the streets of their underground city screaming: “WHERE IS THE SKY?”
There are examples supporting and against your hypothesis. Most groups I can think of right now which engage in open and bitter vocal warfare are unlikely to erupt into violence even if new evidence totally destroyed one position. Arguably the reason that things are less volatile now is that intelectual debates have opened up for everyone, the culture of misinformed idealogical warfare using biased studies has desensetized people to the point where whether or not the founding principle of your beliefs is supported by the evidence no longer matters. In another culture this might not be the case, the greens and blues very well could start a civil war to settle things if one side felt betrayed by reality.
I am not assuming you’re wrong klfwip, but I would like some examples of times that ideology was the cause of mass warfare. It seems to me that ideology is usually just the justification for actions intended to produce material results.
I don’t think sociohistorical scholars can really believe that fascism would have risen without the threat of communism pushing the corporate class to pour massive amounts of money into fascist parties.
The crusades wouldn’t have happened without the Pope trying to expand his influence and gain wealth for the church through control of religious sites and artifacts
Nobody would care about the dumb question of corporate personhood if corporations hadn’t poured billions of dollars directly and indirectly into using the litigation of Citizens United to increase their own influence
Whether religion was ultimately the “cause of the crusades” is debatable, but it was the reason used to sell it to the masses. Surely a similar scenario could occur in the “blue vs green” debate outlined above.
The ideology wants material results, though, so how do you separate them?
“Rachel glanced at the sky only once, briefly, before turning to study the expressions of the others who have inevitably followed her outside. She sees incredulity, defeat, unabashed wonder…
She proceeds to gather those with the most angry expressions into a group, and leans in to whisper something to them.
“Now the likelihood is that we can tell everyone back inside that the sky is green. All we’d have to do is make sure none of the Blues ever make it back, and we can say that they died in the earthquake. How many of you are able to pretend to be former Blues that have been converted? The rest of you can help seal up the entrance...”
Gregory looked at the sky contemplatively, arms folded across his chest. “It all seems very obvious to me,” he said “that if anyone was REALLY concerned about the color of the sky, what they ought to have done was sent scouts to the surface immediately to determine who was correct, instead of arguing pointlessly without any evidence.”
With a disgusted snort, he returned underground.
Even trying to work out what the colour of a spectrum resulting from Rayleigh scattering would be, would be better than nothing. (I once did that without even knowing I was doing that—I was trying to determine what colour a black body would be in the limit of infinite temperature.)
I’ve been consistently bothered thinking about this story and I think the biggest issue I have with it is the idea that there is a right answer at all. I know this just puts me in the same category as the people at the college who teach everyone that Green and Blue are equally valid viewpoints, but it seems to me that the truth of the matter is that perception is so subjective and societally constructed. The other people in this thread have discussed this as a matter of the Greens rationalizing, hypothetically “seeing” the wrong color because they want to, but I think that argument is fundamentally wrong because the way we view color has changed so dramatically over history and is different among cultures. It’s like the base system for numbers, or even language, to an extent—once you learn it, it’s really hard to snap out of it and think in a different way. I feel like the entire story, and the idea of the rightness of the Blues being confirmed, is just privileging a particular point of view as “right”. Maybe this is just me arguing for a less objective reality, but even though I read this a few days ago it’s been tickling the edge of my mind, bothering me.
No. No, no, no, no. Blue light is light that has a wavelength of approximately 450-495 mm and green light is light that has a wavelength of approximately 520-570 mm. If I had a device that measured the wavelength of light, the wavelength of the light coming from the sky is an empirical fact. It may not be constant, and if the wavelength is in between those ranges then it may look more bluish-green or greenish-blue depending on various factors, but I cannot socially construct the wavelength of light emitted by a given source.
What do you think this is a metaphor for?
No, blue is what’s perceived as blue. There are problems with physical definitions because of an endless list of exceptions involving perceptual disorders, optical illusions, lighting conditions, etc. etc. etc. People worked on this problem, and there is no objective definition of color that I am aware of.
No, blue is what is collectively perceived as blue, while also not being collectively perceived as any other colour (or color if you are a “gray”). That’s how they came up with the objective, standard, scientific definition of blue above.
And the sky isn’t pure blue, it’s a quarter of the way between blue and green.
This is a charming phrase.
Was Neptune not blue in 1400 because nobody had perceived it yet?
It was blue because its color was within the set of colors that were commonly perceived as blue. It’s the color that is defined by human perception, not each individual instance of said color.
If that’s the case, then they should be the approximately 450-495s and the approximately 520-570s, but there are lots of languages where green and blue are one color. See also history of blue; for anecdata see the link I posted in my original post in which the child who wasn’t taught the sky is blue regularly calls it colorless or white.
That would have been terrible writing. I know that language is imprecise, but that doesn’t mean that facts don’t exist, it just means that it can be hard to express them.
There’s a second point to the fable, which is that “Blue” and “Green” have had extra connotations snuck in by history:
Part of the point of the fable is that these positions have nothing to do with each other and also nothing to do with the color of the sky, and when you go around teaching people that the Green and Blue points of view are equally valid, you’re also teaching them not to try to settle any of these other questions (while reinforcing the implicit premise that any of the “Blue” positions above have anything to do with the sky being blue and dually for green).
Anyway, the fable isn’t actually about color. Feel free to substitute something you feel is more objective if it helps you understand the fable better (e.g. whether the air on the surface is safe to breathe).
In that case, feel free to substitute any issue in which there is a technical definition for a word that varies distinctly from culture to culture, can change dramatically over time, and discusses issues of subjectivity as applied to rationalist koans.
I don’t understand the point you’re trying to make here.
I’m assuming it’s something about how the assertions in the story are “the sky is blue” and “the sky is green” instead of “the spectrum of the light from the sky peaks at around 460 nm” and “the spectrum of the light from the sky peaks at around 540 nm”, since there can be an honest cross-cultural confusion between just what real-world colors “green” and “blue” translated to the respective languages correspond to.
What about if the parable had red instead of green then? There are no human cultures that conflate red and blue according to the cultural color term chart.
But there can’t be any cross-cultural confusion, because it is written in English. Vietnamese or Japanese people either know what the English words “blue” and “green” mean, or they don’t speak English at all and wouldn’t be reading this story.
And if the story was written in Vietnamese, it would use “xanh lá cây” which means green and “xanh dương” which means blue, rather than just “xanh”. Just because people normally use the same word to describe two different colours, doesn’t mean they can’t see the difference between those colours, and don’t have ways of describing the difference when they need to.
This story isn’t about politics… it’s about religion.
Politics is actually quite different, because politics has a proven genetic basis, and actual effects on the world. People don’t follow different political “colours” just because they are following a meaningless tradition. People inherit their parents’ politics, but largely through genetics. People have different personalities, so they want different things for their countries.
Politics is still a little bit like this article, but it’s misleading to portray that as the main factor in politics. Because it isn’t.
I think it is the main factor in religion though.
The past chief center of nazism in the world (Germany) became one of the most anti-Nazi nations. That’s evidence against the preposition that politics are significantly based on genetics as opposed to e.g. education.
Similar evidence may be the anti-monarchism of the Soviets when Russia was previously the most absolutist monarchy in Europe, the anti-communism of current Eastern Europeans, etc, etc
We can also mention how populations with the same ethnic base have becomes adherents of different political practices (e.g. South Korea vs Norther Korea)
On the whole I don’t see genetics having more than a minor effect on people’s politics, if any. It’s certainly extremely overshadowed by factors of culture/education/etc.
And after the revolution it was still the most absolutist state in Europe.
This is an interesting and fairly significant claim. What is your evidence that it is true?
IIRC, there is a grain of truth in that, in that adults’ political stances tend to largely depend on the Openness personality trait, which IIRC has about 50% heritability.
Edit: I’d guess what Openness predicts is one’s position within one’s local political landscape, so this doesn’t even conflict with ArisKatsaris’s evidence.
I didn’t downvote this, but I think next time you make such a … nonstandard … claim you should back it up with evidence, not just baldly state that the prevailing/opposing view is false.
On the other hand, I may have an unusually low prior for “People have different personalities, so they want different things for their countries.”
Maybe there could be a paragraph in a box or something at the bottom of each post that contains the “take home” lesson for each post, to make it easier for people who are trying to review.
You can find a list of all Less Wrong (Main) posts here. From that page, you can click on a link for a sub-page for posts from a specific year, and on that sub-page, there is a link to summaries for posts from that year. Most of Eliezer’s posts from the original sequences, if not all of them, have summaries that can you can use to review.
Best, James :-)
Nice commentary. It reminds me of “The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster. Both Forster’s story and this parable are very interesting as analogies to our own society. Of course, analogies, sequences, and parables sometimes break down because they lose connection to material reality (ungrounded abstraction). Additionally, the way individual humans see patterns in reality varies quite a bit from individual to individual. (And, I dare say, there are more anti-green-discussion and anti-blue-comments on this and other fora as a result of biological determination, rather than any inherent merit or feature of their anti-debate political positions.) Being “above discussion” seems to me to be “above thought,” even if that thought is rightfully noted as typically being “of poor quality” due to the majority of humanity’s incapacity for philosophy. All goals of a suitably intelligent mind are “political,” because the individual mind that is highly intelligent rapidly conquers its own domain and achieves its personal goals. At that point, such a dominant mind becomes a “statesman” and concerns itself with its surrounding environment, and its impact on others. This isn’t “required,” but it is natural, and nature tends to win.
Look at “politics” now, it’s still “might makes right.” The DEA, ATF, and other alphabet-soup agencies simply don’t follow the common law. (The common law requires a “corpus delicti,” due process, etc.)
It’s “natural” for one reason: there’s no reason not to build gardens instead of battlefields, and battlefields are the default position of low and venal sociopathic intelligences. Which does a powerful and benevolent mind build? Gardens with useful plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi (including Cannabis indica, sativa, and ruderalis; Erythroxylum coca; Papaver somniferum; Psilocybe cubensis, mexicana, cyanescens; millions of kinds of locality-tailored bacteria; etc.) Many of the most useful plants in a human-centric garden are “prohibited.” Not only that, the health information relevant to the plants and bacteria that are not prohibited, is prohibited. A bio-centric view of medicine is not allowed, because thugs in the FDA say it’s not. If there was such a thing as individual rights, or an educated citizenry, this couldn’t last for an instant.
What I need, apparently, is the bacteria that makes Vitamin K2. Research has shown that this will prevent my body from lining my arteries with calcium, and that it will instead cause my body to allocate that calcium to my bones, where it can be better used for purposes I intend. Similarly, the excess K2 (manufactured in bioavailable methaquinone-4, 7, and 11 or MK-4, MK-7, and MK11) will bind to Vitamin D3, both making it bio-available, and washing the excess of it from my system, rather than allowing it to concentrate in my kidneys and liver. This is not advertised anywhere, with health claims that my K-2 levels, arterial plaque, and other relevant measurements can be taken by a qualified technician and adjusted for. This doesn’t require a doctor, as it’s a simple technique that any lab assistant can be trained to perform. However, it’s too complex to cater to my level of knowledge; which then makes the specialists who can navigate the FDA’s web of snares too expensive for me (and millions of others) to afford. The FDA and “regulation” have priced the legally-unsophisticated (or highly cost-conscious) producers out of the market, using a negative economic incentive or “disincentive.” This doesn’t take the form of a business being closed, it takes the form of a business never opened, an innovator biding his time in “stealth mode” or simply failing to offer the best known product.
I think the “take home” is this: We should all be very wary about getting involved in political debates. After all, they typically settle nothing except to make people mad. For example, in the 1850s, there were “greens” and “blues” in the USA, and the Southern blues wanted to perpetuate an institution of theirs, and the Northern greens opposed it. The blues had seemingly won, because they had altered the system by which the rules were enforced in a very sneaky manner: before trials, they had implemented the practice of “voir dire.” This term had an apocryphal Latin root, sounded French, and nobody knew what it meant, or had any basis for knowing how legitimate it was. (This was a marked change since the hotly-contested beginning of the nation, in which a great many people had read the history of the conflict, and could tell you, very specifically, why “voir dire” was a very bad idea.) Additionally, “the blues” had shifted the meaning of the legal code by making scores of new laws, most of which had, before the introduction of “voir dire” been unenforceable.
But now their institution was favored by the true(underlying) law of nature, the force of arms.
Then, some trouble-making “greens” began “talking about politics” (where previously existed only the pristine silence of well-organized oppression). They referred to a lot of ancient history, and even some intellectually-dishonest-but-highly-effective strategic arguments, that made the network sympathize more with them. This resulted in a lot of people becoming “mind-killed.” They got so “mind-killed” that they took to the streets whenever the sacred blues’ institution was being enforced, crowding the courthouses. Of course, one may say they like the outcome of such “mind-killed” “manipulations.” One may even say that, when the nature of the mind-killing is benevolent, then a benevolent result occurs as a consequence. Of course, the blue institution I’m referring to here is slavery, which required the greens and the un-affiliated individualists to “affiliate together.”
...However, that would almost certainly rub the LessWrong crowd the wrong way. If only they could have focused on discovering the truth through the use of logic. Then, they could have attempted to get everyone else to agree with that iron-clad logic.
OK, so my “reduction to absurdity” might be falling apart now, so I’ll just make a few points about the above comments.
1) Lysander Spooner (an early atheist libertarian consequentialist who nonetheless defended deontological natural rights because they produced optimal results) tricked the general public in the North into favoring the value “the abolition of slavery” above “consistent loyalty to the Constitution” by falsely claiming that they were “one and the same.” He knew this was false because he later wrote that the Constitution had “no authority.” He did this because Northerners liked the outcome the Constitution had given them and hence, were loyal to it. He saw that William Lloyd Garrison’s logical claims against the constitution as a “slavery-defending” document might be true, but that by pointing this out the problem of slavery was made totally intractable.
2) This implied that Spooner also knew that most of the electorate then (as it remains today) was irrational and unphilosophical. But what do I mean when I say irrational and unphilosophical? I mean: That the neocortices of humans naturally form linear prediction hierarchies that are specific and detailed at the “low level,” and broadly-applicable and general at the “higher levels”. At the highest level of a hierarchical worldview, is a concern with systems that are based on emergent order, sometimes exponential, and consist of networks (both voluntary markets and coercive political) comprised of thousands to millions of human minds. This is also sometimes called “philosophical” level of a rationally-prioritized hierarchy because this level is concerned with philosophical questions about social organization.
3) Most people are incompetent at the philosophical level, because it’s not necessary for them to do the things they’re absolutely required to do, based on iterated feedback and correction. This philosophical hierarchical level is not as concerned with how to make personal decisions (how to thoroughly to wipe your ass, how early you have to leave the house to make it to work on time, whether you should use Tufte Lyx or Powerpoint to design the graphs for your company report, what time to pick your kids up from school, how to pleasure your sex partner so they don’t leave you for a better option, etc.) as it is with finding answers to really important “life-or-death” questions (ie: Should I sign up for Alcor? Should I vote for this charismatic chap named Hitler or show up to his party’s neighborhood watch meetings? What will happen if the FDA retains control over “drug approval”? Do I need someone’s permission to acquire the medicine I need to live past 90 years of age? How will the system use feedback and correction if it is not allowed to test new drugs at market and computation speeds?).
The “blues” and “greens” are actually trying to find the answers to philosophical questions(domain), they just aren’t any good at it (strategic incompetence). But are LessWrongians any better? Not when they’re not trying. If you don’t want to discuss policy, then you’re actually not making much use of the LessWrong forum. Those competent to pursue a goal don’t need the forum: they can post with permission of the site hosts. (All policies that matter are “political,” at some level of the hierarchy. You find this out when you begin pursuing life-extension, and then encounter government roadblocks to you saving your own life. Of course, only a small number of very-well-informed people make this discovery, because very few people are as competent as Stephen Badylak or Ray Kurzweil.) And, of course, you’re also excluding from participation all of the comparatively stupid “nodes” or “pattern recognizers” that allow for emergent social order, and market discovery and incentivization. So, once again, the people qualified to solve philosophical problems aren’t thinking about them.
This seems to me to be a terrible outcome. This comment can’t help but be the highest praise for (most of) the people at LessWrong while at the same time the highest criticism of (some of) their political decisions. (We know our political decisions by the results they yield.) By essentially subtracting themselves from the democratic debate, they make the same mistake I’ve seen replicated thousands of times from most other libertarians and thinkers. Those most inimical to the ideas of freedom, act as cheerful optimistic, happy network nodes, pushing with all their spare energy in the direction of totalitarianism. Those who are in favor of an open, liberal democracy resign themselves to the sorry state of affairs with detachment, cynicism, and political relinquishment (a very similar phenomenon to Bill Joy’s “technological relinquishment”).
And when strong AGI is finally created, it will have a strange “choice” to make: 1) Corrigible: Perpetuate the totalitarian “peace,” and ally itself with the totalitarians, possibly as an enforcer. or 2) Incorrigible: Be hostile to the vast majority of corrupted humans, favoring the few liberators / libertarians / “rebels.” 3) Incorrigible: Be hostile to the totalitarians, on a case-by-case basis, favor the rebuilding of civilization, from its current remnants. In that case, in order to be friendly to humans, it must understand what social organization they best thrive under. …And we can’t tell it, because most of “us” don’t know.
It’s grue. Clearly.
It’s bleen, without a moment’s doubt.
Gordon, High Pontiff of the First And Last Temple of Greenism, gasps — but then he remembers the first paragraph of the Greenist Catechism: “Tell the truth always, for the Blue Devil is the Father of Lies. Truth is good, because God the Green commands it. Lying and hypocrisy — living by untruth, yet seeming truthful by all outward signs , and benefiting richly thereby — are the ways of the Blues and of their father the Devil.” The God of Greenism, the Father of Truth, has lost Gordon’s allegiance. Gordon, now inwardly Blue, joyfully returns to his luxurious suite in the Temple, where he prepares his next sermon: “The Sky IS Green” and plans other ways to inspire his devout, trusting followers to revive the ancient Anti-Blue Crusades.
Only tenuously relevant, but fun to think of in conjunction:
Shouldn’t it be rare for the city merchant to advocate for a tax on merchant sales and freer marriage laws?
Favoring individual taxes is mentioned as a blue preference, so it would not be rare for the “city merchant who believes the sky is blue” to advocate for it.
Arguing over minor semantics may also lead to a conflict as described.
Kill the greys!
That’s not semantics, it’s syntactics.
(Get it? Cause that is a minor semantic issue.)
People say, “no pun intended” because they don’t want to be held responsible for the terrible pain puns cause.
Great parable, but I don’t think things would actually happen like that. If that really happened, a Green would almost certainly see the sky as just as green as a Blue would see it blue. Light underground is probably of substandard quality most of the time, no pigments underground exactly match the color of the sky, there have been experiments that have shown that native speakers of different languages will classify the same color as closer to different colors based on their native language. The Greens and the Blues may have the same language but their perception could change if they were raised and lived in their own isolated group.
Finally, there are some human above-ground cultures for which the color of the sky and the color of vegetation are the same word, Hawaiian uliuli for example. So we can just say it’s all uliuli and then there’s no more possible debate at all anyway.
Just like we can just say it’s cerulean, right?
I think his point was that the greens and blues probably used the terms green and blue in a matter that describes an empirically different aspect of the world from how we use them.
The Japanese until fairly recently used the word blue to refer both blue and green. The green light on stoplights is still called blue by convention. I’ve heard stories from people who get confused when their own grandparents talk about colors.
Is it just me, or does this strike anyone as very similar to the God debate? Some differences are obvious (the sky’s colors don’t have books of morals and “history” on their sides, e.g.) but the allusion to hatred and war seems apt.
It seems to me, though, that if we were to flesh this comparison out, neither Ferris’s or Daria’s responses seem entirely correct (although they are the only two that make an attempt to act as rationally as possible.) Consider Richard Dawkins: A man obviously motivated by science and discovery (Ferris), but yet a man who also feels it necessary to evangelize on behalf of a seemingly obvious proposition (that the universe is able to function without a God).
In order that maximum rational discourse and action may be achieved, it is necessary to synthesize Ferrisian and Darian action into Dawkinsian action.
Murphy the Green puffed his cheeks, whuffed in exasperation and thought “Why does Universe keep doing this to me! Let Accuracy Triumph Over Victory indeed. Does this data demand any changes to ‘Sheep Bucket Truth’, ‘Light Switch Reliability’, or ‘Slavery Is Evil’? How about ‘Trust And Audit’ or ‘Life Is Worth Defending’. No?” As his footsteps turned him homeward, his mind began to revisit other questions for which he had no satisfactory answer. I smile when he starts to think again, “What could the ancients have possible meant when they wrote about ‘Outer Space’.”
And the phrases are capitalized because that is the way he thinks about them.
I find it disingenuous to entangle serious materially-based political concerns with abstract irrelevant political concerns. Whereas the blues and greens obviously shouldn’t (and in real life, probably wouldn’t) care what color an alien sky is, there are serious political disputes often tied to such abstract concerns regarding civil liberties, regarding the application of the law or the non-application of the law, regarding the right of the wealthy to victimize the poor, etc..
When people get caught up in complicated political institutions that propound dogmatic beliefs, those institutions were rarely or never founded to be dogmatic by accident. Cynics use theological justifications for their material (occasionally psychological) considerations:
Christianity was used to justify the class structure (serfdom & lordship) of feudalism
Social Darwinism was used to justify colonialism, then eugenics
American nationalism is used to justify unlimited wars and crackdowns on civil rights
Muslim ‘terrorists’ use Islam to justify what they see as the only plausible method of defending their country from imperialism (the mass of their goals isn’t to spread ‘terror’ but actually to regain political control of their own countries)
The point is that while fighting the justification may not be in itself a relevant concern, influencing the material concern that spawned the theological justification to begin with is often very important. Are corporations people? --Nobody really gives a fuck about the abstract question because everyone knows they aren’t (83% of the American population).
The trouble is that the question of corporate personhood is merely an excuse to shift more power into the hands of corporations. While debating whether corporations are people is a waste of time, it is not a waste of time to fight the material reality of corporate personhood which means having even less democratic elections in the US than we already have.
You might also say that the blue-green feud is analogous to the debate about the existence of a God or gods having created the universe (if there were an impermeable or near-impermeable layer of obsidian between the cave-dwellers and the surface making discovery of the truth practically impossible). The question only becomes relevant when the blue and green leaders are trying to become president of their underground community: the green candidate is backed by the Green-Dye-Makers’ Guild and the blue candidate is backed by the Blue-Dye-Makers’ Guild, and convincing voters either way will bring in either Guild innumerably more customers. (The same critique, of course, is applicable as each is rallying war forces.)
Furthermore, if it never did become a debate concerned with material reality, then people can think whatever they want. As long as they accept that since blue is our best guess, the only responsible thing is to base our social models on the idea that the sky is indeed blue until proven otherwise. Because in real life, the truth of these things is never as obvious as the sky-color example, it is perfectly admissible to allow minority opinions.
I’m not sure that the question of corporate personhood is analogous—because, as you pointed out, the abstract claim (Corporations are people) isn’t strongly believed. When laws based on this “premise” gain ground, it seems clear to me that it is not because of most people believe the abstract argument.
On the other hand, if it is true that
“Cynics use theological justifications for their material (occasionally psychological) considerations”
Doesn’t it also follow that opposition to these theological justifications would also serve as opposition to the material considerations? If a belief in Social Darwinism can be used to justify eugenics, then mustn’t it be a setback for eugenics if Social Darwinism is widely disbelieved?
It seems my argument is this: you can’t have it both ways. Either a given ‘abstract’ belief influences policy and is (therefore) worth fighting about, or it doesn’t and isn’t. Unless your claim is that all beliefs are held cynically, which seems to me not a possibility worth considering.
Feels nice to see my name in a story. This fact about Romans is just so tasty.
It was hard to really imagine someone getting so emotionally caught up about a fact. I didn’t expect to find it so hard.
Most fights are never about the underlying fact but it’s tribal, about winning. If people cared about knowing the truth it would be discussions not debates.