Setting the Zero Point

Context: I have hopes of assembling a full “defense against the dark arts” sequence. This essay will not necessarily be the very first one in the sequence, but it’s One Of The Basic Spells To Defend Against, and it’s the one I happen to have done the most data gathering on so it’s getting written up first.

Convergent evolution: Setting the Default, by Scott Alexander; Choosing the Zero Point, by orthonormal; this essay differs primarily in having a lot of examples.

Preamble I: Defense Against the Dark Arts

By “Dark Arts,” what I mean is taking actions which cause someone else to get lost inside an inaccurate map—making their map unmatch the territory in a way that is advantageous for you or disadvantageous for them.

i.e. doing things which cause them to think that reality is a certain way, when it is not—when, if they had all of the information and context and unpressured time to think and process, they would reach a very different conclusion from the one they’ve reached under the influence of the spell.

As a very simple, silly example, the actions of the king in The Parable of the Dagger are dark-arts-y in the sense that I intend. (If you haven’t read it: it’s short and very good.)

I’m not planning to make a fine distinction between spells cast maliciously (i.e. people who are deceiving with deliberate intent) and spells cast instinctively/​reflexively (e.g. people who are bending the truth because of their own fears or biases). In practice, it’s often quite difficult to distinguish between these two groups, especially in one-off or very occasional interactions, and intent is not particularly relevant to countering the local effects of a given attempt-to-confuse.

(Working around malevolent intent is more of a strategic concern, and DADA is more about tactics.)

As for “Defense,” the first and foremost tool in one’s toolkit is awareness. Recognition. Most dark arts get the bulk of their power from creeping in unnoticed—once you consciously realize that oh, this person is negging me (for instance), the spell loses most of its potency.

If the full sequence gets written, there will be more to say about various active mental and interpersonal motions that one can make to fend off Dark attacks, but for the sake of this essay, the goal is to give you a concept like “square” which will help you recognize a bunch of different objects out in reality that have more or less of the square-nature.

Preamble II: On The Healthy Use Of Labels

I’m a big fan of reification—the idea that crystallizing a concept makes you better able to recognize that concept in multiple places, and port your observations between those places, and develop generally applicable models and plans.

But there’s a sad side effect of developing new conceptual handles, which is that, inevitably, some subset of people are going to act as if the concept is “real” and start fighting over “is it or isn’t it?” in given instances.

Getting an autism diagnosis as an adult is useful because it suddenly gives you a new way to interpret your experiences, and a new search term to dig up resources. It promotes to your attention a set of people to talk to and tools to try out; learning that you’re autistic means “things which help lots of autistic people are unusually likely to be helpful for you,” which is way better than doing a random walk through the vast unsorted library of generically potentially helpful things.

Ditto, having a concept like “sealioning” can be super useful, because suddenly you can see the core mechanical nature of a Thing That Sometimes Happens, and recognize how it crops up in widely spaced contexts, and start to flesh out a set of reusable responses that you can port between those contexts rather than reinventing the wheel from scratch every time.

What’s bad is if you take your new conceptual handle “sealioning” and end up going “ah, okay, the thing to do here is to decide Which Things Are Sealioning and Which Things Aren’t, and then attack the former category and defend the latter (while fighting tooth-and-nail to make sure that none of my good-natured questioning gets mistakenly labeled as sealioning).”

Or if you take your new autism diagnosis and go “ohhh, I see! Now I have a handy-dandy curiosity-stopper and social shield; I can just throw up my hands and say ‘it’s because autism, now leave me alone.’”

(All of this is sort of abridged and hand-wavey; by rights this concept deserves its own essay and hopefully it will get one someday it got one!)

In short: there’s a failure mode, and it’s something like asking “is this really X?” or getting into fights over which things qualify for the label or not.

(“You’re DARVO’ing!” “Oh, real nice, DARVO me by preemptively accusing me of DARVO’ing.”)

But there’s a good thing, which is: “what does having recognized its non-zero X-ness get me? What connections does it help me make, and what tools does it bring to mind, and what paths does it suggest?”

This essay is going to try to give you a new conceptual handle. Please use responsibly.

Setting the Zero Point

Okay, so. Two wizards are facing off against each other in dueling stances, perhaps with an audience of apprehensive onlookers, and one of them levels a wand and bellows TARE DETRIMENS!

What actually happens? What is “setting the zero point”?

What usually happens, I claim, is that a number line which, out in the territory proper, looks like this:

...gets interpreted as being, fundamentally, something like this:

This is a huge difference, psychologically speaking. Populations which are bought into the second narrative will behave noticeably differently from populations which are bought into the first. Adding in a zero means that a slide from the right spot to the left spot is now crossing the boundary from positive to negative (or, in valence terms, from good to bad), where before it was just … motion.

The story of a shift from 2 to −5 is way, way, way different than the story of a shift from 87 to 80, or from 32 to 25, or from 7 to 0, or from 1,376,219 to 1,376,212. The placement of the zero has tremendous impact on our collective sense of whether this motion was negligible, alarming, or downright catastrophic.

Typically, when someone is “trying” to set the zero point—

(Here I put “trying” in scare-quotes because, again, often this is instinctive rather than intentional.)

—they don’t make a reasoned, explicit bid for taring the scale at this particular place. Typically, they simply proceed with their arguments as if it’s obvious that the default boundary between good and bad (or positive and negative, or acceptable and unacceptable, or progress and regress) lies there. They’ll take it for granted, and use word and phrasing choices that lean heavily upon that unstated assumption, and the “spell” that will either successfully ensorcel the other person (or the audience) or not is that point of view. If the attempt to set the zero point succeeds, everyone else’s map quietly sprouts a zero in the desired place, and all the valences update accordingly.

It’s that silence that makes this a dark art. That sneaky slipping-in of a frame, without acknowledgement or argument. It’s the way that people don’t even realize that the zero isn’t actually out there, in the territory, and that their maps have been arbitrarily anchored on some otherwise undistinguished point—the way that they find themselves uttering phrases like “how am I supposed to compete with that?” as if something has gone wrong in a fundamental sense, if they can’t.

(Often, both wizards are casting the spell at the same time, with different values of zero, and the question is which of them will overpower the other, or whose version of the line will ultimately feel more true and real to the relevant parts of the audience.)

It’s all right if this hasn’t quite clicked yet, because the bulk of the remainder of the essay is just a whole bunch of examples, from which you will (hopefully) be able to extract the pattern, such that you can start to recognize it out in the wild.

Example I: The Fireplace Delusion

Sam Harris has an excellent piece about instinctive rationalization in which he points out that we know, unambiguously, that there is no healthy amount of smoke inhalation, and that we know, unambiguously, that wood fires are bad for us.

In this piece, Sam Harris is explicitly arguing against a zero point. He’s not casting the sneaky dark-arts version of the spell; he’s trying to get people to notice that the spell has already been cast upon them, by our cultural narratives.

On a cold night, most people consider a well-tended fire to be one of the more wholesome pleasures that humanity has produced. A fire, burning safely within the confines of a fireplace or a woodstove, is a visible and tangible source of comfort to us. We love everything about it: the warmth, the beauty of its flames, and—unless one is allergic to smoke—the smell that it imparts to the surrounding air.

I am sorry to say that if you feel this way about a wood fire, you are not only wrong but dangerously misguided.

Sam Harris is pointing out that we’ve arbitrarily and erroneously set the zero point for fires too high, such that dropping down to zero actual fires feels like going into the negative. For many people, there’s not an “aw, shucks, I liked fires! Oh, well” feeling, but rather a sensation of being robbed, pushed into dystopia, losing something crucial and precious. It feels bad. It feels like there’s a “correct” number of fires to have in the fireplace or at the campsite every year, and it feels like that number is higher than “none,” so “none” feels expectation-violating and worse-than-default.

(One could, of course, explicitly argue that low amounts of smoke inhalation are a price worth paying for a rare indulgence, but this is not what’s actually happening in the brains of most people when they start up a fire, even after encountering the unpleasant facts.)

Example II: The Drowning Child

(We’re easing into things; the examples will turn more Darkly manipulative soon.)

In his landmark thought experiment, Peter Singer (again more or less explicitly) argues that we have set our moral zero point in the wrong place. We erroneously believe, goes the argument, that there is some moral insulation provided by physical distance, a kind of out-of-sight discount that lets us off the hook.

We believe, in other words, that if a child dies in the distant poverty-stricken third-world, of some ailment that we could theoretically have prevented, then sure, life has gotten a little sadder, but it’s not like it’s gone all the way from good to bad—and it’s definitely not the case that we have gone from good to bad!

Peter Singer is arguing that we’ve made a mistake: that, if we would say you crossed a moral line by refusing to rescue a drowning child right in front of your eyes, then you have also crossed the same moral line if you refuse to make a similarly-sized sacrifice to save a child who merely happens to have the misfortune of being far away.

In both cases, everyone agrees about what actually happens (a child dies, or doesn’t; you contribute, or you don’t). The difference is how that delta is interpreted—what valence attaches to it. Are you failing to take an opportunity to do optional extra good, or are you derelict in your moral obligations, and thus bad?

Example III: Blocking on Facebook

I’m relatively close to the center of the EA/​rationalist/​AI-safety communities, especially the ones based out of the Bay Area. Once in a while, a Rather Important Community Discussion™ will happen on my Facebook wall; other times, my own comments on other people’s posts will spark long subthreads with many people chiming in.

I also have a relatively unusual blocking policy, which results in more blocks than average (e.g. all of my former superiors at CFAR). This means that sometimes, a Rather Important Community Discussion™ will happen, and many people will assume that so-and-so’s non-participation in that discussion meant that they didn’t care to comment or had nothing to say, when actually they were perhaps literally unaware that the discussion was taking place. Other times, someone will try to do a big common-knowledge creation post, and everything that happens under my own commentary on that post is hidden from an unknown list of participants in other comments on that post.

There’s no substantive disagreement between me and critics-of-my-blocking-policy about the difficulties that this imposes—the way it makes certain conversations tricky or impossible, the way it creates little gaps and blind spots in discussion and consensus.

There’s large disagreement, though, about whether those 5 units of disutility are taking some aggregate “us” from 87 to 82, or from 12 to 7, or from 2 to −3. There’s large disagreement about where the zero point lies, which means there’s large disagreement about whether this is a very small percentage shift, a large percentage shift, or a full valence shift in the sense that my blocking policy has taken us from “good” to “bad.”

Another way to look at this is as a question of how much goodness can be taken for granted—what the default expectations of social smoothness and intercommunicability should be, whether it’s reasonable to expect it to be easy to “get everyone in the same room,” and, when it’s not possible, who’s to blame for it.

One side of this debate sets the zero point very far away, and holds something like “that we’re even able to do this much communication is already a miracle; people doing self-protective blocking are, sure, taking us downward from some idealized imagined peak, but it’s a few small minuses in a big pile of plus.”

The other side sort of takes as default a state in which no Important Players are mutually invisible to one another and common-knowledge conversations are/​should be easy to spin up at the push of a button, and thus my blocking policy is taking away from us all something that we had a collective right to expect in the first place.

It’s the difference between labeling the loss of points a defection or not, in other words. Whether it counts as a defection depends on whether you assume we collectively owned this unhiccupped communication power in the first place, and had it taken away.

Example IV: “AI art harms artists!”

(Similar to “clean energy harms coal miners” and “self-checkouts harm cashiers.”)

Previously, art was uniformly a laborious, high-skill process.

Now, it’s only sometimes a laborious, high-skill process. Sometimes you can get the art you want by just feeding some words into a service like Midjourney or Stable Diffusion.

Two problems are emerging for artists, as a result.

One, many artists are being directly replaced, in that people are typing in prompts like “fantasy battle scene in the style of Seb McKinnon.” The AI services have access to Seb McKinnon’s artwork, because it’s already publicly available in places that the AI scrapes from.

So now, someone who might’ve had to pay Seb McKinnon hundreds or thousands of dollars in commission is instead getting that sweet, sweet Seb McKinnon style basically for free, and Seb McKinnon is receiving no compensation.

The other problem is that art in general is suddenly becoming more plentiful and easier to create/​access/​acquire, meaning that the people who had embarked on a career path of being an artist, with the previously reasonable expectation that they could make some kind of a living doing so, are having the rug pulled out from under them.

This is a dot sliding badwards on a scale. But the question of whether this is “harm” depends on where one sets the zero point. One could set out to explicitly answer the question “is the loss of future expected income due to a shift in the technological landscape harm, or is it just a sort of ‘those are the breaks’ type situation?”

But usually, people don’t debate the question on that level. They don’t address the complex policy question of to what extent we should consider future expected income to, in a sense, already be in someone’s pocket, such that taking it away is morally equivalent (perhaps with some discount) to taking money right out of their wallet.

Instead, they just set the zero point where they think it belongs, and argue as if that perspective is obviously correct and may be taken for granted (and as if anyone who disagrees is some kind of heartless monster or some kind of naive idiot, depending).

Example V: Strikes and Unions

“You were foolish,” the Defense Professor said quietly, “to expect any lasting gratitude from those you tried to protect, once you named yourself a heroine. Just as you expected that man to go on being a hero, and called him horrible for stopping, when a thousand others never lifted a finger. It was only expected that you should fight bullies. It was a tax you owed, and they accepted it like princes, with a sneer for the lateness of your payment. And you have already witnessed, I wager, that their fondness vanished like dust in the wind once it was no longer in their interest to associate with you...”

Everyone acknowledges that when teachers, healthcare professionals, railway workers, or other critical laborers go on strike, a very bad and costly thing happens as a result. That’s rather the point, from the perspective of the strikers: to remind people that they are, perhaps, undervaluing and undercompensating this very important work, and could use a nudge to repair unsustainable working conditions.

The valence of this bad thing, though, or where the blame lies, often breaks down into two distinct takes, based on where each side sets the zero point.

One side typically sets it at something like “this critically important work is, y’know, critically important; leaving society in the lurch is a major defection.” The assumed default is that the doctors will show up to the hospital, the teachers will show up to the classroom, the trains will run on time, etc. That’s the minimum; any individual or group who choose to make that not-happen is directly responsible for taking us from good to bad.

The other side typically focuses on things like “if this labor is so critical then why don’t we compensate it competitively” and “dear god, these people have been struggling to get a couple of paid sick days for years, what is wrong with us as a society” and so forth. The zero point they’re paying attention to is on a wholly different axis, one that hardly even cares about hospitals, students, or trains—instead, the question is what counts as sufficiently decent compensation, and a sufficiently decent work environment?

Both sides agree that the strike causes X amount of damage in terms of lives lost or students untaught or dollars drained away from the economy, but one side views this as taking a largely-functioning system and making it dysfunctional; the other views it as ripping the band-aid off a dysfunctional system such that it has to be restructured/​repaired.

Or in other words, a marginal shift between shades of red, not a valence inversion.

Example VI: Police shootings of unarmed black men

This example is largely about shifting from negative to positive, and the placement of the zero point is about the victory condition of a current ongoing social evolution.

It is bad to be murdered. It’s fairly common to feel that it’s somehow worse to be murdered by an agent of the state—by the very people whose entire job is (ostensibly) to protect and serve you. It’s even more universally held that it’s yet worse to be murdered by government agents while completely innocent, holding no weapon and engaging in no crime. And the abhorrent icing on the horrible cake is that it’s even worse still if the government agents aren’t just going around murdering innocent people, but are particularly murdering innocent people of a single ethnic cluster, such as black men.

It took depressingly long for this problem to be promoted to the general attention of the whole society. Now that it has, the question is: where’s the zero point, and how will we know when we’ve crossed it?

One side holds that the dividing line between “bad” and “good” is something like “any police murders of unarmed black men at all,” and that we will know we have Solved The Problem when the police stop killing unarmed black men. Entirely.

The other side is often somewhat quieter, because it’s sometimes hard to make subtle points without painting yourself into the company of deplorables. The other side whispers, though, that we’re a country of over three hundred million people, that mistakes happen all the time, that there is such a thing as putting too much emphasis on one single problem among many, and that perhaps—perhaps—we could consider this problem solved if the police are killing unarmed black men at the baseline rate of tragic disaster, i.e. about as often, proportionally, as they kill unarmed white men or unarmed Asian men or unarmed Hispanic men, etc.

(Getting that baseline disaster rate down feels, to this group, like a separate and also worthwhile problem.)

Thus, as the situation slowly crawls from deep dark red to mere blood red to pale pink and onward and upward toward white and possibly even blue, the two sides disagree about how bad it is, how urgent the problem remains given that badness, and whether and when to say “this is enough; time to turn to other causes of death and suffering, now.”

Which is tricky, because each of the two perspectives comes along with a lot of handy imagery and invective for damning and decrying the other side.

(Indeed, using that invective helps hammer home the point, that the zero point of this scale obviously lies where you think it lies, and not where they think it does, those savages.)

The point here is not so much “both sides have a claim to the truth!” Rather, it’s this is where I think the conversation ought to focus, at least for a little while, at least ever, and in practice, it almost never does. Almost never do you get both sides sitting down with the intention of coming to mutual agreement about where the scale is tared; there’s too much potential power to be found via blasting your own worldview at maximum volume.

(It would be a significant sign, I think, that your nation was actually creeping toward rationality, if both sides agreed to forego that potential power, and sit down and settle such questions first. If people were, on the whole, willing and able to disarm along this one axis, and make a sacrifice of the local advantage for the sake of the global good.)

Example VII: Conor Moreton and LessWrong

At one point, in the earliest days of the LessWrong 2.0 revival, I decided that the best way I could help out would be to write an essay every day for a month, so there would always be some new and at least plausibly interesting content.

At another point, for various reasons, I decided to pull those thirty pseudonymous essays, and withdraw from LessWrong, and asked the admin team to help close down the account (they did).

What I did not anticipate (because I was caught in the grips of my own unquestioned assumptions about where the zero point lay) was a large disagreement about the badness of this action. As far as I could tell, both I and the admin team agreed about its absolute size; there were no disagreements about things like e.g. “broken links to previously written essays are a pain and a shame.”

But there was a large disagreement about the implicit defaults. About whether the removal was a regrettable reduction in some large positive number, or whether it was breaking something, taking something, driving some particular substat of the overall LessWrong revival from positive to negative.

To me, “zero” was something like “LessWrong doesn’t exist,” and “negative” would be something like “some anti-LessWrong is gaining traction and popularity.”

My understanding of the admin team’s position was something like: “zero” is where LessWrong was last week; the quality of the site and its collection of content is a constant upward ratchet; “negative” is any regression at all in the presently-accelerating process of its continuous growth.

(They are free to chime in to correct my caricature of their position; I don’t mean to claim that I fully understood and have accurately represented their beliefs; the best I can offer is that I am not intending to strawman them. I mostly just mean to point to the fact that there was some big disagreement, and it seems to me that this disagreement was largely about what counts as zero. Where the dividing line between “good” and “bad” was, as opposed to the dividing line between “good” and “better” or “bad” and “worse.”)

Example VIII: Incels

There are many different people who could honestly lay claim to the label “incel,” and there’s a wide range of behavior and philosophy under that label, not all of which is terrible.

But there are at least some people who publish, under the label “incel,” a philosophy that seems to boil down to something like: every human deserves physical intimacy; the default is that everyone should get to have sex; to the degree that some of us are unwillingly denied sex, something has gone actively wrong and someone—

(Usually either “women” or “society,” though it’s important not to lose track of the fact that there are many women and nonbinaries who are involuntarily celibate and indeed the term was coined by a woman, to describe her own situation, as part of a process of actively seeking to understand and solve the problem)

—is to blame.

Most other people hold that yes, indeed, being involuntarily celibate is bad, it’s approximately just as bad as the incels say it is, let’s call it −1000 on some arbitrary scale, but that −1000 isn’t enough to go from life is good to life is bad, and furthermore even if it were, it’s not anybody’s job to solve this problem on behalf of any given individual.

Setting the zero point: have “women,” as a class, taken something from men who can’t find a sexual partner, such that their behavior is morally culpable en masse? Or is something else going on?

Example IX: Secular Solstice

There was one year in which a member of the Berkeley rationalist community (not a particularly prominent one; not one of the organizers of the Secular Solstice celebration) was going around arguing that if one did not attend and support the Secular Solstice celebration, one was actively defecting on the rationalist community, and doing direct damage to the social fabric.

Clearly this person’s default assumption was something like “Secular Solstice is going well and universally attended.” Anything less than that was in the red.

Example X: Location-based pay

You join a tech company in 2018. You move to San Francisco, or possibly Austin, or Seattle, or New York. Your pay is set higher than other hirees of comparable skill and experience, likely because the cost of living in those cities is known to be high, but there’s no specific policy and no clause in your contract.

COVID hits. In early 2020, everyone switches to work-from-home. You continue doing the same excellent work you’ve been doing, with no drop in quality and no reduction in your rate of improvement as an engineer.

A year passes. Because you’re no longer socializing, being in the Big City™ is no longer paying off in the way you expected it to. In early 2021, you move to a nice, quiet, idyllic property in Oklahoma.

Should the company dock your pay? Should you take a pay cut, because you’ve chosen to reassign some portion of your compensation from “housing” to “savings” or “a nicer television” or “having another kid”? To whom “belongs” that extra layer of compensation that you were given four years ago, that your company has clearly felt was worth giving you throughout a year of remote work—remote work which has taken no drop in quality from your move to Oklahoma?

Example XI: Clothing Norms

During all of the tribal signaling in 2020 and 2021, many people made the argument that no one should have the right to force you to put an uncomfortable piece of cloth over a part of your body—not if you didn’t want to.

Many nudists laughed, grimly amused.

In late 2022, the women of Iran rose up in protest against their totalitarian religious government, casting off the hijab that was a symbol of that government’s oppressive power over them. People throughout the democratic world cheered as they said “we will no longer allow you to dictate that we must cover this part of our body, when we do not want to cover it.”

Many nudists laughed again.

Tops remain mandatory for women; pants remain mandatory for basically all people. The zero point is set somewhere below the hijab, and somewhere above underwear; whether mandatory masks count as positive or negative seems to depend a lot on one’s tribal politics.

Example XII: Chick-fil-A

“If you still eat at Chick-fil-A, you hate gay people, are extremely selfish, have no moral fiber, etc” is a fairly common refrain.

There’s an attempt to do something like … impose a stag hunt? And make it so that choosing “rabbit” counts as defection, even though the stag hunt hasn’t actually been argued persuasively and fully coordinated, and there’s nothing even close to consensus agreement among queer people.

(Remember, absent actual agreement, the Schelling choice is rabbit.)

Personally, I often enjoy a Chick-fil-A sandwich after meeting up with my longtime male partner in North Carolina. I’m open to bids for a stag hunt, but taking for granted that purchasing a sandwich decisively moves you from “good person” to “bad person” is casting tare detrimens.

Example XIII: You’re Ruining The Vibe

...was the vibe here first? Is it my job to make sacrifices on its behalf? Do the other people in this room have a “right” to some particular vibe, such that I’m taking something away from them, if that vibe can’t survive my presence?

(Is it a defection to not-stand-up during a standing ovation??)

Sometimes yes, and sometimes no, of course, depending on all sorts of contextual detail. But it’s interesting how the sort of person who actually utters phrases like “you’re ruining the vibe” often does not seem to think such questions are worth asking, or are even possible to ask. The answers are usually assumed, and assumed to be nigh-universal, with such a degree of confidence that the speaker usually doesn’t even notice they’re assuming anything at all. It feels like the zero point is part of the territory itself.

Example XIV: Miscellany

What’s the right amount of corporal punishment to deploy when raising children?

What’s the right number of glasses of wine to have with dinner every night?

What’s an appropriate number of years to be kept in compulsory schooling before you’re allowed to try to start your adult life?

Occasionally, these and other questions are explicitly and openly discussed. But far more often, people take their own intuitive sense as default, and simply proceed as if it’s obvious that their own cultural set-point is the correct one.

I once argued with a dark-robed Sith lord in the CFAR office, claiming that there was something bad about spending more than a few hours of video gameplay every day, on average. She made a confident bet that I believed this because I play video games for a couple of hours on the average day. She was wrong (my daily average in most years is zero), but it was the right bet to make!

Extrapolating the pattern

The thing that I’m pointing at is the feature common to all of the above examples, in which:

  1. A zero point that divides the set of possibilities into a good side and a bad side is created or assumed, and

  2. That zero point is not explicitly argued for so much as imprinted into the listener via pressure or osmosis or hypnosis.

I’m currently calling this dynamic “setting the zero point” because I’ve spent eight months trying to think of a better name and have failed to find one (though you should feel free to use “Tare detrimens!” if you like; I do actually think it’s fairly clever).

I claim that there is, in fact, a natural cluster here, but like all clusters, it’s not perfect:

The key value, according to me, of learning to recognize when someone is making an argument that implicitly sets a zero point/​takes a zero point for granted, is that you can:

  1. Not be hypnotized; actually boot up your conscious awareness and evaluate whether you want to buy the worldview that they’re selling

  2. Name it. Bring the zero point itself into the text of the conversation; move the conversation to a place where you can come to a consensus (or an explicit, clarified disagreement) about the defaults.

Things that I am eager for, in discussion below:

  • More examples, or the highlighting of which examples were the most useful for you, because I expect to teach this concept many times in the future

  • Expansions on the mechanisms involved (i.e. what people are actually doing in their brains when this happens, how it works or fails-to-work on the listener, what goes on in the minds of audience members when they watch two people both trying to cast this spell, etc.)

  • Concrete trigger-action patterns and other mental algorithms that might help people defend against and not-get-hypnotized-by this spell

  • Alternative models that explain the cluster

Things I’m much less interested in, and will not join in on, though people are welcome to do them anyway:

  • Arguments over whether this is one cluster or secretly two or three (or not a cluster at all)

  • Arguments over whether particular examples more or less belong

  • Arguments over whether some other new example “counts” or not, as a member of the cluster (as opposed to discussion of to what extent and in what ways a new member relates to the cluster)

… basically anything that’s doing the “forget that constellations aren’t real” thing.

Hope this helps,