My Strange Beliefs

Yes­ter­day, “Over­com­ing Cry­on­ics” wrote:

Eliezer, enough with your non­sense about cry­on­i­cism, life-ex­ten­sion­ism, trans-hu­man­ism, and the sin­gu­lar­ity. Th­ese things have noth­ing to do with over­com­ing bias… if you’re go­ing to en­force the com­ments policy then you should also self-en­force the over­com­ing bias post­ing policy in­stead of us­ing posts to blithely pros­ely­tize your cry­on­i­cism /​ life-ex­ten­sion­ism /​ trans-hu­man­ism /​ sin­gu­lar­ity re­li­gion.

One, there is noth­ing in the Over­com­ing Bias post­ing policy against tran­shu­man­ism.

Two, as a mat­ter of fact, I do try to avoid pros­ely­tiz­ing here. I have other fo­rums in which to vent my thoughts on tran­shu­man­ism. When I write a blog post pros­ely­tiz­ing tran­shu­man­ism, it looks like this, this, or this.

But it’s hard for me to avoid all refer­ences to tran­shu­man­ism. “Over­com­ing Cry­on­ics” com­mented to a post in which there was ex­actly one refer­ence to a tran­shu­man­ist topic. I had said:

The first time I gave a pre­sen­ta­tion—the first time I ever climbed onto a stage in front of a cou­ple of hun­dred peo­ple to talk about the Sin­gu­lar­ity—I briefly thought to my­self: “I bet most peo­ple would be ex­pe­rienc­ing ‘stage fright’ about now. But that wouldn’t be helpful, so I’m not go­ing to go there.

What, ex­actly, am I sup­posed to do about that? The first time I ever got up on stage, I was in fact talk­ing about the Sin­gu­lar­ity! That’s the ac­tual his­tory! Tran­shu­man­ism is not a hobby for me, it’s my paid day job as a Re­search Fel­low of the Sin­gu­lar­ity In­sti­tute. Ask­ing me to avoid all men­tions of tran­shu­man­ism is like ask­ing Robin Han­son to avoid all men­tions of academia.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, some­one re­marks that I seem to take no­tions like the Sin­gu­lar­ity on faith, be­cause I men­tion them but don’t defend them.

I don’t defend my views here. Be­cause I know that not ev­ery­one is in­ter­ested in the con­sid­er­able vol­ume of work I have pro­duced on tran­shu­man­ism. Which you can find on yud­kowsky.net.

If, how­ever, you don’t like any men­tion of tran­shu­man­ism, even as an illus­tra­tion of some other point about ra­tio­nal­ity—well, this is a blog. Th­ese are blog posts. They are writ­ten in the first per­son. I am oc­ca­sion­ally go­ing to use anec­dotes from my his­tory, or even, y’know, tran­scribe my thought pro­cesses a lit­tle?

Given the amount of time that I spend think­ing about tran­shu­man­ism, I nat­u­rally tend to think of tran­shu­man­ist illus­tra­tions for my points about ra­tio­nal­ity. If I had spent the last eleven years as a ge­ol­o­gist, I would find it easy to illus­trate my ideas by talk­ing about rocks. If you don’t like my illus­tra­tions and think you can do bet­ter, feel free to in­vent su­pe­rior illus­tra­tions and post them in the com­ments. I may even adopt them.

On some tran­shu­man­ist top­ics, such as cry­on­ics, I haven’t writ­ten all that much my­self. But there is plenty about cry­on­ics at Al­cor or Cry­on­ics In­sti­tute. Also, the Tran­shu­man­ist FAQ has some nice in­tros. If you don’t want it dis­cussed here, then why are you ask­ing?

I will prob­a­bly post ex­plic­itly on cry­on­ics at some point, be­cause I think there are some points about sour grapes for which I would have difficulty find­ing an equally strong illus­tra­tion. Mean­while, yes, I some­times do men­tion “cry­on­ics” as the archetype for a so­cially weird be­lief which hap­pens to be true. No mat­ter what I use as an ex­am­ple of “so­cially weird but true”, some peo­ple are go­ing to dis­agree with it. Other­wise it wouldn’t be an ex­am­ple. And weird-but-true is cer­tainly an im­por­tant topic in ra­tio­nal­ity—oth­er­wise there would be a knock­down ar­gu­ment against ever dis­sent­ing.

Even af­ter check­ing the refer­enced sources, you might find that you—gasp! - still dis­agree with me. Oh, the hor­ror! The hor­ror! You don’t read any other blogs where one of the au­thors oc­ca­sion­ally dis­agrees with you.

Just be­cause this blog is called Over­com­ing Bias, it does not mean that any time any au­thor says some­thing you dis­agree with, you should com­ment “OMG! How bi­ased! I am sooo dis­ap­pointed in you I thought you would do bet­ter.” Part of the art of ra­tio­nal­ity is hav­ing ex­tended dis­cus­sions with peo­ple you dis­agree with. “OMG U R BIASED!” does not pre­sent much ba­sis for con­tin­u­ing dis­cus­sion.

It is a good rule of thumb that you should never flatly ac­cuse some­one of be­ing “bi­ased”. Name the spe­cific bias that at­taches to the spe­cific prob­lem. Con­junc­tion fal­lacy? Availa­bil­ity?

If you dis­agree with some­one, you pre­sum­ably think they’re do­ing some­thing wrong. Say­ing “You are like so to­tally bi­ased, dude” is not helpful. If you strike a tragic, sor­rowful pose and go, “Oh, alas, oh, woe, I am so dis­ap­pointed in you,” it is still not helpful. If you point to a spe­cific be­lief that you dis­agree with, and say, “See, that be­lief is bi­ased,” then that doesn’t con­vey any ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion be­yond “I dis­agree with that be­lief.” Which bias? There’s quite a lot of pos­si­bil­ities.

If you think that “ra­tio­nal­ity” means peo­ple will agree with you on their first try, so that any­one who doesn’t do this can be dis­missed out of hand as a poseur, you have an ex­ag­ger­ated idea of how ob­vi­ous your be­liefs are.

So stop tel­ling me, or Robin Han­son, “Why, you… you… you’re not ab­solutely ra­tio­nal!” We already know that.

Just be­cause I try to be ra­tio­nal doesn’t mean I think I’m a god.

Well, sure, I want to be a god when I grow up, but that is like a to­tally differ­ent is­sue from that first part.

Ex­cept that both goals in­volve Bayesian meth­ods.

(And are in­ter­twined in other ways you won’t re­al­ize un­til it’s too late to turn back.)

Thank you.

Yours in the dark­est abyssal depths of sincer­ity,
Eliezer Yud­kowsky.