Dark Arts

TagLast edit: 24 Nov 2021 22:12 UTC by Gordon Seidoh Worley

Dark Arts is a colloquial term for techniques or methods which involve deception and/​or manipulation of others or oneself into believing things for non-truth-seeking reasons. These techniques may prey on human cognitive biases.

Some use the term to refer more narrowly to techniques that work equally well to compel both true and false beliefs, i.e., they are symmetric weapons. Some focus more on the Dark Arts as applied to oneself (self-deception) vs applied to manipulating others.

An example from the Dark Arts of Rationality:

Today, we’re going to talk about Dark rationalist techniques: productivity tools which seem incoherent, mad, and downright irrational. These techniques include:

  1. Willful Inconsistency

  2. Intentional Compartmentalization

  3. Modifying Terminal Goals

Art vs. Technology

Sometimes these arts are further augmented by the use of persuasion technology, such as broadcast advertising or PowerPoint slides. Persuasion technology may prevent the person who is being targeted from carefully deliberating on the intended message, or thinking up an effective response to it in real time.

Such effects can be caused by something as benign as the use of a specialist vocabulary which the target is unfamiliar with, or an institutional vocabulary with high-status connotations: this is one reason why many specialist professions employ ethical codes to regulate their unbalanced power relationship with customers.

The use of such techniques as whiteboards or PowerPoint slides brings additional concerns, since these tend to connote a single party as the one “in charge” of the presentation: this makes it even more difficult for the intended audience to raise any effective objection, and encourages them to focus their attention on the content of the whiteboard or slides. Said content is often presented as a list of abrupt “bullet points”, further connoting it as factual, objective and neutral. One outspoken critic of PowerPoint, management professor David R. Beatty, states: “It is like a disease. It’s the AIDS of management.” Beatty further states that Powerpoint “removes subtlety and thinking”.

Many futurists expect that a technological singularity of even a very mild character will lead to an explosion in the use of radically effective persuasive technology, or “cognotechnology”—a term coined by American military researchers at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories. The collection and distribution of information about people may spiral out beyond any feasible control, perhaps even comprising their inner thought processes; cognitive monitoring may range from non-intrusive body monitoring as seen in a polygraph to outright brain emulation. In this scenario, persuasion technology may easily blend over into outright mind control. This is clearly a rather paranoiac and dystopian scenario; nevertheless, the fact that it is being seriously discussed has persuasive potential in itself, such as for directing funding for research into guaranteed Friendly AI, as opposed to naïvely pursuing expanded funding for neuroscience or artificial intelligence.

Notable Posts

Other Links

See Also

Law of No Evidence

Zvi20 Dec 2021 13:50 UTC
113 points
20 comments4 min readLW link1 review

Dark Side Epistemology

Eliezer Yudkowsky17 Oct 2008 23:55 UTC
92 points
152 comments5 min readLW link

Dark Arts of Rationality

So8res19 Jan 2014 2:47 UTC
252 points
194 comments17 min readLW link

Game The­ory As A Dark Art

Scott Alexander24 Jul 2012 3:27 UTC
137 points
103 comments13 min readLW link

A few mis­con­cep­tions sur­round­ing Roko’s basilisk

Rob Bensinger5 Oct 2015 21:23 UTC
89 points
135 comments5 min readLW link

Say­ing no to the Appleman

Johannes C. Mayer29 Apr 2022 10:39 UTC
45 points
12 comments3 min readLW link

Defense Against The Dark Arts: Case Study #1

Scott Alexander28 Mar 2009 2:31 UTC
134 points
54 comments6 min readLW link

Dark Arts 101: Us­ing presuppositions

PhilGoetz27 Dec 2010 17:16 UTC
99 points
87 comments1 min readLW link

The Dark Arts—Preamble

Aurini11 Oct 2010 14:01 UTC
60 points
140 comments6 min readLW link

The Dark Arts: A Begin­ner’s Guide

faul_sname21 Jan 2012 7:05 UTC
55 points
43 comments4 min readLW link

How the­ism works

Paul Crowley10 Apr 2009 16:16 UTC
59 points
39 comments1 min readLW link

[Question] Us­ing false but in­stru­men­tally ra­tio­nal be­liefs for your ca­reer?

rockthecasbah23 Nov 2020 19:18 UTC
7 points
29 comments1 min readLW link

[Question] Has there been any work done on the ethics of chang­ing peo­ple’s minds?

mcorvin3 Feb 2021 1:03 UTC
1 point
1 comment1 min readLW link

Two Dark Side Statis­tics Papers

Scott Alexander2 Jan 2014 5:51 UTC
29 points
4 comments7 min readLW link

Ex­cerpts from Veyne’s “Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths?”

Rob Bensinger8 Nov 2021 20:23 UTC
24 points
1 comment16 min readLW link

Set­ting the Zero Point

Duncan_Sabien9 Dec 2022 6:06 UTC
82 points
40 comments20 min readLW link

How to Bounded Distrust

Zvi9 Jan 2023 13:10 UTC
117 points
15 comments4 min readLW link

Par­a­sitic Lan­guage Games: main­tain­ing am­bi­guity to hide con­flict while burn­ing the commons

Hazard12 Mar 2023 5:25 UTC
95 points
15 comments13 min readLW link

Is Rhetoric Worth Learn­ing?

sarahconstantin6 Apr 2018 22:03 UTC
66 points
56 comments2 min readLW link

The Art of the Ar­tifi­cial: In­sights from ‘Ar­tifi­cial In­tel­li­gence: A Modern Ap­proach’

TurnTrout25 Mar 2018 6:55 UTC
31 points
8 comments15 min readLW link

Re­quire con­tri­bu­tions in advance

Viliam8 Feb 2016 12:55 UTC
91 points
27 comments7 min readLW link

Poli­ti­cal Skills which In­crease Income

Xodarap2 Mar 2014 17:56 UTC
102 points
19 comments4 min readLW link

What I Tell You Three Times Is True

Scott Alexander2 May 2009 23:47 UTC
56 points
32 comments4 min readLW link

Blue- and Yel­low-Tinted Choices

Scott Alexander13 May 2010 22:35 UTC
71 points
57 comments4 min readLW link

Evalua­bil­ity (And Cheap Holi­day Shop­ping)

Eliezer Yudkowsky28 Nov 2007 0:37 UTC
66 points
64 comments4 min readLW link

Rhetoric for the Good

lukeprog26 Oct 2011 18:52 UTC
83 points
292 comments4 min readLW link


Eliezer Yudkowsky27 Mar 2008 8:07 UTC
64 points
20 comments3 min readLW link

Know­ing I’m Be­ing Tricked is Barely Enough

Elizabeth26 Feb 2019 17:50 UTC
37 points
10 comments2 min readLW link

Be­ware Triv­ial Inconveniences

Scott Alexander6 May 2009 22:04 UTC
215 points
115 comments4 min readLW link

Striv­ing to Accept

Eliezer Yudkowsky9 Mar 2009 23:29 UTC
41 points
38 comments4 min readLW link

At­ten­tion! Fi­nan­cial scam tar­get­ing Less Wrong users

Viliam_Bur14 May 2016 17:38 UTC
38 points
94 comments2 min readLW link

Func­tional silence: com­mu­ni­ca­tion that min­i­mizes change of re­ceiver’s beliefs

chaosmage12 Feb 2019 21:32 UTC
27 points
5 comments2 min readLW link

Ha­bit­ual Productivity

So8res9 Jan 2014 6:44 UTC
81 points
35 comments6 min readLW link

Great Product. Lousy Mar­ket­ing.

BenAlbahari28 Feb 2010 9:33 UTC
18 points
71 comments2 min readLW link

Dis­tract­ing wolves and real es­tate agents

PhilGoetz7 Jul 2011 13:49 UTC
33 points
32 comments3 min readLW link

Re­quests to the Right Ear Are More Suc­cess­ful Than to the Left

CannibalSmith25 Jun 2009 12:09 UTC
4 points
2 comments1 min readLW link

Har­ness­ing Your Biases

swestrup2 Jul 2009 20:45 UTC
13 points
14 comments3 min readLW link

The Bunny: An EA Short Story

JohnGreer21 Aug 2022 20:59 UTC
14 points
0 comments6 min readLW link