I wonder whether Fifty Shades of Grey could be an example of exceptionally successful marketing. People buy it because they were told by media that it is hugely popular (so they are curious, and don’t want to seem ignorant), and when they find out they don’t like it, they go: “Well, if everyone else likes it, I better shut up or I will seem like a prude or worse” (the zeitgeist discourages saying anything negative about other people’s sexuality, especially when it’s weird). Anyway...
The problem with revealed preferences is that it kinda assumes that in any internal conflict, the side that won was the Truth, and the side that lost was Fake all along. Which assumes that people never make mistakes (or that they truly want to make exactly those mistakes they made), and that willpower is just a synonym for hypocrisy—unless the willpower happens to prevail, in which case it turns out it was the true will all along (and if your first attempts failed but later you succeeded, that means you truly wanted to fail first and succeed later, duh).
And the usual mistake when discussing nature and evolution is ignoring the evolutionary-cognitive boundary, plus the fact that our environment differs from the one we are adapted for. Thus “in ancient past, X provided a reproductive advantage, on average” becomes “X provides an advantage (now and always)” becomes “you want X, and I am not listening to your lies, you hypocrite!“. And it’s hard to argue otherwise, when there is in fact a part of you that somehow pushes you towards X. But if we follow the same logic, then the True Will of humanity is to eat sugar, become fat, get diabetes, and die; because that’s what keeps happening when we give it a chance. (So if the superhuman AI happens kill us, it just fulfilled our desires faster. Actually, the fact that we have built the AI that killed us, already makes our extinction our revealed preference.)
I see two big differences between our ancient evolutionary past and current civilization, with regard to the current topic:
1) Before agriculture, we spent all time together in tribes; today we live in families, often atomic ones. That means the connection between “who do you have sex with” and “who do you spend most time with” is relatively recent. Obviously, spending more time with an abusive asshole is a bad idea. But when the whole group lives together, having sex with someone doesn’t mean spending more (non-sexual) time with them. Each member of the tribe is within reach of the fist of the alpha male, whether they have sex with him or not. Women used to choose which man’s genes they want for their children, and that was the whole story. (And yes, it makes sense to choose a stronger one over a weaker one, and a winner over a loser.) This evolutionary calculation did not include the danger of spending a lot of time with him alone.
2) The ancient environment also put limits on the male aggression. The alphas often didn’t win as individuals, but as coalitions. They had to beat challengers into submission, but when not challenged, they often acted as keepers of peace and justice. Being an asshole to everyone meant that the three or four guys you hurt recently will gang up against you, beat you, and probably kill you to protect themselves against possible revenge. To keep the throne, you needed allies. Ironically, it is the civilized society that allows some individuals to be assholes against everyone and survive. Many annoying people live only because no one considers it worth risking prison for killing them. In the past, being an asshole and remaining alive would be powerful counter-signaling. Today, pretty much any loser can do it, and many do. Of course it messes up our instincts.
anti-feminists often jump to believing that women are more attracted to men who are violent to them.
Then they are deeply ignorant of women’s literature: the proper archetype is the guy who is violent to everyone else, but is mysteriously tamed by the charms of the heroine, i.e. Beauty and the Beast.
The women who date “bad guys” don’t do it because they have a preference for being punched in the face. They do it because they have a fantasy where they (and they alone) will not get punched in the face. Which would actually make sense in a sufficiently ancient past, but makes much less sense in the recent millennia. Well, evolution sometimes updates slowly. (He who wants to throw a stone, first tell me how much sugar and salt did you eat this week. You realize that shit is killing you slowly, don’t you?) Instead of a preference, this is more like a cognitive bias. From inside, the idea “he will punch everyone else, but not me, because he will love me” seems like a perfect reflection of reality. (And if he already punched her, that does not falsify the hypothesis. “Sometimes true love requires a lot of time, patience, and sacrifice. It will all turn out well at the end.” Read the Harlequin novel where the man first hurts the heroine, but then he falls in love with her and deeply regrets it. Which one? A random choice will probably be the right one.)
The abuse isn’t being read as wish-fulfillment, but as verisimilitude. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author and many of the fans have been in abusive relationships or grew up in abusive households. (...) Maybe abused people really do have a higher risk of seeking out a repetition of the harm they experienced and were taught to believe was normal.
Anecdote time: I met a woman who complained about how all her boyfriends were alcohol addicts. Yet, after breaking up, she was soon dating another one. When I tried to talk some reason into her, she told me that actually all men are alcohol addicts, only some of them are honest about it, and others are in denial; and those in denial are actually much worse. -- To me it seemed obvious how such belief is false and self-harming, but of course trying to argue otherwise would have merely put me in the “in denial” category.
I can imagine how having similar beliefs about male aggressiveness could arise as a consequence of abusive childhood (as a defense mechanism against admitting that your father just happened to be an exceptional asshole), and could be further reinforced by seeking out aggressive partners, because the non-aggressive ones are perceived as somehow weird or fake. -- And perhaps together with the Beauty and the Beast fantasy, this could result in a model where all men are aggressive and only true love can tame them. (Plus there are the Nice Guys who are too pathetic to be aggressive openly, but luckily our mindreading skills allow us to see that deep inside they are even worse.)
It probably doesn’t help that the idea about all men being violent and evil is… zeitgeist-compatible.
It’s not that women want men to hurt them. It’s that men hurt women a lot.
Yep. Connotational sidenote: there is a difference between “men hurt women a lot” and “many men hurt women”. It is possible that a disproportionally large amount of hurting comes from a small minority of men. (Pointing towards statistics about psychopaths having above average amounts of sexual partners, etc.)
I agree with most of your article, I just believe it could be simultaneously true that (1) women who were previously abused, especially in their childhood, may seek out abusive partners because they perceive such behavior as “normal”; which does not excuse the next abuser, and the “revealed preference” answer is bullshit, because the woman is acting on her incorrect model of the world, and the friendly thing to do would be trying to fix that model instead of exploiting it; and (2) women in general have a systematic bias towards perceiving violent men as more attractive, and less dangerous than they actually are, because of evolutionary reasons which actually may not apply to our current environment. In my model, the “sane” women can use their reason to overcome the temptation and realize that the extra excitement is not worth getting punched in the face regularly (similarly how men attracted towards pathological women can decide to “not stick their dick in crazy”), but there are reasons that can make a woman either underestimate the danger or take it as inevitable, in which case dating the violent guy seems like a good choice.
If I understand it correctly, you used the former to explain away the latter, and that seems wrong to me. (I still approve bringing attention to the former.)
I am not sure how to best handle the topic of religion in a community blog.
If it is a single-person blog, the optimal solution would probably be mostly not to even mention it (just focus on naturalistic explanations of the world), and once in a long while to explain, politely, why it is false (without offending people who disagree).
With a community blog, the problem is that being polite towards religion may be interpreted by religious people as an invitation to contribute, but their contributions would inevitably include pro-religious statements, at least sometimes.
And if you make it explicit like “religious people are welcome, but any pro-religious statements will be immediately deleted, and the author may be banned”, that sounds like your atheism is a dogma, not an outcome of a logical process (which you merely don’t want to repeat over and over again, because you have more interesting stuff to write about). And even here I would expect a lot of rules-lawyering, strongly hinting, etc.
I think the main reason against podcasting preaching is that religion is mostly about social experience. Replace “hundreds of people who meet in real space regularly” with a podcast, and all that’s left is some theology, that frankly most religious people don’t care about that much.
What other nice places exist?
Blogs of nice individuals, I guess. (That includes SSC.) If you make a blog for yourself (for your persona) and keep making comments at the few blogs you read, that could easily be the nicest possible way of using internet.
If LessWrong had originally been targeted at and introduced to an audience of competent business people and self-improvement health buffs instead of an audience of STEM specialists and Harry Potter fans, things would have been drastically different. Rationalists would be winning.
This sounds like “the best way to make sure your readers are successful is to write for people who are already successful”. It makes sense if you want to brag about how successful are your readers. But if your goal is to improve the world, how much change would that bring? There is already a ton of material for business people and self-help fans; what is yet another website for them going to accomplish? If people are already competent self-improving businessmen, what motive would they have to learn about rationality?
The Bayesian Conspiracy podcast … proposed … that rationality can only help us improve a limited amount relative to where we started out. They predicted that people who started out at a lower level of life success/cognitive functioning/talent cannot outperform non-rationalists who started out at a sufficiently high level.
The past matters, because changing things takes time. Obtaining “the same knowledge, skills, qualities or experience” requires time and money. (Money, because while you are chasing the knowledge and experience, you are not maximizing your short-term income.) Sometimes I wonder how life would be in a parallel universe where LessWrong would appear when I was 15, as opposed to 35. I had a ton of free time while studying at university; I have barely any free time now. I lived at my parents; now I need a daily job to pay my bills. Even putting money into index funds (such a simple advice, yet no one from my social group was able to give it to me) would have brought more interest. In this universe I cannot get on average as far as I could have in the parallel one.
So why haven’t we been dominating prediction and stock markets? Why aren’t we dominating them right now?
Because there are people who already spent years learning all that stuff, and now they do it as a day job; some of them 16 hours a day. Those are the ones you would have to compete against, not the average person.
In my own case, … I can’t afford to bet on things since I don’t have enough money of my own for it, and my income is highly irregular and hard to predict so it’s difficult to budget things. … Do a lot of other people here have such extenuating circumstances? Somehow that would feel like too much of a coincidence.
For me it feels like too much of a coincidence when a person complaining about why others aren’t achieving greater success immediately comes with a good excuse for themselves.
Speaking for myself, my income is nice and regular, but I have kids to feed and care about, and between my daily job and taking care of my kids, I don’t have enough time to research things to make bets about, or learn to understand finance as a pro. That is a quite different situation, but still one that makes making miracles difficult. I suppose some people are busy doing their scientific careers, etc.
And then, a few people are actually winning a lot. Now, maybe you overestimate the size of the rationalist community. How many people even among those who participate at meetups, are truly serious about this rationality stuff (and how many are there merely for social reasons)? Maybe it’s in total only a few dozen people, worldwide. Some of them have good reasons to not be super winning, and some of them are super winning. Not a very surprising outcome.
I believe there is a lot of space for improvement. I believe there is specifically a lot to improve in “making our kind cooperate”. But at the end of the day, we are just a handful of people.
And of course I’m looking forward to your friend’s articles.
Not the author, but my guess would be this:
On various metrics, there can be differences in quantity, e.g. “a job that pays $10k” vs “a job that pays $20k”, and differences in quality, e.g. “a job” vs “early retirement”. Merely improving quantity does not make a good story. And perhaps it is foolish, but I imagine “winning” as a qualitative improvement, instead of merely 30% or 300% more of something.
And maybe this is wrong, because a qualitative improvement brings qualitative improvements as a side effect. A change from “$X income” to $Y income” can also mean a change from “worrying about survival” to “not worrying about survival”, a change from “cannot afford X” to “bought the X”, or even a change from “the future is dark” to “I am going to retire early in 10 years, but as of today, I am not there yet”. Maybe we insufficiently emphasize these qualitative changes, because… uhm, illusion of transparency?
Yeah, could be any of that.
I guess a part of my objection still remains… that unlike the article suggests “human value consumption, which is why they choose to work a lot” it is sometimes more about “employers prefer employees who work a lot (why exactly, that is debated), and in such case employees are only given the options to work a lot or not get the job, with no middle ground”.
You seem to write exclusively about political topics. If your goal is to become more rational, this is probably a bad idea.
Your disagreement with Peterson seems to be mostly about the definition of the word “rights”. Based on your paraphrase, Peterson seems to define “having rights” roughly as being a part of a network of mutual obligations, and concludes that we could hardly have mutual obligations with animals; we could still choose to have unilateral obligations towards them, but that’s not the same thing. (Calling it slavery is the usual political exaggeration though.) Your definition of “rights” seems more like a list of things that should happen to you in a society that aspires to be nice, and does not depend on imaginary symmetry. Shortly: you two are using the same word for slightly different concepts.
But the reason we don’t work 15 hours a week is the weird equilibrium we’re in of what is valued by society.
Humans don’t intrinsically value “hours worked”. We value things like status, sex, community, pleasure. In modern society, we learned to associate a lot of this with work and consumption. This is especially true of men, which is why men left out of the work-consumption cycle fall into greater despondency than women.
For me, it is none of that. Ten years ago, when I was single and childless, I could have easily lived on 50% of my income. My status would be the same, and I would have more time to spend on things like sex, community, and pleasure. The problem was completely different, namely… signaling, when looking for a job.
When almost everyone works 40 hours a week, you signal conformity (one of the main traits employers are looking for) by working 40 hours a week. Working 40 hours is normal, wanting to work any other number of hours is weird. Why would anyone hire a weird person, when they have an option to hire a perfectly normal person instead?
How exactly are you going to explain, during the job interview, why the option good enough for everyone else is not good enough for you? “You know, I work to live; I don’t live to work. I do have dreams beyond working hard to make someone else rich; and I value things that don’t require much money, but require time, such as watching sunset or doing math. I already suspect that on my deathbed I will regret not spending more time following my dreams, but I still need to pay my bills today somehow, and none of my hobbies is profitable, at least in short term. Half of my market salary could cover my expenses; and I don’t see a reason to spend at job any more time than necessary. So, what benefits does your company offer?” …is probably not going to win hearts.
Sometimes you have a socially acceptable excuse for not working full time: you can be a student, or disabled, or a woman with kindergarten-age children. In other words, you would like to work 40 hours just like everyone else, but unfortunately you can’t, as everyone can see. When someone offers a part-time job, something like this is what they have in mind. None of that applied to me. When I explored my chances to get a part-time job, I found out that I would have to sacrifice a disproportionate part of my income. The best offer I got was working 4 days a week, i.e. 80% of the usual time, for 50% of my usual salary. And the employer still felt like they were doing me a huge favor by accommodating my weird desire for having more free time. Seeing that I can’t get the time down to 50% as I wanted, I gave up and returned to 40 hours a week.
tl;dr—working 40 hours a week is a conformity-signaling equilibrium, and it is difficult to get a job otherwise
And the reason all men don’t have the same mass is… the weight of wisdom accumulated through all these reincarnations. (Unlike the electrons, which can’t learn.)
I like this!
I cannot express too strongly my utter opposition to the thesis of this post.
And I enjoyed reading both the article and this reply.
Perhaps the Law of Equal and Opposite Advice applies here; depending on how much of your actual feelings of insecurity is just an awareness of your actual lack of skills, and how much is a result of manipulation by others. Manipulators exist, but lack of skills exists, too.
(In my opinion, going ahead and trying stuff is better than listening to your insecurity: maybe you are right, maybe you are wrong, once in a while you break something, but you will learn something in either case. But I can imagine a person/situation for whom the balance could be the other way round.)
Isn’t the whole point of altruism that we do not benefit a lot from it ourselves?
The point is to help others, not to needlessly deprive ourselves. (Making each other feel better does not reduce the number of anti-malaria nets produced.)
Humans need rewards to shape their behavior. It is better (even for others) if I get rewarded for my altruistic actions and it helps me keep doing good deeds for long time, than if I emotionally “burn out” quickly.
Possibly related to Elo’s comment: On saying the obvious
This is a website anyone can join. Some people participate here for years; some came yesterday; plus anything in between. So even the “most obvious” information may be valuable for those who joined yesterday (assuming it is correct). But of course, the larger audience finds it valuable, the better.
an interesting experiment … see the reactions … provokative
Uhm, please don’t. (Or get ready to be downvoted; that is a rational response to having one’s time wasted by provocations, isn’t it?)
A big problem with trying to spread rationality is that an approximation is not necessarily an improvement, and may even sometimes make things worse. As an analogy, getting people from “I have no idea how much is 2+2” to “2+2 equals 5″ is not an improvement in math (especially when the latter become resistant against learning that the result is actually 4, because they “already know” the answer).
Related: Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People
There already exist several approximations of rationality, for example RationalWiki, Intentional Insights, Logic Nation. Your most likely risk at spreading rationality is failing completely, but your second greatest risk is becoming (or inspiring) yet another of those.
Generally, I agree with you that it is good to: simplify the language, prioritize stuff, avoid needless offense, find easily memorable words, show everyday usefulness, etc. I just think that even after you do all of this… most people will remain unimpressed. Most of them will simply not care. The rest will take what you made and twist is somehow to include their pet topic, typically some form of supernaturalism.
I wish I knew what to do instead. I don’t. :( I think that having the Sequences is already a huge improvement over the previous situation (having a book I can point at, instead of just saying “uhm, the way you are using this reason thing feels wrong to me” only to be told “well, that’s just your opinion, man”), but still, even most of the highly intelligent and educated people remain unimpressed. And when a century ago Korzybski wrote Science and Sanity, also a few people were highly energized by it, but most remained unimpressed, and then it mostly got forgotten. -- It would be interesting to do research on what makes people predisposed to respond positively to the idea of rationality. Because it seems to me that most people who were impressed by it, already came somehow prepared to get it. If we could only replicate this previous step...
Trust me, I have decades of 1st hands on experience on running against the walls of concrete minds.
This doesn’t seem like a good way to build rationality. It is like trying to build a computer by taking a heap of components, and kicking them really hard and really persistently. -- You will do a lot of work and your original goal is reasonable, it’s just that this method does not approach that goal at all.
One possible approach is to go meta and write about what you wanted to read but couldn’t find… that is, the summary of “what is currently being done in the rationalist community”. There is at least one person who would like to read such article: you! And the chance is, you are not alone.
(This is analogical to a classical advice for wannabe entrepreneurs: make stuff that you wanted to buy but you couldn’t find it on the market. It means you have identified a real issue, and chance is there are other people in a situation similar to yours, i.e. your potential future customers.)
Making the complete summary at once could be difficult, so you could write it as a series of articles. Make research about who is doing what, and when you have enough material for an article, write it. Maybe one article about organizations such as MIRI and CFAR, another article about local meetups, next article about podcasts… dunno, is there anything else? Probably yes.
Problem is, being a newcomer is a disadvantage at doing such research: you start from the position of having less knowledge than your future readers, so you much work twice as hard to get ahead of them. (You wouldn’t want to write an equivalent of: “Hey guys, have you heard that there is an organization called MIRI trying to prevent an artificial intelligence from killing us all? Weird, huh?“) But if you approach the topic diligently, study the available material, perhaps ask a few questions, and find volunteers to review the draft of your article… it can be done.
Looking forward to meeting you the next week!
There will probably be many new people at the meetup, and starting with a political topic would give a completely wrong impression of the Less Wrong culture. So, please let’s keep this for the later part of the meetup. But I am also interested in other people’s explanations.
Seems like you are looking for an excuse to create your own website. Hey, if that’s what you want to do, just go ahead and do it! You don’t really need anyone’s permission.
It is not obvious why having more websites or organizations is better than having more people at the existing websites or organizations. There are arguments for both sides: when people try many different things, there is a greater chance that one of them wildly succeeds; but also when people are too fragmented, each of the projects suffers from lack of attention and resources. (Like, having Less Wrong and Slate Star Codex is probably better than just having Less Wrong alone, but also better than everyone having their own blog. Separating MIRI from CFAR seemed like the right move, but having these organizations instead of every individual doing their own project also seems right.)
Perhaps the right question to ask is what would be the added value of your project, and whether doing your project (at least initially) alone is still better than somehow contributing to success of an existing project.
For example, creating another clone of LW would be probably useless. The fact that it would be installed on a server in Germany means nothing; the internet is international. You would have less authors and less readers, but a lot of work creating and maintaining the server. It would be better to post your rationalist ideas on LW.
It would be more interesting to make a clone of LW in German language. The added value would be an extra audience. Although, I have some doubts even here, because I suspect that 90% German speakers who are really interested in these topics also speak English, so the added value might be much lower. But maybe it would make sense to just translate (with authors’ permission) some existing LW articles to German, and make a website for that. -- In both cases, it would be important to make the work as easy as possible (because planning fallacy, and why waste resources when you really don’t have to). For example, for a “German clone of LW” it would be better to reuse the current LW software and just translate the strings; and for “German translations of selected LW articles” just use any free blogging website.
Or you can find added value that is completely unrelated to the fact of you living in Germany. For example, maybe you have a pretty face and nice voice, and people might like to watch your videos about rationality.
What is actually MOVING in the rationalist movement?
Who has an overview of whats going on?
It would be really nice to have some “news channel” about what is currently happening in the rationalist community. I don’t know any. I mean, if something big happens, it will probably be mentioned on LW; and there are specialized summaries like “what happened recently in AI research”. But I would actually like to read some general summary about “what happened this week/month in the rationalist community”, which would highlight the big stuff, but also mention ongoing work or put some random small stuff under spotlight. Something like when evening news provide you the summary of the world. Maybe just having a photo from each meetup that happened during this month would be great (ignoring the privacy issues), and you could get them by asking the organizers by e-mail. It would be a bit of chicken-and-egg problem; people would be more willing to cooperate if they saw that everyone else is doing it too; so you would have to expend more energy at the beginning.
Maybe this is the opportunity for you! If you become serious about it and find your information sources, perhaps you could compile the summaries. But it would still make more sense to post them as LW articles instead of making another website.
Well… those were some general thoughts. A better plan would have to be based on your specific strengths, weaknesses, and interests.
By the way, nontrivial work often takes a lot of time. Sometimes asking people “what are you working on?” will mostly give you “the same thing I was working on this whole year”. Just saying that if this is the case, it may seem like people are doing nothing, when it is actually the opposite. (Without even looking at their website, I could guess that MIRI is trying to prove some theorems that seem necessary for a rationally thinking artificial intelligence, and CFAR is giving people lectures on rationality and trying to improve those lectures or invent new ones. For an outsider it may be frustrating to ask the same question next year and receive the same answer.)
In October 2018 there are rationalist meetups in Berlin and Munich. Going there and talking to people may give you some answers and ideas. Don’t underestimate the offline world!
I wasn’t thinking about the experiment specifically, when I wrote that.
Rather, the concept of “punishing do-gooders” reminded me of a few people I knew on the… Mečiar side of political spectrum… and how they viewed any pro-social activity, whether spontaneous or a part of some non-governmental organization. Shortly, people who help others (not their relatives) are either idiots or (more likely) a part of some sinister conspiracy against our state (most likely organized by the evil Americans, just like everything bad that happens on this planet). And this is my hypothesis on how that mental monstrosity has evolved; that thinking this way was the safe thing to do during communism.
I wonder if me can think of an experiment that would distinguish between the two?
No idea. Instead of this, I would probably try to make a qualitative research, i.e. instead of setting up an artificial experiment I would let them talk about famous real-life “do-gooders”, ask sympathetically what exactly they hate about them most, and try to find the common topics in different people’s answers.
Oh, I guess I am making the same mistake again, by automatically assuming that the punished people in the experiment were perceived as actual “do-gooders” instead of repressive powers of impersonal state. Uhm, I guess I am not going to provide a better answer. Just saying that—whether it is relevant to the experiment or not—hatred against actual “do-gooders” is a thing that definitely exists in Slovak culture, and I suspect that it is actually a norm in many cultures, with Western culture being the “WEIRD” exception.
I am rather embarrassed to say that I always classified Buddhism as a religion. (...) What I didn’t realize was that it’s more like (slightly gibberish) empirical instructions to follow, after which you should find your way up the mountain to enlightenment.
Also, stories of magical healing.