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OT37: One Horse Open Sleigh

This is the weekly open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. I’ll see some of you at the Bay Area Solstice tonight!

2. Comments of the week are Yarbel on why Israel would demand a snap decision on peace, Chris Stuccio on the new Bitcoin computer, and explanations of English’s non-uniqueness by nydwracu and Machine Interface

3. The Future of Humanity Institute has job openings right now, including three research fellowships at the Strategic AI Research Center and a position as executive assistant to Nick Bostrom. If you have the necessary skill set and are interested in humanity having a future, take a look at their page. Related: If You’re An AI Safety Lurker, Now Would Be A Good Time To De-Lurk

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1,530 Responses to OT37: One Horse Open Sleigh

  1. Bakkot says:

    Date format on the floating new comment box in the upper-right has been standardized thanks to qsantos. Let me know if you have issues, here or on github.

    • Neat. Thanks to both of you for working on the comment plugin.

    • Tibor says:

      Fantastic! Thanks a lot! Now the function finally works here (Firefox, Ubuntu 14.04). Now if I only could set it to Central European time, since it seems to use some kind of an American time. But I guess I can find out which one it is and always add 6 hours or something.

      • Bakkot says:

        I believe it’s EST (UTC-5). The idea is that it matches the timestamps on comments, which are not given in local time.

      • qsantos says:

        Glad to help! As Bakkot said, the point is having the same timezone on the webpage generated by SSC itself, and in the script. That said, Javascript could definitely dynamically fix all the dates. For now, I am preparing a few other features.

        • Would it be possible to have one’s replies just appear on a page without having to refresh the page? This would make it easier to not lose the information about new comments.

          • qsantos says:

            That is definitely doable, but will require some actions on the network (i.e. sending the reply and checking the result). I prefer to prioritize features that can be done entirely locally for now, but added the idea to a short list not to forget.

    • Deiseach says:

      Is it supposed to be set since 1970 or is that just my PC? 🙂

      I refuse to return to the 70s, I lived through that decade once and that was plenty, thanks very much!

      • LHN says:

        I’m guessing it’s based on standard Unix time, which is a count of seconds since midnight UTC on January 1, 1970.

        • brad says:

          Yep, for most computers that date is essentially “the beginning”. So if you don’t have another date saved, the program says give me all the comments since forever.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      >No Seconds

      Thanks a lot, now this site is literally unreadable.

      • qsantos says:

        Sorry to hear you are encountering difficulties.

        I failed to find the source for your quote “No Seconds” and will have to guess you have an issue related to the omission of seconds in the date format.

        Could you elaborate on that? What do you mean by “literally unreadable”? What device/OS/browser are you using?

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          I apologize for causing you concern. My comment was indeed related to the omission of seconds: It was a joke which relied on an exaggerated reaction to a very minor removal of a feature to convey hilarity. The site is not only not literally unreadable, it’s no less readable than ever before.

          Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go find my shovel.

  2. Alasdair Nerdfights says:

    Hi Slate Star Codex regulars. I am hoping some of you have 2 minutes to spare to click a few links to potentially win the Against Malaria Foundation (A Givewell top charity that is regulalry mentioned here) $25000+ in funding.
    AMF was recently selected again by givewell as its top charity of the year and I know it is one that scott has been very supportive of in the past.

    Please go to this page of videos for the AMF – and vote for as many of the videos as you can. You can vote for any number of videos so so if you voted for all 10 or so videos that would count as 10 votes for us! (If you would like to watch the videos some of them are great, but you can vote without watching) The contest only lasts till 12am EST December 13th.
    Voting Page for Against Malaria Foundation : http://goo.gl/tr0oUq
    =============

  3. anon85 says:

    I would like to discourage anyone from making large personal sacrifices for the cause of AI safety. Many competent CS researchers view the field as semi-crackpotish, in the sense that there’s no good research we can do now that actually decreases the chances of AI catastrophe. Scott Aaronson says

    Also, my rationalist friends seemed overly interested in questions like how to prevent malevolent AIs from taking over the world, which I tend to think we lack the tools to make much progress on right now (though, like with many other remote possibilities, I’m happy for some people to work on them and see if they find anything interesting).

    http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2537

    He has also said elsewhere that strong AI is likely centuries or millennia away.

    • Aris Katsaris says:

      Aren’t you quoting unfairly out of context, without giving the immediately following paragraph where he says “So, what changed? Well, in the debates about social justice, public shaming, etc. that have swept across the Internet these past few years, it seems to me that my rationalist friends have proven themselves able to weigh opposing arguments, examine their own shortcomings, resist groupthink and hysteria from both sides, and attack ideas rather than people, in a way that the wider society—and most depressingly to me, the “enlightened, liberal” part of society—has often failed. In a real-world test (“real-world,” in this context, meaning social media…), the rationalists have walked the walk and rationaled the rational, and thus they’ve given me no choice but to stand up and be counted as one of them.”

      Thanks for giving the link though, so that we could read the context ourselves. That makes up for it a bit.

      • anon85 says:

        I edited my comment a few times. Do you still think I’m quoting unfairly? Note that Aaronson’s opinion of AI safety didn’t change; only his opinion on the rationalist movement did.

        • Aris Katsaris says:

          No, your comment is better now than when I first read it, since you don’t have the quote include the previous disparaging-seeming remarks (which he effectively negates in the immediately following paragraph which I quoted).

    • Helldalgo says:

      I don’t see a call for doing anything dramatic in that article Scott linked. I think its request is less “making large personal sacrifices,” and more “Make yourself known if you’re seriously interested in AI development/risk reduction.” Which is reasonable: even if gathering the interested and skilled parties doesn’t lead to strong AI, it’s bound to lead to SOMETHING. Mathematical breakthroughs, technological advancements in machine learning, etc.

      Also: even if it takes centuries to develop AI, having safety on the radar in the early development of the field is a good thing.

      • anon85 says:

        The current request seems fine. But this blog has focused on only one side of the AI risk debate for a long time, and there are definitely effective altruists that are donating large portions of their money to AI risk instead of malaria nets.

        I just want readers to know that many intelligent, reasonable people think AI risk is not an urgent concern (at least, not anywhere close to malaria nets).

        • Linch says:

          “I just want readers to know that many intelligent, reasonable people think AI risk is not an urgent concern.”

          I doubt anybody familiar with EA doesn’t already know this. I

        • Helldalgo says:

          Most EAs know that; the mainstream movement is barely cognizant of AI risk reduction, given that many of the meta charities don’t really recognize MIRI.

          Donations to MIRI are in my budget, personally, but not my EA budget. They’re in my Kickstarter/warm entrepreneurial fuzzies budget.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            Maybe they recognize it, but think AI risk is now overfunded, or don’t think MIRI has been proven an effective use of money.

    • Joe says:

      AI is also on very thin ice conceptually and probably not possible at all.
      http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1972/JASA3-72Jaki.html

      • Izaak Weiss says:

        Most of us pretty soundly reject dualism.

        • Joe says:

          On what grounds?

          • Lyle Cantor says:

            On what plain!

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I think a good start would be that

            a) every once-mysterious aspect of reality that we have now developed a good understanding of, an understanding that allows us to make more accurate predictions than we could before, has turned out not to involve any supernatural phenomena.

            b) the brain is still an incredibly complex system that we are only beginning to understand – and it is a system that is made up of stuff that behaves differently from what we are currently able to make computers out of, so there is plenty room for it to turn out that the mind runs entirely on the physical brain, even if it turns out to be impossible to model in silicon anything that works quite like a brain,

            c) Dualists have, as far as I am aware, yet to come up with a coherent testable theory of how mind can exist independently of matter, and most of the argumentation I’ve come across seems to be basically just some combination of argument-from-ignorance and wishful thinking, in support of a model which there are good reasons to think would come naturally to us (running a more complicated mental model is going to be more costly than a simpler one – and unless you have a good reason for why souls should be considered exempt from the ordinary laws of economics, that is the case regardless of the truth or falsity of dualism – and there will therefore have been strong selection pressure on intelligent entities that need to run mental models of other intelligent entities to do that modelling as cheaply as they can get away with – modelling others as single units of intentionality is much cheaper than modelling billions of neurons) – so we would expect belief in something unitary like a soul to emerge even if not true.

            You could consider it another kludge like the way we see lines as bending or different lengths in those optical illusions, or indeed the many other heuristics where we run a mental model that is just close enough to reality to get by, most of the time, rather than a maximally accurate one.

            [Edited to add: also the fact that you can change people’s personalities by altering the structure of their brain, is good evidence in favour of non-dualism – the position that the mind is something the brain does, and therefore is something the brain does differently if you change the brain. ]

          • anon says:

            On grounds that it is lighter on testable true claims than alternative simpler theories.

          • If it were true that our minds were immaterial then I would find it very surprising that people could get drunk. I would find all the other scientific discoveries about which parts of our brain correspond to which mental faculties pretty much impossible. By introspection I have a single unified consciousness but that’s clearly not what I can observe in other people so either I’m unique or that’s a cognitive illusion.

          • There’s the theory that the immaterial soul has to operate through the material body, so changes to the body affect how the soul can express itself. This isn’t totally crazy (any device which receives a broadcast is like that), but I can’t see how you’d test it.

          • Joe says:

            Considering hylomorphic dulism might help answer some of your objections to dualism. I think we can both agree Descartes version has a lot of problems.
            http://www.newdualism.org/papers/D.Oderberg/HylemorphicDualism2.htm

            I would also ask you this. How do you expect an entirely material object like a computer to form immaterial concepts like meaning?

          • anon says:

            How would you expect an immaterial object like a soul to form meta-immaterial concepts like the idea that souls are a thing?

          • Kiya says:

            My entirely material computer produces immaterial true answers to various classes of math problems on demand.

            Do you have reason to think material things would be bad at generating immaterial ones, or are you just sticking X and Not-X together in a sentence and hoping it’s a contradiction?

          • Joe says:

            The answers produced by your computer are totally observer dependent. You computer doesn’t understand the operations you had it perform. It doesn’t comprehend the concept of math. Does you watch tell time? No of course you have to look at it.

          • anon says:

            That’s a circular argument. We reject artificial awareness (AI) because according to dualism awareness is a special domain, and dualism is true because we define awareness to be a special domain.

          • Joe says:

            No. That’s not the argument. Of what substance does awareness consist? Awareness is obviously immaterial as a concept. In oder for our minds to grasp immaterial concepts there must be some aspect of our minds that are immaterial. Artificial awareness is rejected because there is no way to create the immaterial out of material substances. Artificial awarness is dismissed as obviously absurd.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Winter Shaker:

            a) every once-mysterious aspect of reality that we have now developed a good understanding of, an understanding that allows us to make more accurate predictions than we could before, has turned out not to involve any supernatural phenomena.

            So how do you define “a good understanding”? Generally it seems to be defined as “a scientific understanding”, in which case the argument just collapses into circularity.

            (running a more complicated mental model is going to be more costly than a simpler one – and unless you have a good reason for why souls should be considered exempt from the ordinary laws of economics, that is the case regardless of the truth or falsity of dualism – and there will therefore have been strong selection pressure on intelligent entities that need to run mental models of other intelligent entities to do that modelling as cheaply as they can get away with – modelling others as single units of intentionality is much cheaper than modelling billions of neurons)

            The very act of modelling something presupposes the possession of mind.

            Anon:

            That’s a circular argument. We reject artificial awareness (AI) because according to dualism awareness is a special domain, and dualism is true because we define awareness to be a special domain.

            Actually it was the founders of modern science who defined awareness to be a special domain. One of the main features of the scientific revolution was the distinction between so-called secondary qualities — things as they appear to observers, e.g., the subjective experience of seeing a red thing, or of feeling hot, or whatever — and primary qualities — things which were supposed to be observer-independent, such as position, extension, number, and the like. The idea was that science would concern itself only with the primary qualities of things in order to get a more objective picture of the world, and in this it has had great success. However, it should be obvious that, since consciousness necessarily involves subjective experiences, you can never fully explain it, even in principle, using a method predicated on ignoring subjective experiences. To claim otherwise is like claiming that, since you’ve managed to quite successfully clean your living room by sweeping all the dust under the rug, there’s no reason why the pile of dust under the rug can’t be dealt with the same way. The early scientists were all dualists because they understood the philosophical implications of their own method, not because of wishful thinking.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            “In order for our minds to grasp immaterial concepts there must be some aspect of our minds that are immaterial.”

            That is far from obvious. Computers can perform calculations, but are made from electronics rather than numbers.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            That is far from obvious. Computers can perform calculations, but are made from electronics rather than numbers.

            Computers just give a predetermined output to a given input. They don’t in any sense grasp immaterial concepts in the same way that human beings can.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            So how do you define “a good understanding”? Generally it seems to be defined as “a scientific understanding”, in which case the argument just collapses into circularity.

            A “good understanding” in the rationalist community is usually taken to mean a reductionist understanding; one which takes a big, complicated, mysterious, high-level thing and explains it in terms of smaller, simpler, more fundamental things which follow mathematical laws.

          • Alrenous says:

            Dualism is true.

            Physics is made of math. Math is objective. Mind is subjective.

            Thoughts are ontologically subjective. They exist to the extent you believe in them, and have exactly the properties you believe they have. This is an identity law relation. To think of a blue cube is constituted by thinking you’re thinking of a blue cube. No matter what proof I may muster to show you’re really thinking of a red ball, I am in fact wrong. (As distinct from the labels ‘red ball’ and ‘blue cube.’)

            Not only this, your thoughts are in principle inaccessible to me. Imagine we had two separate observers, both of whom determine whether you are thinking about a blue cube. Since neither can be wrong, the second mind cannot deviate from the first – the supposed second mind is in fact the same mind. The only way I can observe your thoughts is by being you. (Other minds problem – if you have no mind, you cannot observe evidence of a mind. But, also, Descartes, Cogito.)

            Math (and physics) are the opposite. It does not go away if nobody is believing in it, it does not change if anyone changes their mind, it is fully accessible to all observers, and you can most certainly be wrong about it. Math and physics are ontologically objective.

            Subjective != objective, therefore mind != physics, QED. (Longer version.)

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            As a dualist, I would just like to point out that dualism as such has nothing to do with whether strong AI is possible.

            It doesn’t really matter for the problem of AI safety whether an AI is conscious. An intelligent agent can be extremely powerful, effective, and/or dangerous without having any kind of internal conscious experience or “qualia”.

            A thermostat or a guided missile is a little bit intelligent and completely unconscious. A chess computer is much more intelligent and still completely unconscious. We can keep going until we have an android like Data who is really intelligent and completely unconscious. Or an unconscious superintelligence.

            This is the real relevance of the p-zombie thing. Not to argue for epiphenomenalism as an actual fact, but to point out that intelligence does not imply consciousness. The Chinese room doesn’t have to understand Chinese in order to speak it. A superintelligent AI doesn’t have to understand nanotechnology in order to wipe out humanity with an engineered virus.

            And though I don’t think consciousness can be explained on a materialist framework, I certainly don’t rule out the possibility that we will scientifically discover the correct framework and be able to create artificial consciousnesses. I just don’t think they will be really fancy Turing machines.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Mr. X

            Actually it was the founders of modern science who defined awareness to be a special domain. One of the main features of the scientific revolution was the distinction between so-called secondary qualities — things as they appear to observers, e.g., the subjective experience of seeing a red thing, or of feeling hot, or whatever — and primary qualities — things which were supposed to be observer-independent, such as position, extension, number, and the like.

            We should note that, besides Bacon, none of the founders of modern science were empiricists. Voltaire and his fellow popularizers of empiricism had to do a hatchet job on the history of ideas to make it look like Descartes, Pascal, and Leibniz were dummies, Newton was an empiricist, and Locke’s liberalism somehow counted as science.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @jaimeastorga2000:
            A “good understanding” in the rationalist community is usually taken to mean a reductionist understanding; one which takes a big, complicated, mysterious, high-level thing and explains it in terms of smaller, simpler, more fundamental things which follow mathematical laws.

            Mathematical entities are not material. If dualism isn’t true, either mathematical entities are delusions like New Atheists and Yudkowsky-rationalists believe God to be, or “the universe is a great thought” and it’s matter-energy that’s epiphenomenal.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            We should note that, besides Bacon, none of the founders of modern science were empiricists. Voltaire and his fellow popularizers of empiricism had to do a hatchet job on the history of ideas to make it look like Descartes, Pascal, and Leibniz were dummies, Newton was an empiricist, and Locke’s liberalism somehow counted as science.

            I didn’t know that, although given the hatchet job they did on mediaeval philosophy, I can’t say I’m too surprised.

            Mathematical entities are not material. If dualism isn’t true, either mathematical entities are delusions like New Atheists and Yudkowsky-rationalists believe God to be, or “the universe is a great thought” and it’s matter-energy that’s epiphenomenal.

            You could add in universals as well. This is especially fun when debating with positivists, given that you can then point out to them that science depends on realism about universals for its validity.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Alrenous:

            your thoughts are in principle inaccessible to me.

            Suppose you develop a machine which monitors the activity of every neuron in my brain. For years you train the machine by asking me what I am thinking about and then correlating that with the observed neural activity. After a long time the machine can predict what I am thinking about with 100% accuracy by observing my neural activity. Doesn’t this mean you now have access to my thoughts?

            Math (and physics) are the opposite. […] it does not change if anyone changes their mind

            I think there is some equivocation going on here. The laws of physics don’t change when I change my mind, but the physical state of my neurons definitely does change when I change my mind.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Alrenous:

            I agree with you as far as “objective ≠ subjective, QED”—which is only one of many, many ways to refute materialism.

            But the rest of your essay is not too good, to be honest.

            First of all, you say: “If something exists, I must be able to learn that it exists.” What?! Why? If I know something exists, I must be able to learn that it exists. But plenty of things can exist that I cannot ever know about.

            Also, I don’t think you really understand epiphenomenalism. Large parts of your objection to it are non sequiturs. For instance, you say:

            There is the idea the visual cortex and the red ball qualia have to be identical, but this is epiphenomenalism. As per Turing, the exact implementation of the cortex is not relevant: silicon, myelin, vacuum tubes, gears and levers, it doesn’t matter.

            Epiphenomenalism does not say that the visual cortex and the “red ball qualia” are “identical”. What would that even mean? Obviously they’re not identical because one is a physical object and the other is a quale. At best, what you are describing is something like representationalism: that the picture of the ball in your mind somehow “is like” or “resembles” the ball in reality.

            And I have a hard time making any sense at all out of this paragraph:

            The motivation for 2) is to maintain the identity, so as to reconcile consciousness with physicalism. However, this results in epiphenomenalism, and thus still refutes physicalism. If the cortex is fully objective, we can remove all supposedly-subjective features from it without loss of predictive validity, as per Ockham, and thus we have proven they don’t exist, as in 3). Thus 2) is either not meaningfully different from 3) or you must accept epiphenomenalism, which is magic.

            Now, epiphenomenalism is self-refuting, for exactly the same reason that materialism is self-refuting. Namely, in denying free will it denies that people are capable of believing things because they are true. Whatever they believe is a result of external forces operating on them, which may or may not cause them to believe in what is true. But in order to know something, you must believe it because it is true. Therefore, no one can ever know epiphenomenalism or materialism: if it is true, they don’t believe it because it is true.

            Your point that the brain could not be “aware” of the epiphenomenal mind (obviously it could not be aware because a brain as such is not aware of anything—but I assume you mean it has no causal contact) is true but less fundamental.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            Suppose you develop a machine which monitors the activity of every neuron in my brain. For years you train the machine by asking me what I am thinking about and then correlating that with the observed neural activity. After a long time the machine can predict what I am thinking about with 100% accuracy by observing my neural activity. Doesn’t this mean you now have access to my thoughts?

            No?

            Suppose that every time you picture your mother’s face, you punch me in the face. I can predict this with 100% certainty.

            Does that mean I know what your mother looks like?

            Knowing what you are thinking about is not the same as having first-person access to your thoughts. The two are as different as my sensation of being punched in the face is from your mental image of your mother.

            Math (and physics) are the opposite. […] it does not change if anyone changes their mind

            I think there is some equivocation going on here. The laws of physics don’t change when I change my mind, but the physical state of my neurons definitely does change when I change my mind.

            Perhaps Alrenous did not express it very well, but no one disagrees that the physical state of your neurons changes when you change your mind. What they disagree with is the idea that the physical state of your neurons is the same thing as your mind.

            True enough, the emotion of anger can only occur when certain neurons fire in your brain. But the firing of those neurons is not the same thing as emotion of anger. Nor does anger “reduce to” the firing of those neurons. It is obviously completely impossible in principle to move from one, two, or a million objective facts about neurons to a single subjective fact about anger. If you want an ontologically subjective conclusion, you must have an ontologically subjective premise in there somewhere.

            It is exactly parallel to the is-ought problem in ethics. If you want “ought” in the conclusion, it just has to be in the premises somewhere.

          • Joe says:

            You open another bag of worms. Even if you build an extremely powerful computer like you discribe in order for it to pose any serious danger it must also possess volition(also immaterial). Good luck building an artificial free will. The threat from an artificial intelligence and will is just comical.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Joe:

            Not at all!

            An AI need not have a will, let alone a free will, in order to be a threat. I’m not sure why you think it would.

            Chess computers don’t have a will—but they can certainly come up with unpredictable strategies for beating the best human players at chess.

            All an AI needs to pose a threat to human beings is the capacity to pursue goals (in no more metaphysical a way than a thermostat pursues the goal of maintaining a constant temperature), the ability to improve itself (in a completely deterministic way), and the ability to take in and process vast quantities of data.

            It does not require consciousness or free will.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Mathematical entities are not material. If dualism isn’t true, either mathematical entities are delusions like New Atheists and Yudkowsky-rationalists believe God to be, or “the universe is a great thought” and it’s matter-energy that’s epiphenomenal.”

            Political concepts are not material either. Oddly no one thinks the fact we have the word ‘communism’ and ‘capitalism’ means dualism is correct. In fact the same goes for all different types of labels.

            I’m also not seeing how dualism saves that; having math physically exist doesn’t answer how the physically existing math interacts with our math. Unless the human mind tunnels through the universe into Plato’s Realm and we are kidnapping their ones and zeros, putting math in a separate realm doesn’t explain the math humans actually use.

            Vox
            “Namely, in denying free will it denies that people are capable of believing things because they are true. Whatever they believe is a result of external forces operating on them, which may or may not cause them to believe in what is true. But in order to know something, you must believe it because it is true. Therefore, no one can ever know epiphenomenalism or materialism: if it is true, they don’t believe it because it is true.”

            How does that follow at all? Free will means people are exempt from causality; that is obviously nonsense which is why the rationalist community rejects it.

          • Zakharov says:

            If you build a computer that decides where and when to fire nuclear missiles, it doesn’t need to have volition to be extremely dangerous.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Samuel Skinner:

            Political concepts are not material either. Oddly no one thinks the fact we have the word ‘communism’ and ‘capitalism’ means dualism is correct. In fact the same goes for all different types of labels.

            On the contrary: everyone who says mathematical concepts imply dualism would say political concepts imply dualism! Indeed, they do so much more obviously. It’s just that mathematical concepts are used as the example because they are much less susceptible to being reduced to “all an illusion” or some such thing.

            I’m also not seeing how dualism saves that; having math physically exist doesn’t answer how the physically existing math interacts with our math. Unless the human mind tunnels through the universe into Plato’s Realm and we are kidnapping their ones and zeros, putting math in a separate realm doesn’t explain the math humans actually use.

            I don’t think you have the right picture here.

            There is no “physically existing math”. Mathematical concepts exist in human minds. That’s where they exist and that’s the only place they exist. Mathematics doesn’t exist in a Platonic realm and doesn’t exist “in” external physical reality.

            Mathematics is a mental model of reality. It corresponds to physical facts because it is constructed in order to do so. The universe is not intrinsically mathematical; mathmatics is a way of making the universe intelligible to the human mind.

          • Joe says:

            Vox
            How are goals formed independent of conscience and will? The chess program just cant decided on its own to play the stock market. Even if a paper clip optimizer got out of control I just don’t see how it can form and achieve all the vast number of mini goals it would take to trick humans into cooperating with the goal of pointing all the worlds resources towards paperclip production.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Joe:

            How are goals formed independent of conscience and will? The chess program just cant decided on its own to play the stock market. Even if a paper clip optimizer got out of control I just don’t see how it can form and achieve all the vast number of mini goals it would need to trick humans into the cooperation needed point all the worlds resources towards paperclip production.

            Do you believe in evolution? (I don’t mean that in any kind of disparaging way.) Exactly like that.

            You have to distinguish “goals” from conscious “purpose” or “intent”. Evolution does not have any purpose or intent: there is no over-mind making sure everything goes off without a hitch.

            But in a very real sense, evolution has a specific, identifiable goal. And that is for every gene to maximize its own inclusive fitness: i.e. to replicate itself as much as possible. Now, it’s certainly not immediately obvious how all the wonderful diversity of life on Earth comes from that—but it does, and the existence of every organism can be explained on that basis.

            The process occurs by sheer unintelligent trial-and-error. Random mutations happen, and if they enhance fitness they stick around. If they decrease fitness, they are weeded out.

            Now, an AI can do a similar thing—but much more intelligently (though still completely unconsciously!). It has a goal: paperclips. It has sensors that can detect the quantity of paperclips. And it has tables that project the future quantity of paperclips, contingent on certain parameters (such as the number of paperclip factories it runs, how fast they run, and the number of human beings on the planet).

            It can be programmed to continually adjust the parameters to maximize the projected value of paperclips. When the projected value is off from the sensed value, it can be programmed to automatically improve its projection tables.

            How would it come up with complex schemes to kill all humans? The same way a chess computer figures out how to outwit a human at chess. Using the vast amount of information and processing power at its disposal, it can calculate: if I try this will there be more or fewer humans? What about this? What about that? If it is good enough at calculating, it will find through sheer exhaustive analysis the best way of reducing the number of humans, even if it was never originally programmed with that way.

            This is exactly how evolution went from “inclusive genetic fitness” to “therefore, squirrels”.

          • Deiseach says:

            Why are you saying souls and minds are the same thing?

            I don’t think you need to invoke “the supernatural” when discussing minds, or conflate them with souls, unless you’ve already made up your mind about the conclusion and are only using terms intended to invoke derision: this is the kind of thinking that results in people believing in fairies and gods, which are patently ridiculous! Souls and minds! Nonsense!

            I think it’s possible to have a mind and not a soul (indeed, if you’re going to argue about animal rights, and intelligent non-human animals, you’re going that way: if they don’t possess minds, why are you discussing rights or equality? This does not mean that they need to be ensouled, however. Same thing goes for AI: if you’re going to create or develop or midwife a genuine new consciousness, not just a cleverly-designed machine, you’re talking about an entity with a mind, but that says nothing about it having a soul or not.)

          • Joe says:

            Vox
            Yes I believe in evolution. I would ague that the organic world of evolution just too different than the clinical, sanitary, artificial and strictly predictable deterministic world of computation. I don’t see the later getting out of our control in any comparable to evolution. Microchips and circuits don’t mutate like organic cells.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            Suppose that every time you picture your mother’s face, you punch me in the face. I can predict this with 100% certainty.

            Does that mean I know what your mother looks like?

            Well, just improve your thought-reading machine so that when I conjure up a mental image, it can read out the image; when my thoughts are tinged by emotions it can describe the mix of emotions and their intensities; etc. Improve the machine to the point where it can spit out elegantly written prose that, I affirm, exactly captures every detail of my state of mind, and expresses it the way I would if only I had more skill with language and more introspective insight. Sure sounds like you have access to my thoughts now, since you can basically watch every detail of my stream of consciousness go by on a computer readout in front of you.

            Knowing what you are thinking about is not the same as having first-person access to your thoughts.

            I agree that if you insert “first-person” then by definition only one person can have first-person access to their thoughts. But the qualifier “first-person” was not present in the sentence by Alrenous that I responded to. Anyway, why do you need first-person access when you can watch my thoughts scroll by on a screen?

            It is obviously completely impossible in principle to move from one, two, or a million objective facts about neurons to a single subjective fact about anger.

            OK, so are these subjective facts about anger? “Its feeling in my mind is like a white hot fire.” “I hate feeling anger; it’s painful” “I never feel so alive as when I am angry.”

            If you fed all the details of your brain state into a sufficiently powerful computer, the computer could predict whether you would make any of these statements. That sounds to me like the computer is learning subjective facts about anger from objective facts about your brain state?

            materialism is self-refuting. Namely, in denying free will it denies that people are capable of believing things because they are true. Whatever they believe is a result of external forces operating on them

            Brains are cleverly designed material objects constructed so that when external forces act on them, the brains come to believe true things, and they believe those things because they are true.

            When sunlight strikes my eyes, a signal is sent to my brain which causes it to believe that the sun has risen. A clear causal chain can be traced from the rising of the sun to my brain’s belief-state.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Deiseach:

            Again, from the perspective of dualism myself, I have no idea what a soul is if it is not the same thing as a mind. In that respect, I don’t think anything can have a mind and not have a soul, or have a soul and not have a mind—because they are synonyms.

            I think it’s possible to have a mind and not a soul (indeed, if you’re going to argue about animal rights, and intelligent non-human animals, you’re going that way: if they don’t possess minds, why are you discussing rights or equality? This does not mean that they need to be ensouled, however.

            Surely the traditional Catholic teaching with regard to animals is that they have souls? They have “sensitive souls” and “vegetatative souls” but not “rational souls”. Just to be clear, I totally reject the hylomorphic idea that the soul is the form of the body—it doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t give you the kind of soul that religious people want anyway. (It’s obvious under such a view, as Aristotle himself believed, that the soul could not survive death.) But still: Catholics at least think animals have souls.

            As for myself, I think the only valid question is: do animals have minds/souls/consciousness or not? I think they probably do, but maybe not. There’s not that says for sure that they’re not Cartesian automata.

            Same thing goes for AI: if you’re going to create or develop or midwife a genuine new consciousness, not just a cleverly-designed machine, you’re talking about an entity with a mind, but that says nothing about it having a soul or not.)

            What exactly would be the difference between it having a mind but not a soul, and having a mind and a soul?

          • Joe says:

            Actually I do believe Aristotle believed in the immortality of the soul. I think he however recognized that the soul was incomplete with out the body. If you read the link I posted up thread it covers a lot of this.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            Well, just improve your thought-reading machine so that when I conjure up a mental image, it can read out the image; when my thoughts are tinged by emotions it can describe the mix of emotions and their intensities; etc. Sure sounds like you have access to my thoughts now, since you can basically watch my stream of consciousness go by on a computer readout in front of you.

            I would love to see a machine that—without ever having seen your mother or listened to any descriptions you make of her—could draw a picture of her based on your brain waves.

            Even if it could do that, what we have is a series of lines on paper. It’s only a drawing of your mother insofar as it is interpreted as such by a mind—whether its yours or mine.

            The same thing goes more obviously for the emotions: whatever it reads off from your brain waves, it will never be able to communicate to someone who has not experienced those emotions himself what it is like to feel them.

            Try explaining what “red” is like to blind man. You can’t do it.

            OK, so are these subjective facts about anger? “Its feeling in my mind is like a white hot fire.” “I hate feeling anger; it’s painful” “I never feel so alive as when I am angry.”

            If you fed all the details of your brain state into a sufficiently powerful computer, the computer could predict whether you would make any of these statements. That sounds to me like the computer is learning subjective facts about anger from objective facts about your brain state?

            No, you are misunderstanding something.

            The statements someone makes are objective facts. They are not subjective; they are publicly observable.

            If you see someone bawling in the corner, he’s either sad or a really good actor. Normally, we discount the “really good actor” hypothesis because we generalize from our own experience. But strictly speaking, bawling does not imply sadness. And they certainly don’t tell you anything about what sadness is like to someone who never experienced it.

            Do you think any of those statements about anger really get across what it feels like to have it? It’s like a fire? Can you cook something with it? It’s painful? Like a papercut? And I’m not even going to touch how you would explain “feels so alive” to someone who never felt alive.

            Someone who never felt emotions could never have it explained to him what they felt like. He could be as expert you like about identifying when other people are going to claim to feel them. It can be 100% that if you punch someone in the face, he will tell you he is angry. But this emotionless observer could never know what it is like—or rule out the hypothesis that it’s all some form of signaling fakery.

            Brains are cleverly designed material objects constructed so that when external forces act on them, the brains come to believe true things, and they believe those things because they are true.

            When sunlight strikes my eyes, a signal is sent to my brain which causes it to believe that the sun has risen. A clear causal chain can be traced from the rising of the sun to my brain’s belief-state.

            Are you infallible, or are you sometimes wrong? When you’re wrong, are you always justified in believing what you do (e.g. because you were given misleading evidence)? Or do you sometimes believe things irrationally, things that you ought not to have believed on that evidence?

            If you do you sometimes believe things irrationally, and if you are not in control whether you are doing so (if it is ultimately attributable to outside factors), you have no reason to believe that you are not in fact thinking irrationally on every question. You can’t have the slightest degree of probability of belief in anything.

            For instance, imagine that you are locked in a room with an old UNIVAC-style computer. You have no access to the outside world, except through the little printouts it gives you. The computer adds up numbers, say the current stock market prices.

            However, there is a funny thing about this computer: it has a small switch inside of it. When this switch is on, the addition is always right. But when the switch is off, the results could be right but are more often wrong in random ways. So if the switch is on, you know the printouts give you the correct stock market prices. But if it is off, they might be (and probably are) incorrect.

            Now, if you had no access to this switch and never did—if you could neither flip it nor observe it—could you have any idea what the correct stock market prices are? Clearly, you could have no idea at all. This computer is your only access to the stock market: you cannot independently observe it. Your “priors” are only the information it has given you so far.

            The man in the room is, of course, you. The computer is your faculty of reason, which is your only means of propositional knowledge of the world. (Of course you have sensory observation, but reason is what interprets that and puts it into propositional form.) The switch is your decision to think in a focused and rational manner, or to abandon focus and allow yourself to be influenced by outside authority and fallacious reasoning. In other words, your ability to believe that which and only that which is true.

            It is indeed true that we can never be sure that all the data we are being fed is not misleading. That is, we can never have “absolute” certainty: certainty outside the context of our experience. But inside our experience, we can know that which we are justified in believing. Yet if we were not in control of the “switch”, we could not even know that. We could know nothing at all.

            I think that’s the most beautiful refutation of determinism (and therefore materialism). But here’s a simpler (and somewhat related) one by Michael Huemer:

            1. With respect to the free-will issue, we should refrain from believing falsehoods. (premise)
            2. Whatever should be done can be done. (premise)
            3. If determinism is true, then whatever can be done, is done. (premise)
            4. I believe MFT. (premise) [NB: MFT stands for “minimal free-will thesis”.]
            5. With respect to the free-will issue, we can refrain from believing falsehoods. (from 1,2)
            6. If determinism is true, then with respect to the free will issue, we refrain from believing falsehoods. (from 3,5)
            7. If determinism is true, then MFT is true. (from 6,4)
            8. MFT is true. (from 7)

            Source for objections and replies.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Joe:

            Aristotle described the “active intellect” as “deathless and everlasting”.

            The problem is, it’s an extremely obscure passage and probably the most controversial in all of his work. No one knows whether he’s even talking about humanity, or whether he is referring to the Prime Mover. And even if he is talking about humanity, no one is too clear on what the “active intellect” is (it’s not the whole soul) or what it does.

            It seems to be a kind of completely impersonal “spark”; it’s not the locus of personal identity.

            But really the passage is just too vague to be clearly intepreted. As the SEP article on it says:

            So varied are their approaches, in fact, that it is tempting to regard De Anima iii 5 as a sort of Rorschach Test for Aristotelians: it is hard to avoid the conclusion that readers discover in this chapter the Aristotle they hope to admire.

            In any case, the immortality of the soul is not a major part of Aristotle’s philosophy, and it doesn’t even really fit well with it.

          • Mary says:

            “every once-mysterious aspect of reality that we have now developed a good understanding of, an understanding that allows us to make more accurate predictions than we could before, has turned out not to involve any supernatural phenomena.”

            Under what circumstances would you admit that such an aspect of reality has shown that it does involve supernatural phenomena? Or would that preclude “a good understanding”?

          • Anonymous says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            Suppose I want to test whether someone is an emotionless sociopath or a normal human with normal emotions. I ask them to say what it feels like to be angry. I ask them to say how they felt when someone they loved died. Etc. To each question they give a moving, poetic response, which not only convinces me that they understand what it is like to experience emotions, but helps me better understand my own emotional experiences. Probably I am right to be convinced that this person understands what it is like to experience emotions?

            But this emotionless observer could never know what it is like

            A sufficiently powerful computer could also pass this test if you gave it a brain to examine. Shouldn’t I be convinced that such a computer understands what it is like to experience emotions? Otherwise I may find myself saying churlish things like, “yes, this computer has written the single greatest and most widely acclaimed essay in history on the experience of emotion, far outstripping the combined efforts of all human artists ever, but it doesn’t really understand emotions.”

            —or rule out the hypothesis that it’s all some form of signaling fakery.

            A sufficiently powerful computer looking at a brain in real time could be a perfect lie detector.

            If you do you sometimes believe things irrationally, and if you are not in control whether you are doing so (if it is ultimately attributable to outside factors), you have no reason to believe that you are not in fact thinking irrationally on every question. You can’t have the slightest degree of probability of belief in anything.

            I don’t agree. Actually, I’m really confused that you assert this. Don’t you sometimes believe things irrationally for reasons outside your control? Haven’t you ever been tired and made a math mistake, or something?

            Now, if you had no access to this switch and never did—if you could neither flip it nor observe it—could you have any idea what the correct stock market prices are?

            I think the analogy misses two important things.

            First, in the real world, there is a strong selection effect in favor of brains that reason correctly. Suppose people with faulty stock price adders tend to make poorer investing decisions than ones with working price adders. Over time the people with the faulty adders go out of business, and the remaining ones all have working adders, or at least their adders have only minor flaws that don’t hurt their businesses too much.

            In such a world, I’m justified in trusting my adder to work reasonably well, because most adders work, because the ones that didn’t work drove their owners into bankruptcy. Similarly in the real world I’m justified in trusting my brain to work reasonably well, because the brains that didn’t work got their owners killed.

            Second, I can cross-check the results of my brain’s reasoning to try to catch contradictions. In the analogy, I could do careful cross-checks of the output of my computer to try to learn about real stock prices.

            here’s a simpler (and somewhat related) one by Michael Huemer:

            Frankly I think this argument is silly. 1+2 constitute really strong premises which basically assume the conclusion. It’s a bit like saying “1. We should cure cancer in the next year. 2. What should be done can be done. 3. Therefore, we can cure cancer in the next year.”

            The argument relies for its rhetorical force on equivocating between “We should do X [if possible]” and “We should do X [and I guarantee that X is possible because I wouldn’t ask you to do something impossible].” This equivocation is clearer in the cancer example.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Mary‘s point has prompted me to say that Richard Carrier’s definition of “naturalism” (linked by Winter Shaker) to be synonymous with “materialism” is bad. Whether Carrier likes it or not, naturalism and materialism are not the same thing, and there’s no reason to sully the perfectly good name of naturalism by identifying it with materialism.

            It seems to me that the closest meaning of “supernatural” is either a) that which is the product of divine intervention and/or b) that which is not in principle intelligible by reason.

            If people had the Force (Carrier’s example), and this could be scientifically studied and mapped out, such that the powers had a definite nature and extent, it would be an entirely natural thing. Magic, as conceived in Harry Potter, is completely naturalistic.

            What I understand as “supernatural” magic is something like prayer, or else the traditional (pre-19th century) understanding of occult magic. Or maybe the clearest example is Eastern mysticism. You’re supposed to be able to redirect your “chi”, but the secret to doing this can’t be grasped rationally. You just have to meditate and it comes to you in a blinding flash of insight and then you can throw fireballs from your hands—or maybe you can just do something much more subtle. The powers don’t seem to have any regular nature or extent.

            Or there’s the Christian distinction between what can be known through “natural reason” and knowledge of the supernatural delivered through revelation.

          • Alejandro says:

            @Vox Imperatoris, regarding Huemer’s argument for minimal free will:

            Huemer’s argument is a proof against hard determinism, the position that nobody has free will. It does not contradict soft determinism or compatibilism, as Huemer himself makes clear when he says he will use “determinism” and “hard determinism” as synonyms. (A compatibilist would just say that (3) is false in the sense of “can” that is relevant for free will; I can do a different thing than what that I am physically determined to do, if I have the general capacity for doing that kind of thing at other occasions, am not physically or mentally impaired, etc.) Therefore his argument, by itself, is useless against materialism.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            Suppose I want to test whether someone is an emotionless sociopath or a normal human with normal emotions. I ask them to say what it feels like to be angry. I ask them to say how they felt when someone they loved died. Etc. To each question they give a moving, poetic response, which not only convinces me that they understand what it is like to experience emotions, but helps me better understand my own emotional experiences. Probably I am right to be convinced that this person understands what it is like to experience emotions?

            The inference that other people have conscious experience is based on two things: a) similar behavior and b) similar origin.

            It would be weird if everyone else acted like they felt emotions, but you were the only one who really had them. After all, you apparently were begotten in much the same way. There would have to be some explanation for this. It’s simpler to say everyone else is also conscious and has emotions.

            Now, if you had every reason to think this hypothetical person were a normal human being, then sure. But if you watched him come out of the sea foam or emerge from an alien spaceship, then no: there would be no particular reason to think he actually has emotions.

            What could he do to prove to you that he has them? Short of explaining the true nature of the mind and proving that he must have one, nothing.

            A sufficiently powerful computer could also pass this test if you gave it a brain to examine. Shouldn’t I be convinced that such a computer understands what it is like to experience emotions? Otherwise I may find myself saying churlish things like, “yes, this computer has written the single greatest and most widely acclaimed essay in history on the experience of emotion, far outstripping the combined efforts of all human artists ever, but it doesn’t really understand emotions.”

            As explained by the point above, no, absolutely not. A computer could easily write the greatest poem of all time without understanding or feeling emotion.

            Computers can play the greatest chess games of all time without understanding chess. I don’t see why they can’t do the same with essays.

            I don’t agree. Actually, I’m really confused that you assert this. Don’t you sometimes believe things irrationally for reasons outside your control? Haven’t you ever been tired and made a math mistake, or something?

            If I make an honest mistake due to factors outside my control, that’s not irrationality. It’s not irrational to make math mistakes. If you add up a column of numbers and check three times, you are justified in believing the results. Even if you did make a mistake.

            Irrationality is like deliberate intellectual dishonesty—which people commit all the time. Do you think that no one has ever deliberately evaded the facts?

            First, in the real world, there is a strong selection effect in favor of brains that reason correctly. Suppose people with faulty stock price adders tend to make poorer investing decisions than ones with working price adders. Over time the people with the faulty adders go out of business, and the remaining ones all have working adders, or at least their adders have only minor flaws that don’t hurt their businesses too much.

            In such a world, I’m justified in trusting my adder to work reasonably well, because most adders work, because the ones that didn’t work drove their owners into bankruptcy. Similarly in the real world I’m justified in trusting my brain to work reasonably well, because the brains that didn’t work got their owners killed.

            This is an argument, presumably composed through the use of reason. You can’t use such an argument to prove the validity of reason. That would be circular.

            Maybe you’re wrong. People have been wrong about this sort of thing before.

            Now yes, you can’t conclusively rule out the possibility that you are honestly mistaken here: that your beliefs are justified but not true. But look, either you have to say that no one has ever had an unjustified belief (obviously false), or people have to have some way of conclusively knowing whether their beliefs are justified. I say they can know it because they can control it.

            Second, I can cross-check the results of my brain’s reasoning to try to catch contradictions. In the analogy, I could do careful cross-checks of the output of my computer to try to learn about real stock prices.

            You can’t prove the validity of something by cross-checking it against itself. At most, you could prove that the computer is wrong. But you couldn’t show that it is right.

            Frankly I think this argument is silly. 1+2 constitute really strong premises which basically assume the conclusion. It’s a bit like saying “1. We should cure cancer in the next year. 2. What should be done can be done. 3. Therefore, we can cure cancer in the next year.”

            The argument relies for its rhetorical force on equivocating between “We should do X [if possible]” and “We should do X [and I guarantee that X is possible because I wouldn’t ask you to do something impossible].” This equivocation is clearer in the cancer example.

            Huemer addresses this kind of objection at length in the essay.

            The argument “assumes the conclusion” only in the same way that every valid deductive argument does so: if you accept the combination of the premises, you have to accept the conclusion.

            With the cancer example, I think you’re the one who’s equivocating. In the sense of “ought” in which “ought implies can”, it would be false to say that we ought to cure cancer next year. Suppose someone asks you: why didn’t you cure cancer this year; don’t you know you ought to do so? You would answer: very well, but I can’t cure cancer; all you can properly say I ought to do is try my best.

            In other words, it would be nice if cancer were cured next year, but no one is obliged to cure cancer next year. That would be stupid.

            When you say that Michael Huemer ought to believe in determinism, it really does imply that he is able to believe in determinism. At the very least (if you weaken it to saying “he ought to believe in determinism, if possible”), it implies that he ought to try his best to believe in the truth of the free-will question, i.e. determinism.

            Do you think he’s trying his best to believe in determinism? Along with everyone else who ever disagreed with determinism? Have they all investigated the evidence to the best of their ability and justifiably (though unfortunately incorrectly) come to the belief that determinism is false?

            Or are they being irrational?

            If they are being irrational, determinism has refuted itself. If they are not being irrational, then you can hardly criticize them for not believing in determinism.

            Let me quote two of Huemer’s objections and replies, which are the ones you took.

            Objection #2:
            The argument involves an equivocation, since the “should” in premise (2) is the “should” of morality, while (1) employs the “should” of epistemic rationality.

            Reply:
            I do not believe that there exist these different senses of “should.” What there are, admittedly, are different reasons why a person should do a particular thing. One reason for doing A might be that A advances your own interests. Another might be that A helps out a friend of yours. Another might be that A fulfills a promise. Etc. I do not see that these different possible reasons why an action should be performed generate different senses of the word “should.”

            Be that as it may, even if there are different senses of “should,” there is no reason why (2) must employ the moral “should.” Any relation to a potential action worthy of the name “should” must at least have this feature: it is normative, i.e., to say one “should” do A is to in some manner recommend in favor of A. This is sufficient for (2) to be true, for it is nonsensical to recommend the impossible. That is, he who recommends a thing is committed to its being possible to follow his recommendation. If he admits the thing recommended to be impossible, he must withdraw the recommendation.

            For example, suppose a Bayesian recommends that we always conform our degrees of belief to the probability calculus. One implication of this is that we should accord to every necessary truth the highest possible degree of belief. The Bayesian says we are irrational for not doing so. Now suppose an objector argues that we have no feasible way of identifying all the necessary truths as such, and therefore no feasible way of taking the Bayesian’s advice.(6) (Compare: not knowing the combination to the lock, I cannot open the safe. Likewise, not knowing what all the necessary truths are, I cannot assign degree of belief 1 to all of them.) It seems to me that the objector has a valid point. The Bayesian cannot sensibly respond, “Yes, I know that people cannot identify all of the necessary truths and believe them with certainty. But we should do so anyway. Since my recommendation was epistemic in nature rather than moral or prudential, the impossibility of what I suggest is no excuse for not doing it.” Such a response sounds no more reasonable than my telling my student that he should have come to class even though he couldn’t. Of course, the Bayesian could still say some related things about the practice of conforming degrees of belief to the probability calculus: He might say that this is how an ideal reasoner would or should behave (the ideal reasoner having capabilities that normal humans lack). He might also say that we should do our best to approximate to this kind of reasoning. But he cannot sensibly criticize us for not succeeding in attaining this ideal, provided he grants that we literally cannot do so.

            Objection #3:
            Premise (1) falsely claims that we should believe only what is true. Rather, we should believe only what is justified.

            Reply:
            First, we care about justification because we care about truth. Believing only justified propositions is desirable, as our best means to believing truths and avoiding errors.(7) One might even define an epistemically justified belief as a belief that is rational to accept, from the standpoint of our goals of attaining truth and avoiding error. Accepting only justified propositions constitutes the rational pursuit of truth (just as maximizing expected utility constitutes the rational pursuit of utility).(8)

            But surely it is false that we should undertake means to a goal that is impossible to attain.(9) So, given the assumption, granted by the present objection, that we should believe only justified propositions (concerning the issue of free will), it follows that we can avoid error (with respect to the issue of free will). This gives us step (5), and the argument can continue on as before without appealing to (1).

            Furthermore, even if we give in to the objector and replace (1) with

            1′. We should believe only propositions for which we have adequate justification.

            the argument will still be damaging to the determinist. Instead of leading to (8) “MFT is true,” the argument will lead to

            8′. I have adequate justification for MFT.

            And though the determinist would no longer be involved in a logical contradiction if he affirmed this, the view that everyone who believes in free will (which is almost everyone) is justified in doing so is at least an uncomfortable one to combine with the belief in determinism.

            @ Alejandro:

            True. By itself (i.e. without showing that the compatibilist interpretation of “can” is an equivocation), it does not refute materialism. Neither did I say that it does.

            In fact, even if Huemer’s argument refuted compatibilism, it would be still technically be compatible with materialism insofar as the “minimal free-will thesis” only says that people have more than one course of action open to them. This could explained materialistically by physical “randomness”.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            This isn’t normally an issue I’m interested in, though I have to say, I’m enjoying watching this argument. One question has occurred to me, though – why, according to your interpretation of dualism, could consciousness not be entirely material? Perhaps there is some consciousness module in the brain; an AI without this module could do a perfect imitation of thought but not actually be experiencing anything, like you say, but the thing it is missing would be physical not immaterial. If you could find this part in the human brain and cut it out, you would have created a p-zombie.

            The obvious argument against this is that this module would be unnecessary and therefore there’s no reason for it to have evolved, although maybe you could find some explanation – plus, I think this argument would apply to an immaterial consciousness as well as a material one.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous (the other one, with four shuriken):

            One question has occurred to me, though – why, according to your interpretation of dualism, could consciousness not be entirely material? Perhaps there is some consciousness module in the brain; an AI without this module could do a perfect imitation of thought but not actually be experiencing anything, like you say, but the thing it is missing would be physical not immaterial. If you could find this part in the human brain and cut it out, you would have created a p-zombie.

            Consciousness cannot be material because (according to reductive materialism/physicalism itself), matter is not fundamentally conscious or mental. And you can’t go from any number of facts about non-mental objects and non-mental laws to a mental conclusion.

            Now, if you say matter can have fundamentally mental properties, then sure I agree that consciousness could be “material”. But then it’s not “matter” as commonly understood. (However, I don’t endorse “property dualism” as typically formulated, which amounts to a form of epiphenomenalism.)

            The obvious argument against this is that this module would be unnecessary and therefore there’s no reason for it to have evolved, although maybe you could find some explanation – plus, I think this argument would apply to an immaterial consciousness as well as a material one.

            This is the cleverest argument against dualism, in my opinion.

            If it’s possible for “optimization processes” like AIs to accomplish all the external things human beings can do without being conscious (as I argue it is), why didn’t evolution select against consciousness as extraneous to intelligence itself?

            All I can argue that, first of all, we know we are conscious, so we can’t reject that. And if the arguments of dualism vis-a-vis materialism (which stand on their own) are correct, we have to reject materialism.

            My explanation would have to be something in terms of: the way intelligence evolved in animals led to consciousness as a sort of byproduct. But, as they are implemented in organic brains, the dependency is too great to be eliminated: too many changes would have to take place for an animal to drop consciousness while keeping intelligence.

            In the same way, we can say: why didn’t human beings evolve to run on gasoline or nuclear fusion instead of food? It would be more efficient for sure! But evolution doesn’t work that way: we can’t just drop our system of digestion which has been built up step-by-step from the bacterial stage and replace it with something made from whole cloth.

          • Anonymous says:

            if you watched him come out of the sea foam or emerge from an alien spaceship, then no: there would be no particular reason to think he actually has emotions.

            OK, but I’d be convinced that he at least understood the experience of emotions.

            Computers can play the greatest chess games of all time without understanding chess. I don’t see why they can’t do the same with essays.

            Don’t they understand chess? For example you can get a chess engine to show you in great detail why a certain move is better than another. But OK, arguably they just manipulate symbols and are too stupid to really “understand” the symbols. So if you like we can imagine a computer which can conduct intelligent conversations in English about chess, place chess in its historical and social context, make insightful analogies between chess and current world affairs, etc. IMO such a computer would really understand chess.

            Similarly I would say that a computer definitely understands the experience of emotions if it can conduct intelligent conversations in English about the experience of emotions, write moving poetry about the experience of emotions, etc.

            This is an argument, presumably composed through the use of reason. You can’t use such an argument to prove the validity of reason. That would be circular.

            OK, sure, I agree. For example, perhaps I am a brain in a vat and my conscious experience is being controlled by a malicious scientist, so that all my reasoning is 100% wrong. Similarly all my experiences may be lies. This is independent of the truth of determinism: even if there is free will, maybe I am on drugs that continually and radically distort my reasoning and experiences.

            So I start somewhere arbitrary in belief-space and incrementally update my beliefs based on my experiences and my reasoning. This will work pretty well if my experiences are mostly veridical and my reasoning is mostly valid. This will totally fail if my experiences are mostly false or my reasoning is mostly wrong.

            Everything so far seems very consistent with a world in which my experiences are mostly veridical and my reasoning is mostly valid.

            either you have to say that no one has ever had an unjustified belief (obviously false), or people have to have some way of conclusively knowing whether their beliefs are justified.

            No I don’t! Clearly people sometimes have unjustified beliefs, and equally clearly no one has the ability to conclusively tell whether their beliefs are justified. I’m really confused by this dichotomy you insist on, so I am probably missing the point.

            In the sense of “ought” in which “ought implies can”, it would be false to say that we ought to cure cancer next year.

            Right, which is why the argument is useless. Similarly Huemer’s premise 1 may be false, given the senses of “should” and “can” used in 2 and 3.

            Or are they being irrational?

            If they are being irrational, determinism has refuted itself

            What? Irrational agents can exist in a deterministic universe. For example we can code up a deterministic simulation of our universe and put in it some simulated humans, who will sometimes behave irrationally. (Some of our physical laws involve randomness, but this can be simulated with deterministic pseudorandom numbers which are just as good).

            Let me quote two of Huemer’s objections and replies, which are the ones you took.

            I don’t think these actually address my problem with the argument. My problem is that since Huemer is using a version of “should” in which “should implies can,” his premise 1 is a very strong assumption which may well be false. If should implies can, then before I accept “We should do X” you will have to persuade me that “We can do X.”

            So before Huemer asserts “We should refrain from believing in Y if Y is false” he needs to first convince me that “We can refrain from believing in Y if Y is false.” This last statement is equivalent to “(We have free will) OR (Y is true).”

            Huemer sets Y = “we have free will.” So before I assent to his premise 1, he needs to first convince me that “(We have free will) OR (We have free will)”. But this is the conclusion that he is trying to prove.

            This is why I say that he is assuming the conclusion.

            Edit: I am looking at the link to Huemer’s full argument and his objection #4 is closest to mine. IMO, his reply, “I think people have freedom with respect to their beliefs,” pretty much admits to begging the question. You are trying to prove people have freedom, you can’t assume it!

          • Anonymous says:

            @Anonymous

            Every time I see your Gravatar, I think you’re me.

          • RCF says:

            Well, for one thing, people who endorse it tend to do things like claim that AI is “likely” impossible, and support it with nothing other than a link to a rambling essay that even after the several pages that I read before giving up hadn’t provided anything even remotely resembling an argument in support for the proposition.

            Way to piss away social capital, there.

          • > A “good understanding” in the rationalist community is usually taken to mean a reductionist understanding

            That’s kind of circular. The interesting version of the claim would be that everything has a reductionistic explanation, or that reductionistic explanations are the only good ones, or that there is a reductionistic explanation of the trickier aspects of consciousness,

          • Murphy says:

            Give me one single falsifiable, practical, testable prediction for an observation you would expect if souls existed that would differ if they did not.

            Also you gave no reason why, assuming there’s a magical soul that attaches itself to a lump of flesh, why you couldn’t build a computer capable of attracting one of these magical creatures and allowing it to attach.

            Computers can be built out of almost anything, from DNA gunk to dominos to electronics to living cells to matrices of atoms to interfering EM waves.

            What do you think is so special about the fleshy version in our skull and why do you think it’s impossible to include one as part of a larger computer?

            Is there any particular reason why a magical soul would refuse to attach to a full simulation of every atom in a human brain?

          • Anonymous says:

            Computers can be built out of almost anything, from DNA gunk to dominos to electronics to living cells to matrices of atoms to interfering EM waves.

            Virtual magma.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            I’m not sure if my personal belief as to the nature of mind counts as dualism or not. I don’t think it does.

            To me, “I” am the rolling superposition of states of all the neurons in my brain. (And/or whatever other things my body uses to store and process information.) If you ask me if “I” am tangible, I will say no, because that rolling superposition is an abstraction. My body is a meatsuit that “I” rides around in. I firmly believe that with sufficiently advanced reader tech, “I” could be copied, and with sufficiently advanced processor tech, a copy of “I” could run on a non-biological system and it would still be “I.” (Although assuming that non-bio “I” is running concurrently with meatsuit “I” we would immediately begin to diverge as individual “I”‘s.)

            Is my understanding that this is not a dualistic philosophy correct? Thanks for any advice.

          • phantasmoon says:

            Dualism’s claims are not falsifiable, and as such they’re outside the domain of science. I dismiss any such claim out of hand as not worth my time.

            “But science does not currently have a strong explanation for how consciousness comes about” is not an argument that makes untestable philosophy worth my time.

            For people who are interested in the structure of mind / consciousness as it relates to the brain and neural networks: http://www.pnas.org/content/112/12/3799.abstract

          • Murphy says:

            @phantasmoon

            Whenever I come across these utterly unfalsifiable kinds of claims I find an important question to ask is

            “why should I take your conclusions any more seriously than the claim that there’s an angry 2 mile tall purple bunny outside of time and space which commands that we must never use the syllable ‘ble’?

            I can’t prove the rabbit exists or that it doesn’t exist and there’s no way that the universe would be different if it did or did not making claims involving it only slightly more respectable than your own claims.”

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            No I don’t! Clearly people sometimes have unjustified beliefs, and equally clearly no one has the ability to conclusively tell whether their beliefs are justified. I’m really confused by this dichotomy you insist on, so I am probably missing the point.

            That implies universal skepticism. If you can never know when you’re justified, you can never know that any particular belief you have is justified, and therefore you can never know anything.

            And you can’t get out of it by saying we don’t have certainty of anything but only probability. What does probability mean? It means there’s some evidence for and some evidence against.

            Is the evidence for the proposition certain, or its it probable? You can’t have an infinite regress of probabilities—or in other words an infinite regress of some evidence for and some evidence against.

            You’ve got to start somewhere, and that foundation has to be certain (at least within the context of your knowledge). In other words, it has to be self-justifying.

            Edit: I am looking at the link to Huemer’s full argument and his objection #4 is closest to mine. IMO, his reply, “I think people have freedom with respect to their beliefs,” pretty much admits to begging the question. You are trying to prove people have freedom, you can’t assume it!

            He would say that sort of freedom is a presupposition of rational discourse.

            I think people have freedom with respect to their beliefs, in the same sense that they have freedom with respect to their choices. At the least, a person can refrain from accepting a belief that is not adequately justified, which is all that the argument requires when (1′) is used. I do not see, otherwise, how it would be possible to criticize people for their irrational beliefs.(12) The above objection contains no account of this, nor any real response to the intuition that “ought” implies “can.”

            I think that fundamentally, we have a very different idea of what it means to be irrational or to have unjustified beliefs. You say:

            What? Irrational agents can exist in a deterministic universe. For example we can code up a deterministic simulation of our universe and put in it some simulated humans, who will sometimes behave irrationally. (Some of our physical laws involve randomness, but this can be simulated with deterministic pseudorandom numbers which are just as good).

            I would say such beings are not irrational. They are non-rational; they don’t have reason in the human sense at all. The concept of justification doesn’t really apply to them because all of their beliefs are equally (un)justified: they believe exactly what they have to believe.

            To criticize people for being irrational implies that they could be rational, that they have some form of choice about it. On your model of things, rationalists telling people to be rational are just moving them from adopting one set of perfectly (un)justified beliefs to another set of equally (un)justified beliefs. If you read Eliezer Yudkowsky and apply the methods of rationality to your life, you’re not applying them because they’re correct. You’re applying them because you’re biased in that direction.

            If everything people believe is an inexorable result of the outside forces impinging on them, there simply would be no such thing as objective knowledge. Everything would be an equally (un)justified opinion. If anyone ever happened to believe what is true, or even justified, it would only be a matter of luck. (And no, you can’t argue that evolution explains this luck because the truth of the theory of evolution presupposes the possibility of knowledge. If you don’t start out certain that reason is valid and knowledge is possible, you can’t prove it using reason.)

            Evolution is, in this sense, a “stolen concept” for a determinist. The determinist believes in evolution while denying the more foundational knowledge upon which it rests.

            It all goes back to Epicurus, who first formulated what we may call the “argument from doxastic responsibility”:

            [Determinism] refutes itself and can never establish that everything is such as the things are said to happen according to necessity. Rather, he combats [a believer in free will] on this very point as though it were because of himself that the person were being silly. And even if he goes on ad infinitum saying that the person is doing that according to necessity, always from arguments, he is failing to reason in that he ascribes to himself the cause of having reasoned correctly and to his opponent the cause of having reasoned incorrectly. Unless he ceased attributing what he does to himself, rather than to necessity, he would not [be consistent].

            In other words, determinism is such that if it’s true, it’s either false or unjustified. If the one who asserts it says that he was the cause of his belief in determinism, he admits that determinism is false and thereby refutes himself. And if he says that he was not the cause of his belief (that it is ultimately attributable to some outside, non-rational bias), he invalidates his status as a rational agent capable of having justified beliefs.

            That is what it means to say that determinism is self-refuting.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Murphy:

            Give me one single falsifiable, practical, testable prediction for an observation you would expect if souls existed that would differ if they did not.

            I prefer to use the word “mind”, or if you insist “immaterial mind”, to make it clear that I am not discussing the religious concept of the allegedly immortal soul.

            In any case, I can give you a million testable propositions that prove the truth of dualism: every conscious experience you have. My very argument is that it would not be possible for you to have them given materialism. If you have them, that is conclusive evidence in favor of dualism.

            I don’t know where the idea comes from that dualism is not “testable”. You test it at every waking moment.

            Now, you may say that I have made an error in reasoning and that materialism can explain the fact of conscious experience. Fine, but you must at least grant that it’s perfectly testable if true.

            On the other hand, if it’s false, the way you “test” it is by showing that the arguments supporting it are invalid.

            It’s true, I suppose, that you can’t test dualism by looking (only) for some kind of external physical fact. The theory itself says that there are internal mental facts which are perfectly observable. I don’t see how you can reject the theory for being about a different subject matter than physics. It’s as if you were to reject a historical dissertation because it doesn’t make reference to any mathematical facts.

            Also you gave no reason why, assuming there’s a magical soul that attaches itself to a lump of flesh, why you couldn’t build a computer capable of attracting one of these magical creatures and allowing it to attach.

            I don’t say it would be impossible.

            The thing is, dualism, at least at the current stage of knowledge, is eminently testable with regard to oneself. And given that other people are sufficiently similar to you, can use inference to the best explanation to show the overwhelming likelihood that they are conscious, too.

            But there’s no way given the current state of knowledge to determine conclusively that an alien or an android were conscious. All you could do is assume, and it wouldn’t be particularly justified.

            So how would you test this? Well, you’d have to figure out how the brain works. If (interactionist) dualism is true, the brain is not a completely deterministic clockwork mechanism. It must interact with the mind somehow in some observable way. But we do not really understand the brain; this interaction could be very subtle.

            So anyway, it’s a perfectly testable theory. It’s not testable right now with current equipment. But surely that doesn’t invalidate a theory? There are many theories that make projections which can only be tested decades or more later.

            So, yes, it’s very unfortunate that we could not determine right now whether an artificial being were really conscious or merely intelligent. But it’s still an interesting and meaningful question—there’s no sense in defining it out of existence.

            Is there any particular reason why a magical soul would refuse to attach to a full simulation of every atom in a human brain?

            The idea that it is possible to simulate a human brain in a deterministic Turing machine is obviously at odds with (interactionist) dualism.

            More importantly, the whole idea that an immaterial mind is therefore “magical” and non-naturalistic is completely unjustified. It makes as much sense (actually considerably less) as if I were to go all George Berkeley on you and say obviously everything is mind. Matter is a myth. It all reduces to sensations in the mind. You only experience being a mind; where do you get this crazy mystical idea that there is an external “physical” universe? What a fairy tale! Completely unverifiable! What are you going to do, crawl outside of your mind to observe it?

            Look, the fact just is that we are aware both of external physical facts and of internal mental facts. There’s no justification in trying to reduce one to the other. And if you want to try, subjective idealism is at least coherent.

            Edit:

            More on the idea that dualism is not “testable”: every rational argument for something on the basis of evidence available to the listener is testable.

            Is the belief in God testable? Well, if the religious person tells you to accept it on faith no matter what and in defiance of reason—then no.

            But if he gives you a rational argument, such as the cosmological argument, this is perfectly testable. Sure, it makes some predictions that you can’t test right now. But it makes plenty of others that you can. The very form of the cosmological argument is to say: look at the universe! Without God, it couldn’t exist. It does exist. Therefore, God exists. So every observation of the universe is a testable prediction of the theory.

            On the other hand, you can falsify the cosmological argument by showing that it is fallacious (as it is). It either assumes unproven and controversial premises or makes invalid deductive steps (or both).

            And of course, there’s more ways to falsify the theory. The God Theory, as formulated by Christianity, implies that evil—or certainly much less evil than there is now—should not exist in the world. But it does: evidence against. It argues that there is Original Sin, which implies that human beings do not have free will. But they do: evidence against.

            There’s no sense in our being logical positivists. It’s a position that was discovered to have invalidated itself—and was therefore abandoned.

          • Murphy says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            There’s a reason I used both the words “testable” and “falsifiable”.

            “falsifiable” does not mean “someone made an eloquent sounding argument against it”

            Your test is akin to saying “this shiny rock makes me magical” then “testing” it by saying “I have the shiny rock and so I am magical”

            It’s no test at all. It’s bollox.

            Claims being falsifiable is important and you’ve either failed to understand what falsifiable really means or just ignored it.

            To be absolutely crystal clear, what imaginably possible observation , if one person of a million came to you with it would serve as evidence to you that your claims about the soul, immaterial mind, or other synonym for soul could be false?

            In your view of the universe should it be possible to point a satellite dish made of neuron-goo at a soul and intercept it’s signals? Something? anything? Anything testable and(logical and) falsifiable.

            Otherwise you’re just playing bingo at the Tautology club while bowing to the great bunny(the bunny has no feelings on good or evil so their existance say nothing about the great bunny).

            Just remember, the first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Dualism’s claims are not falsifiable, and as such they’re outside the domain of science. I dismiss any such claim out of hand as not worth my time.

            So how would you go about falsifying a claim such as “unfalsifiable claims aren’t worth my time”?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Murphy:

            To be absolutely crystal clear, what imaginably possible observation , if one person of a million came to you with it would serve as evidence to you that your claims about the soul, immaterial mind, or other synonym for soul could be false?

            Otherwise you’re just playing bingo at the Tautology club while bowing to the great bunny.

            Just remember, the first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club.

            You seem to be arguing that there is no such faculty as reason, and/or that it is not possible to prove anything through reason except a tautology. I wonder what your proof of this is, or what falsifiable observations it entails…

            Tell me what tautological argument I am allegedly making. Do you consider “I make observations” to be a tautological claim? It’s true that no observation you make could disprove it. But surely you have to believe it in order to entertain your theory in which everything is either potentially subject to falsification by observation or else doesn’t say anything about reality?

            The observation I would make to falsify my theory is the apprehension through reason that the arguments supporting it are unsound. I regard that as a real possibility. I have been wrong about things before.

            But that is the error of positivism: it denies that we have any such capacity as the ability to learn things through reason. I say, we start with the senses and reason builds up theories on the basis of sensory evidence. Positivism says that we have the senses and that’s it. If you can prove it in reason, it’s “analytic”, it’s a “logical truth”—and therefore it doesn’t say anything about how reality actually is.

            It’s a totally discredited position, and I would like to see you defend it.

            Anyway, I already answered you. Even if you stick to positivism, the following kind of thing ought to be completely acceptable to you: as I said before, if we were to discover how the brain works and see that it were a deterministic clockwork mechanism, I would consider my theory refuted.

            Also, I really think your dismissive tone is uncalled-for. You know, if you actually consider what I’m saying without assuming it’s wrong because “magical fairy souls hue hue hue”, you might learn something. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your own time.

          • Murphy says:

            I can’t answer definitively for him but I can think of a method.

            I imagine someone could calculate the approximate estimate of the value of his time based on observations of how he spends it, say 10 bucks an hour, then demonstrate that on average unfalsifiable claims provide him with utility equivalent to that value per unit of time.

            Given that there’s an infinity of utterly useless unfalsifiable claims that’d be quite impressive but possible if he viewed mental masturbation as having high enough value.

          • RCF says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            You seem to be basically presenting a presuppositional type argument. One of presupposition’s many flaws is evident in your argument: you are equivocating between different modal states, such as a statement being true, and us being justified in believing the statement. Those are completely different issues.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Murphy:

            Your Bulverism and needless insults are not anything approaching an argument.

            @ RCF:

            That’s a valid objection if true, but I don’t believe I did such a thing. (Point it out, if I did.)

            What I argued is that determinism is screwed either way: it’s either false, or it’s true but no one can know it or be justified in claiming it.

            This is the exact inverse of establishing self-evident axioms. No one can prove the laws of logic. All you can say is that it’s either they’re true, or they’re false but no one can know it or be justified in thinking so. It’s in some sense conceivable that logic is invalid, but clearly you have to assume it in order to coherently think about anything.

            In the same way, it’s conceivable that determinism is true, but the falsity of it is presumed by the possibility of knowledge and rational discourse.

          • Nero tol Scaeva says:

            As far as I can tell, all mind-body dualists posit an immaterial mind that by all accounts is a perpetual motion machine.

            Why waste time trying to achieve cold fusion when we have all of these minds floating around that have no need for energy inputs and when in use don’t waste any energy as heat?

            If dualism is true, I want my own personal Soulnado so I never have to pay for electricity again.

          • Murphy says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            A system can either be complete or it it can be capable of demonstrating its own consistency. not both.

            If your system is utterly internally self consistent and capable of supporting itself then it’s either flawed or too trivial to handle basic arithmetic.

            Your “refutation” of Determinism is little more than constructing “this sentence is a lie” within it which you can do in any non-trivial, useful system.

            I’m saying that your “I make observations” system which you take to prove itself is little more than a card with “the statement on the opposite side of this card is true” written on both sides.

            I could dig into this but we’d have to taboo so many terms in your argument that it would take forever. (Starting with “reason” because I suspect it means something very different to you than it does to me.)

            Reason(to me meaning my mushy meat brain doing calculation, chaining logic etc) combined with observations can be useful but without observations to which to chain you reasoning you have an infinity of possibilities with no connection to reality and most of them not even meeting the standard of “logical” that anyone grounded in reality might apply with things like 1+1 equaling 2.

            But I’m primarily interested in your statement of what you’d consider falsification.

            I’m willing to accept a currently-impractical test but I want to be clear about what you’d accept.

            if we were to discover how the brain works and see that it were a deterministic clockwork mechanism, I would consider my theory refuted.

            Would you accept merely, say, a deterministic machine which emulated the brain and produced something which appeared to act very similarly to an intelligent person?

            because this feels like one of those things where if the criteria aren’t nailed down someone can just point and shout “ah ha! sure it can behave like a human brain in every way but do we really really understand it according to an esoteric meaning of the term understand?”

          • Murphy says:

            @Nero tol Scaeva

            That is a notable thought, if the soul (or immaterial mind) is capable of “reason” or any other form of calculation separate from that done by the mushy meat brain then souls could be detected directly due to needing to take energy (if they do need energy to run) for the calculations bringing them squarely into the realm of detectable material phenomenon.

            Alternatively they could be used as a source of energy with them being used as a Maxwells demon (if they do not need energy to run) bringing them squarely into the realm of detectable material phenomenon.

          • Anon. says:

            >The idea that it is possible to simulate a human brain in a deterministic Turing machine is obviously at odds with (interactionist) dualism.

            Why? What does the brain even do in dualism, as all the thinking is happening in the soul? You don’t have to simulate anything, you just have to find the bits of the brain that link up to the soul dimension and copy them. Of course this raises the question of why we have such large brains in the first place.

          • Joe says:

            Murphy
            Try to think of soul or substantial form like this. Imagine giving a materialist reductionist friend a copy of “Gone With the Wind” and told him it was a great story set in the civil war. How would you react if he flipped through the pages slammed the book and said there’s no story here no context or narrative or anything magical or immaterial like that. All I see is letters arranged into words arranged into sentences and so on. You would probably think him nuts. Obviously the story, context and narrative dictate the way letters and so on are arranged. The soul or substantial form dictate the way the matter is arranged in a living thing. It is immaterial, similar to the context of a novel, but more obviously real.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Nero tol Scaeva:

            As far as I can tell, all mind-body dualists posit an immaterial mind that by all accounts is a perpetual motion machine.

            Why waste time trying to achieve cold fusion when we have all of these minds floating around that have no need for energy inputs and when in use don’t waste any energy as heat?

            Here I am denying the causal closure of the physical, and you object with a silly thing like that! 😉

            @ Murphy:

            A system can be either be complete or it it can be capable of demonstrating its own consistency. not both.

            If your system is utterly internally self consistent and capable of supporting itself then it’s either flawed or too trivial to handle basic arithmetic.

            I’m saying that your “I make observations” system which you take to prove itself is little more than a card with “the statement on the opposite side of this card is true” written on both sides.

            Gödel’s incompleteness theorems are irrelevant here.

            I’m not saying that the system can “prove itself”. It’s been known since Aristotle that no system can do that. Proof is a means of showing that a fact is true by appealing to a more certain statement. If this is not circular or an infinite regress, it must culminate in one or more self-evident truths.

            But the self-evident does not “prove itself”. It’s just a precondition for rational thought. Positivism, for instance, takes as self-evident the fact that you can make observations (it has to).

            Would you accept merely, say, a deterministic machine which emulated the brain and produced something which appeared to act very similarly to an intelligent person?

            because this feels like one of those things where if the criteria aren’t nailed down someone can just point and shout “ah ha! sure it can behave like a human brain in every way but do we really really understand it according to an esoteric meaning of the term understand?”

            It depends on what you mean by “emulated the brain”. I would not accept a machine like that if its brain were not functionally identical to a human brain because it could obviously just act like a human without being conscious. I certainly don’t think it’s impossible to build a human-imitating robot.

            But suppose you scanned my brain and made a complete “map” of how it works, in the manner of a circuit diagram. If you could do this and show that it works totally deterministically, I would accept that my theory were falsified. It also doesn’t have to be me. If you could do this with a reasonable sample size of random human subjects, I would accept that my theory were falsified, as well.

            Now, this would not rule out something like epiphenomenalism, but epiphenomenalism is not my theory. I regard epiphenomenalism as self-refuting because it is deterministic.

            That it a thought, if the soul (or immaterial mind) is capable of “reason” or any other form of calculation separate from that done by the mushy meat brain then souls could be detected directly due to needing to take energy (if they do need energy to run) for the calculations bringing them squarely into the realm of detectable material phenomenon used as a source of energy with them being used as a Maxwells demon (if they do not need energy to run) bringing them squarely into the realm of detectable material phenomenon.

            Sure, I grant that such a thing would have to be possible—unless (completely hypothetically) in order to act on physical matter, the mind had to deplete a store of energy somewhere in a manner that increased entropy more than the work done decreased it. After all, if people don’t take in calories, their brains stop working and (for all we can tell) they stop thinking, so this is not incredibly implausible.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anon.:

            Why? What does the brain even do in dualism, as all the thinking is happening in the soul? You don’t have to simulate anything, you just have to find the bits of the brain that link up to the soul dimension and copy them. Of course this raises the question of why we have such large brains in the first place.

            That’s an absolutely incorrect conception of dualism.

            Dualism says that the mind and the brain are a system that together is capable of thought. The thoughts exist in the mind, but they would not be possible without the brain.

            Think of an astronaut and a spaceship. It would be foolish to say “What does the spaceship even do? All the piloting is done by the astronaut!” No, the spaceship has instruments that feed the astronaut all his data; it has a life support system; it has databanks that allow him to recall his observations; it has alarms that warn of hull breaches. If you got rid of all those things, there would be no piloting. The astronaut is totally dependent on the spaceship.

            Now, this is of course just an analogy and is not perfect. But you can see that, in the dualist theory, it’s not the case that causation only goes from mind to brain. It goes from brain to mind, too.

            If you damage the sensors, the astronaut won’t be able to see. If you put LSD in the water supply, he won’t think clearly. If you directly stimulate the hull breach alarm, he’ll react if there is a breach without there really being one. And if you turn off the life support system, he’ll die.

            Now, maybe what you are describing is true of the religious theory of the immortal soul that is eternal and indestructible. It seems to be implied by the idea people have of mentally ill or autistic people that a healthy person is locked in there somewhere.

            But I don’t think that. I don’t believe in dualism because it’s some kind of dogmatic viewpoint I have. I think it is the theory that best explains the facts. Bryan Caplan puts this excellently in his essay on the subject.

            I think that there is a serious misunderstanding of the
            nature of “science” going on here. Searle and the
            materialists both seem to think that science=”nothing but
            atoms and the void.” Yet they err; they confuse a
            particular conclusion of science with the essence of
            science. The true essence of science is the use of
            observation and reason to objectively understand the
            world. If what we know about the mental contradicts the
            findings of “science”, then our science must be revised. If
            we observe mental states, apparently inexplicable by
            atomic theory, then we discover that either atomic theory
            has its limitations or we are misinterpreting our science.
            We cast no doubt on the existence of mental states; for any
            argument for doubting our observations of our mental
            states would ipso facto be an argument to doubt the
            observations that confirmed atomic theory. Searle is
            correct that our culture suffers from deeply-rooted
            prejudices about the mind; but these prejudices do not
            come from Descartes, whatever his errors. The chief
            prejudices come from people who assume that everything
            about the mind must either be illusory or consistent with
            theories derived from the study of inanimate matter.
            “Dogma” is a harsh term, but an appropriate one for
            such belief-systems. For what is the essence of
            dogmatism but the acceptance of a belief in the absence of
            or in contradiction to one’s immediate observations?
            Materialism is not science; it is a dogmatic perversion of
            science that blindly demands that the mental be just like
            the physical when it plainly isn’t. As Eric Hoffer observes
            in The True Believer, “It is the true believer’s ability to
            ‘shut his eyes and stop his ears’ to facts that do not
            deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of
            his unequaled fortitude and constancy. Strength of faith, as
            Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving
            mountains but in not seeing mountains to move.”[13]
            Materialists refuse to look at something even more
            evident than moving mountains — their own minds.

          • Anon. says:

            > instruments that feed the astronaut all his data; it has a life support system; it has databanks that allow him to recall his observations; it has alarms that warn of hull breaches

            >Now, this is of course just an analogy and is not perfect. But you can see that, in the dualist theory, it’s not the case that causation only goes from mind to brain. It goes from brain to mind, too.

            I still don’t see the issue, whether the link is one-way or two-way is hardly the problem. Clearly we have the capability to make artificial databanks, life support systems, and alarms. And if you could just point out which part(s) of the neuron connect to the soul dimension we could hook up whatever we want, no matter the direction of the links.

            Also I find it very curious that you attribute memory to the brain, since memory is a big part of the basis of our conception of a coherent self through time, etc. Could you explain exactly which aspects of the mind you attribute to the brain, and which to the soul?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @TheAncientGeek: That’s kind of circular. The interesting version of the claim would be that everything has a reductionistic explanation, or that reductionistic explanations are the only good ones, or that there is a reductionistic explanation of the trickier aspects of consciousness.

            I also want to know why reductionism implies materialism. Considering that reductionism was defined upthread as “breaking big mysterious things down into simpler things that follow mathematical laws”, and mathematical objects (as well as the laws of logic and math) are immaterial, isn’t it rational for reductionists to choose idealism?

            I’m also seconding Vox Imperatoris’s point thatt logical positivism is discredited and I’d like to see empiricist-materialist-reductivism believers either defend it or explain how their philosophy avoids its errors.

          • Urstoff says:

            Reductionism doesn’t imply materialism, and most people use those terms fairly loosely so that they can move the goalposts anywhere they want (usually, to exclude dualism).

            It’s be nice to see a clear definition of reductionism and physicalism/materialism. I think on most definitions, either they are trivially true or empirically false (although I don’t think this implies dualism; rather, I favor theoretical pluralism [the soul in the religious sense still has no empirical justification]).

            Take reductionism: if it means that all of the theoretical predictions and entities of the higher theory can be cleanly mapped on to a lower theory, then that’s pretty much never happened (excepting maybe the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics). That certainly hasn’t happened for psychology => neuroscience, neuroscience => chemistry, or biology => chemistry. I suppose you could claim that it will happen, but that’s basically begging the question if we’re considering empirical evidence to the final arbiter.

            The alternative to reductionism is eliminativism: okay, we can’t make smooth theoretical reductions, but we know there really aren’t any trees out there, just collections of particles. That’s a better argument, but it always runs the risk of striaght out contradiciton: if you can’t reduce psychology to neuroscience but instead prefer to eliminate the entities of psychology in favor of neuroscience, you might not be able to make sense of the fact that you are asserting a proposition to be true. After all, there are no real assertions or propositions, just neurons firing.

            Physicalism faces similar problems: define the physical broadly enough and it’s trivially true but uninteresting. Narrow definitions tend to couch it in terms of reduction/elimination, which just runs into the problems I mentioned above.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anon.:

            I still don’t see the issue, whether the link is one-way or two-way is hardly the problem. Clearly we have the capability to make artificial databanks, life support systems, and alarms. And if you could just point out which part(s) of the neuron connect to the soul dimension we could hook up whatever we want, no matter the direction of the links.

            And? Yes, if you could figure out what parts of the neuron “connect to the soul dimension”, you could create an artificial mind. I don’t deny that this might be possible. It would be a fabulous and amazing discovery. (Of course, it may be and almost certainly is something more complex than “connecting to the soul dimension”.)

            Also I find it very curious that you attribute memory to the brain, since memory is a big part of the basis of our conception of a coherent self through time, etc. Could you explain exactly which aspects of the mind you attribute to the brain, and which to the soul?

            All of the mind depends on the brain. All I meant by the databank thing is that it is clear that a necessary condition for the formation of memories is a functional hippocampus.

            What do I attribute to the mind itself? Well, I think that all subjective phenomena are mental. Like redness: there is no physical object or process called “redness.” Redness is produced by the visual cortex and exists in the mind. Likewise, memory, in the sense that your memories appear to you as yours in the sense that Obama’s memories do not appear to you. (As opposed to the objective consequences of memory, such as the fact that he will be able to tell you about his time in Indonesia.)

            So, number one is subjectivity.

            Number two is the capacity at least sometimes for free will or active causation: the initiation of action which is not sufficiently caused by previous events. This does not mean that people are “completely free” in either the sense that they are either a) ever completely responsible for their actions or b) always somewhat responsible for their actions. The first would imply that they created themselves from nothing; the second is refuted by sleep, reflexes, insanity, etc.

            Number three is personal identity. I haven’t brought this one up so far, but in order for rational thought and action that plans for the future to make any sense at all, it is necessary that people be numerically identical to themselves at different times.

            Now, macroscopic physical objects are obviously not numerically identical to themselves at different times because they are constantly gaining and losing particles. This is the basic thrust of the “Ship of Theseus” argument.

            So, we know we have an identity. It can’t be identity of physical substance. I’m not going to bring it up in this thread, but it also can’t be memory or other forms of psychological continuity (many thought experiments on this). It must be identity of mental substance.

            @ Urstoff:

            Precisely!

            “Mind is reducible to matter as we know it.” False! Could not be true.

            “Mind is reducible to matter as we don’t know it.” Maybe! I don’t know matter as I don’t know it. If matter as I don’t know it is compatible with having mental properties…well, I don’t know that I’d call it “matter”, but if that’s what you like, baby, we can play it that way.

          • Mary says:

            “the closest meaning of “supernatural” ”

            “Supernatural” and “natural” are ugly terms in just about all their meanings. I recommend C.S. Lewis’s Studies in Words. All of it, but the chapter on “Nature” is of course the one pertinent here.

          • Aegeus says:

            Number three is personal identity. I haven’t brought this one up so far, but in order for rational thought and action that plans for the future to make any sense at all, it is necessary that people be numerically identical to themselves at different times.

            Now, macroscopic physical objects are obviously not numerically identical to themselves at different times because they are constantly gaining and losing particles. This is the basic thrust of the “Ship of Theseus” argument.

            I don’t see why for people must be perfect numerical constants in order for them to make plans about the future. People don’t label things with numerical constants. The labels we put on things are “fuzzy” – they can continue to describe an object even though the object may change slightly over time. Even when the Ship of Theseus has all its parts replaced, I’d still call it the Ship of Theseus. It’s close enough for my mental label to apply – it’s still a ship, it still belongs to Theseus, nobody disassembled it and built another ship from the pieces, etc.

            And you can make plans about the future using these fuzzy labels – if Theseus sails from Athens to Crete, then it’s fair for me to say “In a few days, the Ship of Theseus will be in Crete.” Even if Theseus replaced the mast of his ship during the voyage, I would still say “The ship is in Crete,” I wouldn’t say “All the ship except for its mast is in Crete.” The label describes what I consider “a ship,” not the specific collection of atoms that makes up the ship.

            Likewise, I can make plans about my future even though “I” is a fuzzy label. I can say “I will travel to Hawaii next year” even if the “I” of a year in the future is going to be a year older, a year wiser, and generally won’t be identical to the present “I” in body or mind. I can still mentally label that future self with “I”, so I can make plans about the future.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Mary

            Lewis’s _Miracles_ is worth mentioning here too, especially his appendix re those terms.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Aegeus:

            I agree that this is exactly the situation with the Ship of Theseus. Its identity is something that exists in the mind. It’s a label, a matter of convenience or convention that is certainly based on reality but “fuzzy” and full of optional grey areas.

            (One thing to note is that this explanation presupposes the reality of the mind, in which the Ship of Theseus has an enduring identity.)

            The problem is that personal identity can’t be like this at all. It is absolute. If I tell you that tomorrow I’m going to punch you in the face, you either anticipate that pain or not. You can’t “sort of feel” the pain. It’s not a matter of how you choose to define what counts as “you” (as with the Ship of Theseus).

            If you are numerically the same person, you should anticipate that pain. If you aren’t, you shouldn’t.

            Law of excluded middle: A or non-A. It’s you or it’s not you. You can’t just abuse the word “respect” here, either. In the respect of feeling the pain, will it be you or not you?

            As Geoffrey Madell puts it (and I’m just quoting from Wikipedia here):

            “But while my present body can thus have its partial counterpart in some possible world, my present consciousness cannot. Any present state of consciousness that I can imagine either is or is not mine. There is no question of degree here.”

            Bryan Caplan’s objection to (at least Robin Hanson’s take on) mind uploading is relevant. Summary: you can’t just “define yourself” subjectively as being the same as the uploaded copy. Either a) there’s a real intrinsic fact of the matter, regardless of your definition, or b) what the hell’s the point? Just define yourself as the universe and you can live forever already.

          • RCF says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            What I argued is that determinism is screwed either way: it’s either false, or it’s true but no one can know it or be justified in claiming it.

            The Münchhausen trilemma is no more fatal to determinism than it is to anything else.

            That’s a valid objection if true, but I don’t believe I did such a thing. (Point it out, if I did.)

            In the same way, it’s conceivable that determinism is true, but the falsity of it is presumed by the possibility of knowledge and rational discourse.

            You just did. You have gone from the fact that rational discourse is not entailed by determinism, to saying that rational discourse is contradicted by determinism. We can’t know that our minds correctly perceive rationality, but that doesn’t mean that our mind don’t correctly perceive rationality. To say that determinism is self-refuting is to assert not merely that determinism provides no basis for its own belief, but to assert that it provides a basis for its own disbelief.

            Even if there is only a tiny portion of the multiverse in which there are beings that correctly perceive rationality, we might as well assume that we are such beings. If we are such beings, our assumption corresponds to reality, and if we aren’t, then our error is meaningless.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ RCF:

            The Münchhausen trilemma is no more fatal to determinism than it is to anything else.

            It’s not a trilemma in the sense that all three options are bad. Obviously, the axiomatic method is the only way you could ever prove or know anything.

            You just did. You have gone from the fact that rational discourse is not entailed by determinism, to saying that rational discourse is contradicted by determinism. We can’t know that our minds correctly perceive rationality, but that doesn’t mean that our mind don’t correctly perceive rationality. To say that determinism is self-refuting is to assert not merely that determinism provides no basis for its own belief, but to assert that it provides a basis for its own disbelief.

            No. I don’t know how you can be misinterpreting me here. You seem to think (I guess?) that I’m saying if determinism were true, we would know it were false. That’s not what I’m saying.

            The falsity of determinism is presupposed by rational discourse. Therefore, either determinism is false, or there is no such thing as rational discourse—certainly not among the human species. If it’s false, it’s false. If it’s true, it can’t be known or justifiably believed.

            Either way, it can never be knowledge. Call it “self-unjustifying” if you don’t like “self-refuting”.

            This is exactly the inverse of something that is self-evident. It’s not the self-evident can’t be denied. Anything can be denied; you just deny it, it’s easy. But the self-evident is that which is presupposed in rational thought and discourse. If you deny it, you can’t justifiably assert anything, including the denial.

            Even if there is only a tiny portion of the multiverse in which there are beings that correctly perceive rationality, we might as well assume that we are such beings. If we are such beings, our assumption corresponds to reality, and if we aren’t, then our error is meaningless.

            I’m not sure what you mean by “correctly perceive rationality”. Do you mean “are rational”?

            If so, you are basically agreeing with me that we have to presuppose that we are capable of knowing reality through reason. But obviously, we could never do so by any appeal to the “multiverse”: that would mean the “multiverse” were more certainly known than that we can know anything. Maybe that was just a rhetorical flourish.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            What I argued is that determinism is screwed either way: it’s either false, or it’s true but no one can know it or be justified in claiming it.

            At a moderate tangent to this, my argument against incompatibilism is that whether or not it’s true, it’s useless: its validity would not act as evidence on which decisions can be based, as it precludes the ability to make decisions at all. Arguments like “incompatibilism is true, therefore we should go easy on criminals because it’s not their fault” fall down because incompatibilism removes the concept of a ‘should’ entirely.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            What do you mean by “incompatibilism”?

            Technically, that just refers to any view that free will is not compatible with determinism. And this includes hard determinism, libertarianism, and the less popular view that free will and determinism are incompatible but both false.

            Are you arguing that libertarianism precludes the ability to make decisions?

            Or that hard determinism does?

            If it’s the latter, I agree.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            The latter.

            I haven’t heard the term libertarianism used to refer to the view that free will and determinism are incompatible, and that the first one is true and the latter false, before. I’m not sure I like it. I would consider myself a libertarian in the political sense, but not in the sense you’re describing.

          • Aegeus says:

            >(One thing to note is that this explanation presupposes the reality of the mind, in which the Ship of Theseus has an enduring identity.)

            Not at all. You can assign labels to objects regardless of whether those labels are a “real thing” in your mind. For example, a chess-playing computer can label a piece as “the black queen” without having a non-physical mind in which the black queen has an enduring identity; it simply has patterns of 1’s and 0’s in its circuits that correspond to the state of the chessboard. Likewise, your brain can label the Ship of Theseus by having patterns of neurons that correspond to the physical object of the Ship.

            >The problem is that personal identity can’t be like this at all. It is absolute. If I tell you that tomorrow I’m going to punch you in the face, you either anticipate that pain or not. You can’t “sort of feel” the pain. It’s not a matter of how you choose to define what counts as “you” (as with the Ship of Theseus).

            I don’t get what you’re saying here, at all. I expect that I’ll feel pain, but I don’t see what that has to do with my definition of personal identity. The statement “I expect I will feel pain” is meaningful regardless of whether it means “My non-physical mind will experience pain” or “The physical object that I labeled as ‘me’ will enter brain-states generally described as ‘feeling pain.'”

            (The former definition is certainly more natural to say, but that doesn’t mean it’s more accurate.)

            Are you trying to make an argument from qualia? Arguing that I’m anticipating the experience of pain, which must be non-physical? I suppose that would work, but now you have to prove that qualia are a real, non-physical thing, which seems like just as much work as before.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            It’s called metaphysical libertarianism, to distinguish it from the political meaning. (There’s no clear relation between the two.) It’s the standard textbook word.

            @ Aegeus:

            Not at all. You can assign labels to objects regardless of whether those labels are a “real thing” in your mind. For example, a chess-playing computer can label a piece as “the black queen” without having a non-physical mind in which the black queen has an enduring identity; it simply has patterns of 1’s and 0’s in its circuits that correspond to the state of the chessboard. Likewise, your brain can label the Ship of Theseus by having patterns of neurons that correspond to the physical object of the Ship.

            All that exists in physical reality as such is atoms. That they even represent 1s and 0s; let alone a strategy game; let alone knights, castles, pikemen, and kings; is in your mind.

            Are you trying to make an argument from qualia? Arguing that I’m anticipating the experience of pain, which must be non-physical? I suppose that would work, but now you have to prove that qualia are a real, non-physical thing, which seems like just as much work as before.

            Why, yes. That’s part of it, at least. It’s not the only part, but let’s talk about it.

            Look, premise: there is such a thing as subjective experience. There is something it feels like to be punched in the face, and this is qualitatively very different from being told that it is five o’ clock. There is a very big difference between your being punched in the face and someone else’s being punched in the face: namely, you feel it in the first case and not in the second. If you don’t have this, I just don’t know what to say to you.

            Premise (of reductive materialism): physical matter and physical laws are fundamentally non-mental. They have only an objective existence; they are not subjective qualities in a mind.

            Problem: whence subjective experience? No number of facts about non-mental, objective entities and non-mental laws can explain subjective mental phenomena. Logic doesn’t work that way.

            More to the point of personal identity, if you know that I will punch the body-mass society calls “you” as a matter of subjective convenience tomorrow, do you regard this as having any special salience? Or is it just the same as if I were to tell you I’m going to punch someone in China?

            I don’t mean, will the body-mass society calls “you” be described by society as “feeling pain”, and will it jump up and down in the appropriate ways? I mean: do you anticipate the subjective experience of pain or not? It would seem that you ought not to anticipate feeling pain if I threatened to punch the guy in China.

            On the other hand, if there is no intrinsic personal identity—if it is only a matter of “fuzzy” subjective definition—there is no fact of the matter about whether you should experience pain. “You” are a matter of convention. But obviously rational planning, such as saving for a vacation in Las Vegas, presumes that you exist through time and will experience the pleasures of Vegas. You wouldn’t (if you’re normal) pay for someone else to experience Vegas.

            Or suppose I decide to quit my job and earn no money to buy food. Can I just decide subjectively not to “identify” with the future person who will suffer the pains of starvation? Or is there an objective fact of the matter?

          • Murphy says:

            @Joe

            Imagine that you gave your soul-believing friend a running computer.

            You try to tell him about microprocessors and electrons and information theory and doped silicon and bit logic but he responds by saying that the whole idea “is on thin ice conceptually and probably not possible at all” because he doesn’t believe it has a magical genie attached to it or tries to insist that it can or cannot do various things because he thinks they’re special and can only be done by things with a magical genie.

            That’s literally what you did at the start of this conversation.

            There’s a reason why I keep using the term magical, it’s the same reason Scott uses the term “divine power” or “moloch” when describing things he doesn’t fully understand.

            When you make up respectable sounding terms for things it allows you to pretend that you’ve explained them or understood them in any way when you haven’t even proven they exist in any way shape or form.

            When you say things like “The soul or substantial form dictate the way the matter is arranged in a living thing. It is immaterial, similar to the context of a novel, but more obviously real.” you’re making a very concrete statement that there’s effectively a magical genie which affects and changes the state of matter. Not anything remotely reasonable like it simply being possible to encode complex information in collections of words.

            Yes I am getting testy. Want to believe in magical genies? fine. No problem.

            But the moment you start trying to claim that your fantasies have any connection with reality and any relevance to what is or is not possible for other people to do with real physical things in the real physical world you stray into the land of reality and need to back up your claims with more than idle navel-gazing.

            The closest approximation in the real world of your gone with the wind analogy is what I’d call “state”. Take a computer made of dominos or electronic chips or trapped atoms and it comprises a finite state machine. This finite state machine will have a current “state”. State is in some sense just a collection of information.

            For any finite state machine you can build a second equivalent finite state machine which may have almost nothing in common with it physically, the first could be made of electronics, the second could be made of a giant network of people writing notes on paper or be a tank of goo or a tub full of neurons.

            You can pause either finite state machine at any point and transfer the state between the 2. The state is the abstract pattern of information. From inside the state there’s no way to tell when these transfers happen. State is ephemeral yet perfectly physical and material. Your claims are about as “profound” as denying that state exists but then insisting that everything observed is the result of a magical genie.

          • Murphy says:

            “There is something it feels like to be punched in the face, and this is qualitatively very different from being told that it is five o’ clock. There is a very big difference between your being punched in the face and someone else’s being punched in the face: namely, you feel it in the first case and not in the second.”

            actually the existence of mirror neurons kind of screws that up since people can experience modest physical pain from seeing other people experience pain. See someones fingers get shredded? Your fingers hurts.

            Some people even have over-active mirror neurons and can experience quite realistic sensations. It’s why when a bunch of guys see a video of someone getting their testicles crushed you can see half the room bending over and groaning, many of them are actually experiencing a watered-down version of testicle-trauma up to and including shooting pain.

            This experience is not universal to all humans but a fair portion have it.

            If you believe pain is linked to the soul then you have to start making stuff up about souls transferring subjective experience to others.

            If we’re just state on a mushy computer there’s no problem with this, the mushy computer just changes state when we observe someone else in pain.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Murphy:

            I do completely agree you with regard to your criticism of Joe. I mean maybe for some now-unknown reason, the only way to build a strong AI is through a process that also creates a conscious being. But I sure don’t see why.

            I say: consciousness (i.e. mind) and intelligence have no necessary relationship. They do for humans, but that’s just the way we happen to be built. An entity can be intelligent and completely unconscious—no experience whatsoever. Or an entity could be conscious and completely unintelligent—no ability to pursue goals.

            In their own way, physicalism and the Joe-type viewpoint deny this. Completely without justification, as I see it.

            actually the existence of mirror neurons kind of screws that up since people can experience modest physical pain from seeing other people experience pain. See someones fingers get shredded? Your fingers hurts.

            This has nothing to do with mirror neurons. Mirror neurons cause you to experience your pain, not their pain. If you want to test this, give the other person anaesthetic and shred his finger while he acts like he’s in pain. Your fingers will hurt while he feels just fine. A similar thing happens with special-effects fakery in movies all the time.

            If you believe pain is linked to the soul then you have to start making stuff up about souls transferring subjective experience to others.

            No, you don’t. The neurons in their brain cause their pain. The neurons in your brain cause your pain. There is no direct mind-to-mind causation. (Such is not inconceivable, but there has never been any evidence for it.)

            Your pain, which is caused by your mirror neurons, is I suppose ultimately caused by the light rays bouncing off their shredded fingers and entering your eyes and visual cortex. You are not, in any but a completely metaphorical sense, “experiencing their pain”.

            If we’re just state on a mushy computer there’s no problem with this, the mushy computer just changes state when we observe someone else in pain.

            Do you think the NPCs in Skyrim actually experience pain when you hit them with a sword? Why not? There is a little state in the computer called “HP” and it goes down. They wince.

            At what point would you be convinced an NPC in a computer game actually felt pain? Mind you, they don’t have to exhibit particularly intelligent behavior—as long as you think pretty simple animals can feel pain.

            But that’s just the thing: there is no point at which you can validly infer from any number of purely objective physical facts to the conclusion that an entity is experiencing subjective mental pain. The only way you can do this is by inference (to the best explanation) from your own capacity to experience pain, combined with your similarity in behavior, composition, and origin.

          • Murphy says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            Fair enough, the problem of other minds is universal but I don’t accept it to be a proof of any soul or similar.

            I also can’t know if another human is genuinely conscious or not, whether a squirrel actually suffers pain when it’s on fire, whether a lobster has subjective experience as it is boiled or whether a tree experiences suffering as it is cut down.

            Unless I have good reason to know that something is definitely simply a charade it seems safest to assume that if something acts like it’s in significant pain then it’s probably best to act as if it is.

            If I see someone screaming in apparent pain it’s probably safest to assume that the blood is real and that they’re not secretly dosed up with local anesthetic in order to con me somehow unless I have good reason to believe otherwise like it being a live stage show.

            I have good reason to believe that the skyrim NPC’s are fairly simple scripts less complex than a bacteria, unlikely to have been created to have any subjective experience while you, since you are almost certainly human and can answer arbitrary questions about the experience of internal experience probably do have subjective experience.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Murphy:

            I’m glad we can agree on this much.

            The thing is, if you accept that the problem of other minds is a real problem (and it is), you have to accept at least non-reductive physicalism, which is essentially Searle’s position. (Or property dualism, which is very, very similar.) That is, you have to admit that subjective experience cannot ever be “reduced to” objective physical facts. It’s a fundamentally separate “layer of explanation”.

            But non-reductive physicalism and property dualism are very silly views (though nevertheless big in philosophy!). They both imply that subjective mental states are completely epiphenomenal and do not cause anything. Then how do they cause people’s mouths to move or fingers to type? They don’t: it just looks like they do. It’s all just a massive coincidence that people’s tongues flap about subjective mental experience.

            The only option left is interactionist substance or entity dualism. That’s why I am one; or at least that’s the argument for dualism from the reality of subjective experience.

            As for all the inferences you explained of how you know other people and animals are conscious, I agree. That’s exactly how you do it.

            The problem is that you can’t apply these arguments when you meet a hypothetical android from space. He looks like a human and acts very similar to a human, but he’s is built out of something totally different and has a completely different origin.

            So long as you don’t think it is impossible to create an intelligent being that doesn’t have subjective experience, you cannot show that he has it. It would be just as fallacious to reason that, since your brain is made of carbon, his brain must be made of carbon. You’re generalizing from one example—as you must do in the problem of other minds—but this time the generalization has only the most tenuous support.

            If you cannot ever show that he has subjective experience, then subjective experience does not reduce to objective physical facts. Yet you know, at least in your own case, that it does exist.

          • Aegeus says:

            More to the point of personal identity, if you know that I will punch the body-mass society calls “you” as a matter of subjective convenience tomorrow, do you regard this as having any special salience? Or is it just the same as if I were to tell you I’m going to punch someone in China?

            Yes, I consider myself to be more significant. And I bet that the chess-playing computer considers the pieces on its own board to have more significance than the pieces on the board across the room. Does the chess computer have a subjective experience of chess?

            Algorithms are allowed to refer to themselves, and they’re allowed to use physical media to store those references. None of your examples are impossible to describe in purely physical terms.

            An entity can be intelligent and completely unconscious—no experience whatsoever. Or an entity could be conscious and completely unintelligent—no ability to pursue goals.

            In their own way, physicalism and the Joe-type viewpoint deny this. Completely without justification, as I see it.

            Well likewise, I don’t see the justification for believing that something can be intelligent but not conscious.

            Think about what a P-zombie would imply. It implies that two physically identical objects, every atom exactly the same, can still be completely different, because one has the invisible magic property and one doesn’t. For a physicalist, P-zombies are simply logically impossible.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Aegeus:

            Yes, I consider myself to be more significant. And I bet that the chess-playing computer considers the pieces on its own board to have more significance than the pieces on the board across the room. Does the chess computer have a subjective experience of chess?

            The chess computer doesn’t “consider” anything. It is not conscious. That’s why it has no subjective experience of chess.

            I can visualize very clearly in my mind a little horse-shaped knight piece. There is a little picture of a knight in my mind. I am directly aware of this. It’s as clear as any physical observation I might make.

            There is no little knight in the chess computer’s mind. It does not have a mind.

            There are no little knight-shaped particles in my brain. And there is no point at which you can take any combination of brain particles and say, “Ah! That’s a mental picture of a knight.” There is always the open question: granted we see these particles in the microscope, but do they really make a little picture of a knight?

            Algorithms are allowed to refer to themselves, and they’re allowed to use physical media to store those references. None of your examples are impossible to describe in purely physical terms.

            Minds are not algorithms. Describe to a blind person what “redness” looks like. You ought to be able to reduce it to purely physical facts. Well, do it.

            You can’t. You can describe the cause of the sensation, but you can’t describe what it is like without using mental concepts (such as “it’s rather like orange”).

            Think about what a P-zombie would imply. It implies that two physically identical objects, every atom exactly the same, can still be completely different, because one has the invisible magic property and one doesn’t. For a physicalist, P-zombies are simply logically impossible.

            If physicalists believe this, they don’t understand what “logically impossible” means. “Logically impossible” means “contradictory”. There is no contradiction.

            Besides, I am not even an adherent of property dualism. That is a silly theory. I do not say that two physically identical objects are different because they have different mental properties. I say that there are two different kinds of objects: physical objects and mental objects.

            Mental objects are obviously observable. You observe them all the time.

            As I said before, I could just as easily argue (and with considerably more sense, though still fallaciously) that there is no such thing as matter. There is only subjective mental experience! Where did you get this mad idea of an external physical world? It’s necessary to explain your experience?! Nonsense! Your mind produces the experience. You say you have a “brain” made of matter; well, I grant that but, you see, matter is merely another type of experience. It’s a category error. All your alleged “particles” and “algorithms” can be reduced back to mental sensations. They’re at best just a name for those sensations. We ought to be good reductionists: we don’t need to accept any idea of the “fundamental physical”. There is only one science: introspective psychology, and it studies the laws by which the mind produces regular patterns of sensations. Sometmes, those sensations are “material” in nature and follow “physical” laws, but clearly it all reduces back to introspective psychology—the queen of the sciences.

            That is exactly how your argument goes, but in reverse. The answer to it—the only answer to it—is: “But I’m directly aware of non-mental objects as well as mental objects! And the one can’t be reduced to the other!”

            But at least the theory of subjective idealism is much less stupid than reductive materialism. It’s not as obviously absurd to talk about how matter is a type of experience as it is to talk about how experience is a type of matter.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Minds are not algorithms. Describe to a blind person what “redness” looks like. You ought to be able to reduce it to purely physical facts. Well, do it.

            you can’t

            I’m pretty sure that this is only because humans don’t have enough “RAM” to simulate all the molecules (or atoms, or whatever level of granularity is actually required) involved in seeing a red object.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ jaimeastorga2000:

            I’ll accept that if you can explain how you could possibly infer from a system’s having a certain amount of RAM that it experiences the subjective sensation of redness.

            Anyway, the interminability of the materialism debate suggests a question which I raise in the most charitable and semi-serious spirit possible: at what point do we rationally conclude that some people really have minds and others are mindless automata? Of rather, at what point do the former make this conclusion—the latter not really being “people”?

            Have we studied the heritability of belief in materialism? If one twin denies that “qualia” is an intelligible concept, how likely is it that the other do so as well? How well does belief in materialism correlate with factors like reported acuity of mental imagery? Now of course, evidence that it is heritable would only polarize the sides further. Those who have qualia would be convinced that only an automaton could deny it. Those who don’t would vibrate in such a way that their lips spat out the statement that belief in qualia must be a form of brain disease.

            Of course, I don’t really think this is the explanation. But science should investigate all possibilities, even troubling ones!

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m pretty sure that this is only because humans don’t have enough “RAM” to simulate all the molecules (or atoms, or whatever level of granularity is actually required) involved in seeing a red object.

            Myself, I’m pretty sure that it’s because language grounds itself in sensory experience and so can’t communicate experiences for which the recipient has no sensory points of reference. The word “red” to a person blind from birth gives you something analogous to a type error, like sending U16 strings to a system that only speaks ASCII — or maybe more like sending a machine-learning classifier a picture of a kitten when it’s been trained on pictures of tanks.

            Language can be less powerful than thought without thereby implying that thought is something metaphysical.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Myself, I’m pretty sure that it’s because language grounds itself in sensory experience and so can’t communicate experiences for which the recipient has no sensory points of reference. The word “red” to a person blind from birth gives you something analogous to a type error, like sending U16 strings to a system that only speaks ASCII — or maybe more like sending a machine-learning classifier a picture of a kitten when it’s been trained on pictures of tanks.

            Language can be less powerful than thought without thereby implying that thought is something metaphysical.

            By “describing to a blind person what ‘redness’ looks like in terms of purely physical facts” I was thinking of something like “describe in detail each photoreceptor, each individual neuron firing up in the visual cortex, etc… and call that ‘redness'”, not just saying “red”. Which is utterly intractable, of course, but “possible in principle” as philosophers like to say.

            Likewise, I think that if you had enough “RAM” to simulate a bat at the appropriate level of granularity, and a way to obtain the information needed to do so, you could indeed know what it was like to be a bat.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            Presumably you would agree that whatever subjective experience is, it is the thing that causes you to talk about subjective experience? If we look closely enough at your brain, we can figure out which neural patterns cause your fingers to type things about subjective experience. Then aren’t those neural patterns your subjective experience, since they cause you to talk about subjective experience? If so, it seems like we’ve reduced subjective experience to something purely physical.

          • Nornagest says:

            “describe in detail each photoreceptor, each individual neuron firing up in the visual cortex, etc… and call that ‘redness’”

            That would be a full description of redness, and would allow an experience of redness in something if you had an appropriate substrate to run it on, but it wouldn’t give a person you told it to an experience of redness: we aren’t wired to build emulations like that, since we don’t have an experiential concept of one neuron firing. That’s not a problem that can be solved by adding working memory or anything like that.

            Still doesn’t disprove monism, though.

          • Aegeus says:

            As I said before, I could just as easily argue (and with considerably more sense, though still fallaciously) that there is no such thing as matter. There is only subjective mental experience! Where did you get this mad idea of an external physical world? It’s necessary to explain your experience?! Nonsense! Your mind produces the experience. You say you have a “brain” made of matter; well, I grant that but, you see, matter is merely another type of experience. It’s a category error. All your alleged “particles” and “algorithms” can be reduced back to mental sensations. They’re at best just a name for those sensations. We ought to be good reductionists: we don’t need to accept any idea of the “fundamental physical”. There is only one science: introspective psychology, and it studies the laws by which the mind produces regular patterns of sensations. Sometmes, those sensations are “material” in nature and follow “physical” laws, but clearly it all reduces back to introspective psychology—the queen of the sciences.

            This is basically the brain in a jar argument, no? You can definitely say “I have no way to verify that my external reality really exists, I just act like I have one because it’s a useful convenience.” In the same way that I’m saying “I don’t believe my internal mental objects really exist, but I still talk about them because it’s a useful convenience.” I don’t particularly care which way you do it – whether you ascribe mental labels to physical objects or ascribe physical labels to mental objects.

            No, what grinds my gears is that you asserted that the mental and physical objects interact. That the mental picture you have in your head is causally connected to the physical meat of your brain, that when you push around mental objects in your non-physical mind you create a physical result. That’s something that’s both theoretically testable – study the brain really thoroughly and see if there’s any “soul goes here” spot you can’t explain – and completely unsupported as far as I know. This is why people are accusing you of believing in magic.

            That’s why I complained about p-zombies. If you allow the physical and mental objects to interact, that means that two atom-for-atom identical brains can behave differently because one of them has a mental object interacting with it and one doesn’t (Sorry for saying “has mental properties” instead of “is causally connected to a mental object.” The argument works the same either way).

            If I’ve misunderstood you, and you aren’t saying that the physical and mental objects can interact, then what are we arguing about? When you say that mental objects like qualia are “real”, what exactly are you arguing for?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            Presumably you would agree that whatever subjective experience is, it is the thing that causes you to talk about subjective experience?

            Yes, I agree.

            If we look closely enough at your brain, we can figure out which neural patterns cause your fingers to type things about subjective experience. Then aren’t those neural patterns your subjective experience, since they cause you to talk about subjective experience? If so, it seems like we’ve reduced subjective experience to something purely physical.

            No, this is begging the question against dualism.

            The precise thing I am denying is that neural patterns are completely caused by previous neural patterns and external physical factors. I am saying that my mind, which has the subjective experience, interacts with the neurons and causes them to make my fingers type the words.

            If there were no interaction, it would indeed be inexplicable why my fingers ever typed out any words concerning subjective experience because none of my neurons would ever have been causally influenced by such experience.

            @ Aegeus:

            This is basically the brain in a jar argument, no? You can definitely say “I have no way to verify that my external reality really exists, I just act like I have one because it’s a useful convenience.” In the same way that I’m saying “I don’t believe my internal mental objects really exist, but I still talk about them because it’s a useful convenience.” I don’t particularly care which way you do it – whether you ascribe mental labels to physical objects or ascribe physical labels to mental objects.

            If you really believe this, you’re in a bad way. You can verify that external reality exists because you’re directly aware of it. Even if you happen to be in the Matrix, the Matrix is something external.

            But at least you agree that the arguments are equivalent. In that case, why not be a subjective idealist? It makes much more sense. “Matter is an illusion” at least is intelligible because “illusion” is a mental concept. “Mind is an illusion (or a ‘layer of explanation’)”, on the other hand, presupposes the existence of the mind while denying any basis upon which it could exist.

            No, what grinds my gears is that you asserted that the mental and physical objects interact. That the mental picture you have in your head is causally connected to the physical meat of your brain, that when you push around mental objects in your non-physical mind you create a physical result. That’s something that’s both theoretically testable – study the brain really thoroughly and see if there’s any “soul goes here” spot you can’t explain – and completely unsupported as far as I know. This is why people are accusing you of believing in magic.

            Yes, I am saying they interact. And yes, it is testable. The theory is supported by the fact that the alternative is a) incoherent and b) doesn’t fit all the evidence.

            As regards the latter, it’s the same as saying: “There is only one element: beryllium!” But what about all the evidence we have of these other elements that aren’t the same as beryllium? “They all reduce to beryllium.” But that’s impossible! Explain how. “I can’t, but just trust me. They do. After all, the existence of non-beryllium is completely unsupported.” What do you mean it’s unsupported? I see non-beryllium all the time! “Yeah, but it all reduces to beryllium. That’s the basis of science.”

            The purpose of the above dialogue is to show the completely arbitrary and question-begging nature of materialism.

            That’s why I complained about p-zombies. If you allow the physical and mental objects to interact, that means that two atom-for-atom identical brains can behave differently because one of them has a mental object interacting with it and one doesn’t (Sorry for saying “has mental properties” instead of “is causally connected to a mental object.” The argument works the same either way).

            Yes, that’s implied by the theory that the mental causally influences the physical. If you could somehow wipe out someone’s mind, it would no longer influence his body and he would act differently.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            The precise thing I am denying is that neural patterns are completely caused by previous neural patterns and external physical factors.

            Oh, nice, I’m much happier now that I understand you are making a concrete and testable prediction. You are saying that, for example, sometimes the electrons and quarks inside people’s brains behave in ways radically different from the predictions of the standard model of particle physics. I disagree, but at least I understand what you are claiming. Furthermore we can probably just wait a few hundred or a few thousand years and the question will be resolved experimentally.

            I’m curious: suppose you copied the state of a human brain into a simulation running the laws of physics as we know them, then ran the simulation forward. Would you care to speculate how the simulated human would behave? Maybe it would suffer serious neurological problems because in your view the brain depends on things outside of known physics? Or maybe it would behave pretty normally except it wouldn’t know what you were talking about when you asked it about subjective experience?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            I’m curious: suppose you copied the state of a human brain into a simulation running the laws of physics as we know them, then ran the simulation forward. Would you care to speculate how the simulated human would behave? Maybe it would suffer serious neurological problems because in your view the brain depends on things outside of known physics? Or maybe it would behave pretty normally except it wouldn’t know what you were talking about when you asked it about subjective experience?

            This is of course complete speculation, but I imagine that either of those could be true. Maybe it wouldn’t work at all because the interaction is too basic. I don’t know or claim to know.

            I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t construct an artificial or simulated brain of some kind that would emulate human behavior to an arbitrarily high standard. It could even tell you it had qualia: all kinds of amazing qualia you wouldn’t believe!

            But how a human brain would work if, to return to the other analogy, you took the astronaut out of the spaceship? It depends on how good the autopilot is.

            There’s a spectrum here, from a) “every human action is the direct result of mental causation”, which is pretty clearly false, to z) “epiphenomenalism: no human action is a result of mental causation”, which is also pretty clearly false. Many critics of dualism falsely equate it with a). This would be idea that watching people do things unconsciously refutes dualism.

          • Murphy says:

            @Vox Imperatoris

            The problem is that you can’t apply these arguments when you meet a hypothetical android from space. He looks like a human and acts very similar to a human, but he’s is built out of something totally different and has a completely different origin.

            I don’t really agree on this. I’d extend the same standard to a machine I do to a dog, squirrel or human who I can’t see directly. If it can convince me that it has subjective experience then I’m happy to say that it does.

            I don’t assume all humans have subjective experience after all. If someone stares blankly at the wall drooling, never saying a word then at some point I’m going to assume they’re dead inside even without a brain scan.

            On the other hand, if I’m chatting with a robot and it’s able to argue philosophy, respond to arbitrary arguments, describe it’s own experiences, talk about it’s goals and wishes in life while I might take longer making the assessment than I would with a random human after some number of hours, days, weeks or months interacting with it I’ll either be convinced it has subjective experience or not.

            After all, this is what we do every day with other humans, we simply apply the politeness principle. If someone can tell you about their subjective experience then that’s a pretty good argument that they have subjective experience.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Murphy:

            I don’t really agree on this. I’d extend the same standard to a machine I do to a dog, squirrel or human who I can’t see directly. If it can convince me that it has subjective experience then I’m happy to say that it does.

            If it can convince you. But there’s no obvious external thing the android could do to convince you. Or rather, if you were convinced, it would not be for a good reason.

            I don’t assume all humans have subjective experience after all. If someone stares blankly at the wall drooling, never saying a word then at some point I’m going to assume they’re dead inside even without a brain scan.

            Well, yes. One aspect of the inference that other humans have subjective experience is that they behave similarly to you. If someone behaves in a way that resembles you when you are unconscious (staring blankly, not responding to stimuli), it is reasonable to infer that they are unconscious.

            On the other hand, if I’m chatting with a robot and it’s able to argue philosophy, respond to arbitrary arguments, describe it’s own experiences, talk about it’s goals and wishes in life while I might take longer making the assessment than I would with a random human after some number of hours, days, weeks or months interacting with it I’ll either be convinced it has subjective experience or not.

            What could it possibly say to you to convince you? Where do you draw the line?

            No matter what kind of philosophical arguments it makes or what kinds of qualia it claims to have, there is always the (for all you know) equally plausible possibility that it just behaves in a way imitative of having subjective experience while not actually having it. The Turing test—nor any other kind of super-Turing test—does not prove or even really provide evidence that something is conscious.

            After all, this is what we do every day with other humans, we simply apply the politeness principle. If someone can tell you about their subjective experience then that’s a pretty good argument that they have subjective experience.

            With humans, this principle makes much more sense.

            You not only observe that other humans behave similarly to you. You also see that they are apparently built in (roughly speaking) the exact same way, and they have a common origin.

            If you were to say: “I’m conscious, but they’re all zombies”, you would need a good explanation of this. You’d have to have some semi-plausible theory of how it is that you got to be conscious while everyone else talks about it but isn’t. There is apparently no such explanation. So Occam’s razor says: everyone else is also conscious.

            With the android from space, this argument doesn’t work. You can’t infer from the fact that you’re conscious, to the fact that all humans are conscious because they’re similar to you, to the conclusion that all possible intelligent beings must be conscious. This would be like assuming that since you breathe oxygen, and all intelligent beings you’ve observed breathe oxygen, the android must breathe oxygen, too.

            Yes, the android behaves in a similar way to humans. But it is (we suppose) built entirely differently and has a different origin. Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that this behavior—though superficially similar—is caused by a very different mechanism.

            Of course, I’m not saying that you can definitively prove the android isn’t conscious. I’m saying there is no good argument either way.

            Suppose that there were two intelligent species on Earth. One, like us, evolved from primordial slime. The other was made of silicon and had existed in the same form since the solidification of the planet. What cause would either of them have to place any confidence in the assertion that the other is conscious?

          • Murphy says:

            The Turing test—nor any other kind of super-Turing test—does not prove or even really provide evidence that something is conscious.

            I disagree. it doesn’t prove or provide *conclusive* evidence but it does provide evidence.

            Simply associating other humans with my own experience does not provide *conclusive* evidence that they’re real people with real internal experience but it does provide evidence.

            At some point the evidence breaches some kind of threshold and I accept someone or something as conscious.

            I don’t require 100% certainty.

            Sure I can see humans are built similarly to me but for all I know my family could be the only carriers of a real-qualia gene.

            How do I really know that humans who look very different from me really have subjective experience?

            Personally I’m happy to ask them.

            If someone built a dolphin-english translator and a dolphin was able to argue about qualia I’d apply the same standard even though their brains and bodies are quite dramatically different from my own.

            If we ran into a biological alien and it was able to argue about qualia I’d apply the same standard even though their brains and bodies are almost certain to have almost nothing in common with ours with no shared ancestry.

            Your approach doesn’t just fail with a robot from space (assuming the robot actually does have internal eperience), it appears to fail with a biological alien from space or even other intelligent mammals.

            If I go to the robot-aliens planet and they have libraries of philosophy talking about qualia I’d also have to explain that. Occam’s razor says: they have it. It could be an elaborate scam but it probably isn’t.

            Re: your 2 species, I don’t think my system would have too much trouble with that. After some amount of interaction, conversation, negotiation, argument it would become hard for one to claim that the other didn’t if both insisted that they had internal experience and could describe it.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Murphy:

            Your approach doesn’t just fail with a robot from space (assuming the robot actually does have internal eperience), it appears to fail with a biological alien from space or even other intelligent mammals.

            It would fail with a biological alien from space, I agree.

            As for other animals on Earth, I think the ground is more solid. Similar behavior, similar composition, similar origin. As they become less and less similar, the less confident the judgment is that they have genuine subjective experience.

            Do apes experience pain? Dogs? Chicken? Lizards? Fish? Insects? Tapeworms? It seems like a sliding scale of certainty to me.

            There’s nothing conclusive to rule out the Cartesian view that even apes are automata, but my personal view is that I am more convinced about animals the more they are similar to us.

            If I go to the robot-aliens planet and they have libraries of philosophy talking about qualia I’d also have to explain that. Occam’s razor says: they have it. It could be an elaborate scam but it probably isn’t.

            Yeah, you would have to explain that. And that is a point in favor of them having subjective experience.

            On the other hand, materialists like Daniel Dennett don’t know what qualia are and basically think it is all an “elaborate scam”. Half the people in this thread, including you (?) have been arguing that all the behavior of human beings can be explained completely without reference to any mental substance.

            Maybe their essays on qualia are explained in the materialist-determinist way. It would be simpler to assume that, if we weren’t obviously directly aware of subjective experience in ourselves.

          • sptrashcan says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:
            A thought and a question.

            – The fact that I cannot induce the experience of redness in a blind person by speaking to them indicates more that language is limited than that experiences cannot be induced. Consider a blind person with a prosthetic not unlike the cochlear implant, which bypasses the nonfunctional eye and instead uses information from a camera to stimulate the brain directly. When the camera is pointed at a red thing, I think that the blind person has an experience of redness no less authentic than my own (sighted) experience.

            But if I understand your argument thus far, that’s beside the point, because the key question is whether there is a conscious mind associated with the brain that can have experiences at all. So why pursue the redness problem?

            – What do you think of the recent study on electrostimulation of the claustrum in an epileptic woman’s brain, which appeared to turn off the integration of conscious thought without impacting other mental function? (abstract http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24967698 )

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ sptrashcan:

            – The fact that I cannot induce the experience of redness in a blind person by speaking to them indicates more that language is limited than that experiences cannot be induced. Consider a blind person with a prosthetic not unlike the cochlear implant, which bypasses the nonfunctional eye and instead uses information from a camera to stimulate the brain directly. When the camera is pointed at a red thing, I think that the blind person has an experience of redness no less authentic than my own (sighted) experience.

            Yes, I agree that the blind person has an authentic subjective experience of redness (or something very analogous). Because you’ve literally built a device to allow the blind to see! Whether the signals go through a biological eyeball or a mechanical camera into the brain (and thereby cause mental experience) is not essential.

            You say the problem is that you cannot “induce” the experience of redness in a blind person by language. That misses the point.

            It’s not that you want to induce a sensory experience with language; the (materialist) goal is to reduce the experience to physical facts. It wouldn’t prove anything relevant to this debate if you could use the vibration of your voice to stimulate the neurons in a blind person’s brain and cause them to experience redness.

            Reductive materialism says that “redness” is identical to a certain movement of atoms in the brain. It does not say the movement of atoms causes the experience of redness; it says they are the same thing. One is just a different word for the other. (Maybe some self-identified reductionists miss this point? It is the standard meaning of the theory, as stated by its proponents.)

            If that is true, reductionists ought to be able to explain how a certain number of objective physical facts imply a subjective mental fact. But they cannot do this. It’s not just that I don’t see how it could be possible. I see very clearly that it is impossible. Logic does not work that way. You’ve got to have subjective mental premises if you want a subjective mental conclusion. See: is-ought dichotomy.

            This is basically the “knowledge argument” or the “Mary’s room” argument for dualism. The blind guy can learn all the facts he likes about how eyes work, but he will never learn from that what redness is like subjectively. No number of physical facts could tell him that the eye must produce any subjective mental sensation, let alone tell him exactly what kind of sensation.

            The “spectral inversion” argument is also applicable here. There is no way for you to know (except generalization from your own case) that when other people’s neurons flash the way yours do to produce the sensation “red”, their neurons produce the sensation (you would call) “green”. You both point to the same object and call it “red” (because you learn these words by pointing to things and asking “what’s that?”). But the other guy actually experiences the same sensation you experience from green objects.

            What do you think of the recent study on electrostimulation of the claustrum in an epileptic woman’s brain, which appeared to turn off the integration of conscious thought without impacting other mental function? (abstract http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24967698 )

            Just reading the abstract, it seems interesting. Obviously, it doesn’t prove anything either way in this debate.

            If anything, it is sympathetic to my theory that conscious thought (including volitional behavior) can be disabled while leaving unconscious, automatic behavior intact. But I’m not going to say we’ve done anything like identified the equivalent of Descartes’s pineal gland: the spot at which the mind interacts with the body.

            If you really want to mess with me, the split-brain thing Scott talked about with Ben Carson is a serious concern for my theory (though more for identity than dualism as such). And I do file it under: screwing with things we don’t understand.

          • sptrashcan says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            Does the fact that a person cannot have an experience through gaining knowledge point to the specialness of experience, or merely a limitation of the human brain?

            Consider a person with infrared goggles. The person without the goggles will never experience infrared light: their eyes cannot detect it, and no amount of thinking about infrared light will induce whatever brain or mind state we might call an experience. When the person puts on the goggles, however, the combination of the stimulus in their brain from the green light of the goggles, plus the physical fact that the goggles produce green light when they are stimulated by infrared light, plus the person’s knowledge that the green light is mechanically induced by the presence of infrared light, arguably adds up to “experiencing infrared light”. Certainly the person is indistinguishable by observable effect from someone naturally capable of seeing infrared light.

            I guess you could call me out for cheating at this point, because I’ve reduced the experience of infrared light to a piece of knowledge plus the experience of green light, and so I haven’t actually gotten anywhere. But I feel like you can keep walking further down this path and get to the point where “experiences” are defined as “stimuli on the brain” plus “information encoded in the brain”. I feel like both of these are necessary: I’m not sure you could claim to have experienced redness without a red stimulus, but I’m also not sure you could claim to have experienced redness without having learned some meaningful association between that stimulus and something else. If I lived my whole life in a room lit by kaleidoscope lamps, I feel like redness wouldn’t mean anything to me because it would provide no useful information about my reality. And I agree that, because no two brains are alike, nobody’s brain reacts to red stimulus exactly like mine does, and so my experience of redness can be called distinct from everyone else’s. I realize I have a problem here in that the language I’m using is requiring me to talk about experiences as a thing even though I’m arguing they’re not irreducible, but humor me when I say that I’m not confused and that by “experience” I do mean nothing more than “a sequence of brain states produced by the combination of stimulus and information encoded in the structure of the brain”.

            I just don’t see how you get from that to “therefore, the mind is not the brain.” I’m not being obstinate, I’m literally not following the argument.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            I guess you could call me out for cheating at this point, because I’ve reduced the experience of infrared light to a piece of knowledge plus the experience of green light, and so I haven’t actually gotten anywhere.

            Got it in one!

            What we have here is an experience of “greenness”, caused ultimately by infrared light.

            But I feel like you can keep walking further down this path and get to the point where “experiences” are defined as “stimuli on the brain” plus “information encoded in the brain”. I feel like both of these are necessary: I’m not sure you could claim to have experienced redness without a red stimulus, but I’m also not sure you could claim to have experienced redness without having learned some meaningful association between that stimulus and something else. If I lived my whole life in a room lit by kaleidoscope lamps, I feel like redness wouldn’t mean anything to me because it would provide no useful information about my reality.

            You are confusing two different things.

            Experience—any experience—gives you some form of knowledge implicitly of objective physical reality. It also has a subjective what-it-is-like quality that gives you knowledge of subjective mental reality.

            Yes, we learn about the physical world through the fact that red objects (i.e. objects that reflect a certain wavelength of light) produce one sensation and green objects another. There is a causal relationship between the light waves and our brains that allows us to pick out these objective physical objects and manipulate them in various ways. But we also learn what “redness” is like and what “greenness” is like.

            And it is perfectly meaningful to suppose that the two could be switched, so that all objects we now call “red” continued to have the same similarity to one another, and the same for the ones we now call “green”—but they produced the opposite subjective sensations.

            I don’t know how else to get this across.

            Maybe it’s an ambiguity in the term “experience of”. When you see a red light, you are aware of a physical object: the thing reflecting these photons. But you are aware by means of a subjective experience of redness—and you are aware that you are aware of that experience of redness. You can extraspect at the red object, and you can introspect at your experience.

            I just don’t see how you get from that to “therefore, the mind is not the brain.” I’m not being obstinate, I’m literally not following the argument.

            Atoms are non-mental and objective. Minds are mental and subjective. Two things that have opposite properties cannot be the same thing. That’s the simplest way to put it.

            If you want to say that atoms can be mental if arranged a certain way, you’ve moved to non-reductive physicalism.

          • Mark says:

            We don’t know what a tree is as a “thing-in-itself” – we know a tree as a vaguely defined combination of impressions.
            We don’t know what scientific objects are as “things-in-themselves” – we know scientific objects as more strictly defined relationships between observations (impressions.)

            The problem is this: while the question of what a tree is ‘in-itself’ – seperate from our observation of the tree – is meaningless, we *have* access to observations/experience as “things-in-themselves”.

            So, we can rightly make the distinction between experience itself and the observation of brain states – surely the confusion arises because we can’t do this for any other object and people wish to incorrectly apply what is generally a good rule of thumb?

          • Murphy says:

            On the other hand, materialists like Daniel Dennett don’t know what qualia are and basically think it is all an “elaborate scam”. Half the people in this thread, including you (?) have been arguing that all the behavior of human beings can be explained completely without reference to any mental substance.

            Maybe their essays on qualia are explained in the materialist-determinist way. It would be simpler to assume that, if we weren’t obviously directly aware of subjective experience in ourselves.

            It’ll be interesting to see what happens when things like this:

            https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/news_article.php?newsID=2462

            Become widely used and possibly even replace other sections of the brain. If the subjects continue to argue that they still have subjective experience as more chunks of their brains gradually getting replaced with compute modules, that would provide decent material evidence for subjective experience simply being what certain types of data structures and computations “feel like from the inside”. The fun thing is that we’re likely to see this experiment played out in the next couple of decades.

          • Murphy says:

            Reductive materialism says that “redness” is identical to a certain movement of atoms in the brain. It does not say the movement of atoms causes the experience of redness; it says they are the same thing. One is just a different word for the other.

            This is incorrect. Brains are plastic, for all I know your visual cortex could have developed very differently to mine to handle the same sensory input. Reductive materialism would just maintain that your brain handles it somehow. I don’t claim that “redness” is identical to a certain movement of atoms in every brain. ANN’s with the same starting inputs can often find different structures to represent the same stuff.

            You say the problem is that you cannot “induce” the experience of redness in a blind person by language.

            How broadly do you define language here? Would hearing a whistly-staticy sound a little like modem noises count? To a computer-scientist they’re both just communication protocols.

            Because some blind people can learn to experience images from image data turned into sound and can then perfectly well “experience” red or experience seeing a cottage or mountain.

            Normal language is less compressed but it’s still a description of the image going in through your ears that your brain interprets.

            Use the right “language” and you absolutely can have someone ,for all intents and purposes, experience redness .

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Mark:

            So, we can rightly make the distinction between experience itself and the observation of brain states – surely the confusion arises because we can’t do this for any other object and people wish to incorrectly apply what is generally a good rule of thumb?

            That’s how I see it. I think it’s a matter of “if all you have is a hammer”. Computer programmers think the mind is a computer. Neuroscientists think the mind is neurons.

            @ Murphy:

            Become widely used and possibly even replace other sections of the brain. If the subjects continue to argue that they still have subjective experience as more chunks of their brains gradually getting replaced with compute modules, that would provide decent material evidence for subjective experience simply being what certain types of data structures and computations “feel like from the inside”. The fun thing is that we’re likely to see this experiment played out in the next couple of decades.

            It wouldn’t prove anything. It could make them completely unconscious automata who merely speak as if they have conscious experience.

            Now, if you actually understood how the brain worked, you could learn something that way. But if you just start ripping out chunks of brain and replacing it with silicon, checking to see whether it worked by looking at objective external factors, you have no way to know what is really happening.

            This is incorrect. Brains are plastic, for all I know your visual cortex could have developed very differently to mine to handle the same sensory input. Reductive materialism would just maintain that your brain handles it somehow. I don’t claim that “redness” is identical to a certain movement of atoms in every brain. ANN’s with the same starting inputs can often find different structures to represent the same stuff.

            The first view is called type physicalism. The second view is called token physicalism or functionalism.

            Token physicalism is exceedingly difficult to defend without resorting to non-reductionism.

            How broadly do you define language here? Would hearing a whistly-staticy sound a little like modem noises count? To a computer-scientist they’re both just communication protocols.

            Language refers to the communication of information in a way that it is consciously understood by people. It is a mental concept.

            I was just making a little joke, responding to the idea that we could “induce the experience through language”. If what you mean by language is not subjective semantic content but little vibrations in the air, of course it is objective and physical. Whether you can stimulate neurons by these vibrations and cause visual experience as well as auditory experience is irrelevant.

            I guess the real question is: is the semantic content of your words causing him to understand what red is like? (I say: impossible.) Or is the physical form, the vibrations of the air alone, somehow stimulating his neurons? For instance, if you could “induce the experience of red” to a French-speaker by vibrating the air with Chinese noises, this would obviously prove nothing.

            This is the old “if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?” thing. It will vibrate the air. But if no one is around to hear it, there will be no subjective experience of sound.

            Normal language is less compressed but it’s still a description of the image going in through your ears that your brain interprets.

            Your brain does not “interpret” anything. Your brain may change some signals into different types of signals, but “interpretation” or “understanding” is a mental concept. A chess computer can do all the physical processing of signals you want, but it doesn’t understand or interpret chess.

            Use the right “language” and you absolutely can have someone ,for all intents and purposes, experience redness .

            I have no idea what you mean by “for all intents and purposes”. For all intents and purposes besides knowing what the subjective experience of red is like, yes.

          • sptrashcan says:

            @ Vox Imperatoris

            > What we have here is an experience of “greenness”, caused ultimately by infrared light.

            Hold on a minute. Earlier, you agreed that the blind man with the camera prosthesis *was* capable of experiencing redness, and I think you also agreed that if the camera prosthesis worked by sending sound information through the ear, that would still be an experience of redness. So why are the infrared goggles, which also mediate new information through a pre-existing channel, not producing an experience of infraredness?

            Consider three people who cannot tell which things are red. All of them have defective L-type cone cells. The first person’s L-type cone cells are dead: they never trigger at all. The second person’s L-type cone cells are hypersensitive: they trigger all the time. The third person’s L-type cone cells are malformed such that they trigger at random intervals unrelated to incoming light. Have any of these people experienced redness?

            >Atoms are non-mental and objective. Minds are mental and subjective. Two things that have opposite properties cannot be the same thing. That’s the simplest way to put it.

            I’m afraid I’m still a bit at sea since I’m not sure all these terms are well defined. However, let me make some assertions and we’ll see where you step off.

            Things we seem to agree on:
            1. Matter exists.
            2. The fundamental units of matter do not have the properties of “thought” or “experience”.
            3. Therefore, nothing constructed from matter has the property of “thought” or “experience”.
            4. I perceive that “thought” and “experience” exist.

            Where you go:
            5. Therefore, something exists that has the property of “thought” and “experience”.
            6. Because nothing constructed from matter has these properties, the “mind” which has these properties is not constructed from matter.

            Where I go:
            5. Therefore, my perception is incorrect, and “thought” and “experience” do not exist.

            This does seem pretty outrageous on its face, but I can think of a lot of properties I ascribe to matter which, if pressed, I would have to admit are convenient fictions. I think that “objects” exist, but actually that’s a category I somewhat fuzzily assign to collections of matter in space, and as the problem of the ship of Theseus reveals I must admit that objects don’t exist, even though I cannot will myself into failing to perceive them. Matter has mass, position, and velocity; everything else is approximation. So why privilege “thought” as a special category of property which I’m certain does exist, when I’m willing to accept almost everything else doesn’t?

            I think this is what you called “universal skepticism”, and you seemed to set it aside earlier, but I’m not sure on what grounds. Not “really knowing” anything doesn’t seem to prevent me from operating on a basis of useful lies.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ sptrashcan:

            Hold on a minute. Earlier, you agreed that the blind man with the camera prosthesis *was* capable of experiencing redness, and I think you also agreed that if the camera prosthesis worked by sending sound information through the ear, that would still be an experience of redness. So why are the infrared goggles, which also mediate new information through a pre-existing channel, not producing an experience of infraredness?

            I misunderstood you. I didn’t catch where you said it was a cochlear implant. I just saw “stimulate the brain directly” and thought you meant “skip eye; go to visual cortex”.

            In the case where it is a cochlear implant, yes, the blind man is experiencing an auditory sensation, not a visual sensation. He is not experiencing what redness is like for sighted people.

            Where you go:
            5. Therefore, something exists that has the property of “thought” and “experience”.
            6. Because nothing constructed from matter has these properties, the “mind” which has these properties is not constructed from matter.

            Pretty much.

            Where I go:
            5. Therefore, my perception is incorrect, and “thought” and “experience” do not exist.

            This does seem pretty outrageous on its face, but I can think of a lot of properties I ascribe to matter which, if pressed, I would have to admit are convenient fictions. I think that “objects” exist, but actually that’s a category I somewhat fuzzily assign to collections of matter in space, and as the problem of the ship of Theseus reveals I must admit that objects don’t exist, even though I cannot will myself into failing to perceive them. Matter has mass, position, and velocity; everything else is approximation. So why privilege “thought” as a special category of property which I’m certain does exist, when I’m willing to accept almost everything else doesn’t?

            Yep, I think this is outrageous. 😉

            For one, just try to construct a theory from first principles describing all aspects of human experience that uses no mental concepts. Except you can’t use the word “theory” because it’s a mental concept. Even the materialist Yudkowsky rejects this one. (I don’t think his rejection is consistent but set that aside.)

            More importantly, you are making the age-old (and very dubious) “primary-secondary quality distinction”, which says that some qualities, like mass, position, and velocity, are “really real” while others, like color, are “illusory”.

            No. They are all “really real”. You perceive them. They must be real. Everything you perceive must be real. (Perceive now; not your conception of what it is or what it means.) It would be completely baseless to take some elements of your sense experience and use them to invalidate others that are equally basic. The veridicality of your experience is axiomatic: you either take it all for granted or throw it all out.

            Suppose you had never seen Earth and a traveler came to came to you to describe it. You had no knowledge of physics or biology or psychology or anything else to check it against, so you had no idea what to expect. You could either trust him or doubt him. But you sure as hell couldn’t say “Yeah, I trust you on that one, but I’m calling bullshit on this one!” To call “bullshit” on him implies it conflicts with what you expect, but you are not entitled to expect anything except through what the same guy already told you!

            All the qualities and objects you perceive are real. Some of them are just more fundamental than others. But you can’t complain that reality doesn’t give you direct access to the fundamental constituents of nature. What you have is good enough and just as real. The fact that we perceive reality in a certain way does not somehow imply that we don’t perceive reality.

            Redness is real. Ships are real. If they are not fundamental, they have a real existence in the mind as a form in which the mind perceives reality.

            Moreover, on what basis do you assert that mass, position, and velocity are fundamental? The Greeks thought heat was fundamental. Maybe mass is just a form in which your mind perceives the ultimate substratum of reality. Leonard Peikoff gives the thought experiment where we imagine that the ultimate constituents of physical reality are “puffs of meta-energy”—a meaningless stand-in term. These puffs have no mass or velocity or size. Everything you perceive is just an interpretation of the puffs, produced by your brain (which, of course, is puffs) and fed to your mind (which, if puffs are nothing like matter as we know it, could very well also be made of puffs). You understand that saying the mind can be reduced to puffs and the brain can be reduced to puffs (and remember, this is a stand-in term; the boring philosophical term for this possibility is “neutral monism”) is not the same as saying the mind can be reduced to the brain.

            I think this is what you called “universal skepticism”, and you seemed to set it aside earlier, but I’m not sure on what grounds. Not “really knowing” anything doesn’t seem to prevent me from operating on a basis of useful lies.

            Skepticism is stupid. It refutes itself.

            Say you operate on “useful lies”. How do you know which ones are useful and which ones aren’t? You know somehow don’t you? Skepticism refuted.

            Now, if you define “knowledge” in such a way that no one could ever have it (like Descartes did), then you have a problem but then you have a stupid definition.

          • Murphy says:

            Language refers to the communication of information in a way that it is consciously understood by people. It is a mental concept.

            By that definition if someone says something to you in your native language while you’re distracted or not really listening then it doesn’t count as language. Even if you can remember the facts communicated to you later.

            You seem to have a very artificially restricted definition of language designed purely to get the answers you want.

            Someone hears information, they get internal experience. Either the experience of hearing someone say “hi bob” or the experience of seeing red. You draw an artificial line around one and say it’s special to prove that things you’ve drawn a line around and called special are special.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Murphy:

            I don’t see how my definition of language matters here. Sure, language is different from merely seeing a sensation like red. But they’re both mental anyway, so it shouldn’t make a difference to you.

            Also, we would call that language because it was intended to communicate conceptual, semantic information. That is the difference between language and babbling.

    • A says:

      It stands in for “promote economic growth/scientific discovery/cool stuff” without being vague and boring. Can you come up with a motivating idea that does that better?

      • jonathan says:

        No it doesn’t. People concerned about AI safety generally prefer *less* economic growth and scientific discovery until the safety issues are worked out.

        • A says:

          The key is that it’s until the safety issues are worked out. More to the point is that we presuppose the possibility of limitless growth from AI and us being able to have an impact on that growth.

          …or would you argue not? What other values do you see being expressed?

          • Krispy Kringle says:

            What safety issues?

            Research AI
            ???????
            Paperclips

            Isn’t a persuasive argument against anything, especially considering the very tangible dangers of contemporary AI systems with access to pervasive, invasive, and immense datasets in the hands of well-financed institutions with limited (if any!) accountability to general welfare in how they apply their technology.

          • I think the idea is that the deliberate misuse of AI is obvious and doesn’t need pointing out, whereas the pitfalls of supposedly benevolent AI aren’t obvious and do need pointing out.

          • John Schilling says:

            … the pitfalls of supposedly benevolent AI aren’t obvious and do need pointing out.

            Hasn’t pretty much every science fiction writer who has ever pondered the issue of benevolent AI in the past two hundred years, either had the AI turn malevolent or specifically explained why their AI can’t turn malevolent? Not just in obscure geeky literature, but in massively popular mainstream entertainment?

            I’m thinking, yeah, maybe this is kind of obvious, and in any event has been and continues to be pointed out on a fairly regular basis.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            That tells you a lot about science fiction writers, but absolutely nothing about AI.

        • endoself says:

          Eliezer thinks this (or at least he did at one point in the past). I think most economic growth and scientific discovery is probably good for AI safety. Research within AI is probably net negative, but I expect many individual parts to have positive effects on safety. I expect many people concerned about AI to agree/offer their own views that don’t call for less economic growth.

    • Mainstream AI people generally assign a high probability to AI algorithms doing better than humans this century; in http://www.nickbostrom.com/papers/survey.pdf, the median year by which the top-cited AI scientists assigned a 50% probability to machines being able to “carry out most human professions at least as well as a typical human” was 2050; median year by which they assigned a 90% probability was 2070.

      MIRI/FHI people’s views are closer to the typical view than Aaronson’s are here, and they tend to be deviate from the mainstream in Aaronson’s direction. I.e., people like Bostrom are more skeptical than AI researchers that we’ll see smarter-than-human AI anytime soon.

      Whether AI safety work is important is controversial: some experts think AI progress will be slow or generally unimpressive, and/or that it will be safe by default with no special effort required; plenty of other experts disagree.

      Whether safety work is tractable is even more controversial. There are lots of interesting ideas for attempting to make early progress on AI safety (not just the ones MIRI focuses on), but which options look more promising (and how promising they look) depends on unsettled questions about when and how AI will advance. This is part of why MIRI’s technical agenda errs on the side of agnosticism about AI architecture.

      The job opportunities Luke Muehlhauser is talking about in Scott’s above link probably mostly aren’t what you’re thinking of, though. The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence is more about the Puerto Rico agenda (http://futureoflife.org/data/documents/research_priorities.pdf), which overlaps with MIRI’s research agenda but also includes a lot of other topics. The value of this agenda is reasonably mainstream; see http://futureoflife.org/AI/open_letter.

      • anon85 says:

        Mainstream AI people generally assign a high probability to AI algorithms doing better than humans this century; in http://www.nickbostrom.com/papers/survey.pdf, the median year by which the top-cited AI scientists assigned a 50% probability to machines being able to “carry out most human professions at least as well as a typical human” was 2050; median year by which they assigned a 90% probability was 2070.

        People are very bad at predicting the far future. Come to think of it, is there *any* technology so implausible that when you ask people when it will happen, they say something more than 50 years away? As you point out, it actually seems that the more people seriously think about AI, the further away they expect it to happen.

        The value of this agenda is reasonably mainstream; see http://futureoflife.org/AI/open_letter.

        This open letter basically just says “AI research is a good idea”. It’s not surprising that AI researchers all endorse it.

        • Jiro says:

          Come to think of it, is there *any* technology so implausible that when you ask people when it will happen, they say something more than 50 years away?

          Robert Heinlein made some predictions in 1952.

          “Here are things we won’t get soon, if ever:
          * Travel through time
          * Travel faster than the speed of light
          * “Radio” transmission of matter.
          * Manlike robots with manlike reactions
          * Laboratory creation of life
          * Real understanding of what “thought” is and how it is related to matter.
          * Scientific proof of personal survival after death.
          * Nor a permanent end to war.”

          Many of his normal predictions were nonsense, but his predictions about what we wouldn’t get in the next 50 years (end of the 20th century is basically 50 years from 1952) were spot on.

          • anon85 says:

            Okay, but if you take the non-impossible items and do a survey asking people when they will happen, I claim you’d still get at most 50 years (depending, perhaps, on how the question is asked).

          • Jiro says:

            The point was that Heinlein said these things would be longer than 50 years. But now that I think of it, most people would probably answer >50 years on “laboratory creation of life”. Of course, that’s because most of them would believe it to be impossible, not because they had some time period in mind but it was longer than 50 years.

          • anon says:

            What does “laboratory cration of life” exactly mean?

          • DrBeat says:

            I can find you some scientist/professor/lab coat fetish porn that would disagree with you on the whole “>50 years to make life in a lab” theory.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Laboratory creation of life, in the sense of creating something recognizably living from non-living matter? We’re pretty darn close to that, I think; certainly I’d expect it in the next 50 years, even if the creation is a copy of an existing organism.

            I think radio transmission of matter has been done, though only for a small number of subatomic particles.

            A permanent end to war seems inevitable. One way or another.

          • Guy says:

            Well, not radio. We’ve done EPR experiments.

      • Carl Shulman says:

        “Mainstream AI people generally assign a high probability to AI algorithms doing better than humans this century; in http://www.nickbostrom.com/papers/survey.pdf, the median year by which the top-cited AI scientists assigned a 50% probability to machines being able to “carry out most human professions at least as well as a typical human” was 2050; median year by which they assigned a 90% probability was 2070.”

        Response rate was low for the surveys of top-cited researchers though, and I suspect the response bias favored shorter timelines.

      • jonathan says:

        By the way, a question about intellectual history:

        Lots of people famously cite how, back in the 1950s, many AI researchers thought we would have AI in a few decades. That’s sooner than most AI researchers today think we will have AI.

        But as far as I know, there wasn’t much concern about AI safety back then. To my knowledge, concern about AI safety has only gone mainstream very recently.

        Is this accurate? And why is it so? And more interestingly, does this indicate that philosophical understanding of AI safety has progressed faster than AI itself?

        • Glen Raphael says:

          @jonathan
          I think your impression is mostly accurate, though there have always been at least a few voices of skepticism.

          In the early days of AI, getting computers to display anything remotely resembling intelligence was quite difficult and the resulting behavior was extremely slow and limited. Why would anybody be overly concerned about the safety issues relating to an AI being TOO smart when they were so far away from anything resembling goal-directed behavior, much less independent thought?

          Consider the limits: Insanely small amounts of local memory! Programs loaded from a stack of punch cards or by flipping switches on a panel! No internet! No ability to control any interesting peripherals!

          AI philosophy has progressed more or less in step with AI practice and (more to the point) the growth of the surrounding infrastructure. Now that we have the internet and everything’s connected to it and vast amounts of spare processing power and at least a few ideas for how to use it to produce some glimmers of intelligent behavior, NOW it might make more sense to be worried about what comes next. Then, not so much.

          UPDATE: My father was an optimistic high-profile AI researcher in the 1960s and 1970s. To quote his book The Thinking Computer (published in 1974):

          “Progress toward making computers smarter has been slow, and some critics have urged that this research be abandoned – although whether these critics are motivated by a belief that the work is wasteful because it is doomed to failure, or by a belief that it will succeed and produce dangerous results, is not always clear.”

        • Anonymous says:

          as far as I know, there wasn’t much concern about AI safety back then

          WarGames (1983) is about AI risk, Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) is about AI risk.

          They are also both about the cold war, but even today if you made a movie about AI risk the AI would have to gain control of armaments and back then “taking control of armaments” meant bringing in cold war themes.

      • RCF says:

        “the median year by which the top-cited AI scientists assigned a 50% probability to machines being able to “carry out most human professions at least as well as a typical human” was 2050”

        Strong AI is not required to replace the majority of the workforce.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “Being able to” is not the same thing as “has replaced”. For one it says nothing about cost.

          I actually have issue with the implicit framing of that subject. We have plenty of AIs that do jobs better than humans now. Assembly line robots, as one example. But they aren’t GIs.

          Is Amazon an AI replacing the job of sales-clerk? Well, sort of. But is nothing like a GI. Is it a machine doing a job as well as or better than a human? Well, it’s doing a different job, but sure.

          So I think the idea that the responses to this particular question have much at all to do with predictions about AGI is not really supported.

    • Chalid says:

      Say you were somehow convinced that strong AI was a few decades away.

      What would that change about how you lived your life right now? (Assuming you are not an AI risk researcher.)

      • Save less for retirement as the AI would either kill us, make us all extremely rich, or make money irrelevant. Put a much higher priority on surviving for the next few decades because the expected value in living to a positive singularity is so high. Signing up for cryonics becomes a much better bet because the AI could probably revive you and it’s likely that your provider could keep your brain preserved for just a few decades.

      • anon says:

        Start the Butlerian Jihad

        • Anonymous says:

          Mein Neger!

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I really don’t see why this would be an unrealistic response to a human-harmful Singularity.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            The problem with the Butlerian Jihad is that it’s a near-universal coordination problem. It can’t actually work unless everyone (or almost everyone) is on board.

            Once the rest of society goes back to living like the Amish, a small group of people can take over the whole planet with advanced technology.

          • John Schilling says:

            A small group of people cannot maintain an illicit semiconductor fab, certainly not a high-end one.

            And the winning side of the Butlerian Jihad didn’t go on to “live like the Amish”; they had things like heavy industry, aircraft, starships, laser weapons, and, oh, yeah, nuclear missiles. Which they would probably have used against anyone’s illicit semiconductor fab, if the legions of Imperial Stormtroopers weren’t enough.

            You are confusing “no computers” with “no modern technology”. I think you underestimate the level of technology that can be maintained without computers, or with strictly limited computers.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Vox Imperatoris: A small group of people cannot maintain the semiconductor industry that Moore’s law is based upon if semiconductors are contraband.

            Or a simpler example would be the anti-AI taboo introduced in the new Battlestar Galactica pilot: you can build computers, it’s networking them that’s illegal.
            Speaking of BSG, how can Yudkowsky be certain that if his company “solves” ethics and makes it illegal not to program this into AI, an AI won’t process Godel’s ontological argument, update its beliefs, and turn into a Cylon or Blaise Pascal?

          • DavidS says:

            For another depiction of this (sorta) see the reimagined battlestar galactica. Although in that case it’s networked computers that are the problem rather than computers per se.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ John Schilling & Le Maistre Chat:

            Both of your arguments ought to suggest that the global drug trade could not exist. But it does exist. Therefore, etc.

            Sure, if we tried hard enough to eliminate computers, we could. But we won’t. No more than with drugs.

            Computers are very useful. You can make a lot of money with them. The more illegal they are, the greater the supply restriction and the more money you can make. Even if they don’t work as well as if they were legal. In the country of low-frequency traders, the medium-frequency trader is king.

            This is just the same thing that happens with drugs. The tougher the government makes it to produce cocaine, the more the price goes up. The more the price goes up, the more incentive to sell drugs anyway. Adam Smith observed the same thing with Spain’s “sanguinary punishments” (i.e. torturous execution) of those who exported gold. The better it works, the worse, because the more the price of gold goes up.

            So yeah, you can slow computer use down. But you’re not going to eliminate it or even stop progress in it. Besides, doesn’t Ix develop computers in Dune? (I only read the first one.)

          • ReluctantEngineer says:

            Both of your arguments ought to suggest that the global drug trade could not exist. But it does exist. Therefore, etc.

            The sorts of chemicals trafficked in the illicit drug trade are fairly easy to produce, as chemicals go, and illegal drug labs can mostly ignore things like preventing contamination and properly disposing of waste, which helps keep costs down and makes everything easier to conceal.

            Even rudimentary, low-throughput semiconductor production involves a complicated supply chain and several highly-specialized, multi-million dollar, mostly-immobile, and power-hungry pieces of equipment.

            More modern semiconductor production involves multi-billion plants that are very much immobile and difficult to conceal. Power draw is in the hundreds of megawatts. It might be possible to hide one in the galaxy-spanning society described in Dune, but it is implausible in the single-planet-spanning society in which we live.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Vox:

            ReluctantEngineer has got it about right. Drug labs and chip fabs are not just different things, but different orders of things. If we’re talking about modern foundries, even just something capable of fabbing an early Pentium, a better analogy might be uranium enrichment facilities and the thriving black market in illicit fissile materials.

            As for computers being a license to print money when you’re the only guy in town who has one, I should be so lucky. My father was one of those guys, or nearly so, more than half a century ago. Great wealth through superior computation was somewhat hindered by the lack of an internet and/or a machine-readable data feed, among many other things. It gets even harder if we posit that e.g. the data entry clerks you hire to type in the daily stock report from the dead-tree WSJ all have to be trusted felony co-conspirators, and the money has to be carefully laundered from inquisitive forensic accountants.

            Again, illicit nuclear weapons are a pretty good analogy. At the James Bond movie-plot level it’s obvious – you hide your hydrogen bomb in a city somewhere and say “give me One Hundred Billion Dollars! or I destroy your city!” If you start pondering the actual logistics, it gets a lot harder, and there are reasons nobody ever actually does this.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ John Schilling:

            Well, as hard as semiconductor fabrication may be, I don’t think it would be as hard as nuclear weapons.

            But even so, have we banned nuclear weapons? No. The people who have them don’t want to get rid of them. Even if everyone else would like to—even if they would like to—the incentives forbid it. And we seem to be gradually heading toward ever-wider proliferation.

            It’s not theoretical that nuclear war could destroy—if not humanity—at least our current civilization. It’s a fact. That’s not stopping anybody.

          • John Schilling says:

            Nuclear weapons are, in fact, easier to build than whatever device you are reading this on right now. They were first created in the 1940s, as you may recall, and they have been created in places like North Korea.

            And they are not seen by the governments of the world as a serious existential threat. We’ve spent more than half a century watching mutually hostile superpowers conspicuously failing to destroy civilization, and most governments aren’t really worried about that any more. So, as you note, we have not chosen to eliminate nuclear weapons, settling for the time being on containment.

            That is not the same thing as being incapable of eliminating them. We can do that with nuclear weapons, if we choose to. And we can do it with computers, or maybe just with networked computers, if we choose to do that.

          • Faradn says:

            @John
            I wonder how plausible it would be for someone to Pascal-mug a government by claiming that they have a nuke hidden in a major city. The odds against them actually having a nuke hidden in the city are pretty low, but the consequences of the government being wrong would be really high.

          • John Schilling says:

            Maybe you could try it and let us know how it turns out?

            The two obvious problems are, first, Pascal’s Mugging doesn’t work in the real world, and second, while the consequences of the government being “wrong” would indeed be high, I fear they would be a net positive. For the government, at least.

    • John Schilling says:

      I think it would be more accurate to say that the good work that can be done now is in the general area of network security, and that is being done now.

      But generally, yes, the Rationalist community needs a way to accept people saying that while they are not unconcerned with the possibility of unfriendly AI, they have sound reason for putting it way down on their list of personal priorities for the near future and/or for pursuing solutions other than the Unified Theory of Friendly AI.

    • Ricardo Cruz says:

      I have a research grant on machine learning for what it’s worth. I think your comment is unfair. There are a lot of pointless fields such as philosophy or movie, it does not mean there isn’t an aesthetic aspect to it.

      But yes, I am being half facetious. Machine learning is incredibly incipient. The model that most resembles the human brain are neural networks, where each node in a layer is a linear combinations of the entire previous layer (v1 = a.u1+b.u2+c.u3+…, and then w1 = a.v1+b.v2+c.v3+… and so on). It’s very cool how with something so simple you can predict house prices, build translators or image recognition. These are of course just regressions on steroids. But it’s also incredibly incipient. It’s impossible to create protections from our AI overlords on top of such a simple model lol.

      • Daniel Speyer says:

        I’ve studied Machine Learning somewhat seriously and I think it’s mostly unrelated to the sorts of AI MIRI is worried about. A really good ML system isn’t dangerous. What’s dangerous is a system that takes a model of the universe and a goal and devises a plan to achieve the goal. There’s a lot less work on that. All I’ve seen is some very minimalist solutions that work in statespaces around ℝ¹⁰ from the robotics community.

        • FeepingCreature says:

          You don’t think the recent work in image recognition and neural networks makes the “build a model” part *way* easier? I’m sort of half-expecting the first general AI to be a frankensteininan mixture that’s basically a neural net plugged into a very simple value-maximization loop, with half a dozen anti-solipsism hacks tacked on incrementally. That model doesn’t seem *that* far out.

          Disclaimer: ML layman.

          • anon85 says:

            Neural nets are extremely bad at a whole range of important AI tasks. For example, a neural net can’t learn to play chess (at least, not without search algorithms like alpha-beta pruning being coded in there somewhere).

          • Daniel Speyer says:

            ML is indeed about building the model.

            The bottleneck to scary AI is using the model once you’ve built it.

          • Anonymous says:

            @anon85: Recently a neural network was trained in chess and was able to play at Master level without any lookahead (ie just choosing the NN’s favourite move each turn). However this still requires a lot more input than a human would require (ie hundreds of thousands or millions of games).

            It’s true that (AFAIK as a layman) we don’t yet know how to make an NN that can learn new things from relatively small amounts of training in the way that a human can.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Anonymous, what chess engine do you mean? Matthew Lai’s Giraffe? That used lookahead. Indeed, the most interesting part of that project was the neural network to decide how far ahead to look.

          • anon85 says:

            Anonymous, can you give a link? I’m not aware of any decent chess program that does not use search algorithms. The “neural net” chess programs you might have seen in the news still use them.

          • Anonymous says:

            Douglas Knight/anon85: I think I got my wires crossed between the chess one (which does look ahead), and this Go one: http://arxiv.org/abs/1412.3409 which does fairly well (estimated at 4-5 kyu) after being trained to predict pro moves and did not use lookahead.

          • anon85 says:

            Ah, ok. That’s a cool paper, but Go and chess are different (search is much more essential for chess than for Go). Also, 4-5 kyu is not that great – according to http://www.britgo.org/press/faq.html it is “average club player” level, not master level.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Also, if you need human-generated data to train, your machine learning method isn’t fully general.

          • William Newman says:

            “Also, if you need human-generated data to train, your machine learning method isn’t fully general.”

            Depending on what you mean by “need”, I think this point is wrong in one of two ways.:-|

            If you literally mean an absolute in-principle requirement, this point seems wrong because the choice to train based on expert play does not demonstrate that learning from self-play is impossible. It merely strongly suggests that learning from self-play is a lot slower, maybe a factor of 100 or more.

            If instead by “need” you are referring to a sizable practicality advantage, perhaps that a learning system that is 100x slower learning 4-5 kyu Go play from self-play than from expert examples is insufficiently general, I think you are setting the bar for general learning unrealistically high. Humans are general enough to be dangerous, and seem to be at *least* 10x slower discovering 4-5 kyu Go play from (the rules and) first principles than they are learning it from expert examples; and I would guess the real factor is more like 100 than 10.

            (I don’t know of any attempts to measure it systematically, so I am guessing based on having taught many beginners, having advised many kyu players, having played a few people who had played many games without ever playing strong players, and having reached 3 dan myself.)

        • endoself says:

          DeepMind’s research is about combining deep learning with reinforcement learning, creating neural-network based systems that can learn how to act in environments. Are you familiar with them? This is basically what you’re describing. They have some impressive results with playing Atari games.

      • Anonymous says:

        I do basic research in neuromorphic computing for one of the gov’t agencies that gives out those types of grants, for what it’s worth. I feel comfortable saying pretty conclusively that this sentence is false:

        The model that most resembles the human brain are neural networks, where each node in a layer is a linear combinations of the entire previous layer (v1 = a.u1+b.u2+c.u3+…, and then w1 = a.v1+b.v2+c.v3+… and so on).

        CS-style artificial neural networks are interesting and can do cool things, but they are not the model that most resembles the human brain. At all.

        • The Smoke says:

          A purely linear activation rule makes for practically irrelevant networks, since any such network has effectively only one layer. Obviously they do not resemble the human brain, since else all our functionality would be described by a m x n matrix, where m is the number of sensory inputs and n is the number of neutrons that are connected to some output device. THAT is the point one should criticize here, I guess 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            Well, for precisely that reason, all of the standard-flow NNs have nonlinear activation functions… but your statement is not quite right, because we could have a recurrent network.

            …still, these things aren’t meant to do serious modeling of how the brain actually works.

    • What about research showing that developing AI is dangerous so we should slow down its development? If an AI is going to paperclip the universe I would much rather it happen in 30 than 29 years.

      • anon85 says:

        What does “research showing that developing AI is dangerous” look like?

          • anon85 says:

            So basically, non-technical philosophy-style arguments? I’m not sure I’d even call that research.

            I find it interesting that the paper starts with saying

            Surely no harm could come from building a chess-playing robot, could it? In this paper we argue that such a robot will indeed be dangerous unless it is designed very carefully.

            We actually have chess-playing AIs that are so good humans cannot understand their moves; it’s one of the few fields where computers seem to act with extraordinary super-human intelligence. Yet I think we all agree these AIs are not dangerous.

            It seems AIs can only be dangerous if they know how to hack a novel computer system without human assistance, or they know how to convince humans to act on their behalf, or some other hard-to-counter task. Current AIs are nowhere close to this. It’s unwise to halt progress in an important scientific field because of such far-out worries.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      This is a legitimate issue, but not the most important one from my POV:

      Let’s grant that AI risk is a deadly serious issue which we need to throw our full weight behind. That doesn’t mean that these guys in particular (who, let’s face it, aren’t exactly the A-Team of computer science) are the horse to back.

      I just took a glance at the Future of Humanity staff page and I recommend everyone to do the same. The big names like Drexler, Bostrom, Sandberg and Hanson are all known primarily for their popular science writings rather than their research. There’s a smattering of computer science and neuroscience people in their twenties, including the Director of Research who just got his masters degree and according to Google Scholar has been first author on exactly one paper. And then there’s a bunch of random MIRI and EA people. Unless I’m overlooking someone, it doesn’t look like there are any established computer science or AI researchers in this institute.

      Now first impressions aren’t everything and it’s possible that in a few years I’ll be eating crow for having doubted that FHI would produce quality research. But it really does seem like MIRI 2.0, with the not particularly accomplished staff and the focus on publicity over publishable research. If AI is so serious shouldn’t we be trying to get the best possible team together rather than waiting until the runners up have had their shot at it?

      • Alex Z says:

        I’m an AI risk skeptic too, but to be fair, it is pretty much a brand new field. If someone has a publication history, they are most likely working in a different field, almost by definition. (Unless they happened to switch. But if you’re established in your field, you have an incentive to stay in it and especially not jump to some speculative research that has yet to garner much respect.)

      • sweeneyrod says:

        FHI looks at a variety of issues concerning the long-term survival of humanity, not just AI. I think that they focus more on philosophical issues rather than technical research – unlike MIRI, they aren’t promising to produce lots of AI safety papers.

    • I think being *certain* that it’s centuries away is a little overconfident (given at least quite a few experts consider the dangers worth considering), in which case friendly AI research looks a bit more sensible. Still the basic argument that we should focus on generally improving humanity’s situation is sound, not least of all because even if there is knowledge about what constitutes UFAI and there is clear advice about how to avoid it, that still might not be enough to avoid disaster. Improving human rationality and institutions would put us is a more advantageous position to ensure friendly AI, if indeed it is possible and lies in the non-distant future.

      • anon85 says:

        No one is claiming to be certain of anything. But the thing is, the reason people like Aaronson believe strong AI is centuries away is that it seems *really* hopeless given what we know now. The consequence of this is that if you took all the AI researchers and forced them to work only on “safety”, for the most part they won’t know what to do. What will future AI look like? How will it represent information? Will it be able to design even better AI very quickly (despite the fact that it took thousands of humans decades of work to create the first strong AI)?

        These questions seem to be very important to safety work, but we can’t hope to answer them until we have a better understanding of intelligence.

        • I don’t agree strong AI (of some kind) is obviously so far off that speculative safety work can’t be done, and I’d prefer there’s thinking about it early, because when the event is approaching there will be a brigade that come out saying its unavoidable, too late, ‘those other people don’t care about safety so why should we’ etc. etc.

          • anon85 says:

            I guess that’s a matter of opinion, but I feel like I have enough familiarity with AI research to say that strong AI feels really hopeless at the moment, and enough familiarity with friendliness research to say that most of it seems kind of ridiculous/useless (not that I can do any better – I’m saying that we don’t understand nearly enough about what intelligence even means to do anything productive about AI safety).

    • Murphy says:

      There’s actually a related slate star codex post on this from a while back:

      http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/05/22/ai-researchers-on-ai-risk/

      A survey of AI researchers (Muller & Bostrom, 2014) finds that on average they expect a 50% chance of human-level AI by 2040 and 90% chance of human-level AI by 2075. On average, 75% believe that superintelligence (“machine intelligence that greatly surpasses the performance of every human in most professions”) will follow within thirty years of human-level AI. There are some reasons to worry about sampling bias based on eg people who take the idea of human-level AI seriously being more likely to respond (though see the attempts made to control for such in the survey) but taken seriously it suggests that most AI researchers think there’s a good chance this is something we’ll have to worry about within a generation or two.

      • anon85 says:

        My main objection to that survey is that AI researchers don’t spend their time thinking about the far future, and everyone is always biased towards thinking things will happen soon (there’s no question to which you’d get the answer “in 200 years from now”).

        But come to think of it, if the question asked was about

        machine intelligence that greatly surpasses the performance of every human in most professions

        then this seems very different from asking about omnipotent AI. I mean, “most professions” might just mean rice farming, taxi driving, and McDonalds work. As soon as we have self-driving cars (and tractors, say), we can replace a lot of jobs. Would it be “most professions”? Maybe not, but AI researchers are not economists and might not have a good sense for this.

        • Murphy says:

          I was responding specifically to your statement that AI researchers find the idea crackpotish.

          So now that it’s clear that most AI researchers don’t find the idea crackpotish AI researchers don’t count?

          • anon85 says:

            I said that many AI researchers find *the field of AI safety* to be semi-crackpottish, because the research produced in that field is kind of weak/unconvincing. This is different from them finding the possibility of strong AI itself crackpottish; I did not make that claim.

            In other words, I’m agreeing that a lot of AI researchers will answer “less than 50 years” when asked “when will AI become really good?” But these same researchers will not have looked into the AI safety work at all. The ones that HAVE looked into the safety research are mostly unimpressed, as far as I can tell. (Also, their definition of “really good” is probably different from yours.)

            Furthermore, I claim this is a fundamental problem, and not a temporary one: there is no current ability to make good progress on AI safety, because we have no idea what future AI will look like.

    • Deiseach says:

      Eh. If someone gets a job as “Nick Bostrom’s Executive Assistant” or whatever, I personally don’t care tuppence if it works on solving the problem of AI, I’m just happy for them that they have a job and are earning reasonable money (please say EA involves giving people jobs with reasonable recompense and not ‘we’ll pay you buttons but suck it up because it’s All For The Cause’, because that is the kind of unhelpful behaviour too many organisations indulge in while paying the CEO market-rate salaries).

      • zz says:

        EA involves giving people jobs with reasonable recompense and not ‘we’ll pay you buttons but suck it up because it’s All For The Cause’.

        For instance, Holden Karnofsky of GiveWell talks about why overhead is a mediocre-at-best heuristic here, specifically discussing that not paying your staff well means you aren’t hiring the best people (you can do more good per dollar if you spend a larger fixed amount to make your other spending more efficient) and you have high turnover (also bad if you want to actually get stuff done).

  4. Peter Scott says:

    Speaking of AI safety: there’s a new non-profit AI research company called OpenAI, with a focus on friendliness. Their initial research team has some impressively big names in machine learning, and their financial backers have pledged over a billion dollars. This looks like it could be consequential.

    The web site is a bit sparse, but there’s a fairly informative interview with the co-chairs, Sam Altman and Elon Musk that folks might find interesting.

    • Goof says:

      I’m confused why you’d want AI research to be open if you’re concerned about safety issues. Seems like open-sourcing the Manhattan project.

      • Anonymous says:

        Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. So are mistakes in safety proofs.

        • BBA says:

          After the recent security debacle in OpenSSL that saying got a lot of criticism. “Enough eyeballs” is neither necessary nor sufficient to find the bug, you need the right eyeballs.

          • Anonymous says:

            Is that meant as an argument in favor of keeping your source code secret, though, or just that going open source isn’t enough to ensure the bugs in it will all be found?

          • John Schilling says:

            Bugs and exploits are not quite the same thing. Open source is pretty good at finding bugs, because bugs make the code not work in some fashion and that motivates smart people to try and get the code working again. Open source is good at ensuring the Black Hats will find the exploits, because they have lots of smart people who are motivated to do that and you’re giving them full access. Open source is demonstrably not good at ensuring the White Hats will find and patch the exploits because as long as the code is working, the smart open-source people demonstrably don’t care enough to secure it.

            If your system needs to be secure, you need to hire a bunch of smart, professional white hats to do a thorough review. Until you do that, keeping your source code secret might be somewhat helpful.

    • Oscar_Cunningham says:

      The founders of OpenAI don’t seem to have the same AI safety concerns as Yudkowsky; but this is probably still a good thing for MIRI’s point of view since its open nature will mean that MIRI can keep an eye on advanced AI research.

  5. zz says:

    Christmas music that doesn’t suck and isn’t overplayed:

    Christmas Concerto by Arcangelo Corelli. It’s pieces like this that makes me wonder why anyone thought classical was an improvement to baroque.

    White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchin. An atheist’s reflection on Christmas.

    Hallelujah Chorus by George Frideric Handel, performed in the baroque style. Unlike many musicians I know, I reject the idea that it’s best to play music as the composer intended/in the original style; the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia, for instance, takes a baroque composition (by Handel) and redoes it romantically, and it’s just really good. That said, listening to the Hallelujah Chorus in the original style made me fall in love with it again. And, even though I’m not so much a theist, as Minchin notes, it has really nice chords.

    St. Paul’s Suite — Finale by Gustav Holst, which contains the Greensleeves theme, which the carol What Child is This was written to. Interestingly, Wikipedia tells me that, at the time Greensleeves was written, the color green came with sexual connotations, “most notably in the phrase “a green gown”, a reference to the grass stains on a woman’s dress from engaging in sexual intercourse outdoors.” Randal’s mnemonic for remembering the planet order (Mars Venus Earth Mercury Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune — Mary’s “Virgin” Explanation Made Joseph Suspect Upstairs Neighbor), suggests that the author of What Child is This is just an incredibly subtle troll and gives us another item: The Planets, by Gustav Holst. (Why, yes, The Imperial March does sound like Mars. The biggest difference is that Mars is better, since it’s in 5, whereas Imperial March is in 4 and 5>4. Or, to be serious for a moment, I’ve played Mars and arranged Imperial March (for my sister’s wedding: we played it as she and her husband regressed from the altar) and I’m just more impressed by Holst’s composition.)

    Little Drummer Boy as performed by Apocalyptica.

  6. God Damn John Jay says:

    Hey, just a quick question some people might know about.

    I assume some people have heard of Theranos (Blood testing company, claims to be able to run 100 different tests on a tiny vial of blood, no verified tests or peer review). I was wondering how A) anyone could still have money in this and B) how anyone would attempt this knowing they would go to prison.

    (I currently am convinced there is no chance Theranos can actually do what they say they are capable of, but if anyone has evidence to the contrary I would be interested in seeing it)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What, exactly, do you think is impossible?

      According to this article, 2/3 of their tests require standard size samples of blood. That cannot be a secret. Of the ones that they perform on drops of blood, 15 are on their own microfluid machine and 60 are performed on standard machines after dilution, although I think the company denies this.

      I think that the accusation is that they aren’t sufficiently accurate for medical purposes, not that they are attempting the impossible.

      • LtWigglesworth says:

        I think another issue is that a droplet of blood is an insufficient sample volume to run some of the tests they want to run. IIRC there are issues with interstitial fluid and and compounds on the surface of the skin contaminating the sample.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          “another”? What is the first issue? Did you reverse the order of your sentences?

          Skin contamination seems like a difficult problem. “Insufficient sample volume” sounds like bullshit to me. For what tests is it implausible, let alone “impossible” that they could be done on just a drop of blood?

          Skin contamination may be relevant for some tests, but which ones? Since most Theranos tests are not actually offered by pinprick, this seems like a pretty theoretical complaint. Most people complaining about Theranos, such as GDJJ, don’t seem to be aware of this, so it’s hard to take their complaints seriously.

          • Are there types of skin contamination which wouldn’t be dealt with by an alcohol swab?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Maybe the alcohol swab cleans off your skin and prevents contamination by dirt, but you can’t prevent contamination by the skin itself or whatever else makes up your body between the blood and the skin.

            And I don’t think alcohol swabs remove much of anything. Rather, they are intended to kill bacteria so that it doesn’t infect you, not to physically remove it, which is what would be relevant to a blood test.

          • keranih says:

            Alcohol swabs don’t have a demonstrative effect on disinfecting skin prior to injections. (Scrubs for surgial incisions are different – because the scrubs, procedures, and risks are different.)

            (I have heard of vindictive EMT personnel very carefully saturating the skin of uncooperative DWI suspects with alcohol prior to doing blood draws, but that’s all been fourth and eighth hand.)

          • Addict says:

            This is because their sample size is too low, keranih. I have been IVing heroin perhaps 6-8 times a day for 7 years.

            Let me tell you: complications from injection are far, far less than one in 300 (the sample size of the experiment). They are far less than one in 10,000. There is no way you could measure the efficacy of alcohol swabs prior to injection with a sample size of 200 injections; the idea is laughable.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            keranih, that’s interesting, but there is an important point that almost no one waits for the alcohol to dry. I don’t why that is relevant to the paper (though it is obviously relevant to contamination), but if Theranos had different needs, it might develop different protocols and might convince people to follow them.

            Addict, the study had a 1 in 10 rate of complications. You, being otherwise healthy, may have a 1 in 10k rate, but hospital patients are another matter.

      • vV_Vv says:

        What, exactly, do you think is impossible?

        I don’t think that @God Damn John Jay implied that it’s physically impossible to do what Theranos claims that it does, just that it’s unlikely that Theranos can actually do it.

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          I was under the impression that all of their tests used the micro-samples and that was impossible to do. I am still doubtful, but that changes a lot in my mind.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I tried to track down the necessarily public information about what tests can be done on a small sample. Currently their website says nothing, probably because they are only doing full vials. And their website archives poorly. I think that it used to imply that you could get a hundred tests on a single drop of blood. I don’t believe that there ever were a hundred tests on the menu, and I don’t believe they did more than 5-10 on a single drop. That’s bait-and-switch, not fraud. And probably very few people actually asked for a huge number of tests at once, though probably many did ask for specific non-drop tests.

        Here is a Yelp page that contains reviews, some mentioning full draws, and some mentioning calling to confirm that a pinprick would suffice; all fairly old, back when they did pinpricks. So I’m pretty sure that only some tests were done on pinpricks. But I think that they were always secretive about which tests were available, so I haven’t found a list. It must have been the most common tests to be worth advertising the pinpricks. For example, CBC and CMP.

    • pneumatik says:

      a) The investors may have bought in to the company in a way that doesn’t allow them to sell their stake or otherwise take their money out. Or, if they can sell their stake then no one is willing to buy it at a price they’re willing to sell at.

      b) Hyperbolic discounting of the future. Overconfidence. Getting caught up in the Silicon Valley founder mythos. Making something that can do some tests while you resolve the remaining problems in your technology and then gradually sliding down the slippery slope into outright fraud. Poor estimation of future success.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      This is a bit off topic but it drives me nuts when people use “peer reviewed study” like that’s the gold standard of science. If they had published solid research on arXiv should we turn our noses up at it because there wasn’t a peer review board there to officially pronounce it scientific?

      The problem is that Theranos hasn’t provided any evidence to speak of for some rather unlikely claims, but the way people talk about it the only issue is that the bureaucrats weren’t consulted. It’s infuriating.

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        If they had published solid research on arXiv should we turn our noses up at it because there wasn’t a peer review board there to officially pronounce it scientific?

        If you’re sufficiently familiar with the field to tell whether the research is solid yourself, no; otherwise …

        • 27chaos says:

          If it’s a highly viewed paper and people endorse it and no one condemns it, seems fine to me.

          Somewhat related aside: I got in an argument on Reddit the other day with someone citing a week old paper as conclusive proof sex differences in the brain weren’t real. They wouldn’t accept specific criticisms of the paper I made or blog criticisms I linked to because those weren’t peer reviewed, and wouldn’t accept links to older studies because the new PNAS paper postdated it. They were genuinely this dumb, not intentionally trolling. I got many downvotes for being “anti-intellectual” for daring to think papers with problems commonly make it through peer review, kek. Humans are doomed.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t know about this particular company so I have no idea if they’re simply making inflated promises they can’t deliver on, but the drive for finding methods of doing tests on smaller volumes of blood, or not even blood, is certainly something under legitimate research.

      Novartis and Google are working on blood sugar monitoring via contact lens. Most day-to-day metering of blood glucose level is via test strips that you insert in the meter, puncture a finger with a lancet, and draw a blood drop onto the strip. About as much advice you get about skin contamination is to wash your hands beforehand.

      If you’re someone like me, who has small veins so it’s a damn nightmare getting blood drawn (either they can’t find a vein, they do find one but they can’t draw enough blood, or they take three attempts – puncturing you with the needle each time – to draw a sufficient volume), promises of “We can run all these tests on small volume of blood” is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

  7. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Have you read Pascal? I just got done with his Provincial Letters and Pensees. He has some interesting things to say in the former about altruism: that Christians aren’t just obliged to tithe, but give up all their superfluous income if they know of poor people who lack necessities. He also has a flurry of interesting claims about epistemology and science in the 18th letter. Do you think any of this is relevant to Effective Altruism and (contemporary autodidact empiricist) rationalism?
    As far as Pensees, do you think his detailed arguments about probability hold any validity? Because the standard criticism that all religions are equally probable is something he addresses at length, be it validly or fallaciously.

    • Troy says:

      I haven’t read Pascal, but his wager is still widely discussed in philosophy of religion and decision theory, especially with various recent advances in infinite utility theory. I don’t think many philosophers are persuaded by it, but a lot do take it seriously. (However, most of these philosophers do not engage with the text of the Pensees, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them haven’t even read it themselves.)

    • stillnotking says:

      the standard criticism that all religions are equally probable is something he addresses at length

      I don’t remember Pascal addressing that objection in much detail. IIRC he just dismissed it as glib and unserious. In fact, that part of the Pensees was what convinced me Pascal was fully mindkilled on this issue. There is no coherent logical framework in which the Wager itself is serious, but the various anti-Wagers and alternative Wagers aren’t. It’s not like calling “shotgun”, you don’t get to privilege a particular religion just because you thought of it first.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I don’t think you understood the role of evidence in Pascal’s epistemology. It struck me as rather Bayesian, avant la letter. Probability is all; 100% and 0% aren’t justifiable.
        As far as I understand, there is no anti-Wager. You’re stuck playing the game. Living your life as though there’s no afterlife is betting that the afterlife is too improbable to bet on. As for the probability that there is an afterlife, he uses miracles by Catholic saints to assign a higher probability to Catholicism than to Judaism, Islam, or Protestantism. I know the modern assumption is that you can have a priori knowledge that any claim to have perceived a miracle is false, but this postdates and contradicts Pascal’s own perceptions (are you familiar with the Jansenist controversy?)
        Some alternative wagers are worth discussing, as Pascal had basically no information about Eastern religions to update his beliefs with. I would find that a particularly interesting line of discussion.

        • stillnotking says:

          The evidential part was in a different section, I think? I don’t believe Pascal explicitly linked that with the Wager. It’s been a long time. Anyway, if the Wager depends on evidence, even Bayesian evidence, then it contradicts itself: Pascal explicitly says that the existence of God is “unknowable”, separated from us by an “infinite chaos”. Small wonder, since theories about God famously don’t fare well on the available evidence. For instance, I would point out the fact that no one has ever captured a miracle on video as extremely strong Bayesian evidence that miracles don’t happen. (Pascal wouldn’t have had recourse to this, but that’s his problem.)

          If evidence isn’t being considered, then we have no way of differentiating between the literally infinite number of potential payoff matrices; anything could be rewarded in the afterlife, from worshiping a particular God, to not worshiping that God, to worshiping each of the real numbers, etc. This was the objection Pascal dismissed out of hand, quite unfairly IMO.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Well, presumably Pascal would say something like: “Do you really think all the centuries of Christians could be totally wrong? Maybe, sure. But isn’t the fact that nearly everyone believes this Bayesian evidence for its truth? Like, maybe the Resurrection was made up. But maybe it wasn’t. There is a historical record in the form of the Gospels.” All he has to show is that Christianity is not 0% probable and is slightly more probable than any other religion. Which, in his time and culture was not so ridiculous.

            Curiously, however, I have never seen any Europeans give this argument for believing in Islam. Which seems much more plausible a candidate for “final word from God” than Christianity.

          • stillnotking says:

            Well, again, I think if we’re talking about evidence, we’re not really talking about the Wager per se. Anyway, the Bayesian calculation would be a hell of a lot more complicated than just “Lots of people believe in the Gospels.” Lots of people believe in lots of things. Determining the most probable metaphysics of the universe by application of Bayes’ Theorem seems like a tedious, not to say pointless, project, even if we limit the analysis to “things in which a lot of people believe”. (By relative or absolute number? At particular times and places? Should we weight the opinions by IQ, by expertise…? What a freakin’ nightmare.)

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ stillnotking:

            I’m not saying I endorse Pascal’s Wager.

            But it is based on evidence. It merely says: there is some tiny amount of evidence that Christianity is true, say 0.0001% probability.

            Pascal’s Wager as such also does not mention hell.

            All it says is: what is the expected value of atheism? If it’s even positive, finite. What is the expected value of believing in Christianity? Well, how do we calculate expected value again? We take the size of the reward and multiply it by the probability. The reward is infinite. The probability is 0.0001% (or anything that’s not 0). Therefore, the expected value is infinite. You should believe in Christianity. QED

            He also answers an objection: “What if I can’t make myself believe in Christianity?” Obviously, you should try anyway. It’s common that atheists end up converting to religion. Go to mass every week, or every day if possible. Talk to every priest you can. Pray to God ceaselessly to allow Him to grant you the grace of belief.

            Either this works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t work, your loss is finite. If it does work, your gain is infinite. You should do it. QED

            Again, I don’t actually endorse this, but it’s very clever. Michael Huemer (an atheist himself) has a good account of it in the lecture notes for one of his classes. (All of them are actually pretty good.) He also presents the another clever one, which is the “Firing Squad” counterargument to the objection that we should not be surprised because the universe is “fine-tuned” for life:

            Objection #1:
            It isn’t surprising that we find the universe ‘fine-tuned’ for life, since if it weren’t, we wouldn’t be here to talk about it. Therefore (?), we don’t need an explanation for this fact. (Perhaps this depends on objection 2?)

            Reply: The Firing Squad example.
            You are scheduled to be executed by a firing squad consisting of 50 sharpshooters with loaded rifles. They all carefully take aim and fire. You pass out. Later, you awake, and wonder how it is that they all missed. Then you think: “But if they hadn’t all missed, I wouldn’t be around to wonder about it, so (?) I shouldn’t be surprised.”

          • stillnotking says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:

            But is the probability of Christianity being true greater than the probability of Scientology being true, or “anti-Christianity” (God really hates Christians but loves everyone else) being true, or real-number-n-worship being true? Either we consider the evidential case, which is an endless snafu — I barely remember that part of the Pensees, so I guess Pascal’s analysis didn’t impress me — or we don’t consider it; in the former case, the validity of the Wager is subject to a truly massive and highly subjective calculus that can’t be characterized as anything but “undefined”, while in the latter case it’s obviously invalid.

            Edit: It strikes me, too, that Bayes’ Theorem has broader application here: For instance, we could observe that religious movements spring up and fizzle out all the time, with their success or failure seemingly as contingent on chance as on content. That’s evidence that Christianity may owe its success to being particularly lucky rather than particularly correct. Europe could’ve ended up worshiping Sol Invictus. We might also observe the human tendency to believe comforting falsehoods over unpleasant truths, and be suspicious of the Gospels’ rather extreme comfortableness.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ stillnotking:

            That is the biggest weakness of the argument.

            But all it relies upon is Christianity being somewhat more likely than the others—or at least of other religions that hold out the prospect of eternal salvation as a reward for belief.

          • Troy says:

            @stillnotking:

            Determining the most probable metaphysics of the universe by application of Bayes’ Theorem seems like a tedious, not to say pointless, project, even if we limit the analysis to “things in which a lot of people believe”

            It’s only as tedious as most applications of Bayesian reasoning to domains in which we don’t have precise frequency data, which is to say, most interesting applications. As for pointless, this is a rather surprising claim in the context of Pascal’s Wager, a central contention of which is that it’s very important to believe in Christianity if it’s true.

            I don’t endorse the Wager for several reasons. But the premise that Christianity is more probable than other religions is one that I think is rather easily supported. For my part I think Christianity is all-things-considered highly probable on our total evidence, primarily because of the evidence in support of the historicity of the New Testament. I don’t expect you to agree with that, but it’s a much weaker claim that the historical evidence we have in favor of Christianity is greater than that for other religions. For example, compare Islam. The only miracle the Quran records is Muhammad’s night journey, which was observed by no one but Muhammad. Muslims claim that the beauty of the Quran is itself a miracle, but I think you’ll agree that this “the beauty of this book is unparalleled” is not a claim we can really get very strong evidence for, and that even if it were true it would not be as strong evidence for Islam as “Jesus was resurrected” is for Christianity. So there is little evidence for the claim that God really is as the Quran says him to be.

            By contrast, we have the testimony of numerous different authors in support of various miracles which, if they really did occur, would constitute extremely strong evidence for the claim that God really is as the New Testament says him to be. The existence of that testimony is surely substantially more likely given Christianity than otherwise. To be sure, this evidence still might not be enough to outweigh the prior improbability of Christianity. But it does plausibly make Christianity more likely than Islam.

            An examination of other major religions would take some time, but I think that similar remarks go in most other cases too.

          • stillnotking says:

            @Troy: I meant “pointless” in the sense that the calculation self-evidently can’t be completed to everyone’s satisfaction. You think Christianity is more probable than not; that’s fine, but I don’t. Most of the world doesn’t. The vast majority of people throughout human history didn’t. (Mostly because they never heard of it, but even if they had!) Just the two of us could argue endlessly about how much weight to assign various bits of evidence for and against various religions — this is, in fact, the very debate the Wager was designed to make an end run around, which is why the references to evidence confuse me.

          • Mark says:

            even if it were true it would not be as strong evidence for Islam as “Jesus was resurrected” is for Christianity. So there is little evidence for the claim that God really is as the Quran says him to be.

            But “Jesus was resurrected” – or at least the closely-related claim “Jesus was secretly abducted by God on the cross and then showed up later, looking as if he were resurrected” – is compatible with Islam. So it’s not strong evidence that Christianity is true and Islam is false so much as it’s evidence for “either Christianity or Islam is true.”

          • Troy says:

            But “Jesus was resurrected” – or at least the closely-related claim “Jesus was secretly abducted by God on the cross and then showed up later, looking as if he were resurrected” – is compatible with Islam. So it’s not strong evidence that Christianity is true and Islam is false so much as it’s evidence for “either Christianity or Islam is true.”

            Well, the parenthetical there is key. If the historical evidence were indifferent between these two hypotheses, then perhaps it would indeed support Christianity and Islam equally. But it’s not. The Gospels record Jesus predicting his death and resurrection before his crucifixion, and saying that he had risen from the dead after appearing to his disciples post-crucifixion. They also record the women at the tomb being visited by an angel who told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead. These things are more probable on the hypothesis that Jesus really died and rose from the dead than that God spirited him away before he died.

            You can add on to the Islamic hypothesis that God had reasons for deceiving Jesus’s followers. But this ad hoc addition makes that hypothesis more complicated and lowers its prior probability.

          • Mark says:

            But the evidence that those details are true is way less strong than the purported evidence of the resurrection, itself.

          • “But “Jesus was resurrected” – or at least the closely-related claim “Jesus was secretly abducted by God on the cross and then showed up later, looking as if he were resurrected” – is compatible with Islam.”

            I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure the Muslim account is that Jesus was not crucified–that he was carried off to heaven first. In at least one version, Judas had the appearance of Jesus put on him, and it was he who was crucified.

        • Irenist says:

          Some alternative wagers are worth discussing, as Pascal had basically no information about Eastern religions to update his beliefs with. I would find that a particularly interesting line of discussion

          Okay. This is not a thought-out proposal, but more like a quip or something. That said, I occasionally (as a Christian) think something like this:

          1. I probably am not going to independently discover the meaning of life (if there is one), so I think I’ll stick to the popular answers, although formally speaking that’s fallacious.

          2. Atheism/physicalism/naturalism is a very respectable set of answers right now. If it’s correct, then there is no objective “meaning” to life, but I must instead make a meaning for myself–maybe science, or art, or service to others, or something like that.

          3. The Dharmic religions are very popular. These posit reincarnation in their mainstream (i.e., non-Westernized) forms, and say that spiritual rectitude will merit one a better reincarnation.

          4. The Abrahamic religions mostly (Judaism partially excepted) posit an afterlife, with the standard Heaven/Hell stakes for the Wager.

          If (2), then I can choose my own goals and personal projects. If I want to live a religiously oriented life, then who is to say I’m objectively wrong to have that preference?

          If (3), then as long as I’m engaged in some sort of spiritual practice, Dharmic or not, I ought to at least merit a decent reincarnation.

          If (4), then if I guess wrong, I could end up hellbound.

          So one can add in the Dharmic religions to Pascal’s Wager and still end up with a pretty standard treatment, where atheism doesn’t weigh down the scales very much, and the main point of contention will be deciding among Abrahamic faiths and denominations. This is because it seems IMHO trivial to add an epicycle to the Wager for “If they Buddhists/Hindus are right, I suppose I’ll get another shot it the next incarnation, and ‘devout Christian’ is probably a pretty decent karma-earner as these things go.”

          Of course, a lot of Western Buddhists don’t believe in reincarnation. But then, these Buddhist variants tend to be non-supernaturalist generally, and view satori/nirvana themselves as just profound psychological insights or something. IOW, the Westernized Buddhism just maps to atheism ((2) above): it’s a personal project I can take or leave in a meaningless cosmos where how I while away the years until I die is up to me.

          So I don’t really think Pascal’s Wager is much affected by Dharmic religions. I think the stronger challenge is likely from moral realist atheism, which could argue something like this.
          i. Morality, be it consequentialist or whatever, is objective.(citation needed)
          ii. It is immoral to willfully belief falsehood. (WK Clifford cite goes here)
          iii. Your preferred Abrahamic faith might be false, and you are morally obliged to investigate this, per (i) and (ii).

          This is an atheistic naturalist defeater for my glib quip that an atheist naturalist cosmos is meaningless, so I can do whatever I want, so I can be Catholic if I want, which was my proposed defeater for atheism as part of a modified Wager.

          Pascal’s Wager hinges IMHO on an implicit contrast between atheism as libertinism and Christianity as morality, and then says you ought to give up your libertine pleasures to avoid Hell. But for many people, including most LW people, atheism isn’t like that at all. It’s not a self-conscious excuse for moral license, but rather a felt moral obligation to follow arguments where they lead. IOW, for most rationalists here, it is *wrong* to adhere to an Abrahamic monotheism, because it is wrong to ignore the evidence and arguments for atheistic naturalism.

          Now there are some really interesting attempts to ground a felt sense that morality is objective within an atheist naturalist framework. I think here particularly of Peter Singer and Derek Parfit. Also of interest here IMHO is Dan Fincke, who defends an atheist naturalist moral realist virtue ethics at his “Camels With Hammers” blog.

          If any of Singer, Parfit, Fincke, or any other atheist naturalist moralists are correct, then an atheist, naturalist cosmos doesn’t mean I get to do whatever the heck I want (including being Catholic, if that’s what I happen to want). Instead, moral obligation (including, on any of the above theories, an obligation to seek correct beliefs) would remain, and willfully ignoring evidence against theism would be in fact immoral.

          For me, this sort of argument is a much stronger potential defeater for the Wager than eastern religions. And in fact, we see that, e.g., the Dalai Lama is pretty chill about Westerners just sticking with their own traditions rather than converting to Buddhism (which is just the “they can always be Buddhist in their next go-round” attitude I’d expect), but New Atheists and such exhibit a kind of crusading moral zeal about the ethical imperative to stop believing in gods right now, darn it (which is what I would expect on a “theism is actually immoral b/c you should know better”) stance.

          In sum, I don’t think the Dharmic religions really change the weights of the sides Pascal’s scale. Instead, I think the theist wanting to preserve the Wager instead has to argue against the possibility of moral realism being coherent with atheistic naturalism, or just go straight to arguing that zir preferred theism is actually true, so it’s not immoral to reject arguments against it.

          As a virtue ethicist myself, I’m REALLY sympathetic to Fincke’s atheist virtue ethics project, and think there’s a lot of merit there. I also suspect that Singer and Parfit can probably successfully ground moral realism, too, although I haven’t done the requisite reading to have that be more than a hunch. So I wouldn’t be inclined to argue for the Wager by arguing that the cosmos is meaningless without God, so what do you care if I want to be Catholic to pass the time during my meaningless life? If Aristotle can derive virtue ethics while being a sort of henotheistic deist pagan (or something), then I don’t see why an atheist can’t derive virtue ethics without any gods at all–other than as subject of contemplation, the Divine doesn’t play much direct role in Aristotle’s ethical scheme. So Fincke’s project seems really likely to succeed to me, and I think arguing against it would be a waste of time. Instead, I wish him well in his efforts.

          That leaves the Wager as only defensible by proving that it’s not immoral to belief in one’s favorite theism because, while it IS immoral to willfully believe false things, one’s favorite theism is actually true, so no harm there. But in THAT case, you’re just reduced to arguing that your theism is true, so the Wager isn’t doing a lot of useful work!

          Instead, before you can even get to Pascal’s “libertinism with hellfire vs. morality with Heaven” dichotomy, you have to first either:
          a) Prove your religion is true, which makes the Wager superfluous, or
          b) Prove that avoiding the risk of going to Hell is more important than avoiding the risk of doing something immoral (like having a willfully false belief)

          But (b) is sort of morally repugnant and stupid, even if you could mount some silly argument from within, say, consequentialism about how much worse it would be in terms of lost utils or hedons or whatever to go to Hell than to make our mortal world slightly worse by believing in a false religion.

          So I think there’s a narrow needle you can thread to save the Wager from moral realist atheism, but I just don’t think it’s worth doing, and am not a serious proponent of the Wager as an apologetical argument. But as to the Dharmic religions–if anything, they’re a better target for the Wager than atheism! I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? You guess the wrong religion, and at some point in the next few million years, you still ought to get around to being incarnated a Buddhist monk or something, right?

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            As an atheist, I just want to personally comment that I totally disagree with your reasons for rejecting the wager. 🙂

            I believe in naturalistic atheistic objective morality. But I don’t know what in the world it would be based on if not on the pursuit of your own eudaimonia/happiness/utility. I don’t know how you could possibly ground any kind of truly kind of altruistic duty. All they can say is “give all your money to Africans if you want to.” But what if I don’t want to? “Uh…”

            Even if God existed, I don’t see how you could ground such a duty. Pascal’s Wager is an egoistic argument; it assumes egoism. It says you should believe in God because it is in your interest to do so.

            Why should I want to do something just because God commanded it? Obviously, only if he is going to reward me, or else has constructed the universe such that the act brings its own reward. Which means I should do it for the reward, not because it is commanded. If God commanded something and said he’ll send me to hell as the “reward”, I wouldn’t do it.

            The same goes for the “natural telos of man” or whatever. Either the natural telos of man is the same thing as your self-interest (and I’m sympathetic to that), or it’s not. If it’s not, why follow the natural telos of man? If it is, you follow it because it’s your self-interest, not because it’s your natural telos.

            In fact, fundamentally I do think Christian morality is based in egoism. Otherwise, it makes no sense. But if egoism is granted, it’s obvious that you should want to be buddies with the ruler of the universe, that you should try to love him and worship him and never do anything to go against him.

            The reason I reject Pascal’s Wager is that as far as I know, I only have one life, and I want to spend it—not “defying morality”—but in the contemplation and enjoyment of the natural world on its own terms. I do not want to be taken in by some bullshit logical trick and waste my life doing something that is overwhelmingly likely to be fruitless. That’s the emotional/fundamental reason, anyway.

            Rationally, I would criticize the decision theory and the assumptions that go into it. Part of it is the impossibility of calculating the probability that you are insane or otherwise completely mistaken in all your conclusions. If you aren’t, the conditional probability is zero. If you are, it can’t be calculated because you’re insane.

          • Irenist says:

            @Vox Imperatoris:
            That was a great comment. I’ll just pick out the IMHO most interesting part:

            I believe in naturalistic atheistic objective morality. But I don’t know what in the world it would be based on if not on the pursuit of your own eudaimonia/happiness/utility.

            I think there’s something to this–certainly, virtue ethics posits eudaimonia as our natural telos, and Christianity posits theosis as our supernatural telos: in both cases, goodness -> goodies.

            But I think I have a strong unchosen urge to feel as though I am doing and being “good.” I don’t think it’s universal, and I don’t claim it’s anything more than an innate or upbringing-derived disposition, rather than some grand voice of conscience or something.

            But however mundane its source, I have this strong felt need to be and to do the right, whatever that might happen to be. So while I agree with you that it so happens that flourishing and morality are tightly interwoven, if I were in some parallel universe where I had to importantly choose between “happiness” and “doing what’s right” as terminal values, I’d choose the latter. “Doing what’s right” feels more fundamental to me, whereas happiness just feels like a nice result of the fundamental thing.

            I don’t claim that’s an especially rational position; just offering an account of how my psychology differs from yours. I don’t disagree with this aspect of how you think, but I feel rather differently than you do about this topic. Like, even during the 10 or 15 years I was an atheist myself, “what is right?” always felt more urgent than “how can I be happy?”

            Anyway, I think we might be starting from different “gut” places–whether innately, through upbringing, by reading different books, or whatever–even if we end up grounding morality in somewhat similar ways.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Irenist: So I think there’s a narrow needle you can thread to save the Wager from moral realist atheism, but I just don’t think it’s worth doing, and am not a serious proponent of the Wager as an apologetical argument. But as to the Dharmic religions–if anything, they’re a better target for the Wager than atheism! I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? You guess the wrong religion, and at some point in the next few million years, you still ought to get around to being incarnated a Buddhist monk or something, right?

            I haven’t thought of moral realist atheism as influential enough to engage with since reading the medieval volumes of Hume’s History of England, wherein he accused the Catholic clergy of convincing people to violate Natural Law by practicing celibacy or willing their estates to the Church instead of their kin. I was like “Huh, so that’s what non-Christian intellectuals believed before utilitarianism and existentialism.”
            I guess Fincke’s work is something you highly recommend? I don’t see why you’d take Singer seriously when his moral realism allows the selfishness of infanticide but not saving up to buy a house when there are starving children in other countries.

            I agree that the Wager means it’s better to be a pious Christian if Hinduism or Buddhism is true than the reverse. Given the work Pascal makes the concept of infinity do, it doesn’t even matter that Dharmic religions do believe bad people go to Hell temporarily.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Irenist:

            I don’t claim that’s an especially rational position; just offering an account of how my psychology differs from yours. I don’t disagree with this aspect of how you think, but I feel rather differently than you do about this topic. Like, even during the 10 or 15 years I was an atheist myself, “what is right?” always felt more urgent than “how can I be happy?”

            Oh no, I definitely understand and sympathize with that.

            The fact is, humans beings have the capacity and natural tendency to think in terms of moral principles. This is good and useful because if we had to stop and calculate everything constantly, we could never accomplish anything.

            And in a sense, I’d say if you had to choose between the two—if you thought that there is a conflict between morality and practicality—it’s better to go on the side of principle than on the side of amoralism. It’s the same reason I would say that if you had to choose between reason and sense experience—if like Plato or Parmenides you thought reason categorically proved a world completely different and opposed to the world of the senses—it’s better to go with reason.

            If you go with reason, maybe you can reason your way out of it. If you go with the senses and deny the validity of reason, you’re totally lost.

            But I say when moral principles stop aligning with “amoral calculation”, something has gone wrong in the same way that it has when reason stops aligning with experience. The concept of acting on principle gets twisted out of its proper role and into a means of self-destruction.

            Yet if you completely abandoned principle (including implicit principles), you just wouldn’t be able to live and pursue long-term goals successfully.

            Edit: in fact, as I’m writing elsewhere in this thread, I used to believe in a sort of deism for the exact reason that I thought otherwise it would not make sense to act on principle.

  8. A says:

    Are there any good atheist/agnostic/non-religious organizations in the NYC area where the membership has an average IQ less than 135?

    • anonymous says:

      The society for ethical culture probably fits the bill if you like their flavor of non-belief.

    • B says:

      I’ve heard good things about Sunday Assembly, but haven’t been. I haven’t gotten a sense of IQ>135 from skimming their publications, so probably less.

    • Anonymous says:

      Now this I’m curious about. What makes you think every one of those groups you know of has an average IQ of over 135? Why do you want a group with a lower IQ?

      • Vaniver says:

        Suppose one has an IQ of 110, and does not want to feel looked down upon, especially in a group that’s supposedly not about IQ filtering but actually about IQ filtering.

  9. anonymous says:

    I have a strong negative reaction to ‘male’ and ‘female’ when used as nouns referring to human beings, with a few narrow, technical exceptions. Anyone else have the same reaction? Reasonable, unreasonable?

    (I tried to post this once already and it was eaten, apologies if it shows up twice.)

    • Elizabeth says:

      IME a lot of people feel this way, but they’re usually social justice types who object solely to calling women “females” and they tend to rub me the wrong way.

    • I don’t. The obvious alternatives are “man” and “woman,” but that implies adult, while “male” and “female” don’t.

      Male/Female isn’t a perfect binary category, for familiar reasons, but it’s close enough to be useful.

      • John Schilling says:

        Given the importance of puberty in all things associated with human sex/gender/whatever, how often do we really care whether a human being is “male” or “female” without also caring whether they are a child or an adult? Admittedly, “adult” and “post-pubescent” aren’t exactly the same thing, but I think this is usually pretty obvious in context.

        “Man”, “Woman”, “Boy”, and “Girl” work well enough for almost all practical purposes in colloquial English – except for the pesky bit where “Man” also sometimes refers to the entire human race (edit – and “Girl” sometimes encompasses young adult female humans, but again usually obvious in context).

        “Human Male” and “Human Female”, I don’t have a strong negative reaction to, but they come across as academic jargon and if that’s not necessary or appropriate to the context I find it mildly annoying.

        • 27chaos says:

          As a 20 something, I don’t feel like an adult or like my peer groups deserve to be considered adults, so I do prefer this often, yes.

          • anonymous says:

            What about guy and gal? Pretty informal, sure, but informal contexts are where male and female fit the worst (IMO).

          • John Schilling says:

            Kids these days

            What do you feel is lacking in the “adulthood” department of your peer group? I’m going to guess that you’ve mostly graduated college and found jobs of some sort, so the obvious possibilities seem to be,

            Not being in grad school any more
            A ‘career’ instead of a ‘job’
            Marriage
            Children
            Owning a house
            Understanding the meaning of life
            Something else that I’m missing

            Also, would you and your peers like to grow up and be adults? Is this something you are looking forward to, or something to be postponed as long as possible?

            Also also, get off my lawn.

          • Tibor says:

            I am 26 and I share that sentiment.

            John Schilling:

            I think all of the possibilities (except the last one, I have seen the film and I think I get it :)) ) are simultaneously correct. More importantly, I always see my parents as the “adults generation” and everyone more than 10 years younger as the still-not-quite-adults (less so if they are married and have kids, but they should still be at least close to 40 🙂 ). It is quite funny since I am now 4 years younger than my parents were (3 years in the case of my mother) when I was born but when I see their photos from that time I clearly recognize them as adults. I wonder whether I will feel the same when I am 50 and my parents are 80. I guess I won’t, since by then I will probably have kids of my own so am won’t be the “kids generation” anymore…so I guess “having children” is for me the most important distinction between being and not being an adult.

          • Anonymous says:

            @John Schilling

            I know people younger than me who I would classify as adults, and people older than me who I would classify as… Not children, exactly, but definitely not adults.

            I think what it comes down to is something like responsibility. To my mind, an adult is someone who spends almost all of the time they’re not at work on either doing mundane jobs or on doing things for other people. Whereas someone who gets to live on their own in a place of their choosing, who gets to keep the money they earn and spend it on what they want, who can spend their free time doing things for themselves, eat the things they want to eat, and so on, matches my mental picture of child more closely than adult. They might technically be an adult, but it’s like they’re cheating: those paychecks you get from work are supposed to just disappear on bills, not stick around and let you actually purchase things you want.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Anonymous:

            So in your mind, Julius Casear and George Washington weren’t adults? Nor Edison or Tesla, Lindberg or Earhart? Hillary Clinton isn’t an adult? All of those people seem to perfectly match your described mental model of “children”.

            If you think being an adult means being a wage slave, I’m pretty sure you’re doing it wrong. And I’m pretty certain you can find people who are unquestionably adults, whose life you’d rather have than your own.

            Being an adult doesn’t wait on your acquiring the career, the spouse, the 2.3 children and the house with the white picket fence and the assortment of socially-preferred status markers appropriate to your class and calculated to consume slightly more than 100% of your paycheck. Being an adult starts when you start actively working to achieve those things, or whatever else you’ve decided you’d rather have in their place. And it doesn’t matter that the things you decide you want might turn out to be beyond your reach. A sincerely committed effort is enough.

            And if you sincerely want nothing more than you have, then commit to holding on to it. That’s something adults do too, especially when they have a spouse and a couple of happy, healthy kids. Whatever. It’s only the time you spend wanting more and not trying to achieve it, or wanting nothing at all, that counts as childhood. And at this point in your life, that’s almost certainly time irrevocably wasted. You’re old enough to know what you want to be when you grow up. Make it so.

            (Also, Jean-Luc Picard is another adult who doesn’t do mundane jobs or let anyone else tell him what to eat, has really cool hobbies, etc)

          • Anonymous says:

            @John Schilling

            I’d agree that having goals and taking steps to work towards them does make someone more adult. And I didn’t mean to claim that adulthood as measured in the way I described was necessarily something to aspire to, or that this classification is based on any real reasoning beyond ‘how things feel to me’.

            There are definitely more factors to it than the one I mentioned, but I do think that having more responsibilities is a feature of adulthood, having few responsibilities is a feature of childhood – would you disagree?

          • John Schilling says:

            Adulthood strongly correlates with increased responsibility, because most of the things really worth accomplishing in life require prolonged cooperation with other people and it’s difficult to structure that without involving e.g. promises that you really have to keep. Particularly if you plan to have a family, which most adults do. But it’s not a strict requirement. If your life’s goal is to be a solitary artist, master craftsman, or scholar, those might leave you with relatively few serious responsibilities while still being adult pursuits.

      • Error says:

        I like to describe it as a binary approximation of a bimodal world.

    • Nathan says:

      I have this reaction too. It just sounds really weird, like you’re referring to animals or something.

    • I agree that “male” and “female” give a sense of distance I don’t like, but if I want to include children with the adults in a gender, I might use “male” and “female”.

    • pneumatik says:

      I do not have the same feelings about the words. I work with the military frequently and they use male and female as pretty standard terms for people. I assume it evolved from needing to have appropriate male- and female-specific facilities and then the people who used the male rooms were called males and the people who used the female rooms were called females.

      I don’t think your feelings are unreasonable, though; how can we judge the legitimacy of someone else’s emotions?

      • Anonymous says:

        how can we judge the legitimacy of someone else’s emotions?

        By the cost of changing them without satisfying them?

        • 27chaos says:

          Include an empathy quotient too please, and add a term that reflects the potential game theoretic consequences of cooperation, indifference, or defection. After that, I think we’ve accounted for everything. Yay having Asperger’s!

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Why do you bring this up? Isn’t this usage pretty rare? For example, on the google search of “a male” restricted to this site, 9/10 of the first page of hits are adjectives.

      • anonymous says:

        I saw a post in the last thread (or maybe the one before) that used it, it bothered me and reminded me that it bothers me. So I figured I’d post about it in the open thread and see if I’m alone in finding it annoying. No ulterior motive.

    • Linch says:

      I have a moderate preference for using “male” and “female.” “Man” and “woman” sounds oddly formal when referring to twenty-year olds. Many of my peers refer to women my age as “girls” (while referring to men as “guys”), which I feel is mildly sexist because of the asymmetry. I compensate by referring to myself as a boy, or just by using gender-neutral wording in general. Female/Male is great for denotating gender while creating some social distance though, not sure why people dislike it.

    • ivvenalis says:

      Yes, and I consider the reaction reasonable. The proliferation of “male/female” versus “woman/man” is, in my experience/observation, driven by government bureaucracy attempting to arrogate “scientific” objectivity (those “technical exceptions”) to itself. I see male/female used in casual conversation most often by bureaucrats themselves and those who have the most contact with them, such as the welfare underclass. Academics form a smaller population of offenders although they’re probably Patient Zero.

      I also occasionally see the word “male” used in place of “man” by propagandists attempting to lower the status of a disfavored group. E.g. I recently saw a video titled “Watch This Young Black Man [a pre-teen boy] Give a Near Perfect Response to a [30-ish] White Male Who’s Ignorant About the Systematic Oppression of Black People”.

      The terminology reduces humanity to the strictly biological out of an unwillingness or inability to acknowledge culture. I’ll paraphrase Orwell:

      The word MAN, for instance, calls up a composite picture of masculinity, strength, virtue, independence, sweat, toil, and dominion. The word MALE, on the other hand, suggests merely that biological unit that fertilizes the ovum.

      • Psmith says:

        Yep. I also think this is connected to the reluctance a couple other commenters have identified to refer to 22-year-olds as men and women.

        (I experience this myself, of course. But I suspect that I shouldn’t.).

      • 27chaos says:

        I do see it in those contexts, but also in many many innocent contexts. I don’t think it’s usually an intentional attempt at manipulation, but instead is reflective of an analytical or introverted disposition. Criticizing people who speak the word seems likely to do more harm than good by causing unnecessary fighting, IMO.

    • Nornagest says:

      The words themselves are fine by me. On the other hand, they’re sometimes used in contexts where they help create an sense of condescension/pretentiousness/pseudo-intellectualism that rubs me the wrong way, particularly when they’re pointing to complicated cultural gender constructs that wouldn’t apply to, say, a male dog.

      Nerdy guys are sometimes guilty of this, usually in reference to girls. But I have similar problems with the phrase “male gaze”, so I don’t think this is some kind of deep-laid social guilt talking.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      I prefer male and female to man and woman, myself. It makes me feel a little weird to refer to myself as a woman, but I’m comfortable with “female,” because it seems more neutral and straightforward.

      I can understand why some people dislike it, because it does sound like you’re referring to animals. But, well, humans are animals. I don’t see that as something shameful or something that makes us lesser.

      • onyomi says:

        Yeah, I actually kind of like it too, precisely because it emphasizes the animal nature of humans. I like animals.

        That said, I can certainly imagine it being used in a demeaning way in the context of discussion of “game,” or some such.

      • HlynkaCG says:

        This echoes my own feelings on the matter.

        Besides, as Onyomi said, I actually like animals.

    • ivvenalis says:

      Is there still a “no gender issues” rule for Open Threads?

    • HlynkaCG says:

      I actually go the other way. In my mind “Man”, “Woman”, “Boy” and “Girl” carry a whole mess of additional meaning that may not always be appropriate. As such it feels much more reasonable and natural to use “Male” or “Female” as descriptors in most cases.

      Then again I also spent a good deal of time in the military, and later working in a hospital, so perhaps the more objective/technical terms just seem more “normal” to me than they would to others.

    • Max says:

      Well not really . But I am not native English speaker. In my native language female = gender of an animal with uterus, male = with penis. And calling a human male or female is derogatory (sorta like calling a woman bitch) .

    • Alraune says:

      Nope. No reaction. I don’t even know what my own standard usage is. Speaker intent is all that matters, and there’s no choice in the list that won’t be understood, misunderstood, and maliciously misconstrued.

    • Tibor says:

      My salsa dance teacher, when she speaks in English at the salsa class (she mostly speaks in German but sometimes there are people, exchange students mostly, at the course who do not speak German) uses men for male participants and females for the female participants. Now, when used like this, then females sounds kind of negative (I think that the reason is that her English is not perfect, she also says croccoach instead of cockroach…although I have to say I like the idea of a crocodile coach). But when one uses males/females as opposed to men/females, I don’t see a problem. It kind of sounds “detached” or technical but not negative.

      By the way, in German (also in Czech, although there is a feminine variant there as well) the gender of the word Mädchen/Mädel (both mean girl) is neutrum, not feminine as one would probably expect…boys are masculine though.

      • anonymous says:

        That’s actually one of the reasons I want to know whether or not it is a personal idiosyncrasy. I have a couple of friends that have English as a second language and have specifically asked me to let them know when they get something wrong (privately obviously).

        • Tibor says:

          Well, English is not my native language either, but I would say that referring to people as “males/females” is kind of strange if it can be substituted by men/boys or women/girls, so always unless you want to stress out that you are talking about all members of one sex, regardless of age or whatever. But I would not say it sounds offensive, just detached, cold and technical. On the other hand the German or the Czech version of the noun “male” would sound a bit aggressive to me if used to refer to a human, because it is specifically animal (Ok, man is an animal as well but I bet dolphins also use a different screech for themselves and for other animals 🙂 )

          By the way, German uses the wrong word gender again :)) The gender of the word “Männchen”, which means both “a male animal” and a little man, is neutrum. It actually makes sense, since everything that ends mit -chen is neutrum in German and by adding -chen you create a diminutive form of a word (which is btw something I really miss in English, as it is the only language I speak which has no such dimunitive except for some exceptions like “doggy”). But it is still kind of funny that an obviously male word “male” has a neutral gender and an obviously female word “girl” too (and Mädl/Madl does not even end with -chen).

    • keranih says:

      I would call my reaction mildly negative to the terms being used outside of what I would call broad technical exceptions. I prefer men and women, boy and girl, for social settings. Employment and government are not social settings.

      I also hold that there is a difference between ‘man’ and ‘boy’ (and likewise between the female versions) that is sadly obscured in modern advocacy and social discourse.

      Speaking just for myself – I think that the objection to the use of the terms on the grounds that “it resembles our descriptions for animals” is understandable, but highly faulty. (And my initial impulse was to mock this objection.) We are animals, with all the associated issues, and furthermore, each species (and most particularly the domestic species) has terms for various genders and life stages (for example: piglet, barrow, gilt, sow, boar, shoat, etc). In that context, ‘male’ and ‘female’ are almost excessively generic.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I endorse Keranih’s position.

        I think male/female is mildly bad in non-technical contexts, though I’ve used it myself if the interlocutors are SJ types, whose definitions of man/woman fail to carry information I want to convey (“only women have babies” vs. “females have babies”). But it doesn’t annoy me unless it’s “man/female” by bitter romanceless men or something like the “white male” example elsewhere.

    • In professional environments where “male” and “female” are commonly used, do the professionals refer to themselves or their fellow professionals as males and females or men and women.

    • CAE_Jones says:

      I have a visceral negative reaction to being grouped with “men”, and every time someone uses male/female instead of men/women it makes me feel slightly less like I’m doomed. I don’t complain about it when people use “man” to refer to me, because it would almost always be obnoxious at best. But yeeeeee, it’s making me panic just typing “man” and “me” with so little space between them.

      That said, I know I’m weird, and don’t find your opposing feelings unreasonable.

      • Stefan Drinic says:

        I’m sort of curious about the way you identify by now, and if it’s not too private/obnoxious, I’d like to know if you know and could say why you have this reaction, or if it really is an entirely visceral thing for you.

        • 27chaos says:

          They seem to identify as a young adult cisgender person, if I’m interpreting that comment correctly. It is likely youth or discomfort with claiming a label reflecting the cultural masculine or feminine ideal behind their word choice, not being a transgender person. Unless I am mistaken.

    • anon says:

      I don’t care, I used to prefer male/female when in doubt to avoid getting in trouble with the language police, but then I saw someone on LW express the same sentiment as yours and now I do whatever I feel like.

      • Cord Shirt says:

        Yeah, first it was “You have to call AMABs ‘women’ on pain of attack! There’s a difference between sex and gender, after all!” And then came the scorn and dismissal of anyone using “male” and “female” as nouns–as if they’d never given us a reason to want to distinguish between…sex and gender.

    • grendelkhan says:

      The use of “female” as a noun makes me think of Ferengi, but apparently it’s very normal in military culture.

    • cypher says:

      I haven’t had this reaction, and I don’t understand why people do on an instinctive emotional level. I can understand it from the detached academic perspective.

    • I am absolutely not-SJ and yet they do feel a bit like referring to humans as animals – and confusing adjectives with nouns.

    • Nero tol Scaeva says:

      I used to be called a male model. Only because when the average person thinks “model”, they think of a woman.

      This happens with other things too: “Male nurse” as opposed to “nurse”; “female soldier” as opposed to “soldier” (though this is becoming less common); “female lead / male follow” (in dancing) as opposed to “lead / follow”; etc.

      It doesn’t really flow to say “Man-nurse” or “woman lead”. Though this may only be true for the US.

    • Stater says:

      I share your negative (visceral) reaction if the males and females in question are specific people. Especially if they are present: “look at those females over by the popcorn machine!”

      It’s still kind of unidiomatic to my ear when it’s used abstractly, but so are lots of things I hear in common usage.

      I’ll note that the noun form comes across my radar most commonly in two settings: 1) bureaucratic, broadly speaking and 2) when used by non-native speakers of what David F Wallace called “Standard White English.” So My reactions to this usage are probably less inherent (“it’s objectifying/it makes people sound like animals”) than connotative (“low-status/annoying people talk this way”).

  10. Nathan says:

    I’m not sure what the expectations are around here in regards to plugging stuff so apologies if I’m overstepping an unwritten boundary here.

    My brother, an indie game dev, has just released his first game on Steam, titled Dragon’s Wake. It’s a retro-style 2D platformer where you play a baby dragon, newly hatched and just learning to fly. It’s also an artistically ambitious game that is highly story and character driven, despite featuring not a single word of text or dialogue.

    Obviously I’m keen to see the game be a commercial success for my brother’s sake, but I also think it’s a really good game that a lot of people here might like. So if it sounds like the sort of thing you might be interested in, go check it out. It costs $4.

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      >indie game dev

      >retro-style 2D platformer

      I can say that a lot of people’s eyes are going to start glazing over when those two phrases appear in the same sentence. Including mine.

      • Anonymous says:

        What’s wrong with indie retro games?

        • Alraune says:

          Absolutely flooded market.

          • Nathan says:

            Isn’t that just a way of saying “I don’t like that genre”? I’ve never heard anyone complain that there are too many works in a style that they enjoy. Like, I hate romance novels but they still exist in multitudes because lots of people who aren’t me keep buying them.

            Not that there’s anything wrong with disliking a particular genre of course.

          • Alraune says:

            No. The more flooded a market is, the more likely any given title you’re unfamiliar with is to be an interchangeable “me too” attempt with no compelling reason to exist. This is exacerbated, not relieved, if you like the genre in question: you’ve already experienced it, and gain less value from a generic example because it will not be novel. You may, for that matter, have already played all the best instances of the last 20 years and be comparing every new entry to that. “I like this concept but wish way way less of it was produced” is a perfectly possible and reasonable viewpoint.

          • Leit says:

            Sturgeon’s law.

            Also, I personally despise retro graphics, and when looking for something interesting and short to play on Steam, I’m inundated by near-identical pixel-art crapfests.

          • Will S. says:

            @Nathan

            Don’t let the haters get you (or your brother) down.

      • CAE_Jones says:

        I have the exact opposite reaction. I mean, I’m probably not going to buy it because I probably can’t play it and Steam accessibility is meh at best, but it sounds like exactly the sort of thing I’d like.

        • Anonymous says:

          There’s got to be hundreds of indie retro platformers, it’s incredibly oversaturated. Guess you’re in luck.

    • John Greer says:

      Nathan,

      As someone developing their own game with a friend and knows how much work it is, congratulations to your brother!

      I can relate to Technically Not Anonymous’ feelings given the flood of generally low-quality clones of the same genre. It can be grating to see people churn out the same stuff that doesn’t add much to the conversation. That said, Dragon’s Wake looks great from the trailer I saw! Has your brother tried promoting it at all? I would recommend joining the Indie Dev development groups on Facebook and sharing non-spammy links there as well as relevant subreddits. Giving streamers free keys is a good idea too.

      Good luck to him!

      • Nathan says:

        Thanks John.

        Honestly, I think he put too little effort into marketing it pre-release and should have even been willing to delay the release in order to do more work there. But he’s one of those people who would much rather work on the game itself than marketing stuff.

        Since it’s been out a few days ago he hasn’t had that excuse though and has been putting a lot of time into that side of things. There’s been a good number of people streaming and making videos about the game already, although so far they’re all pretty low viewership. I’ll suggest subreddits to him too though, that’s a pretty good idea.

        The encouraging thing so far is that the game seems to be doing a pretty good job selling itself.

        I look forward to hearing more about your own game when that gets closer to release. ?

        • John Greer says:

          Thanks Nathan! We have a draft landing page up here: http://shibemysteries.com/
          🙂

          Marketing pre-release is important, but it’s not the end of the world if he didn’t. Just something to keep in mind next time. Many developers just want to make the game. Luckily my partner is the programmer and now that I’m done with writing the script, I’m planning out the marketing which is why this stuff is fresh in my mind. Just email me if you need any more links!

  11. Should I care that the open sleigh has two horses?

  12. Susebron says:

    Has anyone here heard about/read Hot Earth Dreams by Frank Landis? It’s a book about what the world might look like in the deep future under a severe climate change situation where humans survive. Here’s a PDF sample of the first few chapters, and here’s a list of places you can buy it if you want to. It’s fairly expensive ($19), though.

    • Andrew says:

      The first few chapters were ok, if a bit irreverent. Not good enough for me to take a flyer on a $20 ebook, though- surprised he’s not offering it digitally for substantially less on his own, for a 100% take.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        The book in question is self-published. He is offering the book digitally on its own, for the same price for as the paperback.

        This, in my experience and in the experience of every other self-published author I have ever discussed this with, is a non-optimal pricing strategy. (Heck, even tradpubs usually give you SOME ebook discount.) But it’s his book. It’d have to be a lot more polished-looking to even get me to read the sample chapters, especially at an $18.95 cover. That screams – and yes, this is a heuristic, but I’m confident in it – “amateur, badly edited, and overoptimistic.”

        You may mean he should offer it for direct sale outside Amazon and other ebookstores. If so, yes, he could offer it for less. A lot less. Because he’s outside KDP’s 70% royalty threshold. Which is another reason his pricing is sub-optimal – he’s actually making LESS on the book at $18.95 than if he’d set the price to 9.99. And knowing that makes me even less interested in reading the book. Tradpubs at least have the excuse that they’re protecting paper sales and brick-and-mortar commerce partners when they price ebooks outside the optimum. What he’s thinking, I have no idea and don’t much care.

  13. anon says:

    Regarding’s Scott’s recent posts on his tumblr in which he does statistical analysis on the effect of gun ownership on murder rates:

    It seems to me that controlling for the robbery rate doesn’t make any sense, as it is quite plausibly determined by the gun ownership rate – Scott notes the two are negatively correlated, and more guns might well increase the cost of robbery and so lower its incidence. If a larger gun ownership rate reduced robberies by a lot and reduced murders by a bit, wouldn’t holding robberies constant in your analysis lead to the conclusion that more guns meant more murders, even if in reality it meant the opposite?

    Comparatively, more guns is not going to affect the urbanization, poverty level, %black, or Southernness of a state. But it might well affect the robbery rate.

    • You’re right, I would delete that variable. Maybe use something else as a proxy for the general level of crime.

      It should be easy to get a panel data set for gun ownership and murder. Then a fixed effects model would be a good way to remove most of the confounding factors. I’m sure someone has done that in the academic literature somewhere, but I’m too lazy to check right now.

      • Linch says:

        How would you control for general level of crime? My impression is that many people who are against gun control believe that gun ownership reduces crime.

        • anon says:

          Presumably there are some kinds of crime that guns would be very unlikely to have an effect on. Embezzlement, for example.

          • I don’t think embezzlement is necessarily correlated with violent crime.

            A fixed effects model would definitely be best. That would control for any unchanging factors in each location (county?), so we’d only have to worry about things that change coincidentally with the gun ownership rate.

          • TrivialGravitas says:

            Car theft seems a good option, even better if you can get data that seperates car jackings from stealth thefts where robbery is an issue.

          • roystgnr says:

            Car theft rates may end up being little more than a proxy for automobile age, which in turn may be just a function of the local economy. At least it would be safer to control for than robbery; gun ownership could deter robbery but probably doesn’t encourage car buying or discourage poverty.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      I don’t understand the sequence of steps he uses to select and interpret his model, for the record.

  14. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Question for the Christian commentators here. What do you make of this Future Primeval post about how virtuous and insane the Mormons are? http://thefutureprimaeval.net/sanity-for-sociality/

    Why can’t other churches resist social atomization and “conforming to the world” as well as the LDS? Like. why can’t the Pope (successfully) order Catholics to build well-ordered communities based around traditional families?

    • Susebron says:

      The Catholic Church is far too traditional to do that sort of thing. It is not, and has never been, in the business of building well-ordered communities. That sort of conscious attempting to build a better society is a modern thing, only fit for Mormons and socialists. The Church is, depending on how cynical you are about this, either in the business of saving souls or in the business of increasing its own power. In neither case does it suit the Church to wall itself off from society.

      • Anonymous says:

        >In neither case does it suit the Church to wall itself off from society.

        It should, however, shape society, rather be shaped by it. Personally, I blame the opposite direction occurring in practice on socialist infiltration of the Church authorities.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Right. Doesn’t the Church have a history of shaping society, by doing things like forbidding people to marry their cousins and telling them to give money to the poor instead of hoarding it to attract mates like bower birds?

          • Anonymous says:

            A history, yes. Not so much now, since the recent developments are manifestly extra-ecclesial in origin.

          • Susebron says:

            Not marrying cousins was included in Roman law before it was part of canon law, and giving money to the poor is a direct commandment of Christ.

      • Alraune says:

        [The Catholic Church] is not, and has never been, in the business of building well-ordered communities.

        Dubious.

      • Dan Peverley says:

        As a former Mormon, I’m not sure the idea of Mormons as maintaining a separate culture is really accurate. The phrase I heard as a child was that were supposed to be “in the world but not of the world.” We were not supposed to wall ourselves off from the rest of society, we were supposed to proselytize and be so virtuous that people couldn’t ignore how awesome the doctrine was. Given the love Mormon life outcomes are getting in this thread, this approach is obviously working to some extent.

        Things taken very seriously: Don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke, don’t drink coffee, don’t have sex outside of marriage, duties related to callings, temple stuff.

        Things not taken very seriously/not even technically prohibited: R-rated movies, caffeine outside of coffee and tea, home teaching, attending Elder’s Quorum.

        There are differences between Mormon cultural norms inside and out of Utah as well. What exactly these differences are is highly disputed, but I think that they have to do with how people distinguish themselves in and out of the Mormon population center. If you live in New York, just being a Mormon is a serious identifier. In Utah, there’s an impulse to be a REAL Mormon who follows all of the rules to the letter, or to be “Sunday Mormon” who’s cool with the secular world. That was a major meme in Mormon circles anyway. I found a greater deal of enthusiasm in the Church when I lived in Colorado than when I was in Utah, perhaps due to a) more converts, b) the unenthusiastic people just drop out because there’s no social pressure to keep going, c) being a religious minority is a great social bonding experience. Utah is really nice overall through, great state. It’s comforting to live around so many LDS people, lots of shared experiences and cultural understanding.

        I admit that I miss being part of the Church every once in a while, but I can’t reconcile it with my desire to have correct beliefs.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      My first impression, in regards to “sanity cost” and the outward madness of Mormons, is that the author has basically arrived at CS Lewis’ “Puddleglum’s argument” from the opposite direction.

      “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all of those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow…

      As for the rest, it’s complicated, but if building well-ordered communities were simply a matter of the Pope ordering it to be so I’m pretty sure one of ’em would have done it.

      That said Mormonism developed on the frontier and I do think that this caused them to develop a few distinct memes that seem to have helped them “weather the storm” of modern life better than the more mainstream faiths. The sense of “you are your own keeper” and share the responsibility share the reward seems largely absent from wider society. They also seem to have embraced something Scott’s “walled garden” approach where pretty much every other major denomination has been trying to be all things to all people.

    • jonathan says:

      Simple theory: social organizations with high costs of affiliation (e.g. members seem visibly weird to society at large) can restrict membership to high-quality genuine believers, build social cohesion, and limit free-riding.

      I don’t think this is restricted to Mormons. Other examples among religious groups include ultra-Orthodox Jews, most cults, monastic orders, and many Christian sub-groups (campus fellowships on Ivy League campuses?).

      This definitely describes the early church. But when an organization becomes too mainstream, it starts to attract lots of low-quality members who reduce average quality and reduce its effectiveness. And then you wind up with a social club for organizing potlucks and bingo tournaments.

      • Once a social organization has been around for a while, most of the members are going to be descendants of previous members. (Yes, I know, the Shakers are an exception.)

    • Jaskologist says:

      For historical reasons, LDS had to literally separate itself from the rest of society, so they’ve had lots of practice doing their own thing.

      That said, are they really that good at resisting “conforming to the world”? They notoriously changed their policy on polygamy in order to be accepted into the US, and I gather that they’ve moderating some less-than-PC views on black people. That they’ve maintained family structure better than most may be a simple matter of inertia combined with a slower rate of ideas from the broader culture diffusing into their subculture.

      • Faradn says:

        Younger Mormons are like younger evangelicals–and younger people in general–in that they don’t have a problem with gay people. Here in SLC there are a ton of Mormons who swear and drink caffeine.

        They do at least seem to be better at saving sex for marriage than evangelicals, though.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        That said, are they really that good at resisting “conforming to the world”? They notoriously changed their policy on polygamy in order to be accepted into the US, and I gather that they’ve moderating some less-than-PC views on black people. That they’ve maintained family structure better than most may be a simple matter of inertia combined with a slower rate of ideas from the broader culture diffusing into their subculture.

        This is a disturbingly plausible possibility. After all, why do they send their young women to get MRS degrees but don’t encourage those same women to homeschool the resulting children? Why ban R-rated movies but not movies made after 1990? The fact that they are leaving so much low-hanging fruit unpicked is evidence that they aren’t optimizing all that strongly for resisting “the world”.

        On the other hand, they seem to be sticking to their guns regarding homosexuality, even if it costs them some members (though it looks like most of those mass resignations were lapsed members anyway).

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          @jamieastorga2000: This is a disturbingly plausible possibility. After all, why do they send their young women to get MRS degrees but don’t encourage those same women to homeschool the resulting children? Why ban R-rated movies but not movies made after 1990? The fact that they are leaving so much low-hanging fruit unpicked is evidence that they aren’t optimizing all that strongly for resisting “the world”.

          Ouch, those are good points. If Mormonism is false and not optimized for virtue, one should look elsewhere even if they agree with FP’s sanity-for-virtuous-descendants bargain.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Le Maistre Chat: Well, even if the Mormons are really just lagging behind the zeitgeist, a few less decades of “progress” could still make a huge difference when the other shoe drops. Besides, who else is there? Muslims?

          • Anonymous says:

            The Amish, obviously. Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Muslims. Tradcaths. Quiverfullers.

            They have a really variable success rate, but they’re all damn well trying to counteract the undesirable elements of modernity.

          • It’s worth noting that the population of Old Order Amish has been doubling about every twenty years. That’s the result of combining traditional birth rates with modern medicine.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yeah, Scott even made a post about the impending takeover of the US by the Amish.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            It’s also worth noting that the Amish have been relaxing a lot of their proscriptions in the relatively recent past. I grew up around Amish country, and have family who still live there. They report the Amish are a lot less uptight about tech and interacting with the English than they used to be.

    • Irenist says:

      Question for the Christian commentators here. What do you make of this Future Primeval post

      No thoughts on the Mormon post.

      But if “what do Christian commentators here think of $_Future_Primaeval_post” is the sort of thing you like to read, then you might like to read my own purple tribe take on Warg Franklin’s Passivism and the Procedure post over at FP. Here’s a link to my (rather long!) blog post on what I called the Steel Rule of St. Benedict. I’d actually be quite interested to read, um “neo-reactions” [hope that pun is okay, Scott] to the piece.*,**

      *Over at my place: I know Scott doesn’t want us talking about [Future Primaeval’s worldview, the name of which we’re not supposed to use] over here.

      **Content warning: I open the post by referring to [Future Primaeval’s worldview, the name of which we’re not supposed to use] as that of “evil heathens.” Doesn’t mean I can’t be polite to [Future Primaeval’s worldview, the name of which we’re not supposed to use] guests, but might change whether you give a darn what I have to say.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I think he gets at a serious problem for the Less Wrong atheists, namely that these two core beliefs:

      1. Rationality is about achieving your goals.
      2. Religion is obviously irrational.

      clash with the empirical evidence that Christian religion (and I suspect the rest of them) provides its adherents with longer, happier life, and better mental and physical health. From what I’ve seen, only the Moldbuggers are really grappling with this. But there’s not much to grapple with if you think religious beliefs might also be true. It’s only trading sanity if you start with atheistic assumptions.

      That said, zooming out a bit, I think one major social function (of special interest to FP types) of “Religion” is solving coordination problems. And here, it’s not the “insanity” of the beliefs that is key, but rather what the beliefs are. How do we get people to cooperate in one-shot prisoner dilemmas where it is in their best interest to defect? We add a belief in an all-seeing arbiter and an afterlife where you will be paid back for what you did. Just like that, the game is no longer one-shot, you now have a good reason to cooperate.

      It’s the belief in God that accomplishes this. Just having weird beliefs won’t do; you won’t build much of a society around the belief that the universe was sneezed out of a goat’s nose. I don’t think the beliefs being weird is even all that true; Mormons have some beliefs I find historically questionable, but the historical data to contradict them didn’t even exist when the sect was being formed, and frankly this kind of stuff does not affect day-to-day life for most people.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        I would say it comes down to this: it is a fundamental presupposition of rational discourse and the pursuit of rationality that people ought to believe what is true. This is where the much-celebrated line about the box and diamond comes in.

        If you abandon that—if you abandon the idea that what we’re after is the truth—you simply have to abandon the intellectual pursuit of knowledge. If instrumental rationality is opposed to epistemic rationality in a major and systematic way, that’s just the end for rationality.

        Now, there have been people who believed this. Hume apparently felt this way:

        Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

        [3] Here then I find myself absolutely and necessarily determined to live, and talk, and act like other people in the common affairs of life. But notwithstanding that my natural propensity, and the course of my animal spirits and passions reduce me to this indolent belief in the general maxims of the world, I still feel such remains of my former disposition, that I am ready to throw all my books and papers into the fire, and resolve never more to renounce the pleasures of life for the sake of reasoning and philosophy. For those are my sentiments in that splenetic humour, which governs me at present. I may, nay I must yield to the current of nature, in submitting to my senses and understanding; and in this blind submission I shew most perfectly my sceptical disposition and principles. But does it follow, that I must strive against the current of nature, which leads me to indolence and pleasure; that I must seclude myself, in some measure, from the commerce and society of men, which is so agreeable; and that I must torture my brains with subtilities and sophistries, at the very time that I cannot satisfy myself concerning the reasonableness of so painful an application, nor have any tolerable prospect of arriving by its means at truth and certainty. Under what obligation do I lie of making such an abuse of time? And to what end can it serve either for the service of mankind, or for my own private interest? No: If I must be a fool, as all those who reason or believe any thing certainly are, my follies shall at least be natural and agreeable. Where I strive against my inclination, I shall have a good reason for my resistance; and will no more be led a wandering into such dreary solitudes, and rough passages, as I have hitherto met with.

        [4] These are the sentiments of my spleen and indolence; and indeed I must confess, that philosophy has nothing to oppose to them, and expects a victory more from the returns of a serious good-humoured disposition, than from the force of reason and conviction. In all the incidents of life we ought still to preserve our scepticism. If we believe, that fire warms, or water refreshes, it is only because it costs us too much pains to think otherwise. Nay if we are philosophers, it ought only to be upon sceptical principles, and from an inclination, which we feel to the employing ourselves after that manner. Where reason is lively, and mixes itself with some propensity, it ought to be assented to. Where it does not, it never can have any title to operate upon us.

        But clearly such a view is the absolute failure and end of rationality.

        And some of us won’t, can’t, and (I say) shouldn’t accept that. The belief that reality has a definite nature and that man can know it by reason is just too fundamental.

        So it’s useless to enumerate the alleged benefits of religious belief, apart from the question of whether religion is true. If we can’t accept that it’s true, we’ll never accept that we ought to believe it anyway. Such a view amounts to nothing more than the doctrine that “ignorance is bliss”—which is the death of the mind.

        • bbartlog says:

          It may well have been this passage that led Nietzsche to jibe (at Hume and the utilitarians in general) that ‘Man does not strive for pleasure alone; only the Englishman does’. I think it’s clear that Hume’s utilitarian beliefs led him to have some internal conflict that someone with other priors could easily have avoided, and by that I don’t mean someone irrational, just someone less wedded to the model of human action that he had.

          • Protagoras says:

            I think this is one of the cases where Nietzsche is ill-served by the odd tendency to make the translations more gendered than the original. “Human beings do not strive for pleasure, only the English do,” sounds better to me, in addition to being more literal.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Protagoras:

            That sounds much worse. The whole poetic structure and memorability of the line relies on the play of “man” on “Englishman”.

            Maybe it was better in translation that it was in German…

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        “clash with the empirical evidence that Christian religion (and I suspect the rest of them) provides its adherents with longer, happier life, and better mental and physical health. ”

        Does that hold true for Sweden? Or is it just ‘being Christian is better when everyone else is Christian”?

        “How do we get people to cooperate in one-shot prisoner dilemmas where it is in their best interest to defect? We add a belief in an all-seeing arbiter and an afterlife where you will be paid back for what you did. Just like that, the game is no longer one-shot, you now have a good reason to cooperate.”

        Like having a super intelligent AI that can reconstruct your past actions and personality? Or having life extension and cryogenics that get the same result? After all most religious people still fear death and mourn the dead- the afterlife is more a hope and belief in belief. Making LW beliefs more cult like could beat the curve, but that isn’t what they are aiming for.

        • Jaskologist says:

          The studies I’m aware of were all American. The interesting correlations always pop up when measuring religiosity in terms of church attendance.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          America is weird when it comes to religion- it is my understanding the competition among churches has resulted in varieties much more capable of matching up to people’s needs, as well as a proliferation of cults, new faiths and woo. I’m not sure how generalizable it is though. Anyone tried matching outcomes to the effects of secular cults (communist party, Objectivists)?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            America is weird when it comes to religion- it is my understanding the competition among churches has resulted in varieties much more capable of matching up to people’s needs, as well as a proliferation of cults, new faiths and woo.

            See “Why Methodists don’t go to heaven” for a good analysis.

          • Larry Iannacone, an economist who specializes in the economics of religion, calculated Herfendahl indices for religion in the European protestant states–a standard measure of industry concentration. The more concentrated the religion industry, on average, the less religious people are.

            Which helps explain why the U.S., which has been a competitive market for religion from the beginning, is more religious than Europe.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Part of the problem is that it is hard to predict in advance exactly when your probably-untrue-but-instrumentally-useful beliefs will clash with reality in a way that makes them harmful. If someone believes, say, in a god which maintains the biosphere despite all that we can throw at it, that is a perfectly inconsequential belief right up to the point at which our species becomes influential and numerous enough to mess up the environment in potentially catastrophic ways.

        But another thing is that if it is true that some false beliefs are more instrumentally useful than the corresponding true beliefs, then there is no reason to expect a certain subset to be equally useful. That is, one should expect that there are better and worse false beliefs, in which case the instrumentally useful thing to do is not simply to accept the particular set of probably-false-but-useful beliefs one grew up with, but to a) try to test existing probably-false-but-useful beliefs against each other, and b) attempt to generate new probably-false-but-useful beliefs to improve on the existing ones. And it is (as far as I can tell) very rare to see anyone who argues for the benefits of any particular set of probably-false beliefs for instrumental reasons actually advocating this sort of goal-oriented approach. Do you know of anyone doing such work?

        • People do this much more than you realize. The Catholic Church calls this development of doctrine. You might suppose that this just means changing your beliefs in arbitrary and random ways, but it does not. It means eliminating various false beliefs which are not in fact instrumentally helpful, modifying others which are helpful so they conflict less with the evidence and therefore are easier to believe, and coming up with new ones which are helpful in new ways.

    • sourcreamus says:

      I think we do in general but it is harder to see. Mormons were persecuted and had to move out west. Thus there are a bunch of places out west that are dominated by Mormons and those places have Mormon norms and seem different to outsiders. Whereas Christians have strong communities everywhere but are not visible to those who are not looking for them.
      Meanwhile the difference is harder to show up on surveys because people who do not practice Christianity but call themselves Christian are lumped in with those of us who are practicing. If you compare people who call themselves Christian they are not that different than secular people but if you compare people who go to church weekly than there are significant differences.

    • That article misses the key aspect of Mormonism from this POV– it propagates primarily through natural increase, not intentional conversion. So the main thrust of the article is tangential to why Mormons are Mormon. It’s because they are conservative in a basic sense of sticking with what’s before them and what they grew up with. And Mormonism tries to make you be content with what’s in front of you so you’ll stay put and raise more Mormons. That’s why even though the experiment is failing it will take several more generations to fully do so.

  15. Cord Shirt says:

    Bringing this forward from the previous open thread

    The other year 😉 on a road trip, DH and I really needed some caffeine.

    But all we could find was a Starbucks.

    I found myself actually saying to him: “I’ve never stepped foot inside a Starbucks in my life, and I’m not going to start now.”

    I literally could not bring myself to enter a Starbucks. That…was just a bridge too far. 😉

    @Nornagest:

    I feel like we’re not communicating… I just think there’s a difference between the way people react who don’t have any aversion to (or, even, enjoy) fighting…and the way people react who always disliked all “opposing sides” (rather than “same side even if we disagree”) framings and now, on top of that, have a PTSDish situation going on too.

    I don’t like to *debate* anything (“opposing sides” framing). I’ll joyfully *discuss* (“all on the same truth-seeking side despite disagreements” framing) everything not an “existential threat,” and I’m glad that here we have a climate where we can.

    But when I *do* feel an “existential threat”…*I don’t fight, I flee*.

    :shrug: I’m an INTj/LII (socionics; INTP or TiNe in Myers-Briggs/Jungian notation)–we IN_js/_IIs are famous for our lack of backbone. 🙂

    “I don’t really get it, but if you want to, that’s fine” or “I could probably do poly, but I don’t see it buying me anything over the relationship I’ve got, so why mess with it?”

    …those still sound apologetic to me.

    I’m not saying the people you know are lying. I *am* saying if *I* tried to join greay tribe, *I’d* feel pressured to say what your friends did, even though for me the *truth* would be, “I do get it and I disagree with it.”

    “Filk is hella embarrassing, and I’ve heard it but I wish I hadn’t.”

    Oh come on, it’s funny. (Though the only filk I’ve actually heard is programming filk. :dusts off cobwebs: “W stands for the windows we use / And X is the windowing system we choose…” :nostalgia:)

    @Echo:

    Accents, yes! You sent me on an entertaining voyage of linguistic discovery. 😉 So thanks. What accent did your grandfather have, that the bank people reacted to that way?

    When it comes to subcultural identification, seems like there are two aspects here: Your own accent, and how you react to others’ accents. (My own accent is a lot like this.)

    Dialect and accent features that I don’t share usually strike me as charming. I can only think of a few exceptions:

    * “Dark l” (“broad l” to our Irish speakers)/”velarized alveolar lateral approximant” in all contexts (for example, Tom Brokaw and Robert Bazell).

    * The “needs washed” construction.

    * The backed vowels of “begEnning” for “beginning” and “HOlloween” for “Halloween.” (Northern California Vowel Shift?)

    * This accent. (Upper-/middle-class New York?)

    * “…is/isn’t a thing,” “I know really,” “I don’t even,” “Wow. Just wow”…etc. (Young netizen/SJW/tumblrina…”upper class” again?) I occasionally choose to use one of these myself when writing to those who do, but it’s always a deliberate, effortful choice.

    Accents/dialects I find charming include Southern (coastal, inland or mountain), AAVE, US Midland, etc. 🙂

    Chevalier? How about you?

    @anonymous: So you *are* basing it chiefly on religion and politics. Hmm…

    …I’ll be honest, I think you and Nornagest are conflating “Yankee” with “blue” when really the two may be slowly slipping apart. Oh well…”Nous sommes allong ar notre batteau, nous ne voulong pas un row.” 😉

    • Loquat says:

      My husband uses the “needs verbed” construction on a semi-regular basis. To me, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. Every goddamn time.

      I’m curious – whence the Starbucks hate? Do you hate other large market-dominating corporations too, or just that one?

      • jeorgun says:

        I do the Starbucks thing, mainly because of Bay Area/Peets factionalism. Completely pointless tribalism of that sort can be surprisingly enjoyable in small doses.

      • Cord Shirt says:

        “whence the Starbucks hate?”

        Well… 😉

        “Do you hate other large market-dominating corporations too, or just that one?”

        Politically, yes, I am opposed to monopolies. But that’s not why I can’t bring myself to enter a Starbucks. 😉

    • Nornagest says:

      Honestly, I know Yankees a lot worse than I know Californians. The type specimen of Blue to me is a sixtyish white woman living in Berkeley, working as some kind of mid-to high-level bureaucrat — let’s say a school administrator. Intelligent, but prefers constructions like “emotional intelligence”; distrustful of analytical thinking styles, and therefore prone to woo. Has a chiropractor and may have a psychic. Thinks of herself as highly spiritual but belongs to no organized religion. May or may not like kale or arugala, but definitely accustomed to cutting foods out of her diet for health or ethical reasons, and will talk your ear off about it if given a chance. Votes Democratic, and donates to the party; would like to vote Green but has heard that would be throwing her vote away. Very concerned about racism but has few non-white friends. Does Pilates or tai chi or some other low-impact fitness program. Goes on bicycle tours in places like New Zealand once a year.

      That’s not to say you have to be any of this to be Blue, but this is the person I think of as the Bluest of the Blues, the ur-Blue.

      • Cord Shirt says:

        Ah, the Governor Moonbeam type. 🙂

        I know a guy online who (except for being a guy) completely fits this description. I didn’t know such people were anything more than a politically-motivated negative stereotype until I ran into him. I’d still suspect him of being a false flag except that he’s posted photos of himself, he’s open about his address, etc. (I suppose he still *could* be some inoffensive everyman who’s being framed by a prankster or something…)

        I gave the poor fellow a BSOD with my support for gun rights. I mean it, he really seemed to be having some kind of scary emotional meltdown–ranting and accusing people of having “contaminated themselves” by having read anything published by the NRA. He then announced I was obviously just “terrified the government would take my guns away”–when I don’t even own any guns…

        So for you as a Californian, what is the *red* type specimen? Taking from my recent linguistic odyssey 😉 is it someone who makes a living from their “ammond” trees?

        • Nornagest says:

          Reds in California are like Reds anywhere west of the Mississippi. There are actually two mostly-distinct cultures of Red that I’m familiar with, neither much Redder than the other; but only one of them maps closely to the culture Scott described, so that’s the one I’ll pursue here. I can draw a picture of the other later if you want.

          Picture a white man, about 45 years old, living in Redding or a smaller foothill town. Fifty years ago he’d have been very likely to be involved in agriculture, but no longer; there are still a few places in California where the Reds haven’t given up on being cowboys, but they’re uncommon and no longer drive the culture. Let’s say this one is a sheriff’s deputy. Average intelligence, average grades in high school, probably an associate’s degree. Rather doctrinaire regarding law and culture, but tempered by an anti-authoritarian streak that law enforcement work has modified but not erased. Thinks of himself as Christian but only goes to church a few times a year, probably in an evangelical congregation. Votes Republican but doesn’t donate to the party. Listens to country music, and prefers Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard to whatever’s coming out of Nashville these days. Somewhat overweight owing to a fondness for ribs and domestic beer (but not lites). Takes his family to breakfast at McDonalds once a week before school, as a treat. Owns guns, mostly long arms but probably also a revolver or 1911, but rarely shoots them.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’d be interested to hear about the other type of Red too, if you wouldn’t mind.

          • Cord Shirt says:

            Yes, please do describe the other type too!

            As for this one: “Redding” and “foothill town” have no connotations for me, I mean I could look them up but…

            It also stands out that this type specimen is younger than your Blue type specimen. What if you translated this into population-level statistics, would it be “children of blues are becoming reds” or “blues had fewer kids” or do reds tend to be the children of Depression babies while blues tend to be baby boomers (and their kids are millennials) or what?

            Since your type specimens were both white, I’d ask where non-whites fit in, but I’m not sure how to word my question so as to avoid summoning an attacking SJW–so I guess my curiosity will have to remain unsatisfied. 😉

          • @Cord Shirt, there are no non-whites in the Red/Blue spectrum, as these tribes are specifically divisions within the white majority.

            Except, of course, that there are non-white Blues and Reds, but they’re converts, not natives. Non-white Blues tend to be the children of successful immigrants who have assimilated to their surroundings, non-white Reds are interracial adoptees. But, very importantly, the black and Hispanic working classes are neither Blue nor Red, but have a tribal identity all their own.

          • Nornagest says:

            As for this one: “Redding” and “foothill town” have no connotations for me, I mean I could look them up but…

            Redding (the name is a coincidence) is a smallish city that lies where the foothills of the Klamath Mountains meet the northern tip of the Central Valley. I picked it because it’s fairly well known (it’s the biggest city for five hundred miles on the I-5 corridor), very Red, and fairly white; it’s not hard to find a city in California with as many Reds in it, but most of the bigger ones have a lot of Latino influence on their culture, which interferes with this exercise.

            Foothill and mountains towns generally — that is, towns in and around the Klamath Mountains or the Sierra Nevada — tend to share these characteristics, as do the (few) towns in and around the Mojave. The triangle of upstate California in the northeast, past the mountains, is even more conservative but the culture there is weird.

            It also stands out that this type specimen is younger than your Blue type specimen. What if you translated this into population-level statistics, would it be [stuff]

            The children of Blues are no less liberal, but a lot of them haven’t adopted their parents’ culture wholesale; you could call them Blues in a broader sense, but a Blue as deep as my type specimen’s is mainly a baby-boomer phenomenon. Some of these children became Grays, but more fall into cultures like urban hipsters or the Tumblrina/netizen cluster, which the ur-Blue upthread would think of as strange and faintly alarming. I think this underlies a lot of the hate on millennials you see floating around.

            You get some defections from the Red side too, but I think the children of Reds are a lot more likely to also be broadly Red. Red culture is drifting somewhat, but it’s not experiencing a phase change the same way that Blue culture is, at least in California.

            I’ll describe the other type later. Had a whole thing written up, but server-side issues ate it when I submitted it.

          • Tibor says:

            And I thought that Redding was a made up town from Fallout 2 😀

          • Anthony says:

            Tibor – I’m not sure you’re wrong, and I’ve been to Redding.

            Where it gets to 115 in August, every damn year. But only for about a week; the rest of the summer, it’s only 105 or so. And “it’s a dry heat”.

          • Tibor says:

            @Anthony:
            Well, I guess that only Radscorpions, and mutated molerats can live in that heat, so it all makes sense now 🙂

          • Nornagest says:

            Oh yeah, I said I’d describe the other culture of Red in California, didn’t I?

            Still white, still stereotypically male, but skews younger — the picture in my head is of someone 25 to 30. People like him might live anywhere the rent’s reasonably cheap, but they’re densest in small to medium-sized cities and some small towns in the central and eastern parts of the state; let’s say this one lives on the outskirts of Stockton. No college experience; not particularly bright. Recently unemployed after working as a mechanic for a gas station. Strongly anti-authoritarian on the personal level, but skeptical of extending that anti-authoritarianism into policy for fear of granting license to people that can’t handle it: he might, for example, smoke pot, but would oppose efforts to legalize it. Listens to metal, hard rock, or the Insane Clown Posse, and has strong opinions on which is the best; thinks of country as music for old people and wannabe cowboys. Smokes. Eats fast food three or more meals a week. Watches combat sports or Nascar. Doesn’t generally vote, but votes Republican when he does. Doesn’t go to church, but thinks of himself as Christian in a vague way. Probably owns something with a Confederate flag on it, but thinks of it as a generalized symbol of rebellion rather than for its racial implications — though he’s not particularly fond of blacks or (especially) Mexicans. Probably also owns something with an American flag on it, but wouldn’t (unlike the other kind of Red) fly the flag outside his door on Memorial Day.

        • Anthony says:

          Funny thing is that among my blue-tribe friends, guns are the one issue where there is significant deviation from the standard Blue-tribe opinions. I’d say maybe 30% of the solid Blue-tribalists I know are against more gun control, or think that a few more restrictions in one area might be ok in exchange for some loosening of other restrictions. Many of that 30% own guns.

          And it’s not usually a stalking-horse for other heterodox opinions – I have friends who are pretty mind-killed SJWs but are against gun control. And they’re not even from rural backgrounds.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          (Far Left voter; gun moderate here) I saw typical mind fallacies talking past each other when Palin was being blamed for the Tucson shooting. She had used a graphic of a plain circle divided like a quartered pie, which was alleged to inflame gun nuts with desire to go shooting.

          The gun supporters patiently explained that Palin’s was actually a surveyors’ mark, and they showed pictures of the real gunsight symbols, which somehow didn’t seem to cool the conversation.

          (Actually, hoplaphobia-phobia seems worse, consequence-wise.)

    • Alraune says:

      I think you and Nornagest are conflating “Yankee” with “blue”

      Grey/west/dropout/technocrat vs. Blue/east/ivy/bureaucrat is a convenient way of setting the gradient, and does have some meat to it. But, as in the Red-Blue split, the view of the opposing region is formed with a lot of projection of local vices onto a foreign target. So average the stereotype of Yankee with the local meddling hippies and dysfunctional government, and that’s “Those Fuckers.”

      One thing I haven’t seen discussed yet here is how Greyness interacts with class. Red and Blue both have their canonical forms across the SES ladder, and of course a tendency to decry the groups above and below them as overwhelmed by members of the other tribe. But what’s labor-class Grey look like?

      • Psmith says:

        ” But what’s labor-class Grey look like?”

        Sounds a bit like some of the people who post on /k/. Although I think this “grey tribe” stuff is basically gerrymandering.

      • blacktrance says:

        Red and Blue both have their canonical forms across the SES ladder

        It seems to me that while both Reds and Blues have political allies in different classes, they’re class-specific clusters. Both are mostly middle-class, though Red has more lower-middle-class members, and Blue has significant support in the upper class (upper-class Democrats are Blue, but upper-class Republicans are typically not Red). Greyness is largely midde-class and up, and unlike the others, it doesn’t have allies in other classes.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          As a precocious child who read a lot of history, I imbibed the belief that American society was different from historic European ones because America had no classes, being stratified purely by income.
          As I got older, I realized that there were rednecks who owned houses and boats while many arts degree-holding Right Kind of People lived paycheck to paycheck in small apartments.

          • Nornagest says:

            Familial wealth and educational history are probably stronger signals than personal wealth and even personal education, and geography’s probably stronger than either. Especially on the Blue side, I see a lot of young people with crappy rentals and service jobs but educated parents of middle class or better; while on the Red side, I see a lot of people who’re in their family’s first or second generation to have gone to college.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: 100% agreed on family wealth and educational history. What makes you say that geography is probably stronger? What exactly are Red and Blue territory, anyway? Yankee urban centers and those on the I-5 corridor are deep Blue, while small communities in flyover country are deep Red, but I’m not sure how the rest of America goes.

          • Nornagest says:

            Dense urban areas, college towns, and coastal communities in the West and Northeast are Blue. Everything else is Red. That’s a pretty strong signal in general, but there’s some variation on the level of individual towns — you mentioned the I-5 corridor, so you probably know about Ashland for example. And there’s a very few regions where it doesn’t hold at all; Houston is a big city but it’s solidly Red (contrast Dallas and Austin, both Blue enclaves in a generally Red state), and upper New England is solid Blue but not particularly urban. I don’t think there’s enough of these exceptions to make it a bad heuristic, though.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: “I don’t think there’s enough of these exceptions to make it a bad heuristic, though.”

            Ah, yes, if we’re talking heuristic and not something concrete enough to partition like India, I think that’s fine (and I do know about Ashland).
            I remember a Republican ad from a decade ago that tarred all of Vermont as “latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving” etc, which raised the weird mental image of middle-aged dairy farmers acting exactly like Seattle hipsters. I suppose that’s no weirder than Houston being as red as a small town while Austin isn’t.

          • Chalid says:

            Dense urban areas, college towns, and coastal communities in the West and Northeast are Blue. Everything else is Red

            And suburbs are generally purple, but vary greatly.

      • Mr. Breakfast says:

        ” …what’s labor-class Grey look like?”

        http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/darkon/

        ” …what’s middle-class Grey look like?”

        https://freestateproject.org/

      • Cord Shirt says:

        Calling the west coast gray really surprises me, what with the “left coast”/”Governor Moonbeam” stereotype. But I guess my surprise is another example of distance-based ignorance: I don’t know much about the west coast.

        I’m not very clear on blue vs. red cultural signifiers, but I think the east coast/Ivy blue is much more politically-oriented and generally hard-edged than the rather pitiful-sounding person Nornagest described.

        • stillnotking says:

          I know a ton of people in Atlanta who qualify as “grey tribe” on most axes, but vote Republican. Think young, college-educated, white, male, employed in a technical or engineering job, “geek” cultural markers, shop at Whole Foods, anti-feminist and anti-“cultural Marxism”, apathetic or hostile to religion, may or may not be into gun culture but strongly support 2A either way, and very cynical about government, especially local government.

          It’s interesting to me that the nearly identical subtype on the West Coast, where I used to live, is weakly Blue-affiliated, while the ones in the South are quite strongly Red. I suspect we may see the Silicon Valley crowd start to drift to the GOP, especially as they are more and more vilified by social-justice types. The Blues really don’t seem like the natural home for this type of personality.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The type you describe used to be most common geek/hacker subtype. For whatever reason, in the past 20 years, the Blues have become much more numerous. Silicon Valley companies are lousy with the SJ types, and while reign-of-terror is probably an overstatement, it’s not a large one.

          • Your comment on Atlanta reminds me of the situation fifty+ years ago, when libertarians were mostly seen as part of the conservative coalition. The compromise was that libertarians accepted traditionalist foreign policy—nor too hard since, while it was interventionist, it was interventionist against a particularly unlibertarian enemy—and traditionalists accepted libertarian economic policy.

            How well that sort of alliance works probably depends on what issues are at the moment salient.

          • onyomi says:

            This is a bit worrisome to me, as I am grey tribe person who grew up in a reddish environment and who usually doesn’t vote or votes for the libertarian, but who, when push comes to shove, will still express support for Republicans over Democrats in many cases, or if given no other choice.

            Contrast many readers here, and, I think, Scott himself, who, I get the sense, are also grey, but who grew up in more blue environments and, when push comes shove, will probably support the Democrats over the Republicans.

            Makes we worry that changing tribes or denying your tribe of birth is a lot harder than it seems, since, at the end of the day, a lot of people who claim to reject the two-party paradigm still end up supporting the side their geographic and family background would lead us to expect them to support, if not in actual votes, then at least with their underlying sympathies… not that Duverger’s Law makes it easy to do otherwise.

          • John Schilling says:

            Are you counting political identity and tribal identity as the same thing? It certainly complicates things on the political-identity front if you politically identify with a faction that either doesn’t run candidates or runs token placeholder candidates.

          • Anonymous says:

            @onyomi

            I’ve read a number of accounts from LessWrong-affiliated people of having been brought up in a fairly religious, red-tribe environment, coming to the conclusion as a child or young teenager that God isn’t real, and then becoming fairly aggressively anti-theist and anti-red tribe, at least for a while.

            My own experience is almost the opposite of this – I was brought up to believe that blue tribe views are obviously correct and the red tribe is some combination of stupid and wicked, and only when I got into my late teens did I encounter intelligent, vocally right-wing people. I learned why capitalism doesn’t work at around age 12, and didn’t learn why it does work until around age 19. I’ve seen Bryan Caplan, among other people, describe similar experiences. I was briefly drawn toward the red tribe more strongly than I am now – claims along the lines “these good arguments against blue tribe views have been hidden from you because blue tribe members are too stupid and/or dishonest to acknowledge them” are emotionally appealing, even if they don’t hold up too well to scrutiny.

            I don’t know which tribe I would support if push came to shove, but I don’t think I have more sympathy with the blue tribe than the red. Nor do I expect people raised in a religious, red tribe environment who had a strong backlash against that background will have more sympathy with the reds than the blues.

          • onyomi says:

            @John Schilling,

            No, I don’t mean to do that, exactly, and you’re right, of course, about the possibility of expressing one’s true political identity in many cases, but I also think there is a certain slippage which goes on in people’s minds: people I grew up with were basically good people–>my tribe is basically good people–>party my tribe usually votes for deserves more of the benefit of the doubt.

          • anonymous says:

            So you guys are scientists/math people?

            Seems like a lot of gut intuitionism and black and white thinking being used to make less than useless private prognostications about the political future.

            Anyone who tries to draw global conclusions abut the future through extrapolating personal anecdotes about the past is delusional.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Anonymous:

            [Note: this turned into a rambling intellectual autobiography. Hope it’s not too boring!]

            I guess I’m somewhere in the middle.

            I grew up in a greyish-red household in Alabama. My father was/is either an atheist or a deist, depending on what day of the week it is. (I have never really talked to my mother about religion, which is strange, I guess.)

            But the attitude I was exposed to and had growing up definitely was: “liberals” are idiots and/or out of touch with reality; capitalism obviously works and we need more of it; the federal government is too big and too interventionist; America is the greatest country in the world, without question; Clinton should be impeached; everyone needs to support President Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan.

            I can’t say “social issues” were ever a huge concern for me, especially not the sense of using the law to tell people how to live. But I was definitely more in favor of “traditional values” when I was a teenager than I am now—or, well, not “traditional values” exactly. I always hated the double-standard where women were expected to be chaste but it was alright for men to sleep around. I suppose I had in mind a sort of gender-equitable Victorianism. (I definitely didn’t get any of this explicitly from my parents, who never said a word to me about sex. They gave me one of those books instead of having “the talk” at that age.)

            I still am pretty opposed to polyamory, casual sex, and all that, but I’m less passionately against it and less in favor of knee-jerk “good-old-days-ism”.

            I really didn’t have much of an opinion on homosexuality (and certainly not transsexuality) growing up. I never talked to one. I suppose I thought it was vaguely disgusting and should be kept behind closed doors, but it wasn’t hurting anybody. But by the end of high school, I was convinced that homosexuality and transsexuality were moral. I was and am of the Justice Kennedy persuasion that gay marriage should be legalized so that homosexuals can have sex within marriage like everyone else!

            As for drugs, I thought it basically came down to one of two options. Either drug dealers should be killed and drugs ruthlessly stamped out, or they should be legalized. Once I was in my early teens, I realized the former wouldn’t turn out well and wouldn’t be just.

            I never heard a good argument for any kind of socialism or welfare statism—and I still haven’t. 🙂 No, in all seriousness, I completely had the conviction that all right-thinking people are in favor of laissez-faire capitalism until I was in college. (Of course I was aware that many intellectuals weren’t, but my opinion was: they are hopelessly naive and/or deluded.) And even then, I can’t say I found the quality of leftist arguments too great. Scott Alexander himself (who I discovered in the past year or so) is probably the “liberal” who has most of all softened my opposition to it—from “this is completely unreasonable” to “I still disagree, but it’s more reasonable than I had thought, and I could imagine becoming more in favor of government intervention”.

            As for religion, my parents deliberately never said much to me about it. I was explicitly a deist for a long time. I never saw anything much in Christianity. I was a deist not for any kind of “cosmological argument”-type reasons, but because I saw it as necessary to make morality absolutely sound.

            Retrospectively, I think my beliefs were very much like those of the Victorian jurist James Fitzjames Stephen. Basically, egoism is obviously true, and so is conventional middle-class morality. “God”, as Richard Posner said of Stephen’s beliefs (and which definitely described me), is “an adjunct to the police”. Essentially, God’s purpose is to make sure all good deeds are adequately rewarded and all evil deeds adequately punished, in order to balance the scales of justice and make sure that it is always in one’s interest to do what is right.

            I never saw the afterlife as important (beyond the matter of justice) or wanted eternal salvation—and I especially never wanted forgiveness for my sins. The latter was the thing that turned me off Christianity the most. I didn’t want mercy, I wanted justice and fair treatment. I wanted to be given exactly what I deserved. And I was pretty damn sure that justice in my case (nor in anyone else’s case) did not merit eternal damnation. Above anything else, my strongest emotional objection was: this religion is completely unfair!

            (As a side note, this was pretty much my intuitive objection to socialism: it’s not fair. It’s unjust to take people’s money and give it to those who didn’t earn it and don’t deserve it.)

            This is (as I also later found out) pretty much exactly the same as moralistic therapeutic deism. So I was one of the few self-conscious adherents of that religion. (I absolutely love that theory, by the way. It described my beliefs 100%.)

            In my later teenage years, through my father I was introduced to Objectivism. He’s not really a “self-identifying” Objectivist, but he owns all of Ayn Rand’s works and many lecture courses on it. I found Leonard Peikoff’s History of Philosophy lectures fascinating and still highly recommend them to everyone.

            But was never an overnight convert or anything. I read Atlas Shrugged over a month or so (I had listened to an abridged version on a car trip with my father before, but you don’t really grasp it fully that way). There were definite things I agreed with, but also many things I was skeptical about. I am the only person I’ve heard of whose biggest intuitive objection to it was Rand’s positive depiction of premarital sex. 🙂

            The main intellectual objection I had initially was to the idea that pure self-interest could ground an atheistic ethics that was based on principle. In other words, what is called the “prudent predator problem”. Which is: granted that people should usually be productive, honest and all that, why should they do so all the time and not steal $20 bills from the register when they are sure they’ll get away with it?

            My process of understanding and accepting Objectivism mainly consisted of reading Rand’s various works and then going online to places like The Atlas Society’s Q&A section to read objections and replies. Gradually I realized that, for one, my deism was a completely arbitrary fantasy. More importantly, I came to grasp ethics more naturally as a thing that emerges from within reality rather than being imposed upon it.

            I still do consider myself an Objectivist. Although I disagree with Rand on some formulations, I hold with the “big four” of objective reality, reason, egoism, and capitalism.

            However, from the very beginning, I was much more attracted to The Atlas Society and David Kelley’s “Open Objectivism” than the Ayn Rand Institute and Leonard Peikoff’s “Closed Objectivism”. Peikoff struck me as smart but dogmatic and intolerant, and this is still my opinion today. I think reading Kelley’s Truth and Toleration was one of the most valuable intellectual experiences I had.

            My most recent major intellectual development has been my exposure to Eliezer Yudkowsky and Scott Alexander (I found the latter through—you guessed it—Bryan Caplan). I file them under: how to actually be rational instead of just saying it’s a good idea. I think reading them has improved both my thinking and my open-mindedness.

            In many ways, I think the SSC and wider rationalist community (though maybe more often wrong on the object level, in my opinion) is what the Objectivist community should have been: actually trying to be rational and understand the world in a naturalistic, open-minded way. Instead of being plagued by infighting and anathematization.

          • blacktrance says:

            Vox Imperatoris:
            A lot in your intellectual autobiography sounds interestingly similar to my own. This in particular caught my eye:

            I always hated the double-standard where women were expected to be chaste but it was alright for men to sleep around. I suppose I had in mind a sort of gender-equitable Victorianism.

            Growing up, I was annoyed at how the debate was primarily between accusers of sexism and slut-shaming on one side and actual sexists on the other. I thought men and women both hurt themselves by having casual sex, that they’re pressured into it by social norms and popular culture (similar to the pressure to drink), and that advocating for people to only have sex in strongly committed relationships was just recommending prudence, and didn’t have any more of an element of shame than there is in condemning other behaviors harmful to oneself. My friends both in high school and college shared this position, but it was surprisingly difficult to find other proponents on the internet or in society in general. I eventually realized that I was Typical Minding from being demisexual and that other people can have genuinely enjoyable casual sex, and also (unrelatedly) became polyamorous.

            I also went from “homosexuality is disgusting and therefore it should be illegal” (while also being annoyed at all the religious arguments against it) to “homosexuality is disgusting but disgust is no reason to make laws” to “homosexuality is fine”.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ blacktrance:

            Growing up, I was annoyed at how the debate was primarily between accusers of sexism and slut-shaming on one side and actual sexists on the other. I thought men and women both hurt themselves by having casual sex, that they’re pressured into it by social norms and popular culture (similar to the pressure to drink), and that advocating for people to only have sex in strongly committed relationships was just recommending prudence, and didn’t have any more of an element of shame than there is in condemning other behaviors harmful to oneself.

            Yes, exactly. I never saw it as a matter of shame, just imprudence.

    • anonymous says:

      So you *are* basing it chiefly on religion and politics. Hmm…

      The specifics of religion and politics are strong signals, when they point the same direction they make a hard case to overturn. However, I pointed out other signals that also pointed in the same direction (Kale, Gilbert & Sullivan, Football).

      You seem to really want to not fit into the blue tribe and to be some sort of unique person off doing you own thing. Maybe you are and maybe you aren’t, but you don’t need my permission/approval either way.

      As for Yankee/Blue, the North-East is associated with Blue the same way Red is associated with the South-East. That doesn’t mean there aren’t Reds in the North-East or Blues in the South. There’s even an NYC country music station.

      • Cord Shirt says:

        From where I sit you seem like an elite blue who’s straining not to notice anyone wanting to depart. Like an establishment Republican insisting that nobody *really* supports Trump.

        People here tend to have a prior that others want to be unique. Hate to break it to you all but most people actually want to fit in somewhere. I’ve already said that it’s time for me to depart from blue (the mobbing and defenestration might’ve been a clue) and I’m looking for a new tribe to join. You’re the one telling me I also don’t fit into red tribe. :shrug:

        BTW, I’d cut some discussion of the kale thing from my previous comment just for length, but it was along the lines of, the kale thing just seems weird to me. Kale is the kind of greens that grows best where I live. What if I lived where collards grows best, would you say eating that made me blue tribe? Is it liking greens you’re talking about, or is it liking *kale* rather than collards? If it’s the latter, that does seem like conflating Yankee with blue. Same thing with fiddleheads–a traditional food here, a “cool new trendy” food in New York where some fool restaurant stir fried them, poisoning a bunch of people, because it blithely assumed that all cool new veggies were safe to prepare in the cool new manner. :rolleyes:

        Back to the point–the reason I started joking about “wack tribe” is I do feel like there is a gap in this taxonomy. ISTM that once you branch out beyond red and blue, once you find yourself groping for gray, you’ve started talking about the beginning of a *realignment*. And once you’re talking about that…it just seems like there’s a gap. One axis is blue to red. The other axis is gray to…what?

        The test in my 8th grade history textbook 😉 called me a “populist,” and that hasn’t really changed over the years. So…red/right vs. blue/left; gray/libertarian vs…? You could probably call me a “hard hat” (it’s obviously not a perfect fit for an old-school feminist like me, but close enough)–

        I guess my real question is, *are hard hats still blue*?

        I’m reminded of the Vox article on Hamilton: I’m part of that anti-Hamiltonian old school it mentioned, the one currently having its face pushed into the dirt by Cool Young Hamiltonian (blues|lefts–well are these the same or not?).

        Or think of /What’s the Matter with Kansas?/: People have forgotten, or maybe never noticed, that Thomas Frank’s actual goal with that book was *to get the Democrats to change course*. Not that it worked.

        From the linked essay:

        As I tried to make plain back in 2004, the big political change of the last 40 years didn’t happen solely because conservatives invented catchy conspiracy theories, but also because Democrats let it happen. Democrats essentially did nothing while their pals in organized labor were clubbed to the ground; they leaped enthusiastically into action, however, when it was time to pass NAFTA and repeal Glass-Steagall. Working-class voters had nowhere else to go, they seem to have calculated, and — whoops! — they were wrong. The Kansas story represented all their decades of moderating and capitulating and triangulating coming back to haunt them.

        Maybe I concealed it too well, but this critique of the Democrats was supposed to have been one of the book’s big takeaway points…. To beat the right, I argued, they needed to move left….

        At any rate, it’s all moot now. These days, the big thinkers of the Democratic Party have concluded that they can safely ignore the things I described. They’ve got a new bunch of voters these days — the famous “coalition of the ascendant,” made up of professionals, minorities and “millennials” — and it pleases them to imagine that with this unstoppable army at their back they will win elections from here to eternity. There is no need to resolve the dilemmas I outlined in “Kansas,” no need to win back working-class voters or solve wrenching economic problems. In fact, there is no need to lift a finger to do much of anything, since vast, impersonal demographic forces are what rescued them from the trap I identified. They now have the luxury of saying, as Paul Krugman did on the day after the 2012 election, “Who cares what’s the matter with Kansas?”

        Populist has gone from “maps to left” to “acceptable on the left” to…? Today’s Cool Young Blues generally take populism not as a political stance but as a cultural signifier–signifying the enemy.

        Politically, I support Bernie of course 😉 :

        I’m talking from a little bit of experience. I did get 71 percent of the vote in my state. And despite popular conception — with all due respect to my friends in California, Northern California, where you have wealthy liberals who support me and I appreciate that — Vermont is a working-class state.

        But unlike Bernie, the *author* of that article is a smug elitist who has completely written off people like me–despite the fact that *we* hadn’t yet written off his political party. “Reagan Democrats”? You know, not all of us hard hats actually left, back then. Maybe we should have?

        Observe the smug:

        But perhaps the most important question is whether Democrats will, or should, give serious consideration to Sanders’s central theory: that their party could successfully woo working-class white conservatives.

        At some level, the dream may not be as crazy as it sounds.

        Jesus god. I mean I’m trying to control myself here by thinking of him as about 12 years old. Too little to know better! Doesn’t deserve having fiery death wished on him! But gah.

        Maybe the question isn’t are we still blue; maybe the question is were we ever? [paranoid] Maybe you all were actually laughing at us behind our backs all along? [/paranoid]

        (But then again–as a small businesswoman I am actually petite-bourgeoise. You know–like Margaret Thatcher’s parents. :))

        So anyway back to the point–I just think the Red/Blue/Gray taxonomy has an empty spot. The late Joe Bageant was another (a Southern) representative of the type.

        • Jiro says:

          Kale is included because kale is trendy. Eating kale for non-trendy reasons, such as it being what grows where you are, doesn’t count.

          • Echo says:

            I’ve noticed that growing it yourself is not considered a tribal signal.
            The friendly reception you get sharing kale recipes quickly changes to guarded suspicion if you’re déclassé enough to mention groveling in the dirt for it, like some common redneck.

          • Cord Shirt says:

            PEOPLE SHARE KALE RECIPES?!?!?!

            What’s next, meatloaf recipes?

            “I always put bread crumbs in my meatloaf, but you know, Muffy, my neighbor suggested I try soda crackers, and the taste was divine!”

            “Oh I know, Buffy, and you just *have* to try corn flakes, I know they’re a bit pricey but they really add that special something!”

        • Anthony says:

          I guess my real question is, *are hard hats still blue*?

          Nope. They may still vote for Democrats, even very redistributionist Democrats, but they’re not blue. Arguably, they haven’t been since the late 60s.

    • nydwracu says:

      I found some videos of Tom Brokaw talking on Youtube, and that’s not dark l — it’s dark, yes, but it’s usually delateralized, formed completely at the back of the throat with no contact between the tongue and the teeth/alveolar ridge. See here — he doesn’t delateralize it in every word, but he consistently does it in the word “law”.

      • Cord Shirt says:

        (I’m seeing a video of some local-to-you politician…?)

        What about Robert Bazell?

        Also, I’ve never knowingly heard Ira Glass, but I’ve read he does the same thing–would you say so?

        Anyway, what bothers me is “that thing Tom Brokaw and Robert Bazell do.” Whatever it is. 😉 And it bothers me enough that I have to turn off the TV any time they come on. Whatever that says about my associations/affiliations.

      • Cord Shirt says:

        More discussion of Tom Brokaw’s and Ira Glass’s ls. People there were arguing over whether it’s uvular or vocalic.

    • brad says:

      * This accent. (Upper-/middle-class New York?)

      Neither of those strike me as particularly New York sounding accents. The NPR voice, in particular, I’ve never heard anywhere except NPR and I’m not sure what it is derived from.

  16. Daemon says:

    The recent discussion here of critical thinking together with the overall character of the blog makes me think this might be a place to ask the following:

    I’ve been trying to find subscription-based news publications of any kind that aspire to a neutral, critical, reasoned perspective. Basically, what I’m looking for is formal, paid journalism with the kind of careful thinking that this blog presents informally and free of charge.

    Actually, that might overshoot the mark a bit. It needn’t be this funny, thoughtful, or thorough. The only actual requirement is to have interesting assertions paired with the sources of evidence that support them and the strongest available arguments for why the evidence might be invalid or the assertions wrong. It needn’t be general news — a focus on, say, economics or recent science would be fine, if they followed this procedure.

    I’ve tried to get a complete picture of various topics by reading news from sources with contradictory ideological biases, but that was always a hack. Conflicting advocates mostly just end up raising the noise floor.

    I realize that in attention-driven media the money is going to go to journalism that exaggerates events, courts controversy, and generally keeps as its first priority grabbing and holding people’s attention, but I thought perhaps someone, somewhere might be aiming for this as a small niche market. If a publication has an editorial standard of “stick to good critical thinking”, I’d be willing to pay for it.

    The best example of this I’ve ever seen was a TV show on PBS called Uncommon Knowledge, where a topic was chosen, and competent proponents of contrasting opinions were led in a moderated discussion to figure out where they agreed and disagreed, and what arguments and evidence led to their respective opinions. The show still has a webcast, but now it looks like just normal one-on-one interviews. Still, this means the concept isn’t completely unheard of.

    • Adam Casey says:

      I’ve only seen it focused on specific topics. So eg Jack of Kent for law, Popehat on First Amendment or Waiting For Tax on … tax. Not found anything interesting and general in the same way.

    • Tibor says:

      Why are you so keen on paying? :)) I think that a good strategy is to find a couple of interesting bloggers and follow them. Actually, you can use the “Amazon strategy” – if you like Scott’s blog, you might also like some of the blogs he or the people here in the comments link to.

      This is basically what I do, supplemented by a small dose of regular media where I try to read the essential information about what happened (so for example today – “Le Pen won the elections in a lot of French departments” but I do not bother reading any explanations or analysis). I guess I would like a news source which only presents dry news, facts that are clear and leaves everything else out. I don’t know of any though, so I just skim through the news articles and try to distill the factual information only. I also just read the main news and just once a week. That way I get the important news without spending too much time at news sites. Most things can wait a few days and if there is nothing on the news site a week after they first wrote about it, then it probably is not worth the time (I read these kinds of articles only if they are linked to by a blog I read or if someone I trust to pick interesting stuff sends me a link to them).

    • Anonymous says:

      SCOTUSblog is the gold standard for reporting on the Supreme Court (warning: once you start following what’s actually going on, regular Court reporting will straight up piss you off). Lawfare has some ideological bias (especially when compared to the more popular narratives out there), but they’re very rational and critical, they invite genuinely good authors to argue for the other side, and even have some of their own writers write both sides of the same issue. Finally, Intelligence Squared almost always has very competent proponents, and John Donvan is almost always excellent at keeping the debate directed and relevant.

      • brad says:

        The only caveat with Lawfare is that the guy who runs the place, Wittes, is the least balanced and in many ways least interesting poster on there–well, other than Stewart Baker, but luckily he doesn’t post much). I agree that many of the others are worth reading even if you disagree with their POV.

        Agree unreservedly on SCOTUSblog, and I’ll check out Intelligence Squared.

        Orin Kerr is top notch and very fair on 4th amendment issues. Likewise Eugene Volokh on free speech — he’ll give his opinion but also give you the straight analysis. They both post at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/
        Be warned, that some of the other posters there are not as good and a few are awful.

        I’d be interested in something for economics. It seems like the “schools” are so far apart that you can’t just go to one source for anything.

    • Neurno says:

      I get my news from Google Scholar / pubmed. Works well for the topics I care about.

    • Seth says:

      The problem is that there is no current business model, overall, which supports “… paired with the sources of evidence that support them ….”. The vast majority of the audience cannot tell the difference between well-supported assertions versus regurgitating a faction’s talking points (how could they be expected to do so? they aren’t experts). It takes very little time and effort to repeat what an advocacy group puts out, but extensive work to analyze an issue fairly. That sort of measured thinking needs to be supported on the basis of its own worth. Hence the exceptions, like PBS, which are not profit-driven. Or professor-bloggers, who have jobs and are in a system which does have some pressure not to be completely afactual. It’s not that the concept is unheard of. Sadly, click-bait of the type “Your Cat Might Be A Racist Who Looks Like Hitler” is much more profitable.

    • ReluctantEngineer says:

      I used to get Stratfor through work and it was pretty good, though I don’t know if it’s what you’re looking for exactly. They have some free articles you can look into though.

      • Echo says:

        Pretty sure they’re considered a bit of a joke. The rather embarrassing leak certainly didn’t help their reputation.

    • Urstoff says:

      Ideological biases are inevitable, but sensationalism is not. All you can really do is read a variety of sources (including blogs and the occasional comments section) and be agnostic in general on most things.

      Of course, you could always just not read news. I’m not sure there is actually much value in keeping up with the goings on of the world, although I do it out of habit and some general interest.

    • Vaniver says:

      Christian Science Monitor has been famous for a long time for its neutral and non-sensationalized reporting. This is not the same as “clearly bringing both intellectual ability and charity to bear on difficult issues,” and I do not think that organization yet exists.

    • For news I don’t think i could recommend anything better than the Economist. Their coverage of topic I have expertise in ranges from decent to insightful. And that’s so very much better than any other new source I can think of that covers so much.

      • On the other hand, when Mao died, their obituary credited him with ending starvation in China. Considering that he was responsible for one of the worse famines in history …

        But everyone makes mistakes.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          When Ramon Mercader assassinated Leon Trotsky, the latter was reading the Economist and didn’t see the murder weapon.
          Everyone makes mistakes.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ve heard an opinion that that newspaper should more accurately be called the ‘Demotist’.

  17. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    SSC SF Story of the Week #3
    This week we are discussing “Inconstant Moon” by Larry Niven.
    Next week we will discuss “The Gentle Seduction” by Marc Stiegler.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Loved the ending to this one; it was very wistful, and I found myself rooting for Stan and Leslie, and hoping that their children’s children would indeed one day colonize Europe and Africa. Shame Stan didn’t realize in time that he could have saved his family or made better preparations, but if he had the story would have been very different in tone.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      So what was being said on the red telephones? Not from Russia, but lots of highly paid military security people would have noticed when no one from other time zones were answering their phones, etc etc. And news media would have noticed, and begun talking within their own timezone about it. I remember Johnny Carson. There were 24 hour stations too. It would have been noticed, talked about, there would have been panic, probably National Guard running around.

      The mood of the story was great … dreamlike, surrealistic. The first person narration (and who was he telling this too, on what typewriter) … put a sort of ‘suspend disbelief’ padded cloak around the surrealism. And/or, was Niven at a career point where he could get away with anything, and we’d rationalize it? Maybe for me it needed to be read in context?

      Brilliant Niven narration especially in the bar-hopping. But I kind of wish he’d gone ahead and in the trope of some decades previous, let the narrator wake up with it a dream, except that Lesiie would next day hint that she had the same dream….

    • Anonymous says:

      I liked it. I would have expected more wide-spread panic or at least interest in the phenomenon – like everyone going out into the street to look. Like a lot of short stories it doesn’t build as much empathy for the characters as you might get in a longer work.

    • John Schilling says:

      “Inconstant Moon” was written in 1972, and it still works as a period piece. No internet, no cellphones, no CNN, no reason for anyone but a handful of specialists to expect real-time news from the far side of the world at local midnight, and no easy way for a layman to get such data even if they knew the right questions to ask.

      What’s the latest date at which the story remains plausible? I’m going to guess early 1991; the Gulf War later that year put CNN in the spotlight as a 24/7 global news source, and it’s impossible that the news wouldn’t spread to essentially the entire waking population of Los Angeles within hours.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        This article tells about several late-night or all-night radio stations in the Southern California area from well before 1972. http://jeff560.tripod.com/kgfj.html

        My usual thought is, what did the readers at the time think about a story? Did they find it realistic? — Okay, IM won the 1972 short story Hugo. Niven, hard SF; where non-techy characters, particularly en mass, were traditionally idiots. Maybe unobservant idiots. Stan noticed the moonlight was impossibly strange, but maybe the other characters weren’t paying quite that much attention.

        • John Schilling says:

          All-night radio stations existed in 1972, but were almost entirely entertainment and local news. The guy in the DJ booth or whatever, obviously can’t see the moon and I don’t think he has a 24/7 international news wire.

          If someone like the protagonists were to dial in to a talk-radio station and tell the audience that they are all doomed, and if the host doesn’t write him off as a crackpot, well, the protagonists didn’t do that and if someone else had, how big is the midnight audience for an LA talk radio show in 1972?

        • Deiseach says:

          I think it read as realistic; the character in the diner who is beginning to tell people is dismissed as a religious nutcase (at least until we find out that Leslie already knows) and wouldn’t we think the same if someone got up and started yelling the world was doomed because the moon was bright?

          The point of the story being set at night is because this is a pre-24/7 connected world. Lots of people are already asleep. Those who do notice the bright moon can’t go online and google why is the moon so bright. The trick Niven pulls – and that we don’t think of – is the point he makes: if it were a nova, it would be expected. There would have been discussions – if not in the public media, for the sake of preventing global panic – the narrator is a science writer, he’d have heard whispers about it from contacts.

          So the story is SF because it’s based on real-world science and how an informed but not expert layman can piece together what is happening, based on “wow, the moon is really bright tonight, is it meant to be that bright?”

          And because he’s not an expert, the twist that it’s not really a nova works. He jumped to the doomsday conclusion because he was nearly right.

          It’s a very good counterpiece to “The Star” and ends with hope where the other one ended with despair. Whether we should make much of “religion = despair but science= hope” for the two stories, I don’t know 🙂

      • keranih says:

        Headline News dates to a couple years before that, with their coverage of the end of the USSR.

        Prior to that, there were all-night news desks for newspapers on both ends of the USA, as well as space observation sites strung around the world. Not to mention the DEW system and more mundane military observation posts. And there was this little hostile intervention going on in southeast Asia…

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          The story specifies that the flare happened early in the Johnny Carson show, and that astronauts were on the moon at the time. So Houston loses contact with the astronauts, and nobody bothers to interrupt the show with a special bulletin?

          Well, maybe. If the show was taped and no one was working at the network when it aired. Or if the astronauts were on the dark side of the moon and didn’t notice anything worth reporting, and somehow no one at Houston suspected anything wrong anywhere.

          • John Schilling says:

            A west coast broadcast of the Tonight Show in 1972 was definitely taped, and the local station would have gone off the air right afterwards. NASA and NBC would both have had to be unusually decisive, fast, and efficient to get that story on the air before morning.

          • Deiseach says:

            Remember that the TV cuts out in static; the signal is lost. Even if there were an emergency broadcast, it probably would have been delayed while NASA tried to figure out what happened and how best to present it to the public (“Don’t panic, we’ll rescue them”) and that delay would have meant the TV stations were all off the air by the time they were ready to go.

    • Jeffrey Soreff says:

      A favorite of mine.
      I love the whole atmosphere of reasoning under impending cataclysm.

    • Psmith says:

      Damn, that was good. Thanks. Makes me miss LA a little bit.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I remember reading it in an anthology when I was younger, and really enjoying it. It’s a very well written story.

      But as much as I like it, the story doesn’t really seem like science fiction to me. The only SF element, the supernova, is just a justification for why the world is ending which could easily be replaced by, for example, an inevitable nuclear strike or the Rapture without really affecting the story. The focus is entirely on the human characters and their reactions to the impending doom.

      Does anyone else get that sense?

      • LHN says:

        I’d say “Inconstant Moon” is centrally science fiction, not even an edge case a la something like Pern. It’s basically the same pattern as Niven’s debut “Neutron Star”: smart layman observes a bunch of strange phenomena that are baffling to others, and eventually reasons his way to the specific space-based scientific phenomenon that underlies it. Which understanding gives him the key insight he needs to survive.

        A nuclear war or the Rapture doesn’t present the same opportunity for scientific reasoning. And since it wouldn’t have the same clockwork unfolding of information based on the speed of light, the plot wouldn’t proceed the same way. For the story to be as it is, the key event pretty much needs to be a solar flare. (Or some other sun-based phenomenon, of comparably specific destructive power. I’m not sure if there are other possible candidates.)

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          clockwork unfolding of information based on the speed of light

          I liked that very much, and I suppose it was the conceit of the story. People running around inside the clock, so to speak, using logic while it ticks.

          The unrealistic behavior of LA and the US distracted from that. If the plot were set in, say, a Hawaiianly-remote island often subject to loss of communication with the rest of the world, rented for a boozing convention, the whole thing could read to me like expected Nivenesque hard SF.

          Stan’s thinking is drunk or stoned all the way through; he took that long to remember that whatsit stars don’t go nova, and a coming nova would have shown signs?

          All through, he’s using dream logic, tunnel vision. It doesn’t occur to him first off to reality check his guess by phoning overseas to see if anyone does answer over there? Even if no connections overseas, he’s a science writer of standing to handle a moon rock, presumably the California phones are still working, so why not call up a local observatory for a second opinion? Why _not_ wake up some professors, does he think they’d rather sleep through the whole thing?

          Instead it reads like Niven setting up a hoax or other twist; and Stan doesn’t even consider that? The other half of the world burns up, and no one suspects here except a very few? Just because the moon gets bright? — More likely the Russians are up to something, or the Puppeteers.

          • LHN says:

            I think part of the technique of that kind of puzzle story is to be short and engaging enough that the reader doesn’t start asking those questions till it’s over.

            (Though: phone whom overseas? The average American at the time wouldn’t have known any numbers outside the US, or had any simple source for one. Placing one would be operator-assisted, time-consuming, and expensive. And once he’d left home he’d have had to deal with getting a mountain of change for a pay phone. Even for locals, when he thought the world was doomed it’s pretty clear he didn’t want to bother anyone who didn’t figure it out on their own, and so make their last hours terrifying for no reason.)

            “Neutron Star” has the same sorts of problems. As Niven later conceded in-universe (where the Puppeteers said they’d been humoring Schaeffer), it’s pretty much impossible for a species that’s been flying spaceships for arbitrarily longer than humans to be that ignorant of tidal forces, moon or no moon. Ditto human scientists from a respected “Institute of Knowledge”, especially those going on a neutron star exploration expedition.

            (That they’re from Jinx makes it even worse, though I don’t remember if that planet/moon’s unique characteristic– it’s egg-shaped, due to the tidal distortions caused by its Jovian primary– had been invented for that story or shows up later.)

            I think both are still great (if not flawless) stories. But if those questions started nagging at you while reading, I wouldn’t necessarily expect you to agree.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think the most that would realistically come out of that line of inquiry is finding that the handful of 411 operators and/or professional astronomers awake and on duty in 1972 Los Angeles after midnight all have busy phone lines, thus confirming that the protagonist is at least the hundredth person in a city of seven million to think that an extremely bright moon might be suspicious enough to be worth asking about. Which he already knows, and which adds nothing to the story.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ LHN

            Teleologically of course Stan can’t come to the flare conclusion sooner, or even be less than certain of his nova conclusion, because that would spoil the story. Besides, I enjoy the surrealistic, tunnel vision tone.

            I just wish it were by the ending recognized that he has been thinking irrationally, unworthy of a science writer. And some reason given, in hindsight.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            houseboatonstyx says: I just wish it were by the ending recognized that he has been thinking irrationally, unworthy of a science writer.

            He does though, when it revealed that they’re dealing with a solar flare and not a nova.

      • Deiseach says:

        The only SF element, the supernova, is just a justification for why the world is ending which could easily be replaced by, for example, an inevitable nuclear strike or the Rapture without really affecting the story.

        No, the point of the story is the hopeful ending, and that is based on real-world science and thinking the problem out based on the evidence. Reason and science saves us all! Or at least, our heroes in Los Angeles 🙂

        The Rapture is religion which is not going anywhere with Niven. All-out nuclear war, at the date of writing, would have been accepted as pretty much guaranteed world-destruction with no way to a happy ending (unless our heroes made it to a bunker with the prospect of the next twenty or so years locked tight underground).

        The nova-that-wasn’t, on the other hand, is survivable and indeed, with the dreams of the grandchildren re-colonising the dead lands (not radiation scarred and uninhabitable after a war), it ends with Good Old American Grit And Know-How Save The Day 🙂

        “Neutron Star” was great in that it made me think about gravity for the first time, rather than just taking it for granted as usual: “the reason we’re not all floating around in the air is gravity”.

        • Neutron star is how I figured out how tides work. The physics of what was happening was reasonably clear, and I then realized that that was why Earth had tides, something I had never thought much about before.

          Which is evidence against the claim that the Puppeteers couldn’t figure it out because their planet didn’t have a satellite.

    • moridinamael says:

      I was reading it on my phone, and for some reason the way the document loaded, it ended with:

      “This thing had started around eleven-thirty, here in California. That would have put the noon ”

      – cutting off mid-sentence, presumably as that narrator is vaporized by a supersonic shockwave, I thought was a great ending. A real gut-punch. Then I realized that wasn’t the whole story. I can’t decide if I prefer this truncated version to the full version.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      I don’t often participate in the discussion here, Jaime, but I wanted you to know that I love the stories you’re sharing and look forward each week. They make lovely lunch break reading and something to chew over through the week.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Thank you. I’m glad to know you enjoy them.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          I realized I should probably ensure you get a steady stream of positive feedback for ’em, since I want ’em to keep coming. The discussion ought to do that, but, hey, best do my part, as well.

          I do find myself desiring to read Neutron Star, now…I am sadly uncultured in classic sci-fi, having been more of a fantasy nerd growing up. My sci-fi experience extends little further than some David Weber, Kim Stanley Robinson, and the Star Wars EU (and I’m pretty sure two of those barely count).

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Correction: I thought the linked “Inconstant Moon” PDF was well-formatted, but it is in fact missing italics. I apologize for the mistake. If anyone wants to see what the correctly formatted story looks like, it is on Google Books.

    • Echo says:

      Not much of a book club person, but wanted to say I’ve been loving these stories (and the discussions). Old sci-fi is so much better than the cringeworthy junk coming out today.

  18. Anonymous says:

    A thought that occurred to me the other day: if the many worlds interpretation is true, there is some universe in which the lottery numbers have been ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6’ for as long as people have been running lotteries. There is also some universe in which communism works great because the central planners have an unbroken streak of accidentally choosing just the right prices for everything.

    Presumably the people in the former universe have thought up elaborate reasons why lottery numbers always seem to come out this way, and people in the latter universe just totally take for granted that Marx was right about everything. And yet for almost all the universes branching from those two, the chain of luck will break down. New combinations will come up on the lottery numbers for the first time ever. Communism, after running strong for a century, will suddenly fall to pieces. I can’t imagine how utterly baffling it would be to be in a universe like that, watching what looks like the laws of reality changing before your eyes.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      And yet for almost all the universes branching from those two

      Remind me how new universes being created by every such event is compatible with conservation laws.

      • MartinW says:

        All the conservation laws that we know of, apply only to the single universe we can observe. The many-worlds interpretation of QM does not break any generally accepted conservation laws because there aren’t any generally accepted conservation laws that apply across multiple universes. Certainly not any that have been verified to apply across universes.

        • The “universes” of MWI aren’t anything additional to the evolution for the Schrodinger equation. However, your remark *does* apply to relativistic many worlds theories.

      • IU says:

        My understanding of MWI is that universes are never created. Rather, the wavefunction of the universe as a closed system evolves unitarily (so in a linear, deterministic fashion). We are in an open subsystem of the closed, unitarily evolving universe. To get behaviour from this perspective we have to trace out other degrees of freedom. This gives the appearance of non-unitary, probabilistic “jumps” when we make measurements. Essentially, the “universes” corresponding to outcome A and outcome B of a measurement were merely coincident until the results of that measurement. Post-measurement we are on different branches of the unitarily-evolving wavefunction, but there is no more or less of anything than before measurement. There could definitely be an error in this explanation, I am not that up to date/knowledgable on foundations of QM, but my understanding of MWI is that it is approimately like that.

      • The Schrodinger equation is compatible with the conservation of energy.

        • William Newman says:

          “The Schrodinger equation is compatible with the conservation of energy.”

          As long as you use the proper nontrivial reformulation of the conservation of energy, yes.

          Consider, e.g., that there turns out to be a Heisenberg uncertainty relationship between uncertainty in energy and uncertainty in time which is quite alien to the classical understanding of conservation of energy. (Among other things the relationship is scaled by Planck’s constant, which doesn’t appear in classical physics equations or in the experiments that classical physicists understood.) (In hindsight, of course, it appears in the results of experiments involving stuff like spectroscopic lines and black body radiation and chemical bond angles.)

          The basic idea of the Bohr correspondence principle is pretty trivial, but the details can be less trivial. (I once stumped my QM professor with a reasonable question about how the scattering equation just derived could be consistent with the correspondence principle as stated in an earlier lecture.)

      • hell says:

        Logically, branching universes are equivalent to multiple universes that are the same up to a diverging point; yet, for the former there is supposedly a conservation objection, and for the latter there is supposedly determinism objection. Clearly the thinking went wrong foot at least one of those objections.

    • name says:

      And there’s a universe full of beings who are just wired to experience constant bafflement countless times greater than any you could imagine.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Presumably the lottery universe does not have lotteries. It doesn’t fail QM, but it does fail at a logical level.

      There are also some very strange ideas floating around in math departments. And there are fewer atheists.

    • 27chaos says:

      I don’t think MWI necessitates an unbounded multiverse. We don’t have good evidence for this view yet afaik, but I feel it must exist in principle. It’s asking too much for me to believe that I could be so lucky as to so far have existed in one universe out of so many where an illusion of macrophysicsl laws exists. That bites the argument of Democritus too hard in my opinion: “Poor reason! From us senses you take your evidence, yet you use that very evidence to deny our understanding!” In the classical case of sense fallibility, we can seek to minimize the discrepancy between various senses and our model of reality, but this fails in an unbounded multiverse. I can’t live in an unbounded multiverse, that’s indistinguishable from nihilism so far as I can tell and makes little logical sense besides as I understand logic, so I’ve got to think bounds exist somewhere within as yet not understood aspects of physics. Normally, I don’t much approve of the argument from ignorance, but in an extreme case like this it’s got more explanatory power than the alternative.

      • The Smoke says:

        Maybe it helps that the probability to land in a physical universe is unimaginably close to 1? Like you completing every billard game you play in the first shot and so that it just happens that someone shoots fireworks in the near vicinity is something that happens in an absurdely large portion of universes compared to those where you can witness one “nonphysical” event on a macroscopical scale.

        Remember: Any joy you feel is balanced by an equal amount of pain in one of your quantum-brothers, like an electric charge.

        • 27chaos says:

          I don’t feel as though probability ought to work that way. If there are one million copies of me in a lawful universe, one copy of me in a senseless hell, and one copy in a random heaven, that’s only three distinct experiences. I don’t care about some abstract metaphysical density of experiences, if I anticipate a 100% chance of random suffering in even just one of “my” futures, everything seems pretty meaningless. This might partially be due to the fact that I have loss aversion.

          • The Smoke says:

            I think it’s fair to say, that a quantum-copy of you is not ‘you’, at least if you allow for enough time so your conscious minds can diverge.
            Also, personally I am worried more about the universe, in which a bunch of particles randomly come together for a timespan of 30 seconds to form a copy of me sitting in front of my computer writing something and remembering many aspects of a decades long life, only to randomly fall apart afterwards.

          • name says:

            At least you don’t have loss aversion plus overactive empathy. 100% chance someone’s future is random suffering, anyway.

    • Urstoff says:

      Is there a universe in which counterpart-EW believes that no one could rationally believe MWI and that the Cophenhagen interpretation is true?

  19. Max says:

    Our experience is real, but universe is simulated
    http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1011/1011.3436.pdf

    There are also corollaries, such as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holographic_principle is very compatible with it and makes even more sense if looked from the information processing perspective

    Then there is probability argument if universe can be a simulation – its very likely we live in one, because there are many simulations and just one “reality”

    And this is decently entertaning short story about why one would want run such simulation.
    http://ttapress.com/553/crystal-nights-by-greg-egan/

    • 27chaos says:

      This seems to neglect conservation of energy, no? Where would cost savings come from, if not in the reduction of useful details or putting on floor on the size of objects and thus depth of simulations? A universe with many simulations doesn’t seem very plausible to me, I can’t imagine a useful motive for running many simulations unless I postulate the simulating universe has an absurd amount of energy relative to our own, but I am inclined to not add such an assumption.

      • Max says:

        Neglect? – au contraire – it explains conservation of energy – for processing universe to be stable enough (if you really think about it -why would “real” universe have conservation of energy?)
        Article addresses that:

        A system that takes no input after it starts but loses the processing it has will
        “run down”, which our universe hasn’t done for billions of years of quantum events. If
        matter, energy, charge, momentum and spin are all information processing, their partial conservation laws could reduce to one law of dynamic information conservation.
        Einstein’s matter/energy equation is then just information going from one form to
        another

        Our universe is not many simulations – its a single simulation where what simulated is elementary particles and everything else largely flows from it .

        Postulation about “absurd” amount of energy relative to our own – are just that – absurd. We are inside the other universe – of course their levels of computation and processing power are of incomprehensible scale to ours. Just like if for “The Sims” our universe would be “absurd”

      • Jeremy says:

        Remember that the simulation doesn’t have to really be accurate, it just has to fool us. Dynamic multiresolution simulations seem like an obvious shortcut.

  20. sabril says:

    Would you really just accept a self-serving, uncorroborated claim from Mahmoud Abbas? Really?

    If you want, I can document numerous easily demonstrable whoppers by this person. But you really should know better than to trust any politician, let alone Mahmoud Abbas.

  21. name says:

    I lack a sense of self. I can’t clearly explain what I mean by this, but one way to describe it is that I feel like I constantly and automatically pretend to be someone instead of no one. When I ask myself who I am I get a feeling as if a character in a novel is asking who the writer is and getting no answer, even though there must be a writer who is making the character ask. I’m definitely consciously aware of experiencing things as an individual, yet at the same time it seems to be an imaginary individual that doesn’t “really” exist even though their perceptions are real and vivid. I don’t remember ever not feeling like an illusion, although I might never have thought to check for most of my life. I wonder how common this is.

    • Faradn says:

      It sounds like you might have Depersonalization Disorder, which is estimated to affect 1-2% of the population.

    • 27chaos says:

      Do you at least have a sense that some qualities emphatically are not part of yourself? Does this apply differently in intensity to different qualities, or equally to all?

      • name says:

        I do, and it does differ in intensity. However, the combination of such qualities still doesn’t enable me to perceive myself as a real person the way I imagine other people are. I imagine people feel that they are themselves the way one “just knows” their thoughts are theirs or that reality is real and not an elaborate video game. It sounds at least similar to depersonalization.

        • Nicholas Carter says:

          Everybody else:
          What is the consensus on what it feels like when there’s a thought in you that isn’t yours? Because now I’m asking how I’d separate my thoughts into mine and not mine buckets, and I don’t know how I’d distinguish them.

    • Stater says:

      “I wonder how common this is.”

      Faradn’s comment is worth checking out.

      I’ll add my anecdotal experience: I had very similar thoughts pretty constantly during a year-and-a-half period when the following were happening:
      1) I was using LSD, marijuana, and ketamine pretty frequently (I’ll get that out of the way – may not apply to you, obviously)
      2) I was facing my future with no good idea of how to proceed (think: graduating college and needing to find a career when what you’d really like to be doing is tripping balls all the time)
      3) I was embracing increasing isolation as my social strategy. The only people I wanted to talk to were people who had similar ideas or were willing to listen to me espouse them.

      Advice, maybe useless:
      1) fake it till you make it. You’re making the effort to fake it already, keep it up. Things may change yet. And if they don’t, you may just get used to it. At some point, you may not be sure if you believe in the Potemkin village you’ve constructed. That’s probably an improvement over a situation where you want to scream that it’s all a facade.
      2) don’t isolate. The more contact you have with real people and real problems, the more grounded you’re likely to be (I think).
      3) obviously, talk to a mental health professional. They may not have answers for you, but the act of talking is valuable anyway.

      Good luck! Wish I had more to offer.

  22. rose says:

    @ scott. You wrote: Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas says he turned down a peace plan in 2008 because the Israelis demanded an on-the-spot decision from him and wouldn’t even let him show the plan to his advisors first. Now he is reduced to drawing the proposed border from memory because Israel wouldn’t let him keep the map. Really, Israelis? Really?

    My response is Really, Scott? You don’t seem to know much about Israel and the Palestinians. You avoid most every other, much more pressing topics on the Middle East, such as the genocide of Christians, or Obama handing the greatest terror supporting state on the globe $150 Billion dollars…but Israel makes a steady appearance.

    Although it’s not really Israel, it’s a steady appearance of hostile, even nasty, jabs at Israel.

    Your last post adopts/implies that Israel has not offered sincere peace plans to the Palestinians, with Olmert as the straw man. (I wonder where you picked up this little nugget.) If you believe that, you should say so directly and try to justify it. You would be flying in the face of the direct testimony and documentation of President Clinton and his negotiators, and all the other fully reported times that the Palestinians have been offered a state and turned it down.

    I propose that the Palestinian leaders have made it perfectly clear over and over (is it four times they have turned down a state of their own?) they do not want their own country if the deal does not give them Israel as well.

    Gaza was a test, a test you have failed to grasp. Before that the Oslo Accords were the definitive demonstration.

    So I repeat, Really, Scott? What is your problem with Israel? Do you think it is a bad actor, a colonial power, an oppressor, a source of shame and dismay to you personally? Please be more forthright and stop this steady drip of baseless nastygrams .

    • rose says:

      @ Scott. I googled your post > Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas says he turned down a peace plan in 2008 because the Israelis demanded an on-the-spot decision from him<. I just read the source of the story at http://www.timesofisrael.com/abbas-admits-he-rejected-2008-peace-offer-from-olmert/.

      The whole point of this report on a 2008 offer to Abbas is that Olmert made unbelievable concessions – including Israel giving up control of the Old City of Jerusalem, the most extreme Israeli abasement and perfidy I have heard of…and your take-away was to criticize Olmert , not to criticize Abbas for walking away? You needed someone to explain the very obvious import of the story to you?

      Yet despite your obvious near total ignorance of the history of PA negotiations, which puts Abbas refusal of the deal of the century in line with Arafats refusal of the deal of the century and the previous PA refusal of the deal of the century, you rush to post criticisms of Israel.

      Why Scott? What is going on with you? You are not like this with any other topic I can think of.

      • Machine Interface says:

        It is interesting to call Scott ignorant on the history of PA negociations and in the same post to claim that Arafat refused a “deal of century” where the Palestinian state would have gotten no control over its airspace, no control over its borders, no control over its water ressources, no right to an army, and control over only 86% of the West Bank, which would have been cut by a thin strip of Israeli-controlled territory going from Jerusalem to the Jordan River Valley.

        Especially since Arafat did not, in fact, refused this deal, and stayed at the negociation table until the very end, in late January 2001, when it was Ehud Barak who broke off the talks.

        • rose says:

          Your critique is a mix of misinformation, some of it gross propaganda, and a death wish for Israel. The account of Oslo by President Clinton and Dennis Ross flatly contradicts your assertions. There are many sources of very poor information on this issue.

          As for your wish list, there are very good reasons some of those provisions have never been and for the foreseeable future will not be on the negotiating table. Israel, America and all responsible parties hope for an approximately civilized PA state. It cannot be fully armed as long as it is dominated by terrorists, its moderates living in fear for their lives, or it would be a Gaza or Isis style nightmare for everyone. That you wish for the fantasy of an armed and unfettered PA state speaks volumes, but has nothing to do with geopolitical realities.

          • Machine Interface says:

            So in other words, the above “mix of misinformation, some of it gross propaganda” is all true, and would have been the only possible solution acceptable for Israel (since apparently Israeli state and society are so frail and vulnerable that each and every Palestinian demand, no matter how small or reasonable, is an unacceptable death threat for Israel); but it would have been “deal of the century” for Parlestinians to get a state which would have had only nominal sovereignty.

            Faced with a simple allegation that Israel diplomats, at some point in their history, proposed a peace deal without letting time for their interlocutor to ponder the deal, demanding an immediate answer, we get two kinds of reaction:

            Those who note that this makes sense strategically and is nothing unusual in the domain of diplomatic negotiations when one side is much more powerful than the other — Turkish diplomats pulled exactly the same stunt to Cyprus during the negotiations that were supposed to resolve the Cyprus crisis; they gave Cypriot diplomats a proposal which would have preserved the territorial integrity of Cyprus as a single state but would have given disproportionate territory and power to Turkish Cypriots given the actual size of their community. Still, Cypriot diplomats were willing to consider the plan but demanded at least 36 hours of reflexion, while the Turks wanted an immediate answer — not getting it, they launched the second invasion of Cyprus and have remained there to this day.

            And those who react by denial and character assassination of the people making or relaying the claims.

      • Ben Dov says:

        the most extreme Israeli abasement and perfidy I have heard of

        With friends like these, who needs enemies?

        • rose says:

          @Dov. You think only an enemy of Israel would be against relinquishing Israeli control over the historic and religious heart of their capital city? It is the consensus position of a super-majority of Israelis. What are you thinking? This is totally mainstream, no brainer.

          It is also universally recognized in democracies that if a PM or a President wants to make a radical, historic, change that flies in the face of a strongly held national consensus, he is expected to run on that platform openly and subject himself to the public will. Anything less is a betrayal of the public trust, hence “perfidy.”

          I described Ohlmert’s offer to Abbas to totally give up Israeli control of the Old City as perfidy, because Israel is not a one man state. The PM does not have the legal or moral right to make a concession of this magnitude, which reverses a deeply held and longstanding national consensus, on his own whim. Whether you, Dov, like the idea or not is immaterial. It is a betray of the limits of power in a democracy.

          Calling the act of giving up the emotional and historic heart of your country “Abasement” is admittedly more subjective. I find the desperate concessions of giving away one’s own capital city to try and placate an implacable foe, while actually increasing danger to your country, to be an act of self-humiliation and self-belittlement. What nation in all of history does that?

          Speaking as a therapist, I find it pathological. Speaking as a student of the geopolitics of the Arab war against Israel, I find it suicidal. So yes, as a friend of Israel I feel it is a well chosen word.

          I am a staunch friend of Israel and a staunch believer in democracy. I stand by my comments – it is wrong for a politician to subvert the public trust by making extreme and non-consensus concessions to a dangerous adversary.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I read Ben Dov’s comment as referring to Olmert as the enemy.

          • Pku says:

            Also, while I agree with a lot of what you said here, starting a sentence with “speaking as a therapist” does a lot to undermine your credibility.

    • sabril says:

      I think there is another point here, which is Mahmoud Abbas is, like most politicians, well known to be a liar. The web site “elderofziyon.blogspot.com” has documented many of his whoppers.

      That someone would just accept a self-serving and uncorroborated claim by Abbas without any skepticism indicates that the person is extremely biased.

      The bigger point is that the Palestinian Arabs will NEVER accept any statehood deal proposed by Israel.

      First, their goal is not and never has been to have their own state. Their goal is to put an end to the Jewish state. Before 1967, all of the land they claim to want for their state was occupied by Egypt and Jordan. Did they push Egypt and Jordan to stop their “occupation of Palestine”? Of course not. They focused their energies on attacking Jewish Israel. Even though there were no “West Bank Settlements” at the time. And even though they had successfully ethnically cleansed most of Jerusalem of Jews.

      Second, the Palestinian Arabs will never agree to making any concessions. What concessions have they ever offered, aside from a respite from their incessant terrorism? None whatsoever. How is there ever going to be a deal when the less powerful side refuses to make any concessions and is primarily interested in annihilating the other side?

      There won’t be. For there to be a deal, the Palestinian Arabs need to radically change their attitudes and unjustified attacks on Israel will not help.

      • Anonymous says:

        Our side is a complicated assortment of different people. All except for a few bad apples are good people of course, but with very different points of view based on reasonable responses to things they have gone through. And the mix is changing over time in reaction to events and as new generations are born.

        The other guys though, they are a unitary mass of undifferentiated evil with a continuous single minded goal across generations.

        • Jiro says:

          There’s a difference between “every individual living there is evil” and “the people leading the other side are evil”. Nobody who says “the Palestinians” want to destroy Israel literally means that every single individual there wants to destroy Israel, just that it’s the policy of their leaders and much of the public–and government-like organizations can have policies, you know, it’s not calling them an undifferentiated mass to claim they have a policy.

          • sabril says:

            “There’s a difference between ‘every individual living there is evil’ and “the people leading the other side are evil”. ”

            Yes there’s a difference, but in the case of the Palestinian Arabs, there is overwhelming support for the idea that Israel should stop existing as a Jewish state.

            For example, you can read about it here:

            elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2011/07/details-from-poll-of-palestinian-arabs.html

            Israel has a permanent right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people – 7%
            Over time Palestinians must work to get back all the land for a Palestinian state – 84%

            I can accept permanently a two-state solution with one a homeland for the Palestinian people living side-by-side with Israel, a homeland for the Jewish people. – 30%
            The real goal should to start with a two state solution but then move to it all being one Palestinian state – 66%

            ________

            Whether or not you call that “evil,” if you want to understand the peace negotiations, you need to understand these critical facts. As a group, the Palestinian Arabs do not want their own state so much as they want to put an end to Jewish Israel.

        • sabril says:

          “The other guys though, they are a unitary mass of undifferentiated evil with a continuous single minded goal across generations.”

          I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s important to keep in mind a couple things:

          First, there is a huge moral gap between the Israelis and the Arabs who oppose them. You can read about it here, for example:

          http://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/why-dont-i-criticize-israel

          Second, it is reasonably clear that the Palestinian Arabs have not changed much over the years from their dream of putting an end to Jewish Israel. You can see this from their refusal, as a group, to offer citizenship in the “State of Palestine” to Palestinian Arabs living in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, or even in refugee camps in Judea and Samaria.

          There really is a big difference between the two sides and if you can’t see it, you have no hope of understanding the situation.

      • Machine Interface says:

        There has been numerous peace proposals coming from the Arab side; there was a Saudi-lead peace proposal signed by every member of the Arab League (including Hussein and Assad, at the time) and positively commented on by Iran. Israel never answered.

        There had been repeated proposals by Syria to recognize Israel, disarm the Hezbollah and even help Lebanon fight them if Israel gave back the Golan heights. Israel never answered.

        There wasn’t a single moment where Arab leaders thought they could seriously destroy Israel — even in 1948, it was clear that the “best” they could hope for, and indeed their original strategic attempt, was to seize the territory allocated to the *Palestinians*, which is actually what they did: Egypt captured Gaza, Jordan captured the West Bank, and Syria tried but failed to capture Galilee.

        Even in 1948, Israeli armies were more numerous than all opposing Arab armies put together, they were better trained, better lead and better armed. And since them the gap has only widened, as Israel has been continuously receiving billion of dollars of aid and weapons from the US, and has acquired chemical and nuclear weapons. There is virtually no existencial threat to Israel today.

        • sabril says:

          “There has been numerous peace proposals coming from the Arab side; there was a Saudi-lead peace proposal signed by every member of the Arab League (including Hussein and Assad, at the time) and positively commented on by Iran.”

          Would that “peace proposal” have resulted in Israel continuing to exist as a Jewish state? I am skeptical, but I would be interested in hearing the details.

          “There wasn’t a single moment where Arab leaders thought they could seriously destroy Israel — even in 1948, it was clear that the “best” they could hope for, and indeed their original strategic attempt, was to seize the territory allocated to the *Palestinians*”

          If that’s so, then why didn’t the Arabs simply accept the Partition Plan at the time? The Jews did.

          • Machine Interface says:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Peace_Initiative

            In summary: the Arab states would have recognized Israel, normalized their relation with them, in exchange of what Israel would withdraw from all occupied territories, recognize a Palestinian State, and find a just settlement to the Palestinian refugee question; this was not an all-or-nothing deal, the Saudi clearly presented it as a basis for negotiations. To make sure that the Israeli public was aware of the proposal, they even had it translated into Hebrew and published in a couple of Israeli newspaper (if you read Hebrew, here’s a copy of the original ad: http://www.isracast.com/images/BigImages/261108ad_b.jpg )

            As for why the Arab states originally refused to recognized Israel, again, it had to do with the opportunity to grab Palestinian land to calm discontent at home — this means that in this version of the narrative, Egypt, Jordan and Syria *still* bear the responsability of starting the war of 48, but their motif for action was a lot more opportunistic and realistic than trying “to throw the Jews back to the sea”, which they knew was a militarily unattainable goal — even if they did use that rhetoric in public speeches.

            Although Israel, while it initially had the moral high ground, pretty much behaved like the Arab states during the war, taking it as an opportunity to grab as much Palestinian land as possible.

          • sabril says:

            “In summary: the Arab states would have recognized Israel, normalized their relation with them, in exchange of what Israel would withdraw from all occupied territories, recognize a Palestinian State, and find a just settlement to the Palestinian refugee question;”

            I looked at the Wikipedia page you linked to and found this:

            “any refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be able to do so or”

            As a practical matter, what this means is that any descendant of any Arab who fled Israel in 1948 (or 1967) would have the right to “return.” Which means the end of Israel as a Jewish state due to simple demographics and mathematics.

            Okay, so the Arabs made a peace proposal which entails the end of Israel as a Jewish state. This is not inconsistent with anything I have stated.

            “As for why the Arab states originally refused to recognized Israel, again”

            That’s not an answer to my question. I asked why the Arabs (as a group) did not accept the Partition Plan. If all they wanted was control over the land allocated for an Arab state, the obvious thing to do would have been to accept the Partition Plan.

            “opportunity to grab as much Palestinian land as possible.”

            So that I can understand and respond to this comment, would you mind defining what you mean by “Palestinian land”? I would like to know the boundaries of “Palestinian land” and how it came to be “Palestinian land.”

            For example, does “Palestinian land” include Gaza City, Hebron, and Jerusalem? If so, when did they become “Palestinian land”? Before or after Jews were ethnically cleansed from these areas in the 1930s and 1940s?

            Also, is there such thing as “Jewish land” anywhere?

          • John Schilling says:

            … and find a just settlement to the Palestinian refugee question

            Isn’t that kind of like “…and then a miracle occurs?” Admittedly, you’re in the right place of the world for that sort of thing.

            Pragmatically, I don’t think the Palestinians fit in Palestine any more, with or without Israelis as neighbors. Like the Irish diaspora, they’ve outgrown their homeland and even kicking out the colonial invaders won’t change that.

            Cynically, I think the solution space the Arab world would accept as “just” encompasses mostly scenarios where the West Bank and Gaza strip are explicitly Palestinian, Arab, Muslim states while Israel is a democracy populated mostly by Arab Palestinian Muslims. And maybe a few cases where the Israelis cough up a trillion or two dollars in reparations or relocation assistance or whatever, mostly to be collected by the governments of existing Arab nations.

          • sabril says:

            “Isn’t that kind of like ‘…and then a miracle occurs?’ ”

            Yes, but only if you accept that the Arabs are fundamentally different from the Jews in terms of their attitudes. In the 1940s, hundreds of thousands of Jews were ethnically cleansed from Iraq, North Africa, Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. Israel absorbed almost all of them and made them productive citizens right along with Jewish refugees from Europe.

            By contrast, Arab countries like Lebanon and Syria refuse to absorb “Palestinians.” Even the “State of Palestine” refuses to offer citizenship to “Palestinians” living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, or even in Judea and Samaria. If the Arabs started caring about their own people more than wanting to put an end to Jewish Israel, then the refugee problem could be fixed overnight. Yes, it might take a miracle for such an attitude change to take place, but this observation is not very flattering for Arabs.

            “Pragmatically, I don’t think the Palestinians fit in Palestine any more, with or without Israelis as neighbors”

            There was never a group of Arabs known as “Palestinians” until it became convenient to identify such a group for the purpose of attacking Israel. There is no Palestinian language, there is no Palestinian culture, there was never a Palestinian state. Until the latter half of the last century, they were simply referred to by themselves and others as “Arabs.”

            Indeed, a lot of the “Palestinians” are descendants from Arabs who moved to the area at the same time the Zionists started coming in in the late part of the 19th century. That’s why a lot of “Palestinians” have names like “Masri” which literally means “Egypt.”

          • Machine Interface says:

            There is a distinction between “Arabs” and “Arab states”. The Arab *states* refused to recognize the partition, because it was an opportunity to seize land that should have been used to create an independent Palestinian state — the Arabs states effectively prevented the creation of a Palestinian state, for their own benefit — the Arab *street* has nothing to do with that.

            The claims about the non-existence of Palestinian identity/culture are 1) non-sensical — all that a national identity needs to exist is the shared belief by its would-be members that it exists, 2) double edged, since as much can be said of the united Jewish culture, which was largely created out of scrap when Israel is created, out of a patchwork populations who didn’t have the same native languages, didn’t have the same cultural background at all, didn’t belong to the same ethnic groups, and didn’t even have the same religion (there were atheists, rabbinic Jews, Keraites, Haymanots, Samaritans…), 3) not even seen as valid by Israeli historians, who have recognized the reality of the Palestinian people, of the Naqba and deconstructed the funding myths of Israel since at least 80s.

            As for the Arab peace proposal, the crucial point, again, is that it was intented as a basis for negociation, not as take-it-or-leave-it-deal. Why would *considering* the deal somehow imply the end of Israel? Again, is Israel so delicate and brittle that even seating at a negotiation table where the question of the prejudice commited against Palestinians in 1948 will merely be *discussed* qualifies as an existential threat?

            We live in a strange world where pretty much everyone realises that Israel is the most powerful state in the Middle-East, the one with the best prospects of survival in its current form in the long run — *except* Israel apologists who still seem to believe that Israel’s existence is somehow “at stake” and that it could disappear overnight at any moment if vigilance is relinquished even for a second — but sure, the continuous faillure of the peace process is entirely the Arabs’ fault…

          • sabril says:

            “There is a distinction between ‘Arabs’ and ‘Arab states’. The Arab *states* refused to recognize the partition,”

            It wasn’t just the “Arab States” which refused to accept the Partition Plan. It was the Arabs in general as a group.

            “The claims about the non-existence of Palestinian identity/culture are 1) non-sensical — all that a national identity needs to exist is the shared belief by its would-be members that it exists, 2) double edged, since as much can be said of the united Jewish culture,”

            No, there is a critical difference. The “Palestinian” identity was primarily created for the purposes of undermining Jewish Israel.

            “As for the Arab peace proposal, the crucial point, again, is that it was intented as a basis for negociation, not as take-it-or-leave-it-deal. Why would *considering* the deal somehow imply the end of Israel? ”

            Who says it would? My position is that the Arabs don’t actually want a Palestinian State; they just want there not to be a Jewish state in the area. The fact that the Arabs offered a deal which would have put an end to Jewish Israel does not undermine my position in the slightest and in fact bolsters it.

            ” Israel apologists who still seem to believe that Israel’s existence is somehow “at stake” and that it could disappear overnight at any moment if vigilance is relinquished even for a second — ”

            I think that’s a bit of a strawman. The reality is that the Arabs — as a group — really do want to put an end to Jewish Israel. This was true in 1948 and it is true today. There will not be peace until and unless they give up this dream.

            “the continuous faillure of the peace process is entirely the Arabs’ fault…”

            100% their fault for the same reasons I discussed above. If their goal were really to have a state and self-determination, there would be room for some kind of deal. But their goal is for there not to be a Jewish State.

            Anyway, please answer my questions:

            1. Do you agree that the Arabs (as a group) rejected the Partition Plan?

            2. Would mind defining what you mean by “Palestinian land”? I would like to know the boundaries of “Palestinian land” and how it came to be “Palestinian land.”

            For example, does “Palestinian land” include Gaza City, Hebron, and Jerusalem? If so, when did they become “Palestinian land”? Before or after Jews were ethnically cleansed from these areas in the 1930s and 1940s?

            3. Also, is there such thing as “Jewish land” anywhere?

          • Machine Interface says:

            “No, there is a critical difference. The “Palestinian” identity was primarily created for the purposes of undermining Jewish Israel.”

            This borders on conspiracy theory, but asides from that it’s again double-eged, since you can make a mirror argument that the Jewish identity was created out of thin air in the 19th century, to justify the colonization of Palestine by German and Slav settlers. Every libellous, denigrating claim about Palestinian identity can be met with an equally libellous, denigrating claim about Jewish identity. Or maybe it is possible to have a debate as rational individuals without either side trying to prove that the other side’s People doesn’t actually exist.

            “The fact that the Arabs offered a deal which would have put an end to Jewish Israel does not undermine my position in the slightest and in fact bolsters it.”

            This peace proposal implies no such thing. The refugee question could be settled financially, or even symbolically — it could even be an occasion for Israel to negociate a mutual excuse/settlement for the expulsion of the Jews of the Arab world. This wasn’t an ultimatum, this was a call for negotiations, to which Israel could have brought their own demands and where they would have been in a strong position to have them met. That they even refused to seat at the negotiation table in this situation is clearly not indicative of wanting peace.

            “The reality is that the Arabs — as a group — really do want to put an end to Jewish Israel. This was true in 1948 and it is true today. There will not be peace until and unless they give up this dream.”

            “The reality is that the Jews — as a group — really do want to build a greater Israel encompassing all of Palestine. This was true in 1948 and it is true today. There will not be peace until and unless they give up this dream.”

            Conspiracy theories and double-eged blanket statements, second edition.

            “100% their fault for the same reasons I discussed above. If their goal were really to have a state and self-determination, there would be room for some kind of deal. But their goal is for there not to be a Jewish State. ”

            Can we start making rational arguments based on facts, instead of impugning motives to an entire race? That would be refreshing.

            Less blame shifting and a little self-examination would also be appreciated — starting by recognizing the fact that numerous Israeli actions do in fact participate to hinder the peace process and to alienate their neighbours (from the continuous illegal colonization of the West Bank to the disastrously botched campaigns against the Hezbollah in Lebanon, from the refusal to negotiate with Syria over the question of the Golan Heights, to undiscriminate air-raids over Gaza which kill thousands of civilians without actually making Hamas move back an inch). The blame is *shared*, this is a basic fact — those who cannot recognize even this have no standing in a discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

            “1. Do you agree that the Arabs (as a group) rejected the Partition Plan?”

            If we agree that “as a group” means “a majority of” and not “all of them, as a hive mind”, yes, of course. Which is *perfectly legitimate*, given that the “partition plan” effectively amounted to steal half of an Arab province to give it to European settlers who claimed their ancestors lived there two thousand years ago. Why would *anyone* accept that deal?

            Question 2 is not interesting — everyone who is involved in the peace talks agrees that the Palestinian claim is, at most, over the land comprised inside the so called 1967 borders, that is, the land which is not legally recognized as of part of Israel right now — and even that is negociable in the direction of relinquishing even more land to Israel — many now consider that the colonies in the West Bank are de-facto unremovable, and that a peace settlement will have to let those to Israel and compensate the Palestinians somehow.

            Question 3 is too vague — what is “Jewish land” supposed to mean. There is, de facto, an Israeli people and an Israeli land, which is here to stay, because even if the Arab world was conspirating to destroy Israel (they aren’t — they have large a number of much more pressing problems which one can hear about by turning on the news), it would not be doable anyway.

          • Jiro says:

            This borders on conspiracy theory, but asides from that it’s again double-eged, since you can make a mirror argument that the Jewish identity was created out of thin air in the 19th century, to justify the colonization of Palestine by German and Slav settlers.

            You could, but it would be wrong. It’s not as if Jews are an illiterate people who never left any words from before Israel existed, that said such things as “next year in Jerusalem”.

            Creationists and evolutionists often say similar-sounding things about how the other one isn’t open-minded, is ignoring scientific principles, etc. But only one is correct. Argument by grammatical similarity is not a valid argument.

          • Machine Interface says:

            The point is not whether is true or not, the point is that defamatory statements about an entire nation that serve only to heat the discussion can always be met with equally defamatory statements in the opposite direction — the point is those kind of statements do not advance the discussion and should be avoided.

            Especially since the Jewish national identity *was in fact* created in the 19th century — as most other national identities were, because that’s when nationalism and nations emerged as a concept; there is no Jewish nation (and no French nation, no German nation, no American nation, no Palestinian nation, yes) before that point.

            It can reasonably be argued that the Palestinian nation created/became aware of itself in reaction to zionism — but this can just as well be spunned as a defensive reaction when suddenly faced with dozens of thousands of foreigners coming from Germany, Poland and Russia to settle on your land, claiming to have an ancestral right to it.

            Arguments that the Palestinian identity doesn’t exist are confusing the label and the substance — even if they didn’t call themself Palestinians, there were Arabs living in Palestine before Zionism, consituting a large majority of the population until 1948.

          • sabril says:

            “This borders on conspiracy theory,”

            It’s still true. Here’s a quote from a PLO official back in the 70s:

            “There are no differences between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. We are all part of one nation. It is only for political reasons that we carefully underline our Palestinian identity…. yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes. The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel.”

            “you can make a mirror argument that the Jewish identity was created out of thin air in the 19th century,”

            You can make the argument, but you would be wrong. Jewish identity predates modern Zionism by thousands of years.

            “This peace proposal implies no such thing. ”

            What are you talking about? I quoted directly from the Wikipedia page that you yourself linked to:

            “any refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be able to do so”

            The word “refugees” is commonly used to include anyone descended from any Arab who fled from what is now Israel.

            “This wasn’t an ultimatum, this was a call for negotiations”

            Assuming that’s true, so what? Does that contradict anything I have said?

            “The reality is that the Jews — as a group — really do want to build a greater Israel encompassing all of Palestine. ”

            1. What is your definition of “Palestine”? Where are its boundaries? Does it include Gaza? If so, how do you explain the fact that the Jews — as a group — unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and dismantled all of the Jewish settlements there?

            2. What is your evidence for your claim?

            “Can we start making rational arguments based on facts, instead of impugning motives to an entire race? ”

            That’s an interesting dichotomy. I’ve supplied (some of) the facts to back up my claims. Let’s see you do the same thing for yours.

            “rom the continuous illegal colonization of the West Bank to the disastrously botched campaigns against the Hezbollah in Lebanon, from the refusal to negotiate with Syria over the question of the Golan Heights, to undiscriminate air-raids over Gaza which kill thousands of civilians without actually making Hamas move back an inch”

            This is all nonsense, but let’s start with the most outrageous of your claims — that Israel engages in indiscriminate air raids over Gaza. What is your evidence for this claim?

            ” The blame is *shared*, this is a basic fact — those who cannot recognize even this have no standing in a discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

            This is just the “you guys cut it out fallacy” where a bully and his victim are both blamed for a conflict. But again, let’s start with your most outrageous claim. Show me evidence that Israel engages in indiscriminate air raids over Gaza.

            “If we agree that ‘as a group’ means ‘a majority of’ and not ‘all of them, as a hive min’, yes, of course.”

            Ok, then again my question: If the Arab goal in the 1948 war was simply to secure the land they would have received under the Partition Plan, then why did they reject the same Partition Plan?

            “Which is *perfectly legitimate*, given that the ‘partition plan’ effectively amounted to steal half of an Arab province to give it to European settlers who claimed their ancestors lived there two thousand years ago. Why would *anyone* accept that deal?”

            Thank you for proving my point. You have demonstrated *exactly* why there will not be peace until the Arabs change their attitude. In their view, the entire area is their property as a group and therefore their main goal is to regain what they perceive as stolen property.

            “Question 2 is not interesting ”

            It may not be interesting to you, but you used the phrase “Palestinian land” and I would like to understand what you mean by that phrase. Are you refusing to define the phrase?

          • Machine Interface says:

            “It’s still true. Here’s a quote from a PLO official back in the 70s:”

            Except that since then, the PLO has renounced that kind of rhetorics, and Arafat has personally recognized Israel’s right to exist.

            “You can make the argument, but you would be wrong. Jewish identity predates modern Zionism by thousands of years.”

            No; Jewish religion does; there was no Jewish *national identity* before the 19th century; Jewish religion before the 19th century was shared between groups of people who lived all over the world, spoke a multitude of different languages, had more in common culturally and ethni