Re: concerns

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Fri Aug 19 2005 - 16:56:10 MDT

Michael Vassar wrote:
> Richard Loosemore provides a particularly clear example of this
> problem. When Richard started posting, it was clear that he didn't know
> SL4 concepts remotely well enough to judge them or contribute to them.
> It was not clear that he did know anything else. People on the list
> responded by arguing politely, explaining points, and in general
> treating him in a friendly fasion. Then, when he asserted his erudition
> (and Bayesians should have outgrown absolute objections to arguments
> from authority) suddenly people became aggressive about putting him in
> his place.

Bayesians are just supposed to judge issues of fact correctly. Probability
theory doesn't tell you how to configure your emotions, unless your emotions
are interfering with your perception of simple facts, in which case
probability theory says only that this is illegal. The Way does not tell you
what to eat, who to sleep with, how to dress, or how to feel about the simple
facts you have just apprehended - the art of rationality is about determining
the state of the world, not binding emotions to states of the world.

As for why people became more aggressive... that's easy, it's because it's one
thing to perceive that someone is wrong, quite another to perceive that
someone is wrong and trying to pull rank about it.

One may see in my own response-in-kind to Loosemore that I didn't think his
original message was stupid. When people spend their whole lives being the
smartest person in the room, they naturally tend to develop a statistically
correct prior probability to which I am an exception.

It occurred to me some time ago, pondering Fun Theory, that life would never
become boringly easy for humankind as long as we could make things difficult
for each other. When Nick Hay started talking about category theory in #sl4,
I learned the rudiments of category theory, because I was too proud to allow
Nick Hay to know something I didn't. Two years ago, say, I probably wouldn't
have judged that a legitimate motivation, and I would have cast out the
feeling from myself. In which case I wouldn't presently know the rudiments of
category theory and I would never have encountered a whole new interesting way
to look at math.

Of course one does have to be careful to respond appropriately, by learning
the new science once one becomes interested enough to feel ashamed of not
knowing it. If instead you react by putting down the other person, then this
is bad pride. You can tell it's bad pride because it's not making you learn
math. There's something to be said for the Red Queen's Race of constructive
pride, precisely because it *is* open-ended. Open-ended constructive human
impulses are fun. Why shouldn't swords clash on SL4, if afterward we find a
diamond or two lying on the ashes of the battlefield?

> I am a firm believer of putting people in their place. It avoids much
> wasted time AND greatly increases the degree of respect that you will
> recieve from the truly ignorant. It is much more likely that the
> uninformed will actually read the articles that you tell them to if you
> are condescending or dictatorial about it. However, the older and more
> knowledgable someone is, the less likely this strategy is to be
> productive. When experts or near experts have read your introductory
> writings and have gotten key points grossly wrong without realizing it,
> this means that you have a chance to gain skills that will be vitally
> important when it comes time to approach other experts who haven't even
> read your introductory writings. It is precisely the experts who most
> need outreach, as these are the people most likely to actually help if
> you can get through to them.

We'll see how Richard Loosemore reacts. It's always nice to have another
semi-polymath on the list, especially a good writer willing to write long
replies, and he seems like he'd be a nice person once caught up. He came in
and immediately opened fire on what he perceived to be scientifically
illiterate anthropomorphism, which is fair enough, but if he can't take the
return fire, begone to him. I hope Loosemore hangs around, given that he is
in fact the sort of person who hangs around, and hope he leaves, given that he
is the sort of person who would leave. Some filters are self-organizing.

If I approach an expert or near-expert with an unsolicited email, I may treat
them gingerly. There are people in this world who treat all comers with
kindness and respect, and expect politeness in return. I'm not such a person
myself, but I respect them, and sometimes I wish I were one of their number.
But when an expert or near-expert walks in and opens fire, they'd better be
able to handle my return fire. Little sympathy do I have for they who expect
unconditional kindness and do not give it in return.

Incidentally, I've seen no sign as yet that Loosemore falls into this
category. He may underestimate the condescension he dished out and
overestimate the condescension he received in return, but that is an
experimentally proven universal; people who feel someone push against their
hands, told to push back by the same amount, push an average of 43% harder.

Maybe we should try to respond only one-third as harshly as we believe we
ourselves are being treated, so that the sequence converges instead of
diverges. I'll have to think about that point. It wasn't in my mind at the
time I first fired back at Loosemore, so perhaps I made the wrong decision.
Personally I was going, "Yay, another person who can give and take a little

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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