Re: My view of recent events

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Thu Aug 31 2006 - 11:58:09 MDT

Olie Lamb wrote:
> Eliezer, I've always worried about your apparent eagerness to apply
> dichotomies. The world is not as Boolean as some people seem to
> imagine.
> Crazy people come up with good ideas. Often.

I admit that I'm skeptical of this assertion. If crazy people - not
fun-crazy but unstable-crazy - are needed to come up with good ideas,
then the so-called "sane" people are doing something wrong and probably
have latched on to a mistaken idea of what sanity is all about, the way
many people think that Mr. Spock is a rationality archetype. For myself
I have oft seen gold mistaken for copper, and read of such cases in many
books; but I have yet to see a flower grow from genuine gravel.

If Richard Loosemore ever goes on to produce anything useful, I will
stand disproven on one point or another (either crazy people can do
useful things, or more likely, I was wrong about him being crazy to
begin with).

> But, seriously, didn't anyone else think about Loosemore: "This guy's
> a nutbag" when he started talking about PARAPSYCHOLOGY?

> Why not ban him then? Because we're so incredibly smart and wise that
> we know that smart people get stupid ideas. But when Loosemore *shock
> horror* does other crackpot things, he gets banninated.

What actually triggered Loosemore's bannination, please note, was when
he started claiming expertise in the field of heuristics and biases.
Maybe I'm just the victim of an overly rigid Boolean moral dichotomy,
but in my book, there's a whole world of difference between the error of
assigning an overly high probability to parapsychology (I can think of
another prominent SL4 poster who makes the same mistake and I never
thought of banning *him*), and the error of claiming to be an expert
scientist thoroughly familiar with the experimental and theoretical
results of a field that you obviously don't know.

There are innocent and uninnocent errors. There are excusable and
inexcusable errors. And maybe, from your own different experiences with
the uses of crackpots, it all seems like a continuum of the crazy people
who occasionally produce useful devices for automobiles. Maybe it *is*
just part of the continuum of crazy guys who sometimes produce useful
things. Maybe you've just got to put up with occasional lies. But for
myself, I draw a line, nay, a flaming wall of fire, between honest
mistakes and dishonesty.

Likewise if the self-deception and memory-distortion is so great as to
amount to the same thing; if Loosemore can convince *himself* that he's
always been an experienced expert on heuristics and biases, so that when
he says it he honestly believes it, then it's not exactly the same sin
but it is close enough. Nor is this analogous to deceiving yourself
about parapsychology, because the "mistake" is directly self-serving and
self-inflating, rather than a mistake about an external matter of fact -
if you see the distinction I am drawing.

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

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