Sleepy Fools

Regarding if we should avoid disagreeing, Eliezer once wrote:

The central argument for Modesty proposes something like a Rawlsian veil of ignorance – how can you know which of you is the honest truthseeker, and which the stubborn self-deceiver? … the obvious reply:  "But I know perfectly well who the fool is.  It’s the other guy.  It doesn’t matter that he says the same thing – he’s still the fool."  This reply sounds bald and unconvincing when you consider it abstractly.  But if you actually face a creationist, then it certainly feels like the correct answer. …

Those who dream do not know they dream; but when you wake you know you are awake.  Dreaming, you may think you are awake.  You may even be convinced of it.  But right now, when you really are awake, there isn’t any doubt in your mind – nor should there be. … [you have] just an (ahem) incommunicable insight that you were awake.  … "That we can postulate a mind of sufficiently low (dreaming) or distorted (insane) consciousness as to genuinely not know whether it’s Russell or Napoleon doesn’t mean … [I’m] Napoleon. 

Are sleepers who think they are awake a good analogy for justified disagreement with fools?  Do sleepers and fools both have a broken mental state blocking them from assimilating key relevant info?  Interestingly, the merely sleepy do seem to know they are sleepy: 

Sixty-four adults participated in a study examining the accuracy of metacognitive judgments.  During 28 hr of sleep deprivation (SD) and continuous cognitive work. … Subjective and objective measures of sleepiness confirmed the expected patterns of increasing fatigue with SD. … Traditional indices of the confidence-accuracy relation (i.e., calibration, resolution, over- and underconfidence), as well as the accuracy of pre- and posttask estimates of performance, remained stable over the SD period. The findings suggest that people can accurately assess their own cognitive performance when deprived of 1 night of sleep.

Apparently it is also possible to know that you are dreaming


The first step to lucid dreaming is recognizing that one is dreaming. … Once … the recognition of dreaming occurs the dreamer must be cautious to let the dream delusions continue, but be conscious enough to recognize them … The rate that time passes while lucid dreaming has been shown to be about the same as while waking. …

Over time, several techniques have been developed to achieve a lucid dreaming state intentionally. The following are common factors that influence lucid dreaming, and techniques that people use to help achieve a lucid dream:

The wake-back-to-bed technique … involves going to sleep tired and waking up five to six hours later. Then, focusing all thoughts on lucid dreaming, staying awake for an hour and going back to sleep while … setting an intention, while falling asleep, to remember to recognize that one is dreaming, or to remember to look for dream signs when one is in a dream. …  A 60% success rate has been shown in research using this technique. …

Reality testing … involves performing an action with results that will be different if the tester is dreaming. By practicing these tests during waking life, one may eventually decide to perform such a test while dreaming, which may fail and let the dreamer realize that they are dreaming.  Common reality tests include:

  • Looking at one’s digital watch (remembering the time), looking away, and looking back. As with text, the time will probably have changed randomly and radically at the second glance or contain strange letters and characters. …
  • Flipping a light switch. Light levels rarely change as a result of the switch flipping in dreams.
  • Looking into a mirror; in dreams, reflections from a mirror often appear to be blurred, distorted or incorrect.
  • Looking at the ground beneath one’s feet or at one’s hands. If one does this within a dream the difference in appearance of the ground or one’s hands from the normal waking state is often enough to alert the conscious to the dream state.

Common dream signs include: 

  • Falling.
  • Flying.
  • Inability to move one’s arms and/or legs.
  • Dream taking place in a movie, book or video game.
  • Clock faces, directional signs, books, etc., being unintelligible.
  • Mechanical or electrical devices failing to operate in a normal manner.
  • Gravity appearing to be stronger or weaker.
  • Being attacked/chased by a monster.
  • Being in a familiar area that doesn’t have the same layout as it does in the real world. For example, being in Grand Central Station, except it has the interior layout of the Gare du Nord.
  • Having sex (see wet dream).
  • Being lost in a building (even in a building that you are familiar with in real life).
  • Familiar sights, such as the faces of others, or of one’s own face in a mirror, appearing distorted.
  • Interacting with friends, relatives or family pets that are deceased in reality.
  • Being naked in public, and being the only one who seems to notice.
  • Being impervious to injury (i.e. feeling no pain), especially of the lethal variety (for example, being unharmed by an explosion or a gunshot)

All this work to collect dream signs – can it inspire us to collect "fool signs" that tell us when we are wrong to disagree?   

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  • jls

    It is actually possible to know that you are dreaming, since that is something I have experienced – just once. Most of the time, you don’t know you’re dreaming. It’s also possible for a fool to know that he’s a fool, but most fools don’t know they’re fools. At least one of the dream signs could also be a fool sign: “Clock faces, directional signs, books, etc., being unintelligible”. In my case, when I read the more technical articles in this web page, I find them completely unintelligible, so I think it would be foolish to disagree (or to agree, for that matter) with the many-worlds hypothesis. Other dream signs certainly do not apply to fools, although it would be very useful if one could say: “oops, a monster is chasing me, therefore I’m beeing foolish”.

    The thing is, there is something that is useful to detect foolishness. Too bad it’s not a formal method that anyone can follow… it’s called common sense, and fools lack common sense. That’s why the fool is always the other guy.

  • Lake

    It seems a bit pessimistic to include “having sex” as an indicator that one is dreaming, doesn’t it? Perhaps the fact that you ripped the checklist from Wikipedia is relevant.

  • http://www.churchofrationality.blogspot.com LemmusLemmus

    “Apparently it is also possible to know that you are dreaming”

    I thought this was common. Happens to me practically every time I have a nightmare. I then actually try to wake up. It’s not that easy. (Hint: You need to open both eyes; opening only one eye makes the nightmare worse.)

    Don’t ask me what that tells us about “fool signs”.

  • poke

    I’ve never had a dream that was indistinguishable from veridical perception and I don’t believe such a thing is possible. I think it’s purely a rhetorical device. I’m not sure how we could prove this either way though; but the two states being indistinguishable is clearly the much less plausible claim.

  • poke

    As for ‘fool signs’: I used to be a hard-line computationalist and evolutionary psychology zealot. Then one day I started to wonder, Why does everyone on my side sound like such an asshole? It wasn’t long before I began to notice the broad lack of substantive argument and near total reliance on straw men, fake controversy and systematic mischaracterization of opposing opinions. That’s one fool sign: the company you keep. Another is to look over you record of argument and identify instances of the aforementioned rhetorical strategies of people who lack substantive arguments. How long do you spend discussing your opponents alleged views vs. the evidence for your own? (Follow up: Have you ever actually studied the opposing view or are you relying on a second hand characterization?) Do you like to spin a tale of how your views are rejected by the academy? Fools rely on these sorts of rhetorical strategies. I think there are also a set of what I’d class as ‘philosophical’ signs: This belief doesn’t have any supporting evidence but must be true because it’s ‘compatible’ with some other view or makes the fewest assumptions or similar.

  • Caledonian

    Regarding dreams: let’s not lose sight of the fact that our awareness of our own dreams’ properties is limited by our memory. There was a time when it was thought that many people never dreamed. This turned out not to be the case – it’s just that those people rarely remembered the dreams that careful observation of their sleeping patterns indicated they had, and waking them up during a dream event often caused them to report remembering the dream.

    I have personally had many dreams in which I had no awareness of the events as dreamlike, some dreams in which I had conscious control of events, and some dreams where I recognized that I was dreaming.

    Is it possible that those of you who ‘always’ tell the difference simply remember a subset of dream events, a subset in which you may be closer to being awake than in others?

  • Nick Tarleton

    Even if we think we’ve identified “fool signs”, even if we’re sure we’re not deceiving ourselves into seeing them only in the other guy, we still have to entertain the possibility that we’ve actually just identified features our opponents have but not us. Checking against people who believe things we have strong independent reason to consider false is important, but then beware of selecting only those unlikely beliefs whose advocates sound foolish, and ignoring likely beliefs where this is the case.

    poke, the point is exactly that being awake, you can know that difference, but most people can’t while they’re dreaming. In my case, it never crosses my mind to even consider it – or, following Caledonian, I never remember doing so.

  • http://users.ox.ac.uk/~ball2568/ Pablo Stafforini

    If I’m awake, I know that I’m awake. It doesn’t validly follow that, if I’m not awake, I know that I’m not awake. But this may follow epistemically, or when conjoined with certain claims about the nature of knowledge. If knowing something implies knowing that one knows this thing, then whenever I’m awake I know that I know that I am. I can then conclusively test whether I am awake or not by asking myself: ‘do I know that I’m awake?’ The answer is either yes or no. If the answer is yes, then I am awake. If the answer is no, then I am not awake.

    Is this a sound argument? If so, can it be extended to cover not just cases of biological wakefulness but also cases of intellectual “awakening”?

  • poke

    I still think this is basically a myth. Dreams aren’t the sort of things where “knowing the difference” could apply while dreaming. They’re not virtual reality simulations we consciously ponder as we lay asleep at night. The supposed inability to tell dreaming from a wakeful state rests on dreams being a sort of elaborate simulation that we navigate as conscious actors; this is highly implausible. The fact that you can have dreams where you dream that you know that you’re dreaming is not evidence to the contrary.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/halfinney/ Hal Finney

    I do think that the paradox is quite interesting: that when awake, you can have no doubt that you are awake; yet when you are dreaming, you (usually) believe mistakenly that you are awake. Why does this not force us to doubt that we are awake, the rest of the time?

  • http://zbooks.blogspot.com Zubon

    poke is on point. There is a difference between being aware that you are dreaming and dreaming that you are aware that you are dreaming, just as wakefulness differs from dreaming that you are awake. Consider this a stronger version of the question of whether the brain’s actual process is reason-then-decide or decide-then-rationalize. Is the dreamer really in control during a lucid dream, or does the dream just provide the illusion of control along with all the other illusionary sensations? And then we slip into a fruitless free will discussion.

  • http://www.iphonefreak.com frelkins

    @poke

    “Why does everyone on my side sound like such an asshole?”

    Lack of social skills doesn’t mean the core argument is wrong.

    I once witnessed an amusing discussion between a creationist Jehovah’s Witness and a chemistry post-doc on an airplane. The Witness the entire time was unfailingly sweet, polite, even loving in a certain way. The chemist was a condescending jerk.

    However, the chemist was of course correct in his denial of creationism. As for the remainder of your list, most could apply to Socrates, who certainly was no fool.

    He certainly spent a lot of time discussing how he was dismissed in the agora by the Sophists — but of course Socratic irony meant he could knew his opponents arguments better than they did, which is how he managed to drive them inexorably down their own doomed paths.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/jhertzli/ Joseph Hertzlinger

    The best known lists of “fool signs” are probably John Baez’s Crackpot Index and Irving Langmuir’s Symptoms of Pathological Science.

  • http://pownce.com/manuelg/ manuelg

    @frelkins, poke

    >> “Why does everyone on my side sound like such an asshole?”

    > Lack of social skills doesn’t mean the core argument is wrong.

    “Fool signs” are not sufficient in themselves. For example, every single “dream sign” listed above I have experienced while awake.

    (Well, practically all. I have limited waking experience of being chased by a monster in a videogame I am corporally inhabiting as I talk to the dead. Also, my nudity can elicit extreme reactions to whomever I choose to alarm with it; it never seems to pass without some kind of comment or reaction.)

    “Why does everyone on my side sound like such an asshole?” is a valid “fool sign”, in that it would prompt the thoughtful and mature to examine the validity of the core beliefs shared. If the defense of the core beliefs can only be accomplished by being shrill, defensive, and immature, that is a poor sign for that set of beliefs.

    Also, being too “unfailingly sweet, polite, even loving” in a discussion, regardless of circumstance, can also be a “fool sign”. If the mode of argumentation is incongruent to the circumstance, practically always, it may be a sign of a extremely incapable arguer, who mastered exactly one rhetorical trick, attempting to defend a weak hypothesis.

  • Cyan

    @poke,

    I can’t really see the distinction between knowing that you are dreaming and dreaming that you are aware of being asleep and dreaming.

    I once read part of a book on lucid dreaming. (I didn’t get too far in it because a lot of it was woo.) In the book I read that to check if you are dreaming, you can look at your hands, and if you can see *through* them, you know you are asleep and dreaming. Later that week, I had that exact experience. Once I knew that I was asleep, it then seemed to me that I could affect the “environment” in my dream. I lost concentration quickly though — I was lucid dreaming for less than a minute.

  • Nick Tarleton

    I do think that the paradox is quite interesting: that when awake, you can have no doubt that you are awake; yet when you are dreaming, you (usually) believe mistakenly that you are awake. Why does this not force us to doubt that we are awake, the rest of the time?

    I think this mixes up belief with evidence. I don’t believe I’m awake because I believe I’m awake. The closest I can verbalize is that when awake, I remember the differences between waking and dreaming, and I note that all the current evidence is in favor of waking, and significantly, one of the differences is that when I’m dreaming I can’t go through this thought process, or really think coherently about much of anything at all. I think this removes any paradox.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Nick, yes we must beware of selective focus on signs that favor us. And your characterization of sleeping as a state where we can’t think about whether we are asleep doesn’t seem to make it a good analogy for justified disagreement, right?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/RobinZ/ Robin Z

    I’m surprised I don’t see this mentioned already: an ineffective belief is a bad sign. Taking a new easy target for a change: some people believe in a flat earth, but the people who put up satellites to beam down TV signals – a very visible sign of positive utility – all advocate modern heliocentric theories.

  • Nick Tarleton

    And your characterization of sleeping as a state where we can’t think about whether we are asleep doesn’t seem to make it a good analogy for justified disagreement, right?

    Or one where our thinking about whether we’re asleep is hopelessly muddled. This is an OK analogy for at least those disagreements justified by greater intelligence or rationality – since those impair the ability to determine just how intelligent/rational one is – but we have less or no experience of being less or more intelligent than we are, and we can expect our deliberation about our intelligence/rationality to be much more distorted by ego.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/jhertzli/ Joseph Hertzlinger

    If fools devised lists of “fool signs” what would they come up with?

    Would they list signs of pathological mainstreams?

  • iwdw

    @Joseph: While I don’t know if it would be under the umbrella of “foolishness”, one of the significant characteristics of incompetence is an unawareness of that incompetence.

    So it’s doubtful that fools would be sitting around contemplating how foolish they are, because that alone would make them substantially less foolish.

  • jls

    It’s curious how the discussion seems to split between two subjects, dreams and foolishness, which makes me doubt that the analogy between the two is so good an analogy (though I thought it was, when I first read it).

    One more fool sign: When your opponent makes an argument and you refute it, a fool, instead of refuting the refutation, or coming up with a new argument, rephrases the original argument, as if that could make it more solid.

    “Lack of social skills doesn’t mean the core argument is wrong.” frelkins

    Does the fact that the arguer is a fool necessarily mean that the core argument is wrong?

  • http://www.iphonefreak.com frelkins

    @jls

    Exactly. If a fool says to the moon-landing denier, I know space travel is real because I watched it on Battlestar Galactica, that doesn’t make space travel wrong. This is why Robin’s statement about “wanting” to know the truth is so profound. It is a driving desire that will force you to travel everywhere and talk to all, as, again, did Socrates. Plato’s dialogues are filled with fools and their signs.

  • Nick Tarleton

    When your opponent makes an argument and you refute it, a fool, instead of refuting the refutation, or coming up with a new argument, rephrases the original argument, as if that could make it more solid.

    This could also mean your refutation so completely missed the point that only a fool would think it persuasive on properly understanding the original argument.

  • http://zbooks.blogspot.com Zubon

    This could also mean your refutation so completely missed the point that only a fool would think it persuasive on properly understanding the original argument.

    So it seems to be a sign that someone involved in the discussion is a fool. We just work on the assumption that it must be the other guy.

  • http://www.iphonefreak.com frelkins

    @zubon

    Let me note that we need not assume the fool is the other guy. Conversations between two fools can be enlightening & amusing to the witnessing third party. Shakespeare is filled with examples of this.

  • Caledonian

    Alas, if only humanity could be split into two convenient groups: fools and the wise. The reality is that they’re all fools most of the time, and a few are occasionally wise on narrow subjects for short periods.

    So if you want a method of identifying a fool, there’s one surefire way that always works. It’s called ‘a mirror’! Just look into it and you’re guaranteed to see a gen-u-ine, bona fide fool looking back.

  • http://zbooks.blogspot.com Zubon

    Frelkins: in this context, “the other guy” is meant to mean “not you.” The implicit sign of a fool is that he disagrees with you.

  • jls

    “This could also mean your refutation so completely missed the point that only a fool would think it persuasive on properly understanding the original argument.” Nick Tarleton

    Good point. Still, that doesn’t mean that what I said isn’t a valid fool sign, it just means that it isn’t a fool-proof fool sign. In that case I would be the fool, and I think it is unreasonable to expect that fools interpret fool signs correctly. Of course, it would be better if we had a list of fool-proof fool signs, which even fools could deal with. Indeed, that could be great, since fools could use the list to detect and get rid of their own foolishness.

  • ir

    fool-
    2. A person deficient in intellect; one who acts absurdly, or pursues a course contrary to the dictates of wisdom; one without judgment; a simpleton; a dolt.

    why try to prove something to a fool using logic? and when has logic ever worked to convince anyone of anything?

    just a thought.

  • Daniel Janzon

    @ Poke,

    Lucid dreaming is proved by Stephen LaBerge by letting lucid dreamers signal pre-decided signs with their eyes. Looking to the left or right in the dream can be seen on the eyelid. Skeptics’ dictionary’s article on lucid dreaming criticizes LaBerge, but not on his proof of the existence of lucid dreaming (http://www.skepdic.com/lucdream.html).

    @ All,

    I think, in general, people with foolish beliefs have a greater need to see their beliefs among others. The same thing is true for a new belief. So if I feel that I have been pushing people to believe something for a long time, and it doesn’t seem to end, I should review the basis for that belief.

  • Michael Sullivan

    “We just work on the assumption that it must be the other guy.”

    It seems more productive to me to work under the assumption that it is *me* in the absence of specific *directed* evidence that convinces me otherwise.

    Now often I’ll be assuming it’s the other guy, but that’s because I entered the conversation with significant, already well examined priors about who the fool is likely to be. Creationists, ludwig plutonium, etc. I have lots of evidence that these folks are fools.

    In an argument of this kind with some mainstream scientist or anyone with an existing solid non-crackpot reputation and minimal expertise in whatever is under discussion, my priors should be closer to 50-50 on who the fool will be in some disagreement.