Open Thread

This is our monthly place to discuss Overcoming Bias topics not appearing in recent posts.

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  • fenn

    1 to 10, how convincing did you find Eliezer’s many worlds series?

  • josh

    Seeing as you are a “bullet biter” and seeing that you have tackled Climate Change, I would like to know how you respond another controversial topic that Tyler recently sort-of kind-of addressed. Why is Steve Sailer wrong?

  • Is Steve Sailer wrong? Wrong about what? I haven’t seen him say much that I didn’t agree with. Tyler Cowen didn’t disagree with him – AFAICS. A cite of the proposed problem area, perhaps?

  • Less controversial but related question: If Steve Sailer were right, would Cowen (or Hanson) admit it?

    If Sailer, is right, what should one do? Pass over the issue with silence? Or present insincere and unpersuasive arguments (as Cowen did)?

    Even if Sailer is right, isn’t it better for society to be hypocritical on race than to be racist? It’d be hard to believe that society would NOT become racist of Sailer’s view on inherent racial differences in IQ were held to be true.

    So should one suppress the truth for some “greater good”?

    Cowen’s post also tied nicely into a previous discussion between Hanson and Cowen. In that discussion, Hanson made the point that going mainstream makes one more boring; less controversial.

    It showed in that post. Even if Sailer were right, I don’t think Cowen would have admitted it. Imagine what would have happened if Cowen had admitted it. No more Times column. Loss of audience. Loss of acclaim.

    Which makes one wonder: What price fame?

  • Fenn, many worlds is a case where I disagreement considerations weigh heavily for me. My personal reasoning strongly favors many worlds, but the fact that many other good experts disagree makes me pause a lot.

    Josh, Tim, Mike, I need a clear concise claim to evaluate, and supporting arguments to consider. I’m not going to read everything Steve says to pass some overall judgment on him.


    Article about knowing something useful, remembering it, but not thinking to actually do it for years.

    I think this would go nicely in the akrasia discussion.

  • Mike, your hypocrite argument misses the point. The point isn’t to acknowledge differences to justify unequal treatment. The point is to bring the issue out in the open so that people can actually discuss it (and work towards fixing it) without couching everything in euphemisms or just staying silent. Staying silent about a problem does nothing to fix it.

  • Erich

    Spent on Spent?

    Hope not. Any thoughts from the commenters or Robin on Miller’s answer to the great filter?

  • mjgeddes

    Note that there was recently a survey done on ‘Less Wrong’ (Eliezer’s own rationalist community of very smart and knowledgeable people). The calibrated Bayesian probability that ‘Many Worlds is True’ was only 55%. So, the interpretation of QM is still wide open, contrary to what Eliezer claims.

    MWI is a strong theory, which I like, but I do have an alternative explanation of my own: 3-level causality. Yes, all possible states probably do exist in the abstract (aka Tegmark, Platonic level), but MWI makes the additional assumption that all these abstract states are implemented on the concrete level. This only follows if in fact reductionism is true i.e. reality operates on a single-level. If reductionism is false (as I think), then we cannot assume MWI, since reality would be stratified into different levels of abstraction (my theory is that there are 3 levels).

    Finally, here’s a very scary query I ran on the Wolfram Alpha search engine: ‘Life expectancy male’.

    A table of probabilities gives you the odds of surviving past a given age. You can see that your chances of dying before 60 are actually a huge 10%. In fact there’s a 5% chance you won’t even make it past 50. And look at the graph of percentage survivors; it really plunges after 60. It’s horrible. So this should provide you all strong motivation to get cracking on life extension.

  • David

    Did they ever find the source of the nanothermites?

  • The idea that racial differences in IQ leads to racism is like the claim that age-related differences in competence leads to ageism.

    Age-related differences in competence are obvious. However, they are statistical in natue. Discriminating solely on grounds of age is still illegal in many employment-related contexts. Such behaviour can still be treated with disapproval in social contexts as being unfair – as a type of judging based on stereotypes.

  • Zac Gochenour

    Here is a specific Steve Sailer claims to evaluate.

    “What you won’t hear, except from me, is that ‘Let the good times roll’ is an especially risky message for African-Americans. The plain fact is that they tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society.” (emphasis mine, this is really the claim to evaluate)

    Also I think in general, “is Steve Sailer right?” is really referring to the following claim, which I paraphrase:

    Hispanics have a lower IQ and are less libertarian than whites. Therefore we should limit immigration, particularly from Latin America.

    My opinion: his conclusions just don’t follow from his premises. He’s morally bankrupt and a simpleton with no understanding of elementary economic concepts like comparative advantage. He insists that the only reason anyone disagrees with him is political correctness, but this just isn’t true.

    I find his statements on race and intelligence completely plausible. I find his policy recommendations on immigration patently ridiculous.

    Why I’m almost always interested in Robin’s opinions, I don’t imagine he’ll say anything surprising. The economic argument for free and open immigration is pretty simple, and the idea that we shouldn’t let latin americans in because they’re lower IQ on average makes all the economic sense of saying we shouldn’t let Chinese toys into the country because they’re low quality. Bryan Caplan has addressed many of Steve Sailer’s arguments on EconLog, thoroughly dismantling him, and I’m genuinely surprised that any thinking people take him seriously.

    Since this is the open thread, I will pitch my request that we get a “preview comment” button so we can check our markup before posting.

  • josh

    Would you be willing to assign a probability to the following statements being true?:

    That African Americans and hispanics on average score lower than whites on IQ tests is largely as a result of differences in cognition stemming from differences in allele frequency in their populations.

    Much of the differences in the distribution of social outcomes between races, such as income, employment, and incarceration rate, is due to differing distribution of alleles in their populations.

  • josh

    Perhaps you could edit those statements before offering an opinion. Sheesh.

    My guess is that this is what Sailer believes, and what Tyler tip-toed around.

  • By having an open thread I am not implicitly offering a Q&A session; this is mainly for you guys to talk among yourselves. And by considering some contrarian claims in detail, I am not offering to consider all such claims suggested. I find it unlikely that different groups will have exactly the same IQ mean or variance, and my general support of immigration has little to do with such parameters.

  • josh

    Nice picture, btw.

  • fenn

    I appreciate your answer to the many worlds question.

    I have to resort to appeals to authority on that topic, and it is good to have the opinion of someone with a background in physics, but also cognizant of biases.

  • Michael Bishop

    Is anybody aware of an academic course which tries to teach OB / LW type stuff? I might someday have the opportunity to teach such a class.

    Has anyone made and organized a list of important posts that could serve as the rough draft for a syllabus?

  • Hi, how can I contact you?

    I want to start, a list of philosophy BLOGS. A small presentation of the thing, a library or address book. But one question I don’t know is, how to contact people through blogs, I’m not familiar with this medium.

    If time permits, I want you to make a post here,

    It will get stickied and start a list of philosophy blogs. You could write a small intro too, like “Here is a index and library of PHILOSOPHY blogs ….”

    Already an index of BBS is here,

    Kind regards,

    – Niki

  • mjgeddes

    Three interesting points to consider, three links:

    (1) Ben Goertzel has finally ‘gone strange’, check it out:
    Ben going strange?

    (2) What do economists think of the idea of totally abolishing all income taxes (and in fact all other taxes as well), and instead just having a single value tax on land and natural resources?

    Check out:

    (3) Good post on the everything-list about how many high-IQ-types fall into an intellectual hole:

    “They have an exaggerated need to be “right” about everything all the time. They are usually unable to think about anything from a perspective other than the one they long ago decided was the “right” perspective. They don’t know how to listen to others. They are usually unable to restructure the available information in such a way that they can draw new perspectives from it.”

    Check out:

    IQ Trap

  • John
    • John

      Sorry! The website I am talking about is

  • mjgeddes

    Last post from me, will post now instead of next month. I tripped on something and thought of this whilst tying my shoe-laces. Read this:

    ‘Reflection Solved’
    by Marc Geddes


    A change in the goal-system of an agent is equivalent to a change in the way in which knowledge is represented by the agent. It follows that it is equivalent to a change in the complexity of the program representing the agent. Thus we require a method of comparing the complexity of strings in order to ensure that relevant program structure is preserved with state transitions over time. Standard probability theory cannot be used because; (1) Consistent probability calculations require implicit universal generalizations, but a universal measure of the complexity of finite strings is a logical impossibility (fromGodel, Lob theorems); and (2) Standard measures of complexity (e.g Kolmogorov complexity) from information theory deal only with one aspect of information (i.e. Shannon information), and fail to consider semantic content. The solution must resolve both these problems.

    Regarding (2) the solution is as follows:, information theory is generalized to deal with the actual meaning of information (i.e . the semantics of Shannon information) .The generalized definition of the complexity of a finite string is based on the conceptual clustering of semantic categories specifying the knowledge a string represents. The generation of hierarchical category structures representing the knowledge in a string is also associated with a generalization of Occam’s razor. The justification for Occam’s razor and the problem of priors in induction is resolved by defining ‘utility’ in terms of ‘aesthetic goodness’, which is the degree of integration of different concept hierarchies. This considers the process through which a theory is generated; it is a form of process-oriented evaluation.

    Regarding (1); The Godel limitation is bypassed by using relative complexity measures of pairs of strings . This requires generalizing standard Bayesian induction ; in fact induction is merely a special case of a new form of case-based reasoning (analogical reasoning) . Analogical reasoning can be formalized by utilizing concepts from category theory to implement prototype theory, where mathematical categories are regarded as semantic categories. Semantic concepts representing the knowledge encoded in strings can be considered to reside in multi-dimensional feature space, and this enables mappings between concepts; such mappings are defined by functors representing conceptual distance; this gives a formal definition of an analogy. The reason this overcomes the Godel limitation and is more general than induction is because it always enables relative comparisons of the complexity of pairs of strings. This is because case-based reasoning depends only on the specific details on the strings being compared, whereas induction makes implicit universal generalizations, and thus fails.

    To summarize: Induction is shown to be merely a special case of a new type of generalized case-based (analogical) reasoning. Concepts from category theory enable a formal definition of an analogy, which is based on the notion of conceptual distance between concepts. The notion of complexity is generalized to deal with semantics, where the information in a string is considered to be a concept hierarchy. This enables comparisons between pairs of strings; relations between strings are defined in terms of the mappings between concepts, and the mapping is evaluated in terms of its aesthetic goodness. Godelian limitations are overcome, since analogical reasoning always enables a comparison of the relative complexity between any two finite strings. Further the new metric of aesthetic goodness ensures that the relevant program structure is preserved between state transitions and thus maintains a stable goal system.


  • Richard Pointer


    You might find this interesting. Can you comment?

  • …please where can I buy a unicorn?

  • Foxnewbee

    Excuse me. Does anybody understand how to find true Expert Avisor from fraudulent and a true signal from fake? big thanks