I would like to hear Eliezer's opinion on the Duplicate Paradoxon. It would be nice to hear argumentation beyond 'both duplicates are REALLY me', since in my mind it does not solve the Duplicate Paradoxon.As Ban Best says:

"Specifically, it is a very serious problem for me to imagine two Ben Bests standing side-by-side, one facing North, the other facing South. After duplication, would I see the view to the North or the view to the South? I cannot answer this question with the counter-question "which 'I'?" There can only be one I to me, I can only look in one direction at once. If the duplicate facing North is destroyed, I will be either dead or alive. I cannot be in two minds, two bodies and two locations at the same time. I cannot speak of one "I" facing North and one "I" facing South. That is an objective description of "I" -- and is utterly inappropriate. The experience of being me is unitary, solitary and subjective."

I am rather new in the blog, and I'm sorry if the discussion has already taken place.

Expand full comment

Since this blog is about overcoming our own biases, I wonder why no one has ever set down a post or a comment saying, "What I said previously was wrong; I was subject to such and such a bias." It's true that people have modified their positions, but I don't remember anyone here accusing himself of having been subject to a bias, ever.

Expand full comment

I think I know what you mean when you contrast "overcoming our own biases" with "overcoming other people's biases," but that dichotomy sounds really arrogant to my ears. Even if the intent is good, that framing sounds a bit like "we OB readers are bettering ourselves, while other people just sit around whining!" Which is not a statement I want to stand behind.

I think a better sound-byte version of the issue is that OB deals with what bias is, while many other people deal with where bias is. OB tries to catalogue and study the ways that people can be biased. The hope is that, armed with this knowledge, readers can determine for themselves which ideas and institutions around them are products of bias. On the other hand, many other people are in the business of actually discussing which ideas and institutions are biased. A feminist blog, for example, will probably devote a lot of posts to talking about whether certain ideas, laws, etc. are biased against women. This relies on a notion of what it would mean to be "biased against women"--and that, in turn, on what it means to be "biased." This is what OB investigates.

I'm not sure how much I buy the argument that we are dealing with two definitions of the word "bias" here. Of course, bias against minorities can take several forms. It can be positive (in the philosophical sense), as when someone thinks that members of a minority are worse in some way (when they aren't). Or it can be normative, as when someone thinks that members of a minority should not receive good things because it is morally bad for them to be happier. (Or a variant of the latter, where someone acts out of emotional distaste for a minority, but where the emotion is not a moral emotion.) The positive kind of bias is definitely the sort of thing OB talks about. The other kinds are not so clear, because they involve moral claims beyond "we should believe the truth." But now that Eliezer is getting into ethics, OB might be on the road to discussing the idea of normative bias. That would be interesting.

Expand full comment

Peter, if we didn't have bounded rationality, is there any reason to think that our utility functions would eventually converge? If they did, would that be an indication that 'perfect rationality' had been achieved?

Anonymous, as far as I know, none of the optimality and uniqueness proofs to which Eliezer alludes deal with bounded rationality. They all take the God's eye point of view. I do not know of any "convergence" proof for bounded rationality.

Expand full comment

The last century "or so"? I think it’s been longer.


And wow, Oxford University Press! Publishes scholarship on…..”race”!!! Whoda thunk!

http://www.us.oup.com/us/ca...126 titles in “Race and Ethnicity”

19 titles in “Race and American Culture”

A doctoral reading list in feminist theory!http://www.sfu.ca/womens-st...

And a quick “race and ethnicity” search at Oxford university reveals that yeah, they’re doing some thinking and teaching and writing about it too:


I wonder what the academics at Oxford would think of the level of thought and discourse on race here at Coming Over Biassed!

Signed: Feminist

Expand full comment

Peter, if we didn't have bounded rationality, is there any reason to think that our utility functions would eventually converge? If they did, would that be an indication that 'perfect rationality' had been achieved?

Expand full comment

Peter, I don't see how I assumed anything singular about rationality.

Robin, your use of the term "we" in your post above seems, to me, to assume a lot about "us". I think "we" are more diverse than you suppose.

Expand full comment

Peter, probability theory and decision theory are pinned by a number of optimality and uniqueness proofs, in theory. So who gets to use the best-achievable rational beliefs and strategies, and who has to use suboptimal ones for the sake of "diversity"?

Eliezer, aren't you contradicting what you said in The Design Space of Minds-In-General and No Universally Compelling Arguments? Are you saying that Bipping AIs, Gloopy AIs, and Freepy AIs cannot all be rational? There is only one point in the design space that is rational? This seems to be a rather narrow view to me.

I think we can agree that perfect rationality is not possible. Since any mind is finite, at best we have bounded rationality. Different minds may have different bounds, and hence different beliefs and different strategies. You could take a "God's eye" point of view, and say that one of those bounded minds comes closest to the "truth", which can only be known to an unbounded mind, but the "God's eye" point of view is unattainable in reality.

Briefly, only God could know what are "the best-achievable rational beliefs and strategies" (and I'm an atheist).

Expand full comment

Unnamed, fair enough, I've added that possibility to the text.

Kaj, yes such groups also often try to overcome their perceived lack of self-esteem, but most of their efforts are elsewhere.

Expand full comment

Robin, how does that differ from scare-quoting? (I've have a few questions about the "Holocaust". And I'm looking to learn more about the "prejudice" that some people talk about.)

If you're wondering why some of the reactions you've gotten range from bewildered to flat-out pissed, it's because the things that you're wondering about the existence of are as obvious as a punch in the mouth to the people they affect. Jonathan Schwarz has spoken more eloquently on this point than I can, but it gets to the heart of the matter; in your position, you don't see these things unless you make an effort to educate yourself. That doesn't mean they don't exist.

Expand full comment

[W]e might view the continued lobbying of self-identified repressed minorities as just a selfish grab for more attention and deference than they deserve.

Robin, why is this the only alternative you listed to the hypothesis that minorities are actually correct about our biases? I would've thought that you have enough experience with disagreements to avoid jumping to such a hostile accusation. Why couldn't they just be mistaken, and perhaps a bit behind the times?

Take the case of African-Americans. If African-Americans do tend to overestimate the extent and importance of social discrimination against blacks, then I think that's pretty understandable given the widespread and severe discrimination against blacks in the not-too-distant past, along with the fact that, besides reducing discrimination, the Civil Rights movement also made the remaining discrimination much less visible. That means it can be hard to tell how much discrimination remains. Since African-Americans learned habits of thought when discrimination against them was an enormous problem (and the struggle against it was very important), and since there continue to be fairly large disparities between blacks and whites in America, it wouldn't be surprising if many blacks would continue to see discrimination as a main reason for their troubles even if it has actually been reduced to a relatively minor problem. And of course some of the standard biases (like confirmation bias in interpreting ambiguous actions as cases of discrimination) could contribute to this mistake.

There's no need for group-selfishness to enter into the picture. There is also a pretty direct argument against group-selfishness playing that big of a role: plenty of middle class white males have similar pro-diversity views.

Expand full comment

Grendel, the quotes are intended flag a neutral questioning uncertainty regarding whether the labels actually apply, not to claim that they do not apply.

Expand full comment

For someone so interested in overcoming his own biases, it seems never to have occurred to Robin that the word "minority" means something concrete, that minority groups aren't simply self-defined, or that putting the word "repress" in scare quotes implies a conclusion already reached. When his bias and privilege were pointed out, he got defensive. How depressingly unsurprising.

Yes, treating women like mushy-headed creatures from beyond the tenth planet betrays bias on your part, Robin. The problem isn't other people. The problem is you. No, a series of guest posts aren't needed. There are places to learn about this stuff, and it's the least you can do to try and learn a little rather than trying to shield yourself from the apparently terrifying prospect of admitting you were ignorant. There's nothing wrong with being ignorant; it's the easiest thing in the world to fix, if you actually want to.

Expand full comment

Whatever evidence would tend to falsify our hypotheses about our own bias or lack of bias.

J.R.R. Tolkein told his son that when he went to confession, he should confess to the priest whom he despised.

Expand full comment

There is a classical argument that employers who overcome discrimination bias will have an economic advantage, as they can employ members of repressed groups for lower wages. Some have claimed that this means that there would be no discrimination bias in employment. However it seems more likely that this bias, like others, cannot be overcome just by intending to do so, and that we would therefore see a range of degrees of discrimination bias among employers.

Expand full comment

Note that feminist groups start out from the idea that one first has to realize the hidden biases and injustices in themselves, before they can begin correcting them in others. So the correct characterization would be that we try to overcome our own biases, while they attempt to overcome their own biases and those of others.

Separating cognitive and social biases also feels somewhat artificial to me - we've had disagreement case studies (for instance) here before, so why not examples of how, say, confirmation bias leads to rigid gender roles being upheld? Many, though not all, social biases are still caused by cognitive biases. See, for instance, this male privilege checklist - there's a lot of non-cognitive stuff in there, but also a lot of stuff that seems to be a result of the availability heuristic and a form of status quo bias. Gender roles are also a good example of how biases can be self-fulfilling, with a popular conception of individuals of a certain gender being of a certain kind leading to just that. (Also, most of those points in the linked article seem very valid, so the accusation of feminism and such being "just a selfish grab for more attention and deference than they deserve" seems unwarranted.)

I feel that this community and the feminist communities could have a lot to offer each other - since it's obvious the people here don't know much about the topic, could the editors consider inviting some feminist writers over to make guest posts?

Expand full comment