“This sort of thinking and talking that I revere is that which actually achieves substantial and valuable progress in abstract understanding, and is done in a way to effectively and primarily achieve this goal.” Of course, thinking that actually achieves understanding is better than thinking that, while aiming at such achievement and using methods well-suited to such achievement, in fact fails to do so. But success is not guaranteed to even the most sincere and rational efforts. I wonder if you should not treat as sacred the sincere, rational effort, regardless of success.

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This is why I am a realist: it is important first to figure out what is real, and only after that what we can judge, opine, emote, and react to within it.

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I see Elephant in the Brain as quite sufficiently dense with insight. And I have my coauthor Simler to thank for making it so accessible to wider audiences.

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Perhaps a different angle: your "sacred value" is the discovery of truth, and therefore you loathe practices that make the discernment of true ideas harder instead of easier?

Or, if you intuitively suspect that you hold intellectual inquiry sacred on its own, it would be very interesting to try to figure out why it's inquiry instead of truth--that may (or may not) inform your ruminations.

(Me, I'm a truth fanatic of sorts, so that's how I view your ideas here.)

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Absolutely agree with you about the sacredness of intellectual inquiry and this is one of the main reasons I follow your blog. (The other main reason is your ideas about futarchy, which I don't necessarily agree with but find very interesting.)

Ideal intellectual inquiry will tend towards the truth in the long run. All you have to do is keep collecting evidence and thinking about it and being honest, and in the limit as inquiry tends to infinity you're going to settle on some way of representing and thinking about the data that is truly the best. This would be C.S. Peirce's Pragmatist notion of truth.

The problem with mixing intellectual inquiry with dishonest, impure motives and practices is that the methods may be so bad that the result can simply fail to approach the truth. The methods can be actively detrimental to the truth. For instance, we likely see this when it comes to many forms of political rhetoric, where everything is about tribal us-vs-them, at the expense of the truth, and there is no clear intellectual advance forward.

Academic papers in many fields may have impure methods, but compared to the kinds of discourse typical people perform, the inquiry going on in most academic papers is relatively very good. But sometimes even academic discourse can be so dishonest it does not tend towards the truth, and that's how we got the replication crisis.

So yes, maintaining purity and honesty in intellectual inquiry is very important. We don't have to have literally perfect integrity, but below a certain threshold the intellectual inquiry can just fail to make progress or can make backwards progress. Quality control when it comes to intellectual inquiry matters.

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>I see a paper on a topic as implicitly claiming that the topic is some rough approximation to the best topic they could have chosen, and a paper using a method that some rough approximation to the best method. So it bothers me when it seems obvious the topic isn’t so good, or when the method seems poorly chosen. I’m also bothered when the length of some writing seems poorly matched to the thesis presented. For example, if a thesis could have been adequately argued in a paper, then I’m bothered if its in a book with lots of tangential stuff added on to fill out the space.

What's up with Elephant in the Brain being so fluffy then?

>This sort of thinking and talking that I revere is that which actually achieves substantial and valuable progress in abstract understanding, and is done in a way to effectively and primarily achieve this goal. Thus I see as “profane” work that appears to be greatly influenced by other purposes, such as showing off one’s impressiveness, or assuring associates of loyalty.

Then why doesn't Elephant in the Brain ever map out the distribution of altruistic behavior? I recall reading the first half of the book and seeing that it was filled with a lot of anecdotes. Some of the key data presented was stuff on confabulation in brain surgery patients. IIRC I thought group evolution was denied as well without good reason, even though it's obviously true and was really obviously a political thing for individualists. I chalked up Elephant in the Brain as something similar, something like a manifesto of individualism, maybe a work of art, an introspective piece with a scientific aesthetic perhaps. I think about altruism vs. hedonism a lot though and I am planning on working on psychometrics which measure altruism. I suspect like anything else altruism occurs in some people more than others. I think this is highly heritable and probably a major influence on political orientation. I would expect a serious book on altruism to discuss the distribution of altruistic tendencies, its heritability, group evolution, and include the data regarding these as well as some mathematical models in the first 10 or so pages. I think it's clear that NYT best-seller style books with snazzy titles and subtitles are basically written for people who are not functionally literate (as your old post on reading comprehension demonstrates) and are as such not serious works of knowledge but rather are "spectacle" which was created for money and status.

>It seems that I instead deeply want to distinguish and revere a particular more sacred sort of thinking and talking from the rest. And instead of assuming that my favored type is just very rare, hardly of interest to anyone but me, I instead presume that a great many of us are trying to produce my favored type, even if most fail at it. Which can let me presume that most must know how to do better, and thus justify my indignant stance toward those who fail to meet my standards.

I feel this way too, are you saying you felt Elephant in the Brain to be concise, rigorously argued, efficient, not reaching for anything political?

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If you found out that mixing that mixing the two slightly increased the efficiency and rate of producing abstract understanding would you still object to the mixture?

For instance, suppose that you can get humans to spend more time reading, debating and responding to academic papers by mixing in some kind of status talk (they find it more engaging) without any net negative effects. Are you still upset by the mixing?

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