Heh, I love Richard's counterpoint (echoed by others). People who talk a lot about a subject may be selling it - or they may be genuine, passionate hobbyists. Sure, the former are biased, but the latter are often better at a subject than those just using it.

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"The people who are loudest are bad, bad people" is a mantra I've heard and read for several years now -- filtering through people who believe in earnest that they have cleverly picked up on some "truth" (ironically). Of course, you find an analogy that works for you -- but you want the reader to believe that it applies to all people/circumstances? In a blog called Overcoming bias no less?

What about investigative reporters? You think they're more quiet the more they believe in their truth?

What about people who are honestly convinced of an existential threat (Manhattan Project, e.g.)? Do you suppose they sit on their hands or have their say?

I think you have a point, but that you're way, way overselling it -- as if you have some truth to peddle.

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I am surprised that the group of "folks visibly concerned that the poor don't have enough cars" is of any significant size and I would be more surprised if these people publicly declared that they love cars (rather than that they love people). I have never seen a self-declared car-lover care about availability of cars to general public; for me the car lovers and philanthropists are almost perfectly disjoint sets. Can anybody provide a link prooving that such people really exist?

By the way, I agree that in general car sellers don't actually love cars - they love the money earned by selling them and could replace cars by anything comparably profitable with ease. But the car hobbyists seem to love cars genuinely. Why should it matter whether cars are loved for their main purpose? Especially in analogy with truth, which I wouldn't say has a main purpose.

Accidentally I happen to be a bit of railway fan, so in terminology of this post I love trains, although I would never say it so. I like to travel by train, read texts about different locomotives and history of railways. To get from A to B I frequently choose train over bus even if the bus is slightly cheaper and faster, and even sometimes make a trip only to see an interesting narrow-gauge line or railway museum. Therefore I think I'm not interested in trains only as a means to get from A to B.And I don't participate in any railfan group and don't speak about it often, so signalling is not an important issue. I think that, more often than not, car lovers are of this kind and the car sellers try to signal this sort of love for cars rather than "we like to efficiently get from A to B at lowest cost and maximum safety". With the latter, they wouldn't sell a single Ferrari.

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Why You Have to Pay to Discover the Franchisor's Truths

Image via WikipediaRobin Hanson, writing at Overcoming Biase, has a provocative claim.  Those interested in truth telling should pay others to uncover the truth in...

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I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned the story of Simon Magus in the biblical account of Acts. The word "simony" comes from this story of this man's ignoble attempt to pay money for the truth. The story is intended to teach a profound truth, which is also repeated in other "truth-seeking" traditions like Buddhism. Many truth-seeking traditions believe that wisdom can be earned, but none believe that wisdom can be bought.

In fact, "truth" in the sense you are using it, is exactly the opposite of "information", since "information" can be purchased, and "truth" cannot. If you are talking about truth which can be acquired for a fee, you are talking about "information", and should use the proper term.

Additionally, truth proper is held by most traditions to be a non-rival, non-excludable economic good; so the suggestion of valuing in a market exchange seems somewhat absurd. It would be like saying that we need to make people start paying for air, to see who likes air the most.

Finally, if we were to take this proposal seriously, we would have to conclude that the elderly people who give all of their money to greedy televangelists, love truth the most.

Where do you draw the line? Does a man love a $300 hooker more than a $200 hooker, and more than his wife?

Besides, lovers and truth-seekers have already leapfrogged this proposal thousands of years ago. Romeo, Juliet, and young Werther would propose that willingness to die is a measure of one's love; as would the random suicide bomber argue that it was a sign of their commitment to truth. Such twisted but plausible examples should demonstrate the folly of placing an economic cost on love, truth, or love of truth.

Finally, anyone who seeks to stack-rank other human beings to figure out which of them "love the truth" more, is arranging angels on the head of a pin. The very premise is a bit odd.

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On your view then, does this follow?

The Nobel Prizes should a) not pay money to the best X of year Y in field Z, but rather b) select that person to give out the money to the person who, for some time frame, discovers important truths in field Z, with X as the judge?

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What about people who publicly announce a change to their political philosophy?

Anybody who switches their philosophy is clearly a truth seeker (no matter what they switch to). And doing it publicly announces "many things I have said before are wrong". Those who put truth above pride, ego, etc... would love truth more than others. Revealed preferences, as they say.

You can also identify truth seekers by searching for those who constantly look for disconfirming evidence of their views.

Clearly betting and markets signals would work, but not for people without money.

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Nancy, the vast majority of people have enough money to buy many other things they want. Yes seeing their beliefs follow random walks would be a nice indicator, but few folks publish their belief changes often enough to show this.

MPL, reduced wages in academia could be for many other compensations; it isn't obviously for truth.

Andrej, yes investors have incentives to know certain truths, just as engineers have incentives to know others.

Michael M., in my previous comment I meant Michael V.; I edited the comment to be clearer.

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I might be. But what makes you say that?

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I've often wondered why, if people on the transhumanist blogs and mailing lists are so concerned with truth, they seem to want to spend so much time on the internet trying to advertise this fact. Surely if they really were such 'Bayesian Masters' there would be no need - they'd be out making insight after insight after insight in scientific circles, and winning over and over and over in betting markets etc etc?

Put it this way: I don't need to go running to some board pleading for a pay increase and having to suffer being directed to an Internet 'food voucher' service. I simply win as much cash as I need off Betfair horse racing markets by calibrating the probabilities better.

As to AGI, if ever I get it it's probably the last any of you would hear of me.


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"The people who just want to know things because they need to make important decisions, in contrast, usually say little about their love of truth; they are too busy trying to figure stuff out. These are the "truth lovers" I most respect in the sense of trusting their efforts to be directly targeted to actually uncovering truth."

I totally agree; these people need to find out the truth, because they have a financial incentive to do so. If they don't, they may loose their job and a lot of money.People who have financial incentives to find out the truth about something are most likely to know the truth. For example, long-term successful investors are most likely to know where the economy is going. On the other hand, economists in academia and government have little incentives to know the truth, the probability that they'll loose their job or a lot of money if they get it wrong is very small. They can allow themselves to be blinded by their ideological and other biases.

Good financial investors are able to change their mind quickly, they don't suffer from path dependency. An example is George Soros:

"The French playboy trader Jean-Manuel Rozan discusses the following episode in his autobiography (disguised as a novel in order to avoid legal bills). (...) One weekend, Saulos exhibited in his discussion a large amount of bearishness, (...) A few days later, the market rallied violently, making record highs. The protagonist worried about Saulos, and asked him at their subsequent tennis encounter if he was hurt. "We made a killing," Saulos said. "I changed my mind. We covered and went very long."

Nassim Taleb: Fooled by Randomness, second edition. p. 239


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Confounding factor: "Truth" comes in the form of facts (i.e. specific true bits of knowledge), but facts are valued more on their usefulness than their truthfulness.

Worth considering: people spend a lot on truth-seeking in opportunity cost. E.g. whatever your feelings about the noisy "public intellectual" types of academics, there are plenty of people honestly looking for true things in academia, who generally take reduced wages in return for being there (especially during the protracted study for undergraduate and graduate degrees---usually around 9 years).

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"The people who just want to know things because they need to make important decisions, in contrast, usually say little about their love of truth; they are too busy trying to figure stuff out. These are the "truth lovers" I most respect in the sense of trusting their efforts to be directly targeted to actually uncovering truth. Sellers, hobbyists, and do-gooders are instead more likely to pretend to seek truth while actually seeking cash or respect."I agree completely! (BTW, I am glad I found your site. I added it to my PDA news feeder).Two days ago, I went to my wife's church for a "special" service. I do not belong to any church - nor do I plan to join any in the near future. My wife respects my stance on this particular issue. To put it simply, I consider myself a "free thinker" - especially when it comes to topics concerning religion and spirituality. (And that is not to imply - in any way - that those who are members of religious groups are not "free thinkers.").

At any rate, I agreed to join her for this once a year church occasion. After the service ended, she introduced me to several "elders" of her congregation. My wife''s religion is extremely conservative. (I guess "opposites" do attract.lol). She actually proselytizes "door to door" with others from her church. I respect her commitment to her faith.One of the elder's (who was extremely polite) and I began talking about how the technology of digital cameras is improving at a fast rate. But then he said something like: "But you know, the Bible has always stayed great in its present form." I was thinking "ugh." This is his way of trying to began a dialogue on the Bible. After all, the setting of our conversation was inside a church. His intentions (however "pure") seemed to be focused on his truth - not THE truth.Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.



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What if you wanted to convince others that you were actually devoted primarily to truth about some topic, and to an unusual degree?

Which others are you trying to convince? If they aren't devoted to truth themselves, they'll mistake credentials or proclamations of truth-seeking or whatever crude markers for truth-seeking.

If you're trying to convince fellow truth-seekers, then "gladly learn and gladly teach" is probably the handiest method. I'd say that one of the best markers is someone changing their mind about something important for a good reason. This has limits-- it's more likely to apply to people who've been around long enough to run into good reasons to change their ideas.

Anyone know enough history of science to know whether having a taste for insulting people is inconsistent with truth-seeking? I'd like to believe that insults do so much more to drive away thin-skinned people than to raise standards that anyone who's seriously interested in truth wouldn't use them, but I suspect that life isn't that simple.

Your standard of spending money on getting truth is interesting, but the vast majority of people don't have enough money to make a noticeable splash that way. Also, even someone who spends money on truth might be kidding themselves about how much truth they'll listen to.

Experimentation is probably a good marker, and can be done cheaply on a small scale.

It'll be hard to find solitary truth-seekers who aren't especially interested in conveying what they've learned.

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Who loves overcoming bias the most?

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Peter, yes folks can signal raw wealth via buying anything, but usually they try to combine such signals with signals of other things.

James, yes folks should focus less on public good truths and more on private good truths. But if they pay little to buy any truths, I'll conclude as I described.

Eliezer, great questions.

Michael V., I think you are giving your associates and heros too much benefit of the doubt.

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