Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 19:01 on 22-10-2013, Dan H
the problem as I see it is making the jump from descriptive explanation of the incredible diversity of human behaviour into prescriptive commands of how some people are somehow doing nature wrong.


I think it's more subtle than that. I think a lot of Evolutionary Psychology stuff (particularly of the armchair variety, but also a lot of the actual mainstream stuff too) makes the mistake or - if you prefer - cynical strategic decision of seeking to provide an "explanation" for something which may or may not be true at all.

An awful lot of EvPsych stuff, at least as far as I've seen, has basically been about "explaining" cultural stereotypes in terms of evolutionary biology. It almost always comes down to some variant of "Group X does thing Y because In Caveman Times Group X had to do thing Z which is a bit like thing Y". Frequently these claims show no evidence that group X actually does thing Y at all, nor that group X ever did thing Z in the past, nor that thing Y necessarily constitutes a continuation or revival of thing Z even if Y and Z really were things to begin with.

Classic examples of this being things like "women like to go shopping more than men because in hunter-gatherer societies females would have been the gatherers and males the hunters" and "women talk more than men because men would go away hunting and the women would stay in the caves and do things that required communication." There's little evidence that women do in fact shop or talk more than men, and nobody actually knows very much at all about how our evolutionary ancestors lived, so neither of these arguments really have any scientific merit at all. They do, however, have rather a lot of *rhetorical* merit because superficially "X can be explained by Y, therefore X and Y are both true" is remarkably convincing, particularly if you leave out the final clause and just let people fill it in for themselves.

If we accept that evolution is the best explanation for life being how it is, then everything is because of evolution, from the way that some people crack their knuckles to ice cream head aches


I'm not sure that's strictly true. Or rather, I'm sure it's *strictly* true but I'm not sure it's usefully true.

Certainly any fact about a living organism can be explained in terms of evolution, but an awful lot of the time the explanation will be "because there is no strong evolutionary pressure against it."

I sincerely doubt, for example, that there is a strong selection pressure in favour of cracking one's knuckles in a particular way. And ice-cream headaches can be explained in terms of it being generally useful to have a nervous system that warns you when your body is at risk of damage, but I don't see much advantage in having a body that is likely to be damaged by things you are likely to eat.

In a roundabout way, a lot of evolutionary "explanations" wind up being curiously like the way people try to explain away the problem of evil. The thing is, evolution isn't supposed to be omniscient or omnibenevolent. It's perfectly okay to accept that some features of living organisms have no evolutionary benefit at all. It's certainly okay to accept that some - I might even suggest most - elements of human behaviour may not actually be the consequences of heritable biological factors for which our ancestors preferentially selected.
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at 11:33 on 22-10-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Hey, if the supercomputer is inevitable and virtual reality is a thing, then we might actually already live in a horrid simulation for the amusement of some machine god. Actually, it's statistically certain really, as I'm sure could be proven by some Bayesian analysis, when done right(which is judged by results of course). So there is a god and the singularity folks are right. Now the only thing we can hope for is that the machine's esthetic taste will change from absurd and sadistic dark comedy to something more lighthearted and slapsticky... which admittedly could be worse.
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at 11:25 on 22-10-2013, Arthur B
Ah, but if the future AI's one goal is to have sadistic or other fun, to somehow while away it's inescapable and eternal existence in an empty universe devoid of real goals, that is entirely rational.

"Buh... buh... but a truly rational AI would never be mean to me!" wails transhumanist Harry Potter as the Voldetron 5000 goes all I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream on him.
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at 11:14 on 22-10-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
a future AI might decide to resurrect and torture them for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with blackmail or rationality. (It might just decide "wow, these LessWrong people were dorks, I'm going to bring them back to life to haze them".)


Ah, but if the future AI's one goal is to have sadistic or other fun, to somehow while away it's inescapable and eternal existence in an empty universe devoid of real goals, that is entirely rational. You can do all sorts of wacky stuff rationally, if you just choose your goals and aspirations accordingly.
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at 11:03 on 22-10-2013, Arthur B
@Melanie:
...Is it just me, or is there sort of a cult-like vibe to them listing "have read our website" as a qualification?

Especially when they have an established canon which is promoted as the stuff you need to read in order to know what they are talking about.

My favourite thing about LessWrong is the Roko's Basilisk incident - summarised here, explained in more detail here, original exchange here - in which they freaked the fuck out about the possibility of future AIs torturing them for not doing enough to make the AIs come into existence - a blackmail which would only make sense if the AIs realised this was something they were worried about, so naturally thanks to the Streisand Effect arising from their attempts to censor discussion of this it's all but assured that a future AI with access to the Internet will find out about their bad thoughts and resurrect them for a rationalist transhuman spanking.

It never occurs to them that a) real scientists don't get this panic-y about very, very theoretical scenarios, and b) a future AI might decide to resurrect and torture them for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with blackmail or rationality. (It might just decide "wow, these LessWrong people were dorks, I'm going to bring them back to life to haze them".)
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at 08:09 on 22-10-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Bookwyrm:
I wanted to know why this post was so different in tone and format than the other ones. I don't think I will comment on the blog. I'm almost sorry I brought it up. :(

Aw, don't be. It's just, at least how I understood it, the post was supposed to be provocative and hyperbolic and while my own initial reaction was probably typical and defensive, there's not much to question, if you acknowledge the basic premise of the post: that things suck and it is a thing to be angry about.

I also really liked Chiusse's takedown of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.


Very interesting, especially as I've been able to avoid most of this singularity stuff and fan fiction in my life, so getting these sorts of glimpses into it is very fun. I have to say I find her treatment of evolutionary psychology a bit too dismissive. While I am aware that that particular hybrid of psychology and psychology is used to make far too many questionable and objectionable arguments about people, the problem is not that academic studies are necessarily fundamentally wrong, it is that people, some scientists, but more commonly all sorts of armchair philosophers(everyone can call the kettle black at this point), but the problem as I see it is making the jump from descriptive explanation of the incredible diversity of human behaviour into prescriptive commands of how some people are somehow doing nature wrong.

But this is sort of a problem with all things that begin that this is so and so because evolution. Of course it is! If we accept that evolution is the best explanation for life being how it is, then everything is because of evolution, from the way that some people crack their knuckles to ice cream head aches. Saying that something is caused by nature, does not actually add any new information, because everything is(assuming that scientific worldview is accepted)!

It just seems that instead of people trying to ponder ethical issues, some are more interested in trying to sidestep the issue by claiming that science can somehow resolve these issues. But of course ethics is done by fuzzy philosophers who are just wasting their time with splitting hairs, it is not that utilitarism or any ethical theory have significant problems or anything.
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at 05:43 on 22-10-2013, Daniel F
...Is it just me, or is there sort of a cult-like vibe to them listing "have read our website" as a qualification?


You'll find more than a few cult-like vibes about LW if you read on. ;)

In many ways I think they're a vaguely Platonist cult: that is, an ivory tower skeptical of outside knowledge, keen on the noble lie, convinced that armchair philosophising can trump empirical investigation, and believing that through their special knowledge of Rationality/the Good they are uniquely qualified to comment on any number of social issues.

And I know I shouldn't say that because armchair psychology and so on, but damn it if they aren't creepy and cultish sometimes.
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at 03:30 on 22-10-2013, Robinson L
Melanie: Why are you both using "strident" specifically when that word has such ugly, and pertinent, connotations?


Daniel F: I was not aware of any anti-feminist connotations

Shit, neither was I. I was casting about for a word that to my knowledge was non-judgmental and didn't have any patriarchal baggage attached to it (hoo boy was I wrong there), and which meant to me "assertive, forceful, emphatic." Sorry for the offense.

Interestingly enough, I've since read several more posts, and I'm more well-disposed to the blog now. It's still got stuff I still feel a bit iffy about (which is not to say that I necessarily consider it iffy, if you see the difference) but mostly I think it's very good and it makes me uncomfortable in the self-reflexive "this is something which I should still be working on" kind of way.

I think I may understand where the author is going with the "Men Have Ruined Everything" post, but I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth or go off mansplaining, so I'm not sure if I should go into it here.

I also quite liked the "Methods of Rationality" post. I'd been kind of wondering what all the fuss is about, and now I know that, plus why I should not trouble myself to investigate further.
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at 02:55 on 22-10-2013, Arthur B
Yeah, see it turns out that "Friends" are electric, and Ferretbrain's broke down (so Ferretbrain has no-one to love).
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at 02:25 on 22-10-2013, Michal
Wait wait wait wait...does Ferretbrain even have a "Friends" page anymore? Because I don't see one on the sidebar.
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at 02:02 on 22-10-2013, Bookwyrm
Would I like to have superhuman powers? Maybe - I can see pros and cons, even setting aside the social aspects.


That's an interesting thought, if you had superpowers what would you do? I would like to be a superhero but realistically I don't think I could handle the psychological strain.
What do all of you think? If you could choose your superpowers and decide to become superhero what type of hero would you be?
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at 01:49 on 22-10-2013, Melanie
was not aware of any anti-feminist connotations, I'm afraid.


Alright then; I hoped that was all it was.

As far as that community goes I'm more inclined to get angry at MetaMed, though. At least HPMOR is just a repulsive work of fan fiction: MetaMed is a scam with the potential to cause real, physical harm.


Oh, I haven't heard of MetaMed, let's just... see... what...
their management includes some names LWers will find familiar, and their researchers know math and stats and in many cases have also read LessWrong.


...Is it just me, or is there sort of a cult-like vibe to them listing "have read our website" as a qualification?
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at 01:34 on 22-10-2013, Bookwyrm
I'm genuinely curious: why do you want to comment on Chiusse's blog/post? Do you disagree with their opinions? With their tone? Would you like clarification on what they mean? Basically: what is it that's prompting you to respond to their post(s)?

The problem I had was the tone. The hyberbole and the idea that "men ruined everything" really bothers me but I'm not sure how literally I'm supposed to take this post. But still the vitriol makes me feel uncomfortable.
Also, this post felt different from the other ones. In the other posts when Chimuse makes a point they back it up with essay. In this one it's just "this thing was ruined by men" with an embedded link. That's why I wanted to comment, I wanted to know why this post was so different in tone and format than the other ones. I don't think I will comment on the blog. I'm almost sorry I brought it up. :(
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at 00:35 on 22-10-2013, Daniel F
Why are you both using "strident" specifically when that word has such ugly, and pertinent, connotations?


I was not aware of any anti-feminist connotations, I'm afraid. May I rephrase? I meant that I found the author to be strongly opinionated and outspoken.

I know that's a difficult thing to say, especially since it has the potential to come off as trying to stifle feminist criticisms, or suggest that they have no place in reviews of terrible fantasy novels. I'm not trying to do that. I suppose I found Chiusse's good and interesting criticisms to occasionally be undercut by criticisms that I thought were a bit beyond the pale. Perhaps I am being uncharitable.

Incidentally, I do agree with the posted criticisms of HPMOR. It's the tip of the iceberg. It's a gateway into Less Wrong as a whole, and from what I have seen, it gets worse. As far as that community goes I'm more inclined to get angry at MetaMed, though. At least HPMOR is just a repulsive work of fan fiction: MetaMed is a scam with the potential to cause real, physical harm.
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at 23:20 on 21-10-2013, Melanie
Why are you both using "strident" specifically when that word has such ugly, and pertinent, connotations?

I also really liked Chiusse's takedown of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.


Yeah, me too. I used to follow that fic, until the author decided to get on his high horse in a fairly disgusting way in one of the author's notes*, and it's sort of... gruesomely interesting... to see how far down the rabbit hole it has apparently gone.


*Now deleted--for some reason he had (has?) a habit of doing an author's note for every single chapter, and then deleting it when he put the next chapter (and a new author's note) up. But basically he was whining that he didn't get as many comments about Voldemort's story of torturing a bunch of people to death as he got about Draco casually threatening rape earlier in the story, and that this was very wrong of the readership.
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at 15:02 on 21-10-2013, Alice
I'm tempted to comment on the blog and ask what brought this on.
But I'm kind of afraid to. I don't want to get into a fight with someone I don't know over the Internet. Any thoughts?

(Bookwyrm )

I didn't get to that post, but I can't say I'm a fan of it either.

The thing is, I can't figure out how to have a friendly discussion about it on FerretBrain, much less by posting on that blog. I don't know if that's good advice for you, but I know I wouldn't risk it.

(Daniel F)

I started typing out my thoughts about this, but they were getting really long and not necessarily gaining in coherence. But my gut response was one of slight befuddlement, so -- with the understanding that as a pretty conflict-averse person, I would also like to keep things friendly! -- I have a question.

I'm genuinely curious: why do you want to comment on Chiusse's blog/post? Do you disagree with their opinions? With their tone? Would you like clarification on what they mean? Basically: what is it that's prompting you to respond to their post(s)?

(Okay, that's more like five questions rather than one, but you get the idea.)
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at 15:00 on 21-10-2013, Bryn
I'm with Arthur and Janne on that piece. I really don't see what there is to object to, unless you take it absurdly over-literally.

I also really liked Chiusse's takedown of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
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at 11:33 on 21-10-2013, Daniel F
I liked some of Chiusse's points as well, and still think plenty of them have merit, but the... um, stridency eventually put me off as well. I didn't get to that post, but I can't say I'm a fan of it either.

The thing is, I can't figure out how to have a friendly discussion about it on FerretBrain, much less by posting on that blog. I don't know if that's good advice for you, but I know I wouldn't risk it.
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at 11:30 on 21-10-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
The anger and the frustration seem to be valid enough and as the links provide very real examples of the things which cause said frustration and anger, it might be a bit hard to really argue against it, except for being hyperbolic, as Arthur noted, but that does seem a bit too obvious a thing to say and misses the point of it.

I guess if one would like to take this as something else than a polemical piece, all sorts of critiques would be possible, but that would really be kind of aggressive and dependent on twisting the purpose of said hyperbole. Well, as I see it anyways.
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at 10:47 on 21-10-2013, Arthur B
What in particular are you taking issue with there? "Men have ruined [thing]" is hyperbole (if [thing] were ruined that'd imply it couldn't possibly be reclaimed or give value and I don't think that's a position the writer is seriously taking), but the post seems to be exhaustively sourced when it comes to pointing out ways men have created an unpleasant environment.
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at 04:10 on 21-10-2013, Bookwyrm
The general tone is a bit strident for my taste, and I think the author is a little unfair to Sanderson's plotting and characterization, but I appreciate the perspective and there are a lot of good points in there.

Same here. I don't always agree with the author but he/she(?) raises some good points. I was with the author until I came across this piece.
I'm tempted to comment on the blog and ask what brought this on.
But I'm kind of afraid to. I don't want to get into a fight with someone I don't know over the Internet. Any thoughts?
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at 00:57 on 21-10-2013, Jamie Johnston
@Alasdair & James: I think to some extent the issues you've pointed out with Welcome to Night Vale may be matters of taste and expectation. It isn't really horrifying or scary or disturbing and if that's what you hoped or were led to believe it would be then it's fair enough if you're disappointed. I don't know whether you're going further and saying that it's actually bad because it doesn't explore the nature of evil like Twin Peaks does or because it invites the audience to be amused rather than terrified by tentacle-monsters. It doesn't seem to me that it's trying or claiming to be anything other than a sitcom.

Pear and I were just talking about how a lot of genres become established as an alliance between a certain type of story and a certain selection of setting / character elements. For example, classic fantasy tends to be heroic cosmic-political drama told using magic, pre-industrial pseudo-history, dragons, humanoid but non-human races, &c. But there's no reason why all heroic cosmic-political dramas have to involve any of those items, and equally no reason why you can't tell any other sort of story using those items. Space-ships and aliens have by now been used for all sorts of stories: sitcoms (Red Dwarf, Third rock from the sun), war films (Aliens), ghost stories (Solaris), and so on. Welcome to Night Vale uses a lot of the paraphernalia of Lovecraftian monster-horror and Lynchian things-are-not-what-they-seem horror but tells a completely different type of story with them, and I don't think that makes it less good than the 'originals' (because it's an entirely different thing and isn't really in competition with them), and I also don't think it devalues the 'originals' (because they still exist and are as good as they ever were).

In fact the relationship with Twin Peaks is quite interesting because although there are a lot of superficial similarities the underlying approaches are almost opposites. In Twin Peaks the big thing is that things are not what they seem and there's weird stuff going on under the surface, which is emphasized by the use of a view-point character who's an outsider. Welcome to Night Vale reverses that: everything is exactly what it seems, namely supernatural and full of monsters; the weird stuff is firmly on the surface, and the view-point character is not only an insider but actually part of the apparatus by which the weirdness is normalized. I think it would be wrong to regard it as merely sub-Twin Peaks rather than a self-conscious and playful subversion of it (among other things). Which may not be your cup of damn fine coffee, of course, but deserves a bit more credit, I'd suggest.
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at 22:02 on 19-10-2013, Robinson L
@Melanie: Good point. I'd be mightily ticked off if I ended up with Rogue's powers, for instance.

Reaching back a bit:
Bryn: This review blog may be of interest to Ferretbrain! It promotes diverse SFF but is quite willing to be harsh when warranted.

Also they have some really good looking collections of queer SFF short fiction + SFF short fiction by Asian and African and Caribbean writers.

Thanks for sharing, Bryn. Those authors all sound like they'd be worth getting into (well, except the poets, that's just not my thing), but I don't have time just now to hunt up and read two dozen books or magazines, but having those short stories collected right there and free to read - nice (especially since so many of them are already available on audio.

In other news, I'm surprised nobody's posted this already: Hell No: the Sensible Horror Film, "the most realistic horror movie ever," "with a surprise twist you'll ... probably see coming."

And finally, I just got this from the library and have been quite enjoying it: William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope.
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at 01:20 on 19-10-2013, Melanie
Would I like to have superhuman powers? Maybe - I can see pros and cons, even setting aside the social aspects. Would I like to have some prick come along and bestow superhuman powers upon me without my knowledge or consent? I don't think so.


Especially since, in the X-Men universe in particular, superpowers are basically a crap shoot: you could get something cool and useful, or, you could get something that makes you--completely involuntarily--a danger to everyone around you. Or you could get something that gives you far too much power over other people, like Xavier himself.
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