The Craft and the Community: Post 23 – 24

23. Bayesians vs. Barbarians

Yudkowsky thinks that a country full of rationalists could win in a war against barbaric, um, barbarians that believe in an afterlife and God and stuff. He mentions several things, I’m too lazy to elaborate on, because we’ve talked about them already too much like iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, one-boxing in Newcomb, building institutions that lead to the right incentives, etc.

Meh, I don’t know. With the current emotional make-up of the average human I guess rationalists – ceteris paribus – would really be at a disadvantage if they had to fight against, say, Islamic fundamentalists.

Whatever, here’s the ending of the essay:

I say all this, even though I certainly don’t expect rationalists to take over a country any time soon, because I think that what we believe about a society of “people like us” has some reflection on what we think of ourselves.  If you believe that a society of people like you would be too reasonable to survive in the long run… that’s one sort of self-image.  And it’s a different sort of self-image if you think that a society of people all like you could fight the vicious Evil Barbarians and win—not just by dint of superior technology, but because your people care about each other and about their collective society—and because they can face the realities of war without losing themselves—and because they would calculate the group-rational thing to do and make sure it got done—and because there’s nothing in the rules of probability theory or decision theory that says you can’t sacrifice yourself for a cause—and because if you really are smarter than the Enemy and not just flattering yourself about that, then you should be able to exploit the blind spots that the Enemy does not allow itself to think about—and because no matter how heavily the Enemy hypes itself up before battle, you think that just maybe a coherent mind, undivided within itself, and perhaps practicing something akin to meditation or self-hypnosis, can fight as hard in practice as someone who theoretically believes they’ve got seventy-two virgins waiting for them.

Then you’ll expect more of yourself and people like you operating in groups; and then you can see yourself as something more than a cultural dead end.

So look at it this wayJeffreyssai probably wouldn’t give up against the Evil Barbarians if he were fighting alone.  A whole army of beisutsukai masters ought to be a force that no one would mess with.  That’s the motivating vision.  The question is how, exactly, that works.

And Yvain nails it yet again:

“IAWYC, but I think it sidesteps an important issue.

A perfectly rational community will be able to resist the barbarians. But it’s possible, perhaps likely, that as you increase community rationality, there’s a valley somewhere between barbarian and Bayesian where fighting ability decreases until you climb out of it.

I think the most rational societies currently existing are still within that valley. And that a country with the values and rationality level of 21st century Harvard will with high probability be defeated by a country with the values and rationality level of 13th century Mongolia (holding everything else equal).

I don’t know who you’re arguing against, but I bet they are more interested in this problem than in an ideal case with a country of perfect Bayesians.”

24. Of Gender and Rationality

Why are there so few female rationalists (under 5% on Lesswrong)? Some reasons:

(7)  We could be looking at an indirect sex difference.  The obvious evolutionary psychology hypothesis behind the imbalanced gender ratio in the iconoclastic community—the atheist/libertarian/technophile cluster—is the idea that males are inherently more attracted to gambles that seem high-risk and high-reward; they are more driven to try out strange ideas that come with big promises, because the genetic payoff for an unusually successful male has a much higher upper bound than the genetic payoff for an unusually successful female.  It seems to me that male teenagers especially have something like a higher cognitive temperature, an ability to wander into strange places both good and bad.  To some extent, this can be viewed as a problem of authorial style as well as innate dispositions—there’s no law that says you have to emphasize the strangeness.  You could start right out with pictures of a happy gender-balanced rationalist unchurch somewhere, and banner the page “A Return To Sanity”.  But a difference as basic as “more male teenagers have a high cognitive temperature” could prove very hard to address completely.

(8)  Then there’s the hypothesis made infamous by Larry Summers:  Male variance in IQ (not the mean) is higher, so the right tail is dominated by males as you get further out.  I know that just mentioning this sort of thing can cause a webpage to burst into flames….  The remedies …are (a) continue the quest to systematize rationality training so that it is less exclusively the preserve of high-g individuals, and (b) recruit among prefiltered audiences that have good gender balance.

Wow, I’m impressed. I really thought I had to list those anti-PC reasons myself. Yudkowsky mentions of course lots of other reasons, most of them cultural in nature. And although most people would characterize me as a genetic determinist I also believe that our culture indoctrinates women to be more agreeable, conservative and conformist, you could say, more boring. (Unfortunately, most men prefer such women, don’t know if that’s for cultural or genetic reasons.)

It’s true that women score higher in Agreeableness (one of the Big Five) which is probably mostly caused by genetics. Nevertheless, there is a lack of female rolemodels in science and philosophy (FWIW, the only cool and famous female scientist/public intellectual I know of, is Susan Blackmore) and the drive to imitate one’s heroes is probably fairly important.

But fiction is probably even more crucial in determining one’s character and passions. But fiction really sucks when it comes to cool females.

For example, I know almost no movies that portray strong and rebellious female heroes with the notable exceptions of  Tiger and Dragon, Sucker Punch and Kill Bill.

The whole fantasy genre is even more problematic. Just think about the bosses of famous computer games:

Diablo: Baal, Diablo, Mephisto and Duriel vs. Andariel (which is the weakest boss). Lame.

Baldurs’s Gate: Sarevok and Jon Irenicus? Both male. (And most heroes are male too: Drizzt Do’Urden, Elminster, etc.)

Lord of the Rings is even worse: Sauron, Saruman? Male. Gandalf, Aragorn? Male. The whole fucking Fellowship of the Ring? Male.

(Sure, there are Galadriel and Eowyn. But these gals are secondary characters, at best.)

And Science Fiction is not much better.


..I would like to once again point out that individual IQ differences, whether derived from genes or eating lead-based paint as a kid, are already as awful as it gets—nothing is made any worse by talking about groups, since groups are just made out of individuals.  The universe is already dreadful along this dimension, so we shouldn’t care more whether groups are involved—though of course, thanks to our political instincts, we do care.

Well, if you’re male and heterosexual you actually do have a problem (if you want to rational girlfriends, that is). A fucking huge problem, I would like to add.

So, what can we do about that?

Assuming you want to do something about it. If you’re asexual or gay, you probably don’t mind. But greater female participation could have additional benefits:

Maybe there’s a critical threshold and once, say, there are more than 10% females, lots of women feel more comfortable and thus participate which would increase the amount of rationalists in general. Or, with the words of Yudkowsky: “…I am maintaining my phrasing of my goal as create rationalists not create female rationalists. But if half of the audience is being filtered for some silly avoidable reason, then I want to fix that.”

Furthermore, higher female participation would fight the stereotype of “male, nerd and weird” and so probably improve our image.

Anyway,  here’s a good comment by Anna Salamon:

“I was talking to my brother the other day about the blinders that come from hanging out only with math/physics/compsci nerds. And he suggested that yes, it is valuable to expose oneself to many types of people, but looking for “normal people” or “non-nerds” is the wrong way to do it; normal people are boring. The thing to do is to find people who share some other kind of passionate interest — people’s whose enthusiasm for public speaking, or windsurfing, or whatever it is has driven the creation of their own interesting, idiosyncratic culture.

As a student, I participated in a (fairly small) number of programs for women in math. The programs were all lousy. I love it when I find other women I can really talk to — it makes me feel more at home with myself, my gender, and my ability to learn to think. But these programs weren’t like that. These programs were blah. “Adding more women” is a boring aim, like “meeting normal people” or “meeting non-nerds”. Usually it’s achieved by taking whatever it is that might make the program distinctive (e.g., math talent, or an analytical/argumentative spirit) and watering down that distinctiveness until more women are involved.

I don’t know if there’s a viable alternative here, but it’s worth asking if we can find something distinctive and interesting that:

  1. Usefully adds to, compliments, or extends the existing OB/LW content base, and
  2. Automatically includes more women in its set of skilled/passionate practitioners, without need to water down its distinctiveness or its virtues.

Pjeby, elsewhere in this thread, suggested that instrumental rationality (using rationality to achieve visible, concrete aims) might be a useful, distinctive skill-set that naturally includes more women among its passionate practitioners. Another candidate might be rationality components that emphasize inter- and intra-personal skills, such as emotional self-awareness. (I’m fairly lousy at that one myself, but understanding one’s own motives is clearly part of making good decisions in the face of human biases. And stereotypes suggest we might get better gender-balance here.) Anyone have any other suggestions?”

I, for one, have started to write encouraging replies to female commenters that post on the “Welcome to Less Wrong”-Post. I borrowed the strategy from Konkvistador. (It’s funny, folks who are the most politically incorrect about sex and gender, i.e. who have the most accurate maps of reality, are often nicer to women than the guys from the thought police.)




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