How Inductivists Think About Bias

I just saw someone making an argument that something is unbiased because no one tried to bias it or designed it to be biased.

In other words, he thinks that not being biased is the automatic default.

I think this is what many inductivists think: that all the theories they make up and claim to have induced are not just bias talking. And why do they think it's not bias but rather a hint coming from the evidence itself? Because it can't be bias because they didn't intend any bias or do it on purpose. Simple as that.

But actually epistemology/reality is the other way around: everything is biased by default (a lot, not a little), and it is only with great care and effort that we can get anything that isn't biased.

It's as Feynman said: it's easy to fool ourselves, and science is what we've learned about how to not fool ourselves. Or in other words, bias is the default and the scientific method consists of doing everything we know how to in order to reduce bias.

You can tell there is a lot of bias to overcome because of how careful scientists have to be to get good results. It's not that the scientists are bad people or anything like that, it's simply that avoiding bias takes skill and effort not just a lack of bad intentions.

David Deutsch says about this (quoted with permission):
It's the intentional fallacy. If something is bad, a bad person must have done it. If something is biased, a biased person must have done it. And therefore if we are all pure and unbiased, we are infallible.
That reminds me of *early* induction. According to Popper (with textual evidence and good arguments), Bacon's conception of induction was a bit different than what you usually run into today. The main idea was to *purge your mind of bias*[1]. Then you can read nature like an open book and make zero mistakes and finish learning all of science in a few years.

This is (again via Popper) building on the *original* meaning of induction which comes from Aristotle (who falsely attributed it to Socrates) which was about maieutics. The idea is, very roughly, that the truth is trivial (and already inside us, I think) and the only obstacle to the truth is therefore bias.

[1] How do you know what is a bias and what isn't? Easy. It's all bias. Just empty your mind completely. That's Bacon's way.

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Socialism is Slavery

Socialism is (from dictionary):
a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
One of the means of production is knowledge contained in people's minds. If the community owns or regulates people's minds that is an especially harsh form of slavery.

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The Impossibility of Socialism
Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth
by Ludwig von Mises (1920)
In this essay Mises criticizes socialism (in short socialism is impossible because it does not provide means for rational economic calculation and decision making). In doing so, he has to talk about what socialism says. He makes a good attempt to give a fair and reasonable interpretation. One of the things he says is socialism differentiates between consumption goods and the means of production. If a socialist citizen wishes to trade his allotment of beer for his friend's allotment of concert tickets, that's allowed. But there can be no trade of the means of production because they are communally owned.

That makes sense because otherwise the planners have to know everyone's tastes so they know who to give beer to and who to give concert tickets to. (Or they can try a rather implausible scheme such as making everythign free for the taking and asking people to only take modestly.)

There is a problem here: this distinction rests on a naive and false conception of the kinds of goods that exist. It assumes household cleaners are for consuming and hammers are for producing and every good is is one type or the other. This is false. Consider the Macbook. This is a consumer product which people use to play games, but it's also a means of production for programmers, video game artists, people who need a spreedsheet program to manage a warehouse or factory, architects, and sales people who need to create presentations.

Even household cleaners can be used in production (to make drugs, for example) and hammers can certainly be used for either hobby work or professional work. Jewelry can be melted into gold or silver which can be used in production. Factories can be remodeled into living spaces. There can be no distinction between consumer and productive goods.

This is not Mises' problem. It is socialism's problem. If socialism wishes the factors of production to be communally owned, but for consumption goods to be privately owned, then it's socialism's problem to (impossibly) draw a distinction between the two.

My conclusion is that socialists have a choice:

1) Socialism is impossible.

2) Socialism must intrude into its citizens' entire lives: everything is communally owned and its use determined by the planners.

3) Socialism must make arbitrary declarations about which goods are to be communally owned and which not. Doing that will cause economic harm by preventing goods from switching categories even when doing so is efficient.

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Email Lists

Do you like to learn things? Critical discussion is the best way. Join these email lists and post in comments if you know any other great ones:

Taking Children Seriously
Autonomy Respecting Relationships
Fabric of Reality
Rational Politics

EDIT: These are all superseded by the Fallible Ideas list:

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Mises Explains Profit

What makes profit emerge is the fact that the entrepreneur who judges the future prices of the products more correctly than other people do buys some or all of the factors of production at prices which, seen from the point of view of the future state of the market, are too low. Thus the total costs of production — including interest on the capital invested — lag behind the prices which the entrepreneur receives for the product. This difference is entrepreneurial profit.
By Ludwig von Mises in Profit and Loss, p 8

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History of Greece by William Godwin

I am making freely available the History of Greece by William Godwin as a PDF. This is a very rare book which could not be found online until today. Enjoy. There's a high resolution version too.

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Infinity Blade Guide

I wrote a guide to the iOS game Infinity Blade:

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Street Musicians & Public Goods

Street musicians provide a public good. Anyone who wishes can be a free rider. There's no obligation to pay, and the majority of people do not pay.

They provide this public good without any help from the Government. Public goods can be provided without Government assisstance.

They also provide this public good without any ability to force anyone to pay. They do not wish such an ability.

Street musicians prefer to attract a crowd, even though they know that means they will have more free riders on the day. Free riders are harmless to them at worst, and actually can be positive (they add prestige and may perhaps tell someone about it later).

People fear that public goods cannot be provided because everyone will choose to be a free rider. But this is not what happens. In real life, everyone can be a free rider for street musicians, but people choose not to be. Some pay.

Enough pay that many street musicians go back the next day and do it again. Their actions reveal the pay is adequate and the profession preferable, for them, to any other.

How can it be that a profession can be viable when it provides nothing but a public good and everyone can have a free ride? This directly contradicts mainstream economic thinking on the matter. The only thing to do is conclude that those thinkers are mistaken (and to wonder why they failed to notice such a common place fact).

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Movie Advice

In some movies, a character in the movie gives advice which is very helpful and important, and the advice receiver's life is significantly changed for the better.

The advice is almost always very generic. It's so generic you could put it in a movie intended to appeal to millions of different people, and offend no one, and many of them could even think it's decent advice for themselves.

The advice is unoriginal. It's stuff you could get from a movie without needing anyone to advise you.

So, why does it work? How can advice that is available in movies be effective for anyone? Shouldn't the characters have heard it before, and if it's useful for them then already be doing it to the best of their abilities? Do the people in movies not themselves watch movies with advice?

There seems to be a theory that telling people what is already common knowledge can be life changing if you say it at the right moment, with the right emotions in your voice.

It's ridiculous. In real life (and so it should be in movies that hope for realism), everyone is already familiar with generic movie advice, and if they have problems despite already knowing that advice then something better will be required to solve them.

Maybe something like this.

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The Categorical Imperative is Mistaken

Kant offered us the categorical imperative:
Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.
But all possible actions accord with infinitely many different universal laws.

For example suppose I want to rob someone. That is compatible with the law "rob everyone in sight". It is also compatible with the universal law consisting of "never rob anyone" plus specifying one exception. That law is universal since it covers all cases (that's what universal means).

It's also compatible with, "Commit the robbery. 500 years and N seconds later, if still alive, eat a carrot. Otherwise follow whim." As N ranges from 0 to infinity, we construct infinitely many universal moralities. And we can replace the robbery with anything else we like.

The categorical imperative is, contrary to its intent, compatible with all actions, and with all moral worldviews. Another simple way: take any moral worldview you already have which advocates what you want to do, then add "or if something is not specified, follow your whim" to make it universal.

The primary flaw is that the categorical imperative incorrectly assumes that actions only accord with one universal law each.

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Godwin's Political Philosophy

Here is Godwin summarizing his own political philosophy.

Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin; General Editor Mark Philp; London 1993; Volume 2; p 219-220 [The Administration of 1806, published 1807]
My political creed may be stated with great brevity and clearness. It consists of two parts, speculative and practical. In speculative politics, I indulge with great delight to my own mind (and I cannot easily persuade myself with injury to others), in mediating on what man can be, on all the good which our nature, taken in the most favourable point of view, seems to promise, and in endeavouring to trace in the wide and unexplored sea of future events, through what adventures and by what means that good (certainly in many of its branches exceedingly remote) may ultimately be brought home to man.

In practical politics, my path is marked with many a beacon, which is wanting to me in the tracks of speculation, and therefore I may hope is less exposed to error. In the first place, I am an enemy to revolutions. I abhor, both from temper, and from the clearest judgment I am able to form, all violent convulsions in the affairs of men. I look to the understanding alone for all real and solid improvements in the structure of human society. Whether the human mind shall exult most in the display of a gilded chariot and a splendid drawing-room, or in simplicity of manners and the practice of virtue, must depend on the judgment the human mind in the successive revolutions of things shall form of what it is that is exquisite and admirable.

I am therefore practically a friend to the English constitution. Not that I regard it, as some men have done, as the model of all that is the best in political government, and the consummation of human wisdom. But I find in it much that is good; and when I compare it with the government of the countries that surround us, devoutly do I admire it. Were it much worse than it is, my principles would restrain me from assailing it with violence; but as it is, that patience and filial tenderness towards it which my principles enjoin, is made likewise agreeable to my inclinations. I would treat it as I would a robe bestowed on me for the most useful purposes; I would repair it where it became decayed; in those repairs I would change in some respects the fashion of it as my conveniency seemed to require; but the changes that took place (to however great a sum they might one day amount) should be, separately taken, gentle, temperate, almost insensible. From a pure system of feudal manners, which the English constitution at one time was, it has gradually adapted itself to a mercantile and considerably luxurious nation; and I neither expect nor desire that it should continue unchanged in times to come, and more than it has remained unchanged in ages past.

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Trade is Error Correction

Trade consists of correcting errors. That's why it's profitable.

The errors are errors about who has what property.

As with all error correction, criticism and knowledge are central.

All trade requires knowledge: you have to know that it'd be a good idea to trade X for Y or you won't do it.

All trades require criticizing and wanting to change the status quo. I haven't got an iPad, *but that's a mistake*, I should have one! I haven't got anything to eat for dinner, but I should change that! Or more advanced, "That company is doing some useful stuff, but I have an even more valuable project for them to work on than their current one, so I'll buy them out and change their focus" or "That store is doing ok but if i owned that particular building I could provide more value there, so I'll buy it".

When you're right, you buy a store (say) for $110, that had a value of $100 to the old owner, and then you make a profit of $200 from it. So by correcting the error (store being used in a way with $100 of value instead of the new way worth $200), value is creating and both parties to the trade gain.

When you're mistaken -- i.e. you don't correct an error -- then you buy for $110, but only make $90. So you come out behind. But at least your mistake didn't hurt the other guy, it's only your problem, which is good.

In this way, correcting errors is encouraged, and creating errors is discouraged.

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