Academia's Inadequacy

TheCriticalRat posted my article Animal Rights Issues Regarding Software and AGI on the Debate A Vegan SubReddit.

This post shares a discussion highlight where I wrote something I consider interesting and important. The main issue is about the inadequacy of academia.

The two large blockquotes are messages from pdxthehunted and the non-quotes are me. I made judgment calls about newline spacing for reproducing pdxthehunted's messages and I changed the format for the two footnotes.

This came up a few weeks ago, when u/curi was posing questions on this subreddit. I looked through some of Elliot's work then and did so again just now. I'm not accusing them of being here in bad faith--they seem like they are legitimately interested in thinking about this topic and are asking interesting questions/making interesting claims.

That being said, they also seem to have little or no formal education in philosophy of mind or AGI. All of their links to who they are circle back to their own commercial website/blog, where they sell their services as a rationalist philosopher/consultant. It appears that they are (mostly) self-taught. Their (supposed)[1] connection to David Deutsch is why I bothered even to look further.

I don't think you need to have a degree to understand even advanced tenets in philosophy of mind or artificial intelligence. The problem here is that Elliot seems to have written an enormous amount--possibly thousands of pages--but has never been published in any peer-reviewed journal (at least none that I have access to through my community college) and so their credibility is questionable. Judging from their previous interactions on this sub, Elliot seems to have created their own curriculum and field of expertise.

I was impressed by the scope and seriousness of their work (the little I took the time to read). Still, it's very problematic for debate: they seem to be looking for someone who has the exact same intellectual background as they do--but without any kind of standardization, it's very hard to know what that is without investing possibly hundreds of hours into reading his corpus. This is the benefit of academic credentials; we can engage with someone under the assumption that they know what they're talking about. Most of Elliot's citations and links are to their own blog--not to any peer-reviewed, actual science. I suspect that's why they've left the caveat that "blog posts are okay."

A very quick browse through Academic Search Premier found over 100 published peer-reviewed journal articles on nonhuman animals and general intelligence. I browsed the abstracts of the first three, all of which discuss general intelligence in nonhuman animals. General intelligence is hard to define--especially in a way that doesn't immediately bias it in favor of humans--but even looking at the usual suspects in cognition demonstrate that many animals possess it unless we move the goalposts to human-specific achievements like writing symphonies or building spacecraft (which of course leaves the vast majority of all humans who've ever existed in the cold).

In short--not to be rude or dismissive--but the reason that animal rights activists aren't concerned about the "algorithms" that animals have that "give them the capacity to suffer" (forgive me if I'm misquoting) is that it is a non-issue. No serious biologists doubt that nonhuman animals (at least mammals and birds) can have preferences for or against different mental states and that those preferences can be frustrated or thwarted. Pain and suffering are fitness-selecting traits that allowed animals to avoid danger and seek nourishment and mates. I'm not an expert in any of your claimed domains; that being said, to believe that consciousness and the capacity to suffer evolved only in one species of primate demonstrates a shockingly naive understanding of evolution, philosophy of mind, cognitive science/neuroscience, and biology.

Similar questions can be asked about general intelligence. My answer to that is we don’t entirely know. We haven’t yet written an AGI. So what should we think in the meantime? We can look at whether all animal behavior is consistent with non-AGI, non-conscious, non-suffering robots with the same sorts of features and design as present day software and robots that we have created and do understand. Is there any evidence to differentiate an animal from non-AGI software? I’m not aware of any, although I’ve had many people point me to examples of animal behavior that are blatantly compatible with non-AGI programming algorithms.

There is no "scoop" here. There are a few serious philosophers I've read--Daniel Dennett, for instance--who I think make similar arguments as you're making here, which we can call the "animals as automata" meme. The very fact that you believe that cows show no more intelligence than a self-driving car makes me feel very suspicious that you don't know what you're talking about. Nick Bostrum basically states in his AI opus Superintelligence that if humans managed to emulate a rodent mind, we would have mostly solved human-level AGI.

To claim that there are "no examples" of an animal doing something that a non-AGI robot couldn't[2] do discredits your entire thesis--you're either woefully misinformed, or disingenuous. Again, I'm very impressed by your (Elliot's) obvious dedication to learning and thinking. Still, I don't think this argument is even to the point where it's refined enough to take seriously. There's so much wrong with it that betrays not just a lack of competence in adjacent disciplines but also an arrogance around the author's imagined brilliance that it feels awkward and unrewarding to engage with.

EDIT 12/2: [1] Connection to Deutsch--though not necessarily relevant to this argument--is not overstated.

[2] Changed would to couldn't

Suppose I'm right about ~everything. What should I do that would fix these problems?

Thanks for the response. Also, I checked the Beginning of Infinity and saw that you don't seem to be exaggerating your claim (obviously you know this--I'm mentioning it for any skeptics). Elliot Temple is not only listed in the acknowledgments of BOI, but they are given special thanks from the author. That's very cool, regardless of anything else. Congratulations. I'm hesitant to do too much cognitive work for you on how to fix your problems--it sounds like you're used to charging people a fair amount of money to do the same. Still, I engaged with you here, so I'll let you know what I think.

Read More

You need to become better read in adjacent fields--cognitive neuroscience, ethology, evolutionary biology, ethics--these are just a few that come up off the top of my head. If you're right about more or less everything, peer-reviewed research done by actual scientists in most of these fields should agree with your thesis. If it doesn't, make a weaker claim.

Publish

Right now, your argument is formatted as a blog post. Anyone with access to a computer is technically capable of self-publishing thousands of pages of their thoughts. Write an article and submit it to an academic journal for peer review. Any publication that survives the peer-review process will give you more credibility. I'm not saying that's fair, but it is a useful heuristic for nonexperts to decide whether or not you are worth their time. An alternative would be to see your blog posts cited in books by experts (for instance, Eliezer Yudkowsky has no formal secondary education, but his ideas are good enough that he is credited by other experts in his field).

Empiricism/Falsifiability

As it currently stands, you're essentially making a claim and insisting that others disprove it. This, of course, is acceptable as a Reddit discussion or a blog post--but is not suitable for uncovering the truth. I can insist that my pet rock has a subjective experience and refuse to believe otherwise unless someone can prove it to me, but I won't be taken seriously (nor should I be). Could you design an experiment that tests a falsifiable claim about nonhuman animal general intelligence? (Or, alternatively, find one that has already been published demonstrating that only humans possess it?) What would it look like?

What computations, what information processing, what inputs or outputs to what algorithms, what physical states of computer systems like brains indicates or is consciousness? I have the same question for suffering too.

We don't know the answer to these questions. Staking your thesis on possible answers to open questions might be a way to stalemate internet debates, but won't deepen your or anyone else's understanding.

Gatekeeping

You're widely read and the depth of your knowledge/understanding in some areas is significant. You need to recognize that some people will have different foundations than yours--they might be very well-read on evolutionary biology--but have less of an understanding of Turing computability. Instead of rudely dismissing arguments that are outside of the disciplines you're most comfortable with, try to meet these people on their level. What do they have to teach you? What thinkers can they expose you to? Your self-curated curriculum is impressive but uneven and far from comprehensive. Try a little humility. Assuming you're right about everything, you should be able to communicate it to experts outside of your field.

Closing

I think that advice is good whether or not you're correct; if you are, people far more intelligent than I should start to recognize it. If you aren't, you might be able to clarify where you went wrong and either abandon your claim or reformulate it to make a weaker--but possibly true--version.

Lastly, I encourage anyone observing from the sidelines to use Google Scholar or similar if you have an interest in animal general intelligence. I linked an article above; here it is again. The article references 60 others and has been cited in 14. This does not mean that the authors' findings are replicable or ironclad, but again--it is a useful heuristic in deciding what kind of probability we want to assign to the likelihood it is on the right track, especially when the alternative is trying to read through hundreds of pages of random blog posts so that we can meet an interlocutor on their level.

To find that article, I searched for "general intelligence in animals" using Academic Search Premier. Pubmed and Google Scholar might find similar results. I filtered out all articles that were not subject to peer review or were published before 2012. It was the 4th search result out of over 50 published in the last seven years. Science may never be finished or solvable, but nonhuman animal's capacity to learn, have intentional states, preferences, and experience pain are not really still open questions in relevant disciplines.

If I'm right about ~everything, that includes my views of the broad irrationality of academia and the negative value of current published research in many of the fields in question.

For example, David Deutsch's static meme idea, available in BoI, was rejected for academic publication ~20 years earlier. Academia gatekeeps to keep out ideas they don't want to hear, and they don't really debate what's true much in journals. It's like a highly moderated forum with biased moderators following unwritten and inconsistent rules (like reddit but stricter!).

My arguments re animals are largely Deutsch's. He taught me his worldview. The reason he doesn't write it up and publish it in a journal is because (he believes that) it either wouldn't be published or wouldn't be listened to (and it would alienate people who will listen to his physics papers). The same goes for many other important ideas he has. Being in the Royal Society, etc., is inadequate to effectively get past the academic gatekeeping (to get both published and seriously, productively engaged with). I don't think a PhD and 20 published papers would help either (especially not with issues involving many fields at once). I don't think people would, at that point, start considering and learning different ideas than what they already have, e.g. learning Critical Rationalism so they could apply that framework to animal rights to reach a conclusion like "If Critical Rationalism is true, then animal rights is wrong." (And CR is not the only controversial premise I use that people are broadly ignorant of, so it's harder than that.) People commonly dismiss others, despite many credentials, if they don't like the message. I don't think playing the game of authority and credentials – an irrational game – will solve the problem of people's disinterest in truth-seeking. This is view of academia is, again, a view Deutsch taught me.

Karl Popper published a ton but was largely ignored. Thomas Szasz too. There are many other examples. Even if I got published, I could easily be treated like e.g. Richard Lindzen who has published articles doubting some claims about global warming.

Instead of rudely dismissing arguments that are outside of the disciplines you're most comfortable with, try to meet these people on their level.

If I'm right about ~everything (premise), that includes that I'm right about my understanding of evolutionary biology, which is an area I've studied a lot (as has Deutsch). That's not outside my comfort zone.

I think that advice is good whether or not you're correct; if you are, people far more intelligent than I should start to recognize it.

We disagree about the current state of the world. How many smart people exist, how many competent people exist in what fields, how reasonable are intellectuals, what sort of things do they do, etc. You mention Eliezer Yudkowsky, who FYI agrees with me about this something like this particular issue, e.g. he denies "civilizational adequacy", and says the world is on fire, in Hero Licenscing. OTOH, he's also the same guy who took moderator action to suppress discussion of Critical Rationalism on his site because – according to him – it was downvoted a lot (factually there were lots of downvotes, but I mean he actually said that was his reason for taking moderator action – so basically just suppressing unpopular ideas on the basis that they are unpopular). He has publicly claimed Critical Rationalism is crap but has never written anything substantive about that and won't debate, answer counter-arguments, or endorse any criticism of Critical Rationalism written by someone else (and I'm pretty confident there is no public evidence that he knows much about CR).

The reason I asked about how to fix this is I think your side of the debate, including academic institutions and their alleged adequacy, are blocking error correction. They don't allow any reasonable or realistic way that, if I'm right, it gets fixed. FYI I've written about the general topic of how intellectuals are closed to ideas and what rational methods of truth seeking look like, e.g. Paths Forward. The basic theme of that article is about doing intellectual activities in such a way that, if you're wrong, and someone knows you're wrong, and they're willing to tell you, you don't prevent them from correcting you. Currently ~everyone is doing that wrong. (Of course there are difficulties like how to do this in a time-efficient manner, which I go into. It's not an easy problem to solve but I think it is solvable.)

Lastly, I encourage anyone observing from the sidelines to use Google Scholar or similar if you have an interest in animal general intelligence. I linked an article above; here it is again.

PS, FYI it's readily apparent from the first sentence of the abstract of that article that it's based on an intellectual framework which contradicts the one in The Beginning of Infinity. It views intelligence in a different way than we do, which must be partly due to some epistemology ideas which are not stated or cited in the paper. And it doesn't contain the string "compu" so it isn't engaging with our framework re computation either (instead it's apparently making unstated, uncited background assumptions again, which I fear may not even be thought through).

I guess you'll think that, in that case, I should debate epistemologists, not animal rights advocates. Approach one of the biggest points of disagreements more directly. I don't object to that. I do focus a lot on epistemology and issues closer to it. The animal welfare thing is a side project. But the situation in academic epistemology has the same problems I talked about in my sibling post and is, overall, IMO, worse. Also, even if I convinced many epistemologists, that might not help much, considering lots of what I was saying about computation is already a standard (sorta, see quote) view among experts. Deutsch actually complains about that last issue in The Fabric of Reality (bold text emphasized by me):

The Turing principle, for instance, has hardly ever been seriously doubted as a pragmatic truth, at least in its weak forms (for example, that a universal computer could render any physically possible environment). Roger Penrose's criticisms are a rare exception, for he understands that contradicting the Turing principle involves contemplating radically new theories in both physics and epistemology, and some interesting new assumptions about biology too. Neither Penrose nor anyone else has yet actually proposed any viable rival to the Turing principle, so it remains the prevailing fundamental theory of computation. Yet the proposition that artificial intelligence is possible in principle, which follows by simple logic from this prevailing theory, is by no means taken for granted. (An artificial intelligence is a computer program that possesses properties of the human mind including intelligence, consciousness, free will and emotions, but runs on hardware other than the human brain.) The possibility of artificial intelligence is bitterly contested by eminent philosophers (including, alas, Popper), scientists and mathematicians, and by at least one prominent computer scientist. But few of these opponents seem to understand that they are contradicting the acknowledged fundamental principle of a fundamental discipline. They contemplate no alternative foundations for the discipline, as Penrose does. It is as if they were denying the possibility that we could travel to Mars, without noticing that our best theories of engineering and physics say that we can. Thus they violate a basic tenet of rationality — that good explanations are not to be discarded lightly.

But it is not only the opponents of artificial intelligence who have failed to incorporate the Turing principle into their paradigm. Very few others have done so either. The fact that four decades passed after the principle was proposed before anyone investigated its implications for physics, and a further decade passed before quantum computation was discovered, bears witness to this. People were accepting and using the principle pragmatically within computer science, but it was not integrated with their overall world-view.

I think we live in a world where you can be as famous as Turing, have ~everyone agree you're right, and still have many implications of your main idea substantively ignored for decades (or forever. Applying Turing to physics is a better result than has happened with many other ideas, and Turing still isn't being applied to AI adequately). As Yudkowsky says, it's not an adequate world.


Update: Read more of this discussion at Discussing Animal Intelligence


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (9)

Division of Labor and Experts: Generally Great but Sometimes Overrated

Our society has had great success due to the division of labor. People economically specialize. We have farmers, lawyers, barbers, bakers, security guards, inventors, novelists, architects, engineers, programmers, managers, marketers, etc.

Division of labor is far more efficient than everyone living independently and doing a little of each job. It lets people focus a large portion of their time, attention and learning on one area. As a result, they get better at it.

Trade is what makes division of labor work. I don't farm or bake but I can trade for corn and bread. Trade is how I benefit from other people doing something.

This system plays a big role in our lives. We're all familiar with it even if we don't really think about it or study economics. Besides providing material prosperity, it has led to certain psychological attitudes.

I don't know how most things work and I get them from specialists. I don't know how to repair a car so I rely on a mechanic. I don't know how to write a good poem so I get poems from poets. I don't know how to paint so I get my paintings from people who do. I do know how to create software, but I still get most of my software from other people who specialize in that particular type of software.

People have developed an attitude of not knowing how most things work and not needing to. Someone else will do it better than I would, anyway. For almost everything, there is a specialist who's better at it than me. If I do it, other than my career, it's just a hobby for fun.

This attitude is partly reasonable but partly dangerous. People can overestimate experts.

There don't actually exist good specialists for every speciality. Some areas have too few people working in them, e.g. life extension, AGI or epistemology. In some areas, tons of experts are wrong, e.g. Keynesian economists and Kantian philosophers.

People overestimate medicine's ability to fix their problems. Many surgeries and medications are cruder and less effective than people think. It's good that they exist. They're good options to have. But they aren't just safe, perfectly effective and wonderful. They're risky and doctors downplay the risks and side effects. Doctors can't fix everything and lots of the fixes have a meaningful chance of breaking something.

Worse are experts for mental, not physical, problems. Sad? Go talk to a "professional" to get help for your "depression". Marriage problems? There's an expert for that. Kid doesn't listen in school? There are experts for that. But these people don't know much about ideas. They are neither philosophers nor scientists. They can give some basic self-help advice and they can use social pressure to manipulate people. The whole field isn't merely largely ineffective, it's dangerous with its brain-disabling drugs, it's imprisonment without trial ("involuntary commitment"), and how it misdirects people away from solving their own problems with self-improvement, studying better ideas, and other productive activities.

Experts encourage people to be irresponsible. Don't worry about it, the expert is responsible for getting a good outcome. But people are often disappointed by the outcome the expert provides. It's your life. You have to live with the outcome. You need to judge which experts are effective enough and when you need to take matters into your own hands.

Many types of experts are fine. People who produce material goods for sale are broadly OK. People who provide relatively simple or easily evaluated services are broadly OK. The longer term the issue is, and the more ongoing interaction with the specialist is needed, the more you should be careful.

The most dangerous experts that people consult directly are "mental health" experts. That whole industry is poison.

The capabilities of physical doctors are overestimated but they're basically on your side, try to help, and mostly make things better. Mental doctors make a lot of things worse. Many people regret interacting with them, and others are brainwashed/indoctrinated/pressured to the point they have trouble thinking critically about it and forming an independent opinion of their psychology or psychiatry experiences.

The most dangerous experts that people deal with indirectly are philosophers. Most people don't read philosophy books but they pick up ideas, here and there, about learning, knowledge, critical thinking, reason, morality, political principles, the metaphysical nature of reality, etc. Many of those ideas are badly wrong. They lead to people being irrational, unreasonable, bad at learning, biased, etc., which makes things worse throughout their lives. Economists also spread a ton of really bad ideas to people indirectly.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (9)

Childing a Child

Many people think "gendering" a child might be bad.

That means: Teaching the boy role to a boy might be bad. Teaching the girl role to a girl might be bad.

No one considers that teaching the child role to a child might be bad.

I think the child role is more impactful (for good or bad) than a gender role. There's a much larger difference between young children (e.g. a 5 year old) and adults than between men and women. I'd estimate that under 20% of the adult/child difference is due to the child's learned social role, but the social role is still a big factor.

The child social role has a lasting impact after childhood. People don't just forget being children. And people transition in stages where they e.g. put effort into differentiating themselves from a child. When reacting to a former role is a significant part of one's life, then that role is still impactful.

Adults put substantial ongoing effort into avoiding being childlike. It prevents them from doing much learning. They don't want to be beginners or learners because that's for children. It also prevents adults from having some types of fun. Curiosity is another childish trait which adults suppress a lot of.

Most people are mostly respectful of both genders. They don't have a significant grudge against either gender. By contrast, people are frequently hateful of the child role. They dislike and mistreat children routinely. Teaching your offspring a social role that you don't respect, then disrespecting them for years, is a nasty system. People think children are stupid and use the fact that they do child social role behaviors – while adults don't – as proof.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Research and Discussions About Animal Rights and Welfare

I made Discussion Tree: State of Animal Rights Debate. My tree diagram summarizes pro-animal-rights arguments from Peter Singer and asks some questions about major issues he didn’t cover. It reveals that his arguments were incomplete. The incompleteness I’ve focused on is that they don’t address issues related to computers and software. Maybe animals are like self-driving cars with some extra features, not like humans. Self-driving cars aren’t intelligent, conscious or capable of suffering. Singer doesn’t try to address that issue.

I did additional research to find arguments to add to my discussion tree. I found no answers to basic computer science questions from the animal welfare advocates.

I posted to five pro animal rights forums asking for links to written material (like books, articles, or blog posts) making arguments that Singer didn’t make, so I could read about why they’re right. I received no relevant responses and almost zero interest.

Later, I and others posted to eleven more places. Although this resulted in a bunch of discussion, I was not referred to a single piece of relevant literature. No one had a single piece of evidence to differentiate animals from fancy self-driving cars, nor any substantive argument. Many people insulted me. None had a scientific, materialist worldview, incorporating computer science principles, and could give any argument against my position which is compatible with that type of worldview. Nor did they give arguments that that kind of worldview is false. No one said anything that could plausibly have changed my mind. And people didn’t quote from my discussion tree and respond, nor suggest text for a new node. I linked and documented lots of the discussion on this page.

I was referred to dozens of pieces of literature, but none were relevant. In general, searching for terms like “software”, “hardware”, “algorithm” and “compu” immediately showed the source was irrelevant.

I also went to a vegan Discord for a YouTube debater to ask if they could help me improve my discussion tree diagram. I streamed what happened. Summary: They laughed at my view, then asked me to debate in voice chat (instead of giving literature), then banned me for not responding in 30 seconds while they knew I was busy fixing an audio issue.

This illustrates several things. First, my discussion tree shows how you can begin researching a topic in an organized way. You can pick a topic and create something similar. If you want to learn, it’s a great approach.

Second, there’s a serious lack of interest in discussion or debate in the world, and most people are quite ignorant and don’t even know of sources which argue why their beliefs are correct. They have some sources for why they’re right and rival views X and Y are wrong, but no answer to view Z, and will just keep giving you their answers to X and Y. Are you better or do you know of anyone who is better? Speak up.

Third, animal rights advocates broadly don’t know anything about computers and software and haven’t tried to update their thinking to take that stuff into account. Sad!

I encourage people to try creating a discussion tree on a topic that interests them, then ask for help finding sources and adding arguments to it. See what people, with what conclusions, have anything they’re willing to contribute, or not. You’ll learn a lot about the topic and about the rationality of the advocates of each viewpoint. It’ll help you judge issues yourself instead of deferring to the conclusions of experts (rather than their arguments). Even if you were happy to defer to expert opinions, it’s hard because experts disagree with each other; a discussion tree can help you organize those expert arguments.

You can also use discussion trees to organize and keep track of debates/discussions you have – as the conversation goes along, keep notes in a tree diagram.

I made a video covering these events and more. It’s from when I’d gotten almost no answers, rather than a bunch of bad answers. And I streamed a bunch of my discussions when I got bad answers.

While discussing, I wrote several additional blog posts, including a second discussion tree.


This content was borrowed from my free email newsletter. Sign up here.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (16)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Human and Animal Differences

In the comments below, reply saying which is the first sentence you disagree with, and why you disagree.

Minds are software. Suffering is a state of mind. Physical information signals, whether from the eyes or from pain nerves, have to be processed by the software before they can cause suffering, be liked or disliked, etc. Before that they're just raw data and no meaning has been determined yet by the conscious mind.

Brains (both human and animal) are universal classical computers. The hardware between humans and some animals is similar. Hardware similarity doesn't tell you about software similarity. Computation is hardware independent. Similar or even identical hardware can run totally different computations. Studying hardware and comparing hardware similarities is a red herring.

All animal behavior follows algorithms specified by their genes. Human genes specify a different type of algorithm – general intelligence – which involves the ability to create/design new knowledge, just as biological evolution created/designed the knowledge of optics in our eyes, the knowledge for how to build a computer out of neurons, the knowledge for what situations a rabbit should run away in, etc. General intelligence is the ability to evolve new knowledge. It’s the ability to replicate ideas with variation and selection, just as biological evolution proceeds by replicating genes with variation and selection. With animals, all the knowledge comes from biological evolution. Humans can do evolution of ideas inside their brains to create new knowledge, animals can’t.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness (2012):

The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving. Abundant new techniques and strategies for human and non-human animal research have been developed. Consequently, more data is becoming readily available, and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field.

ok

Studies of non-human animals have shown that homologous brain circuits correlated with conscious experience and perception can be selectively facilitated and disrupted to assess whether they are in fact necessary for those experiences. Moreover, in humans, new non-invasive techniques are readily available to survey the correlates of consciousness.

No. Wrong just in this summary, unsourced, and focusing on correlation instead of causation.

You can’t tell what is “necessary” by turning some things on and off. You turn off X and then Y doesn’t happen. Does that mean X is necessary to Y? No, some Z you didn’t consider could cause or allow Y. So they’re making a basic logic error.

And how can you do a correlation study involving “conscious experience” in non-human animals? How do you know if or when they have any conscious experience at all?

The neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures.

These people don’t seem to understand the hardware independence of computation. Or they think emotions are non-computational or something. But they don’t explain what they think and address the computer science issues.

In fact, subcortical neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also critically important for generating emotional behaviors in animals.

Wait lol, after they brought up emotions the next sentence (this one) switches from emotions to “emotional behaviors”. Emotional behaviors are behaviors which look emotional according to some cultural intuitions of some researchers. This ain’t science.

The rest is more of the same crap that doesn’t address the issues or give sources, so I’m stopping now.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Animal Rights Issues Regarding Software and AGI

Claim: Animal rights may be refuted by advanced Critical Rationalist (CR) epistemology, including the jump to universality, but most people (pro or anti animal rights) haven’t read and understood The Beginning of Infinity and have a different view of epistemology. Given that ignorance of CR, their belief in animal rights is reasonable. And their failure to understand my questions and challenges of their beliefs is also reasonable. (This claim is based on a comment by TheRat on Discord.)

I disagree with that claim. The purpose of this post is to restate my main question/challenge for animal rights and then to argue that it should be understandable, and be seen as an issue worth answering, by someone who has never heard of CR. The issue is related to software not CR. I will further claim that a non-programmer should be able to understand the question/problem/issue and see that it matters (even though he’ll have a hard time reaching a conclusion about the answer without being able to understand code).

Note: I do have other arguments against animal rights which rely on CR.

The Programmer’s Challenge to Animal Rights

Claim: Animals are complex robots. Humans are different because they have general intelligence – the thing that AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) researchers are trying to program but haven’t yet been able to. All known and documented animal behavior is compatible with animals lacking general intelligence (example).

Animals are built with with different materials (more carbon, less metal). This difference is irrelevant. Similarly, the “artificial” in Artificial General Intelligence doesn’t matter either.

Animals are fundamentally similar to a self-driving car, to board game playing software in a robot with (or without) an arm that can move the pieces around the board, and to “AI” controlled video game characters. Those, like all human-written software that exists today, are all examples of non-AGI (non-general intelligence) algorithms. And the lack of a physical body in some cases important (a robot body could be built and added without changing the intelligence of the software).

Brains of both animals and humans are universal classical computers (Turing complete), just like Macs and iPhones, which run software. The relevant differences are software algorithm differences. People who deny this are ignorant and/or unscientific.

Further Explanation

All software we know how to write today is inadequate to achieve general intelligence. So to claim animals have moral rights like humans, people should argue that animals do things which fundamentally differ from current software. So far I have been unable to find any serious attempt to do this.

Alternatively, someone could come up with a distinguishing feature of software algorithms other than having or lacking general intelligence, show that some animals have that feature, and explain why that feature has moral relevance. I’ve also been unable to find any serious attempt to do this.

Whether general intelligence has moral relevance is non-obvious. Regardless, a reasonable person should agree it might have major moral relevance and therefore this is an issue worth investigating for those curious about animal rights. If there is no animal rights literature trying to do this sort of analysis, and addressing these issues, that’s a significant gap in their arguments.

People denying that general intelligence has moral relevance should specify what else humans have, which robots lack, which they think has moral relevance. A common answer to that is the capacity to suffer. I have been unable to find any animal rights literature that tries to differentiate humans or AGIs from self-driving cars and non-AGI software in terms of ability to suffer. What is it about a human’s software, what trait matters other than general intelligence, that grants the capacity to suffer? If they answered that, then we could investigate whether animal software has that trait or not.

I think capacity to suffer is related to general intelligence because suffering involves making value judgments like not wanting a particular outcome or thinking something is bad. Suffering involves having preferences/wants which you then don’t get. I don’t think it’s possible without the ability to consider alternatives and make value judgments about which you prefer, which requires creative thought and the ability to create new knowledge, think of new things. This is a very brief argument which I’m not going to elaborate on here. My main goal is to challenge animal rights advocates. What is their position on this matter and where are their arguments?

What I’ve mostly found is that people don’t want to think about computer algorithms. They don’t know how to program and they aren’t scientists. They don’t know (or deny without educated arguments) that brains are literally universal classical computers (Turing complete), that information and computation is part of physical reality and physics, that human minds are literally equivalent to some sort of software, and other things like that. That’s OK. Not everyone is an expert.

That’s why I’ve been asking (see the comments in addition to the post) to be referred to literature from someone who does know how to program, understands some of these basic issues, and then makes a case for animal rights. Where are the people with relevant expertise about computers and AGI who favor animal rights and write arguments? I can’t find any. That’s bad for the case for animal rights!

Note: My relevant views on AGI are mainstream for the field. I disagree with the mainstream views in the AGI field on some advanced details, but the basic stuff I’m discussing here is widely agreed on. That doesn’t prove it’s true or anything, but a mainstream view merits some analysis and argument rather than being ignored. (Even obscure views often merit a reply, but I won’t get into that.) If animal rights advocates have failed to consider mainstream AGI ideas, that’s bad.

Consciousness

Besides suffering and general intelligence, the other main trait brought up in animal rights discussions is consciousness. If animals are conscious, that gives them moral value. These three traits are related, e.g. consciousness seems to be a prerequisite of suffering, and consciousness may be a prerequisite or consequence of general intelligence.

What computations, what information processing, what inputs or outputs to what algorithms, what physical states of computer systems like brains indicates or is consciousness? I have the same question for suffering too.

Similar questions can be asked about general intelligence. My answer to that is we don’t entirely know. We haven’t yet written an AGI. So what should we think in the meantime? We can look at whether all animal behavior is consistent with non-AGI, non-conscious, non-suffering robots with the same sorts of features and design as present day software and robots that we have created and do understand. Is there any evidence to differentiate an animal from non-AGI software? I’m not aware of any, although I’ve had many people point me to examples of animal behavior that are blatantly compatible with non-AGI programming algorithms. Humans are different because lots of their behavior is not explainable in terms of current software algorithms. Humans create new knowledge, e.g. about spaceships and vaccines, that isn’t programmed in their genes. And humans do that regarding many different topics, seemingly all, hence the idea of “general” intelligence. I have yet to see evidence that any animal does that on even one topic, let alone generally.

Many of the arguments about consciousness involve the rejection of what I regard as science. E.g. they advocate dualism – they claim that there is something other than the material world. They claim that consciousness is a fundamental, non-physical part of reality. They deny that physics can explain and account for everything that exists.

I regard dualism as bad philosophy but I won’t go into that. I’ll just say that if the case for animal rights relies on the rejection of modern physics and the scientific-materialist view of the world, they’ve got a serious problem which they should address. Where can I read literature telling me why I should change my view of science and accept claims like theirs, which addresses the kind of doubts an atheist who believes in objective physical reality would have? I haven’t gotten any answers to that so far. Instead I’m told assertions which I regard as factually false, e.g. that information is not physical. People who say things like that seem to be unfamiliar with standard views in physics (example paper).

The Argument for Conservatism

Animal rights advocates claim that, if in doubt, we should err on the side of caution. If the science and philosophy of mind isn’t fully figured out, then we should assume animals have moral value just in case they do. Even if there’s only a 1% chance that animals have rights, it’s a bad idea to slaughter them by the millions. I agree.

Pro-life (anti-abortion) advocates make the same argument regarding human fetuses. The science and philosophy aren’t fully settled, so when in doubt we should avoid the chance of murdering millions of human beings, even if it’s a low chance. I agree with that too. I think most animal rights advocates disagree with that or refuse to take it into account so that they can favor abortion. I think this indicates some political bias and double standards. I imagine there are some pro-life animal rights activists, but I think most aren’t, which I think is screwy.

Despite agreeing with these arguments, I’m pro-abortion and pro-slaughtering-farm-animals. The reason I favor abortion is I don’t have any significant doubt about whether a 3 month old fetus, which doesn’t not yet have a brain with electrical activity, is intelligence. I haven’t carefully researched the scientific details about abortion (I would if I was actually deciding the law), but from what I’ve seen, banning third trimester abortions is a reasonable and conservative option.

The reason I favor slaughtering cows is that I have no significant doubt about whether a cow has general intelligence. I’ve seen zero indicators that it does, and I’ve debated many people about this, asked many animal rights advocates for things to read which argue their case, asked for examples of animals doing things which are different than what a non-AGI robot could do, and so on. The total lack of relevant counter-argument from the other side is just the same as with abortion and is about equally conclusive. When all the arguments go one way, one can reasonably reach a conclusion and act on it instead of endlessly doubting. (When argument X has logical priority over Y, then Y is excluded from “all the arguments”. And when argument P is conclusively refuted by argument Q, then P is excluded from “all the arguments”.)

My Expertise

Because I’m asking for arguments from someone familiar with software and AGI rather than from just anyone, I think it’s fair that I share my own background.

I’m a philosopher and programmer. My speciality is epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge, including how to think, learn and reason, and how to evaluate ideas and arguments). I study and contribute to the Critical Rationalist epistemology of Karl Popper and David Deutsch, which I believe is important to making progress on AGI. David Deutsch, a physicist, philosopher and programmer, was my mentor and taught me a lot about philosophy and physics. He’s an award-winning pioneer of quantum computing, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and an author.

I’m a professional programmer with over a decade of work experience, but the software I work on isn’t related to AGI. I’ve read books about AI, watched talks, learned and coded some of the algorithms, talked with people in the field, etc.

Conclusion

Non-programmer animal rights advocates ought to be able to see that someone, some expert, should address the issue of whether humans are animals are differentiated by general intelligence. They should argue that animals have general intelligence (or argue that humans don’t have it) or explain some other sort of software/algorithm/code difference between animals and present day, non-AGI robots and software. If no one can do that and address the computational issues, the remaining option in favor of animal rights is to reject science.

I’m seeking thoughtful, competent written arguments addressing these issues. Blog posts are OK, not just academic material. I challenge anyone who favors animal rights to refer me to such literature in the comments below.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (10)

Discussion about Animal Rights and Popper

This discussion is from the Fallible Ideas Discord. Join link.

Context: Discussion Tree: State of Animal Rights Debate and in the comments you'll see that I went to some animal rights forums and asked for responses. And, after they had no literature to refer me to, I got banned from the Ask Yourself vegan debate Discord for not responding fast enough while troubleshooting an audio issue.

TheRat: curi, re the vegan thing. How could science demonstrate that animals can suffer (interpret pain as bad etc...) or how could we falsify that animals are not robots? Would this not require us to understand consciousness first? Would this not be in the realm of philosophy vs science? btw I think you're right but I don't know what would change my mind.
curi: knowledge creating animals. humans routinely do things we can't explain as non-AGI algorithms. let's see an animal do one. it's clearer if you get several different sorts of things, e.g. poetry, engineering, art, chess.
curi: you have to be careful about what counts cuz e.g. beavers do something that could be called engineering. but only a specific type that is encoded in their genes, they don't do it more generally.
curi: i'm not aware of any animal researcher with a halfway sophisticated understanding of what non-AGI software can do who has carefully observed and documented animals to try to show they do anything intelligent.
curi: i am aware of ppl observing carefully and noticing animals being much more algorithmic (or simpler algos) than ppl would naively, unscientifically expect: http://curi.us/272-algorithmic-animal-behavior
curi: i think the reason ppl don't care about this is they assume intelligence is a matter of degree and/or suffering is possible without intelligence
curi: so they consider it an uncontroversial non-issue that e.g. a dolphin is somewhere between 0.1% and 70% as intelligence as a human
curi: rather than understanding there at least might be a jump to universality for intelligence and so you can't just safely assume stuff has medium intelligence anymore than a computer can have a medium computational repertoire
curi: the jump to universality is what polarizes the issue into a binary intelligent or non-intelligent. but ppl don't know about it. so they aren't even trying to show a single thing that any animal has ever done which is incompatible with non-intelligence.
curi: so they haven't.
curi: alternatively they could argue for dualism, animal souls, non-intelligent suffering and differentiate that from information processing and computation, or several other things.
curi: i haven't seen anything that understands software stuff which tries to differentiate suffering from information processing in general without intelligence.
TheRat: Is it possible for animals to suffer without having that universality?
curi: there are no arguments to establish some way that would be possible afaik. i think suffering is related to preference, opinions, values, judgments. i think you have to want, prefer or value X, and be able to form judgments about better and worse, in order to suffer. something along those lines.
curi: if you never consider alternatives, like a rooma algorithm doesn't, then how can you be bothered by the outcome?
TheRat: I've read about Dolphins in captivity that seem to "go insane" and commit suicide. What do you think is going on there?
curi: chess algorithms consider alternative moves in some sense but it's mechanistic, it isn't a value judgment, they just do math about each outcome on the board and play the move that leads to the highest evaluation (or sometimes use a random algorithm among the top few moves to avoid predictability).
curi: re dolphins: sounds like algorithm bugs. animals have plenty of those. it's probably an evolutionary useful thing in some scenarios, like a failsafe where it tries to stop repeating the same actions that aren't working.
curi:

Only after thirty or forty repetitions will the wasp finally drag the caterpillar into its nest without further inspection.

curi: even digger wasps have failsafes where they change behavior after 30-40 repetitions.
curi: (whether an action works being defined in some algorithmic way, not as a value judgment or opinion, and in particular not as something where the creature can create new knowledge and new opinions that aren't in its genes)
curi: my position on animals is awkward to use in debates because it's over 80% background knowledge rather than topical stuff.
curi: that's part of why i wanted to question their position and ask for literature that i could respond to and criticize, rather than focusing on trying to lay out my position which would require e.g. explaining KP and DD which is hard and indirect.
curi: if they'll admit they have no literature which addresses even basic non-CR issues about computer stuff, i'd at that point be more interested in trying to explain CR to them.
TheRat: Yes. I've had that issue when trying to debate people. I'll say something and it flies right past them because they don't have cr background. Most of the time not realizing there is a disagreement there.
curi: it's worse for me in general b/c it's CR and Objectivism and Austrian econ/classical liberalism as major background knowledge ppl don't have. and sometimes other stuff but especially those 3.
curi: i should perhaps add my own additions to CR, especially debating methodology stuff, as an additional thing.
curi: they are within the CR tradition so could go either way on separating. i don't like to separate DD from CR.
curi: programming is another big background knowledge which is relevant in this case but doesn't come up tooooo often.
TheRat: Yes I have no programming knowledge at all so I struggle with the computation stuff from CR and DD.
curi: i don't think it's realistic to have serious opinions about animal rights without knowing how to code, knowing how various video game "AI" algorithms work, stuff like that. also some physics knowledge is important like about what information is and some conception of how computation aka information processing is part of reality.
curi: i don't even know good sources for that physics stuff. i kinda got bits here and there over time from DD. his information flow in the multiverse paper is both technical and largely off topic or unnecessary cuz of the multiverse focus.
TheRat:

i don't think it's realistic to have serious opinions about animal rights without knowing how to code

That sucks. Everytime I have attempted to learn how to code I give up after 1 day. I get bored.
curi: you can't really compare animals to robots if you don't know how robots work. harsh but i don't know a good workaround.
curi: i don't even know where to find one animal rights writer who knows how to code and tries to analyze that stuff.
curi: i don't think most animal rights advocates know of one either...
curi: i imagine i would have gotten replies by now somewhere if ppl actually had answers.
curi: ppl like answering reasonable-seeming opponents who ask for a particular thing and they totally have that covered.
curi: it's like if you go to a Popperian forum and ask if anyone knows any Popper chapters that refute induction, ppl will be happy to answer.
curi: or if you ask for anyone other than Popper with good anti-induction args, someone will want to recommend DD.
curi: but if no one knows any answers then you may be ignored.
curi: like if you go to a Popper forum and ask for his arguments against capitalism and why he rejected Mises, you may not get an answer b/c no1 has an easy or good answer to give. the answer, afaik, is Popper was wrong and actually irrational about that.
curi: if you don't bring up Mises they may point you to some non-technical kinda vague comments here and there that he made, but if you do bring up Mises' treatises Popper certainly made no attempt to answer those and nevertheless formed opinions in contradiction to them, so that's awkward, so it'll be hard to get ppl to engage with that issue.
curi: someone might try claiming that maybe Popper didn't know about Mises or didn't have time to read every possibly-dumb idea and it wasn't his speciality. but that kind of thing is dangerous and in this case will actually get you rekt by documented facts about Popper's awareness of Mises and exposure to ideas of that nature.
curi: so safer not to respond.
TheRat: Popper was friends with Hayek right? Did he disagree with Hayek too? I am very unfamiliar with Popper's political views. What I've read in OSE is actually more epistemology than poli sci or econ.
curi: yes he disagreed with Hayek significantly re capitalism/econ stuff. But hayek was also somewhat of a statist and socialist sympathizer, whereas Mises wasn't.
curi: Hayek was the leader of the Mount Pelerin society meetings which Mises and Popper both went to.
curi: there's a comment in a book by a popper student about Popper disliking and dismissing libertarian-type arguments like Mises, but it doesn't give arguments, nor did Popper. but he wasn't just unaware.
curi: his irrationality on these issues was enough to contradict himself, IMO quite blatantly. advocated freedom ... and TV censorship. advocated freedom and peace ... and the government forcibly taking 51% of all public companies.
curi: he says milder stuff in that direction in OSE. haven't read for ages but he talks about social technology by which he means something along the lines of governments improving at figuring out how to be effective at their policy goals. which sure aren't freedom.
curi: he's of course right that governments do tons of counterproductive and inefficient actions, and that's a big problem, and there's tons of room for improvement there. but he was also making some statist assumptions.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fraud and Big Companies Supporting Fraud

As a followup to my post on Deplatforming and Fraud, I’m going to share two examples of other frauds which were supported by large tech companies (Airbnb, Apple) but aren’t related to deplatforming. I think this will help people better understand what fraud is and that our society has inadequate mechanisms for dealing with fraud.

Airbnb’s Fraud

So, a journalist runs into scammers listing places to stay on Airbnb. They defraud her and she has to stay in a hotel. Full article. Then:

When I asked about the status of my refund, [the scammers] ghosted, which led me to contact Airbnb. Though I had been moved to a flophouse and then told to leave early, Airbnb only refunded me $399 of my $1,221.20, and only did so after I badgered a number of case managers over the course of several days. The $399 didn’t even include the service fees Airbnb charged me for the pleasure of being thrown out on the street.

Airbnb is a party to fraud. It should have been easy to get a full refund. They are protecting and profiting off fraud. Their policies aid fraud. They are playing the middleman and substantially siding with blatant fraud.

Why doesn't she chargeback the whole thing on her credit card? I think the reason is simply that Airbnb would blacklist her as punishment for getting her money back in case of fraud. Without Airbnb in the middle, putting effort into it, the fraud couldn't succeed.

Why doesn't she sue Airbnb? That'd be quite hard. Should it be hard? No. They are blatantly a party to blatant fraud.

In a more capitalist world, with a better legal system that better protected individuals against fraud, stuff like this wouldn't happen. Airbnb would predictably get sued and lose, repeatedly, until they stopped participating in fraud. The people suing would find it adequately cheap and easy, and their payouts would more than cover their legal fees and the hassle, leaving them better off than if they hadn't sued.

We in the USA live in an over-regulated world with too many laws covering everything, and people can get in legal trouble over dumb stuff. But at the same time, we also live in an under-regulated world where there's too little law and order. The basic elements of a minimal government which protects against violence, threat of violence, and fraud, are not actually functioning very well. (Mainly the issue is for fraud. I think our protections against violence, while imperfect, work reasonably well.)

The article shares specifics of Airbnb's unreasonable actions supporting fraud in this case and in many other cases.

Apple’s Fraud

This one is my own story from a couple months ago. I made some in-app purchases in the mobile game Archero, by Habby, from Apple's app store. A few days later, Archero had major technical problems. Although it's a single player game, it requires an internet connection to communicate with their servers for anti-cheat reasons. Their servers were unstable and frequently down. It was frustrating to try to use the game because it was broken so much. I stopped playing. I waited a few weeks and expected the problem to be fixed. It wasn't, and I eventually moved on to playing a different game.

About a month after their game was broken, Archero sent out an in-game message to all players (or maybe just US players, I don't know what's going on in other regions) saying sorry for the technical problems, they are now fixed, here's a couple dollars worth of in-game currency as an apology. Over the next month, Archero sent out four more similar messages, each claiming they had now fixed the problem. I know it wasn’t actually fixed for two months but I’ve stopped checking. Maybe the fifth announcement that they’d fixed it was finally true instead of lying. Their subreddit has lots of complaints and memes about the ongoing problems. I observed the problem on multiple devices and with multiple internet connections, and many other people also had the same issue.

After it wasn’t fixed for several weeks, I contacted Apple and asked for a refund since I hadn't gotten to actually use what I paid for. They told me to contact Habby for customer support. I did. I waited over a week. There was no response at all.

I followed up with Apple and they told me they wouldn't give me a refund. I asked why. I got a non-answer. I asked why again. Non-answer. I asked why again, for the third time. Apple escalated my case to a supervisor on their own initiative. The supervisor did not say why I was ineligible for a refund and told me the case was now closed, final answer. I asked why again and also asked what would happen if I did a credit card chargeback. Apple responded to the allegedly closed case with a non-answer that still didn't tell me what their refund criteria are, what aspect of my case disqualified me for a refund, nor what their chargeback policy is. I asked again about a chargeback and received no response from Apple. This is ridiculous, unfair, and dissimilar to refund policies I experience with major companies in general. It violates my reasonable expectations, based on Apple’s advertising (including all public communications like their website and support documentation), of what sort of customer service would be available (that means Apple’s advertising/public-communication is fraudulent).

I did not chargeback Apple with my credit card for fear that they would punish me, e.g. lock my iCloud account or block me from future App store purchases. Those outcomes would be far worse for me than losing the money.

So Habby got my money by fraud. The only reason they kept it was because Apple played middleman and took their side. Apple was a party to fraud. I think Apple getting in the way of refunds is a significant part of what a lot of shadier app developers are paying for when they give Apple a 30% cut.

If all refunds for Archero have to go through Apple, then it’s Apple’s responsibility to know about Archero’s server problems. Apple won’t investigate the details of particular games, even though they are in charge of dealing with monetary transactions about those games, and Apple tells me to contact Habby for support, but it’s Apple controlling refunds and therefore Apple who needs to deal with it. If Apple’s policy was “developer offered no support and ignored customer, so we’ll issue a refund” it’d be OK, but Apple will refuse refunds when developers have broken apps and completely ignore customers.

Of course, having technical problems with your game servers isn't fraud in and of itself. But they advertised that I could play the game and I could buy things and use them to play the game. They failed to live up to that. So they should give me a refund since I didn't get what I paid for. Refusing the refund makes it fraud. They didn’t provide what I paid for and didn’t give me my money back. The combination is breach of contract and fraud. It’s fraud by Habby because they deceived me into believing they would honor their (implied, unwritten) contract with me that I’d get to experience certain gameplay in return for the payments. It’s fraud by Apple because they deceive the public by pretending to have civilized, law-and-order-compatible dispute resolution mechanisms for their app store, but they don’t. Habby also commited fraud by continuing selling the game throughout their technical problems with no warnings or disclaimers.

FYI Archero is a popular game which has been promoted by Apple and Pewdiepie. Some article says Archero earned $8,500,000 revenue in its first month alone. There are other articles with large numbers too. Either most customers are satisfied and they could refund the justifiably unsatisfied customers and still have a large profit. Or, in the alternative, they got a large portion of their millions of dollars by fraudulently tricking customers into thinking they’d get a gaming experience that they would not get.

Bonus Apple Story

One more quick story about Apple. Over 10 years ago I bought an Apple laptop, with Applecare, along with an Apple Cinema Display. Their website advertised that the Applecare for the computer would also apply to the display without having to separately purchase Applecare for the display. The display broke after the standard warranty but within the Applecare period. Apple refused to repair my display. They said the special deal only applied to desktop computers (or some set of computers that didn’t include the one I’d bought). I had records showing their website had advertised that the deal did apply for the computer I bought. That had apparently been an error. Over the phone, Apple absolutely refused to fix their error and repair my display. I talked to multiple people, escalated it, was assertive, had proof, and was refused service.

The money was a big deal to me back then. I wrote a letter to Apple complaining about the incident (and documenting again that I was correct), on paper, and mailed it to them. Apple responded to the letter by solving the problem for me and repairing the display. People should be aware that writing letters can get problems solved.

I’m not going to send a letter this time (I didn’t even phone in either, which would be too much hassle, I interacted with Apple over email about Archero). It’s significantly less money at a time when I have significantly more money, so it’s not that big a deal to me. I have better things to do. And the case is less clear cut. It involves a third party who didn't make specific guarantees, in writing, about the availability of their game – whereas Apple had literally posted, in writing, on their own website, a specific offer regarding the display purchase. And Apple is a bigger company now, with more unreasonable, evasive support people, and I’m not confident that a letter would solve the problem.

Conclusion

The Airbnb scammers are blatant criminals who can only get away with it due to Airbnb’s support. I doubt Habby are knowingly criminals on purpose. I doubt they think of it that way. But they’re committing some fraud that they can only get away with because of Apple’s support.

Our legal system makes it too hard to hold Airbnb or Apple accountable, which enables ongoing violations of basic capitalist law and order to continue. This is similar to how there is ongoing fraud by tech companies related to deplatforming, which they are getting away with, but could not get away with in a classical liberal society which had fewer laws but actually enforced the most important laws (that we have too, but don’t enforce well enough), in particular laws about fraud and following contracts.

I think it’s especially gross when standard mechanisms for solving these problems, like chargebacks, are prevented because of a company like Apple or Airbnb playing middleman for fraud, so it’s not possible to directly chargeback the company you have a problem with. (Credit card companies in my experience, and by reputation, are very customer-friendly, and it’s easy to get your money back over stuff like this. They basically demand that merchants keep customers satisfied. But Airbnb is sheltering scammers from that demand and Apple is sheltering Habby from it.)

We need a legal system that makes it easier to successfully do small lawsuits for fraud, with meaningful punitive damages. E.g. $10,000 punitive damages on $100 actual damages, plus legal costs, would add up after many lawsuits and would give individuals the incentive to sue. When many individuals sue over fraud like this, as should be fairly easy to do in a reasonable legal system, companies will change. Similarly it shouldn't be that hard to sue e.g. Facebook if they delete one of my posts or groups on their website contrary to their advertised non-politically-biased policies or terms of service.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Potential Debate Topics

These are brief statements of some controversial ideas I believe. They are mostly unexplained conclusions. I’m not trying to argue my case here (just a little bit here and there). You can search my writing and discussion archives for explanations and reasoning. You can use this list to help find something you disagree with me about, which you could then research, ask questions about, or debate.


It’s possible and desirable to raise children without doing anything to them against their will. No punishments, no force, nothing that’d be illegal to do to an adult neighbor, no manipulative guiding, no agendas, no curriculums, no assumption that, in a disagreement, the parent is correct.

Objectivism is the best philosophy in general. Critical Rationalism offers improvements re refuting induction and replacing it with a fallibilist evolutionary epistemology.

I favor abortion. Only intelligent beings are moral agents, not fetuses. Abortion should not be “safe, legal and rare”, nor is it something to personally disapprove of. It’s either murder or it’s not. If it’s murder, it should be illegal. If it’s not murder, what’s to disapprove of? If you’re unsure, you should want abortion to be illegal because we should err on the side of caution when murder is at stake. For the sake of being careful, I’m fine with banning third trimester abortions (except e.g. when medically necessary to save the mother). I’m confident there isn’t an intelligent being until a while after there is a brain with electric signals. I don’t think that’s an ambiguous gray area. I’ve read the earliest brain activity that (very conservatively) starts to plausibly resemble consciousness starts around the start of the third trimester, but I haven’t researched an exact cutoff date. I don’t think birth corresponds to gaining intelligence, and I think it’s conceivable that a baby isn’t an intelligent being for a few weeks after birth.

Animals aren’t intelligent so they don’t have moral rights. The word “intelligent” has two related meanings. Sometimes it’s used to refer to degrees of intelligence – Joe is smarter than Bob. But it’s also used to refer to a distinction between intelligent or non-intelligent, e.g. a rock is not intelligent. The mainstream view is that animals are intelligent but to a lesser degree than humans (some people even claim that some animals are more intelligent than a 2 year old child). I claim animals are fundamentally different than human beings because humans can learn anything that can be learned (including by aliens or artificial intelligences) while animals don’t learn at all. Animals are robots which are controlled by software (developed by evolution) which is like a more complicated version of a computer-controlled video game character. It’s like an advanced Roomba.

I’m an atheist. I also reject superstitious ideas like luck, karma, reincarnation, the afterlife, ghosts, angels, devils, demons, voodoo, spoon bending, ESP, telepathy, telekinesis, fortune telling, astrology, talking to dead people (mediums), etc.

U.S. Christians and Jews are no more irrational, superstitious or unreasonable than atheists on average. Of major groups, Christians do the best job of understanding and promoting important, traditional American values like freedom. They’re more resistant to socialism, environmentalism, and other evil ideologies which violate common sense. They’re more willing to disagree with the assertions of human authorities like “scientists” or government officials.

Christianity was barbaric originally but improved along with civilization. It’s civilized now, at least in the English speaking countries. Islam is uncivilized today.

I favor pure laissez-faire capitalism. I will debate for “minarchy” (aka “nightwatchman state”) – a minimal government providing law, order, courts, police, military but leaving the economy alone. I’m open to anarchist ideas but generally don’t advocate them because minarchy is the correct goal for the foreseeable future.

I favor classical liberalism which advocates freedom (including free markets) and limited government power. As violence is irrational and destructive, no one should initiate force (including threat of force or fraud). Defensive force is OK. To learn more about liberalism and (Austrian) economics the main authors to read are Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, Ayn Rand and George Reisman.

Parents torture children for twenty plus years and destroy their rationality. Teachers are no better. Parenting needs to be reformed with rational epistemology – Critical Rationalism – so that parents and teachers are primarily helpers rather than leaders or guiders of children. People should manage their own learning and pursue their own goals, not have goals and conclusions imposed on them by authority. Parents should interpret all disobedience, misbehavior and not-listening as disagreements where the fallible parent may well be mistaken and rational truth seeking is the way forward. In the event of failure to reach agreement, the parent should follow liberal principles like leaving people alone instead of using force.

Romantic relationships are broken and irrational rather than a wonderful good idea. Relationships should be more varied instead of everyone following the same model. “Love” is a bad, ambiguous idea. Positive emotions are overrated and in this case often come from conformity to static memes. Jealousy is bad. In the long run, most marriages that don’t end in divorce are unhappy or merely OK. The fear of rejection, the stress of asking a girl out, the waiting and hoping a boy will notice you, the lipstick, the dancing, the partying, etc., are bad things. The heavy reliance on stereotyped interactions like dates and saying “sweet nothings” are bad.

Polyamorous people generally especially like and value love and sex. I think those are overrated. And they’re naive about how hard it is to interact closely with other human beings. It’s hard enough to have one romantic partner without fighting. More partners makes it harder because it’s more complicated and non-traditional.

When in doubt, follow traditions. By default, follow traditions. There are two main reasons to go against tradition. First, you can pick a small number of things to try to improve in your life. You can’t change everything but you can make a few improvements if you study and research what you’re doing a ton (which people rarely do). Second, you have to violate some traditions when they contradict each other. Contradictions between traditions give one no choice but to (partially) go against a tradition and are the main reason to do that.

Genes (or other biology) don’t have any direct influence over our intelligence or personality. We have free will. What kind of person someone grows up to be depends on the ideas they’re exposed to and accept, and their own choices. Genes play fairly non-controlling indirect roles, e.g. if you’re tall more people will encourage you to play basketball. All people are born with essentially equal intellectual capacity. Dumb people are people with bad ideas about how to think.

Human minds aren’t a collection of modules or compartments (for e.g. language, math, art, science, visual-spatial thinking, etc.). We have a single, general purpose, universal intelligence.

Environmentalism is evil. The basic idea is to reject human values and what’s good for humans and instead use nature as the standard of value. Global warming is a scare story to justifying oppressive government intervention in the economy. The “science” is shoddy. Environmentalism has some appeal because it’s confused with reasonable stuff like e.g. having clean lakes, but that is something generally favored and provided by non-environmentalists once there is enough wealth to afford it. The actual goal of the green movement is to shut down industry, not to encourage reasonable reforms and improvements when they become cheap enough to be worth it.

Unions, minimum wage, rent control and many other allegedly pro-worker and pro-poor-people policies harm everyone including workers and poor people.

There are no conflicts of interest between rational men. Self-interest is harmonious with the general welfare. Marxist class warfare is unnecessary and irrational. Workers and employers both benefit by cooperation (and, in the freer countries, people reasonably often change groups in both directions).

The vast majority of studies in the social “sciences”, like psychology, are low quality and should be ignored. The most common problem is they find a correlation and pretend they studied causation.

The government shouldn’t fund science, education, healthcare or retirement.

The vast majority of “intellectuals” and academics are social climbers who are faking being smart.

People lie all the time – primarily to themselves with lying to others as a secondary consequence – and are wrong about many of their claims about themselves. People are often wrong about why they want something, what they meant by a statement, or why they did an action. Being wrong about those things is often due to lying to themselves. People are often mistaken or lying (to themselves) about what their intentions were (e.g. they say they had good intentions but didn’t). People are often mistaken about whether they are angry, emotional or upset.

The laws of epistemology, computation and logic technically depend on the laws of physics. They aren’t a priori. (They are mostly autonomous. It’s generally OK to study them directly without studying physics.) Nothing is a priori. You can’t get away from physics and our understanding of physics is connected to observation of reality (experience).

Induction is an error and myth. No one has ever learned anything by induction. Induction doesn’t describe a physically possible series of actions.

A successful alternative to induction was offered by Karl Popper.

Men have more to gain by peace than war. Peace is strictly better.

Overall, I support president Trump. He was my second choice after Ted Cruz. My main complaints are that he has done much less than he promised. No wall, no dramatic reduction in immigration, no end to anchor babies, no end to Obamacare, and he’s worked with the GOP establishment a fair amount instead of draining that part of the swamp. Obama was the worst, most destructive president for a long time (maybe since the New Deal), and has anti-American values.

Infallible proof is impossible. Whatever arguments you make, whether a formal deduction, a mathematical proof, or claiming 2+2=4, you had to evaluate whether that’s true with a physical process like thoughts in your brain, and the correctness of your conclusion is dependent on your understanding of the properties of that physical process, and your understanding of the laws of physics is certainly fallible. (This argument was originated by David Deutsch in The Fabric of Reality chapter 10.)

Most arguments are not inductive, deductive nor abductive. They aren’t equivalent to any of those. They’re just regular arguments. They don’t even have a special name. The main purposes of argument are to criticize and explain.

The French Revolution was evil and destructive.

People make choices about their interests, personality, sexual orientation and gender identity. Some choices are made in early childhood, forgotten about, and very hard to figure out how to change later. And choices are made while externally pressured. That doesn’t make something a biological non-choice, though.

Over 90% of the pleasure people feel during sex is due to ideas and mental interpretations, not biology or physical sensations. Sense data, including nerve data relating to pleasure or pain, is open to interpretation. As Karl Popper says, all observation is theory laden. Raw data doesn’t have an inherent meaning. Our ideas give it meaning and direct our attention selectively to the aspects we consider important.

All finite data sets are logically compatible with infinitely many explanations, patterns or conclusions. There is no such thing as which claims “better fit” the data – the data contradicts some claims and does not contradict others.

Correlation does not hint at causation.

Evolution is replication with variation and selection. That’s the origin of life on Earth. Evolution of memes (ideas, not joke images) is literally evolution, not an analogy.

Morality is objective. Everything is objective. We live in physical reality. It’s one single, shared reality for all people. Truths about this reality do not depend on who is inquiring. There are objective facts about how foods taste to you, which foods you should buy given your physical tastebuds, ideas, budget, etc. And there are truths about what ideas you have and what tastebuds you have and your bank account balance and income, all of which are parts of physical reality.

Solipsism, relativism, nihilism, and skepticism are false.

Cognitive biases, qualia and mirror neurons are confusions.

We live in a multiverse. There are trillions or infinite versions of you. The multiverse is local (no faster than light motion or communication). This is the best current understanding of physics. People who disagree are almost all ignorant or irrational, rather than innocently mistaken.

If you’re wrong about that idea, by what process can someone who knows you’re wrong correct you? Intellectuals should have good general-purpose answers to this in writing.

Arguments don’t have degrees of strength. There aren’t weak and highly compelling arguments. Arguments are conclusive or non-conclusive. If all arguments are non-conclusive, instead of tiebreaking between options without any conclusive way to decide, one can and should create a conclusive argument related to how to proceed.

One can always act on non-refuted ideas. Not merely as a theoretical possibility but as a practical, rational option that one should do. There’s never any good reason to act on a refuted idea.

All correct positive arguments (arguments in favor of something) can be translated into negative arguments (arguments against stuff). If it can’t be translated, it’s incorrect. The negative argument version is the more rigorous and formal version of the argument. Arguments refute. They only support as a loose statement, an approximation.

No Partial Universality: There are no classical computers that can compute 90% of what can be classically computed. (Classical computation is what Macs, Windows PCs, iPhones and Androids do. It excludes quantum computation which is related to quantum physics.) When adding features to a simple classical computing system, it jumps straight from near-zero functionality to universality. Universality and jumps to universality also come up in other areas, e.g. with ability to learn. There are no learners that can learn 90% of what can be learned. Learning systems jump from near-zero to universality.

Serious debates should be done publicly online, in writing, over days/weeks, with no editing or deleting messages, with written methodology for how to reach a conclusion or end the debate.

Intellectuals who are too busy to talk with everyone should have written policies for who they talk to, how much, etc., so it’s all predictable and people who believe they have something important to say can meet the policy requirements and get to discuss it. A major design goal of these policies should be combatting bias (so the policies don’t biasedly suppress certain ideas from being discussed).

The “burden of proof” idea is a misconception.

Don’t ignore “small” errors. You can’t reliably tell how small an error an idea is without correcting it. Once you have a solution, you can say in retrospect that it turned out to be a small, easy, quick fix. But knowing that in advance would be predicting the future growth of knowledge which is impossible.

Rational thinkers address every criticism of their ideas. They never ignore criticism. People who don’t know how to do this in an adequately time efficient manner need to learn how rather than make excuses. In particular, you can criticize patterns or categories of arguments at the same time, as a group, rather than addressing criticisms one by one. You should write down your arguments so that you can reference them in response to repeat criticisms, thus allowing the critic to learn why he’s mistaken and/or share an additional criticism about your argument.

Psychiatry is the modern inquisition. They aren’t doctors or scientists, they are a mechanism of social control. They suppress deviants, heretics, “misbehavior” (behavior unwanted by by those with more power and social status). Psychiatric diagnostic criteria are vague and non-objective because they’re judgment calls about conformity to largely-unwritten social rules.

Standard ideas about what foods are healthy to eat are full of fads and myths. Diets affecting energy levels and mood is primarily placebo. Balancing individual meals is dumb – better to balance what you eat during a whole day or a week. But the food groups and balancing methods are dumb too.

Current AGI (artificial general intelligence) research is working on dead ends. AGI workers should learn Critical Rationalism to make progress. Also non-AGI work called “AI”, such as software to play chess or drive cars, is useful but isn’t substantial progress towards AGI. An AGI won’t be created by combining a bunch of non-general modules like those.

Anti-semitism is wrong. The U.S. political left and media are broadly anti-semitic. Israel and Zionism are good. Anti-Israel political views are due to anti-semitism. The IDF is the world’s kindest military. (I would say most moral except I think they sacrifice too many Israeli lives, both military personnel and civilians, to prevent collateral damage. Plus they have conscription.) The Israel and the IDF doesn’t mistreat or abuse Muslims, they bend over backwards to be fair, generous, peaceful, reasonable, etc.

The USA is by far the best and most important country. It’s the leader of the civilized world.

Slavery isn’t in the rational self-interest of the slavers. And USA wasn’t built on slavery. Slavery is economically inefficient, not a source of industrial-age wealth.

If someone was really strongly motivated by greed, they’d learn economics and choose not to be a slaver, thief, fraudster, etc. Greed would motivate them to produce and trade, not to hurt anyone. The most effective way to get rich in a free country is by mutually beneficial social cooperation. But the more the government interferes in the economy, the more opportunities it creates for men to get rich by oppression and tyranny instead.

“Pickup Artist” (PUA) ideas are broadly correct about how dating works and what women want. Search “Dating and Social Dynamics” on the FI book recommendations for sources. Disclaimer: other sources may be bad. The PUA materials I respect are standard, popular ones connected to the original discussion forums, but there’s also a lot of other stuff which is crap.

All women are like that (AWALT).

Social metaphysics, altruism and second-handedness (see Objectivism for details) are evil.

Death, disease and weakness due to aging are a solvable medical problem. If ignored, aging will harm and kill every single person alive today along with all of our great grandchildren. It’s a big, urgent problem – far more important than global warming even if that were correct. It merits much more medical research than it receives. Arguments for not trying to solve aging (e.g. overpopulation, people getting bored with living, divine punishment) are wrong.

Many discussions fail because people are too impatient and intolerant about disagreement. People largely don’t understand how different another person’s ideas can be than their own, and aren’t interested in learning about ideas their prejudices say are unreasonable (but which they haven’t refuted and can’t cite any refutation of by anyone that they’d endorse).

Keynesian economics was refuted by Hazlitt’s Failure of the 'New Economics’. This is one of many examples showing intellectual culture is broken: often the right ideas are more ignored than responded to. Intellectually, in terms of objective truth-seeking, Keynes and his fans lost the debate (substantially by refusing to debate, refusing to study and engage with rival ideas). But they remain much more influential than the superior ideas which out-argued them. The primary issue is people ignoring ideas, not people learning the ideas but then coming to a different, reasonable evaluation of their merits. Most intellectuals are unreasonable, irrational, ignorant, uncurious, dishonest and aren’t truth seekers.

Steelmanning and the principle of charity are overrated approximations. They don’t involve substantial understanding of epistemology which reveals many limitations. They’re fairly commonly used to make discussions worse rather than better.

Ideas rule the world.

Everyone/anyone can contribute to truth seeking and ideas. Each person who chooses not to is individually guilty of refusing to think much and choosing not to participate significantly in the key issues affecting the fate of civilization. You should care about ideas instead of leaving it to alleged experts. You should read, study, debate, etc., in a patient, curious, serious way.

A key separator of rational truth seekers and dishonest frauds is unbounded pursuit of truth. Most people have some limits beyond which they won’t think.

Making progress effectively requires managing your error rate. Do things easy enough to keep your weighted error rate plus a buffer (to handle variance) below your error correction capacity. If you want to do harder or more complex things, build up to them. Learn more so they’re easier for you (can be done with fewer errors). And increase your error correction capacity. Doing stuff early is inefficient at best and often leads to failure.

If you want to do a project, consider what prior projects of a similar nature you’ve done successfully. Have you already succeeded at one or several projects with 80% or more of the difficulty and complexity of the one you want to do now? You should have. E.g. if you want to debate or study a complex intellectual topic, you should have a history of success doing that kind of activity. If you don’t, start simpler and get it right.

Learning effectively works by getting things right first and dealing with other aspects like speed, memory, forming habits or increasing complexity second. E.g. when learning typing, focus on correctness first and speed up second. If you speed up first, then try to fix your errors, you’re trying to fix the errors at high speed; it would have been easier to fix them earlier on at lower speed. Similarly, figure out how to have a simple rational, productive conversation successfully and correctly before trying for hard ones. Don’t try to learn everything at once. Try to isolate what you’re learning and learn a few things at a time.

Deplatforming is a major problem. It’s not simply the right of private tech companies to have whatever moderation policies or algorithms they want. They advertise fraudulently about how they are unbiased. They lobby for and get special government favors and privileges. The alternatives aren’t either to oppose deplatforming on statist grounds or to accept it (regretfully? but I don’t see many expressions of regret). One can make a classical liberal case against it.

We should go back to a gold standard for money. Prices are directly related to the supply of money. When the government prints money, it raises prices (which lowers the value of savings, so it’s like a wealth tax). The single best feature of a gold standard is that the government can’t print gold.

Bitcoin and cryptocurrency are worthless investment frauds. As investments they’re similar to a Ponzi scheme where earlier investors are paid by newer investors and it falls apart when people stop buying in. The software is terrible from a technical perspective, the companies involved are incompetent, and the main use case is to facilitate money laundering and crime.

Immigration should be restricted as part of defense against violence, because our welfare state gives big handouts to anyone here, and because our government has many oppressive powers – it’s not properly limited – so it’s dangerous to allow people to vote who don’t have civilized Western values.

Fossil fuels are great. Nuclear power is even better for electricity, though not for gasoline or plastic.

Affirmative action is racist. America is an especially non-racist country – except the leftist political activists who bring up race so much.

You have no right to make demands about what pronouns I use to refer to you. I’ll normally use “he”, “she” or maybe “they” at people’s request, but not any arbitrary words, and I’m not obligated to, it’s just a courtesy. My speech, my choice. It’s also OK to use previous names of public figures.

Grammar is useful to learn.

Being economically literate is roughly as important and useful as being scientifically literate. Fewer than 1% of people have basic economic literacy – e.g. they couldn’t correctly figure out the economic consequences of minimum wage laws (on their own without looking it up – it’s a simple enough issue that you should be able to do that) and they can’t reliably, consistently avoid all variations of the broken window fallacy.

“Picky” and “pedantic” arguments often matter. Ask people why they think the issue matters (often it’s a clarity issue – and clarity should be one of your main goals in writing or speaking about ideas) or fix it. It’s such a minor issue, correct it. A good policy is to ask what the point is if a person makes three arguments in a row that seem pointless to you, not one. Bring up problematic patterns but react initially, the first time, with some patience, tolerance, and willingness to consider a different person’s perspective. Don’t assume bad faith immediately. Good faith means they think it’s important for some reason or they wouldn’t be saying it. Also it’s possible they don’t understand how to discuss/debate properly and rationally but would appreciate finding that out and discussing what kinds of arguments are important or productive to make and why (this is different than them making dumb arguments on purpose to derail the conversation).

Reading (or skimming) until the first disagreement/problem/criticism is a good way of dealing with sources, articles, books, etc. that come up in discussions/debates. Refusing to look at them is a bad way.

Knowing foreign languages is overrated. (So are many other ways of being “cultured”). Learning to code is better than learning a second natural language. The exception is that English is the most important language, so people who don’t know it should learn. If you want to study philosophy and other good ideas, English is a crucial tool. Setting aside its widespread use, English is also superior to the world’s other major languages for communicating ideas.

People wear shoes that are too narrow due to dumb fashion preferences. Pinky toes aren’t supposed to be squished. Shoes actually change the shape of their feet. It’s so widespread it’s hard to get reasonable shoes. A substantial portion of parents fight with their kids to make them wear shoes. Kids often want to take their shoes off because the shoes are uncomfortable because they’re deforming the kid’s feet. It takes a long time, but being forced to wear uncomfortable shoes for years eventually causes permanent deformation.

Male circumcision is genital mutilation. People should stop doing it. People should have to jump through some sort of hoops to get it done (e.g. saying it’s important to their religion and signing a form). People who don’t care that much shouldn’t be able to carelessly or casually get it done. Female genital mutilation should be entirely illegal, no exceptions.

There should be no laws requiring children to go to school, e.g. no truancy laws. If a parent wants to force his kid to go to school, that’s his business, but the police and government shouldn’t help him do it. Compulsory school attendance is imprisonment without trial. Children may be ignorant of many things, but they are experts on whether they personally like or dislike school, whether they find it tolerable or intolerable, etc.

Serious, truth seeking discussion/debate should be done publicly, in writing, online, using block quotes liberally, over days/weeks/months.

The goal of a rational discussion/debate is to understand and add to the current, objective state of the debate. For complex issues, understanding what arguments already exist and how they interact (what questions are unanswered, what refutes what, etc.) is important to be able to productively add to the debate. Clarifying the existing situation is what many fields need more than they need new arguments to be chaotically added to the mix.

There is a single objective truth. For empirical issues it corresponds to objective reality (which exists). There are also truths for other issues like epistemology and morality (which, though technically connected to empirical reality, we study in a mostly independent way, so we call them non-empirical as an approximation.)

Rational people can quickly reach agreement in discussion. We don’t have all the answers but we can agree that some knowledge is inconclusive. When a range of views are reasonable, people can agree on what that range is (rather than bickering over their intuitions about which of the reasonable views, which it’s narrowed down to, is the best current guess). When someone is missing a bunch of background knowledge, agreement can be reached that, given their ignorance, they shouldn’t reach conclusions about certain issues until they know more. Inconclusive, unproductive discussions/debates are an indication of irrationality by at least one participant.


In the comments below, please post links (with one sentence saying what they are) to other controversial ideas I have which would make good debate topics. You can also share links to my writing about the topics above or debate them.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (17)

Deplatforming and Fraud

Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Patreon, PayPal and other companies have repeatedly advertised that they are politically-neutral open platforms. All are welcome. They’re for everybody.

Then they ban, moderate, demonetize and censor people, and bias search algorithms, for a variety of biased reasons, including especially to persecute right wing political ideas. I’ll call this general issue “deplatforming”. It’s about not letting certain non-favored persons/ideas use the platforms in the standard, (allegedly) publicly-available way.

For those unfamiliar with or doubtful of the relevant facts, I’ve included an information section below.

The public debate over this issue has two main sides.

First, most of the left is cheering as their enemies are attacked.

Second, most of the right, along with some people on the left with greater integrity, say that free speech is important, tech companies are an important part of modern life, and we need government regulations to make things fair.

A third, smaller group are free market advocates who say private companies should be able to do whatever they want, even if it’s politically biased, and the government should leave them alone. They often say this despite having right wing ideas themselves. They say it despite being part of the oppressed group.

What’s missing is a pro-free-market, anti-deplatforming group. That’s my position. It’s important that the free market is compatible with solving the deplatforming problem. This isn’t a failure of capitalism. Anyone who cares about freedom and classical liberalism should be interested in how it can address a problem like this without assuming it’s inadequate.

As a free market advocate, many people expect me to say that private companies can do whatever they want and the government should stay out of it. I think deplatforming is a horrible problem, but don’t my principles require me to accept it?

I find most free market people insufficiently regretful regarding their support of deplatforming. They don’t say how horrible it is, and they wish there was anything to be done about it, but their hands are tied. They don’t seem to mind much. I think many have some partial leftist sympathies.

There’s a better way to view the issue. There’s something bad going on. I dislike it. And most of the proposed solutions are statist. So then what? Give up? No! The first thing to do is consider free-market-compatible solutions. Classical liberalism is a sophisticated, nuanced political philosophy which should be able to deal with problems like this. Can it? No one seems to have checked.

In the free market, the initiation of force is prohibited. This includes threat of force and includes fraud. False advertising is fraud. Advertising being a neutral platform, while not being one, is fraud. These companies should be sued. We don’t need new regulations. We need the most basic legal protections that would also exist in a minarchist society (minimal government society, aka nightwatchman state).

These companies don’t follow the rules in their own Terms of Service. That’s fraud. They are telling the public the rules are one way, but acting a different way.

The ongoing fraud has been revealed by many sources including Project Veritas (e.g. Google Document Dump). More sources are below.

Why are companies flagrantly violating the law and no one seems to notice and they aren’t losing all their profits to lawsuits? Because they have special government privileges. They’re being protected from being accountable under the law. They aren’t fully private companies. They hire tons of political staffers and lobbyists. They have friends in high places. They have political pull and receive favors. They aren’t operating in a free market context.

People tell right wingers to make their own competing sites. If you don’t like these companies, beat them in the free market. There are a few problems with this. First, having a larger user base is a huge advantage in social media. People want to be on the sites their friends are on. And why do these companies have such a head start? Because they fraudulently lied about their political neutrality so people didn’t see the need to compete with them earlier on. Second, they are still lying today which reduces the interest in alternative sites. If they openly said they’re biased against Trump voters, more people would recognize the bias and switch to a new competitor. But they still lie to their users. And third, there’s the banking problem.

The worst problem related to deplatforming is not access to social media platforms for sharing ideas. It’s access to the financial system. You can make your own blog or other website to speak your mind (deplatforming by domain registrars, webhosts, etc., has begun but isn’t very bad yet). But what if you’re being prevented from selling your work online? What if your fans can’t donate money to support you? What if you can’t sell merch? How can you compete in the free market if you don’t have the ability to participate in the market online?

The banks and credit card companies are highly government regulated. And they have pressured sites like Patreon and PayPal to deplatform right wingers. And when Gab tried to build a Twitter competitor, they found it very difficult to get any banking partners. Patreon competitors have also had huge difficulties getting banking access to enable their users to send money online to fund content creators. For most types of business, getting banking is easy. Banks and payment processors compete for your business. They want to be widely used. But right wing people online are being treated differently by financial companies which are considerably more government-controlled or government-influenced than Facebook or Google is.

My position is that I wish we had a free market. A free market would solve this problem because there would be serious consequences for fraud. We aren’t even close to a free market. Free market advocates tend to recognize this fact in general. They recognize e.g. that the U.S. healthcare market (including before Obamacare) is not even close to free market, capitalist healthcare. They recognize how involved the government is in the universities. But with deplatforming, the government’s role seems to be widely overlooked.

The main takeaway here is simple but widely ignored. Given the facts about the situation (which most people don’t know much about), Google, YouTube, Twitter and so on are guilty of blatant, massive and ongoing fraud. We don’t need new laws or regulations, we need to enforce the most basic and capitalism-compatible laws.

Deplatforming Info

For those who haven’t been following the public information about deplatforming much, here are some examples:

"Twitter stands for freedom of expression," Dorsey declared. "Twitter stands for speaking truth to power." Dorsey is CEO and co-founder of Twitter. Just from accounts I was following, Twitter deplatformed Heartiste, Real Peer Review and American Renaissance.

"I'm almost a free-speech absolutist." said Prince, the CEO of Cloudflare, an internet infrastructure company that deplatformed the Daily Stormer for political reasons.

Kudos to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for defending free speech at a tough moment. There are many articles attacking Zuckerberg for being too favorable to free speech. Meanwhile Facebook deletes, censors and deprioritizes (lowering the traffic they get) right wing groups and ideas.

There is some non-political, largely-unexplained deplatforming too, contrary to publicly claimed policies. E.g. Facebook deleted without warning or explanation the Banting7DayMealPlan user group. The group has 1.65 million users who post testimonials and other information regarding the efficacy of a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet.

Sam Harris Drops Patreon, Citing 'Political Bias' Likely Inspired by SPLC's 'Hate Group' List

Google "Machine Learning Fairness" Whistleblower Goes Public, says: "burden lifted off of my soul”, from Project Veritas, which I found as the 15th search result on YouTube for project veritas google whistleblower. It’s so low due to search algorithm bias, which ironically is one of the topics of the video.

Twitter banned a psychiatry expert for sharing his professional research conclusions (for political reasons).

Jared Taylor was the first victim of a new YouTube deplatforming campaign.

I Was Fooled By The Promise Of The Internet:

Domain registrars promised that I could “own” my little corner of the web with a domain name, and now my domains can be seized by a faceless bureaucracy. Google told me to create the best content I could to be ranked highly in their search engine, but then they manipulated their algorithms to lift dull corporate propaganda above my own. Twitter promised that I could share any thought that came to mind, and after I spent years doing so, they changed their mind and will now ban me if I make fun of an obese feminist. YouTube said I could upload engaging videos that viewers love, and even make money doing so, but then they demonetized most of my videos, put others in “limited state,” and banned me from live streaming for three months because I asked if women who wear chokers want to be treated subserviently. Disqus offered me a service to allow the community at Return Of Kings to discuss what was on their mind, but they banned the site because they didn’t want us to discuss certain things. Amazon said I could publish books on their platform and even make a living as a writer, but then they banned the paperbook and ebook editions of nine of my books with no explanation why. Paypal said it would be easy to add payment processing to my site, and then later showed how easy it is to ban me for political reasons.

I’ve covered deplatforming in newsletters, e.g. after Charlottesville and re Twitter censoring Canary Mission and Gab and about the banking/financial forces behind deplatforming (sadly and ironically, the Nick Monroe Twitter thread in the newsletter is no longer readable because Twitter deplatformed him. And the Thread Reader App archive of it is hidden by Twitter in the replies behind a warning saying “Show additional replies, including those that may contain offensive content” and then the content is deleted from their site anyway. But it’s still on the wayback machine.).

Some more examples from the open politics discussion on Curiosity (this website):

  • Roosh’s private account banned from Instagram.
  • Heartiste deleted from WordPress.
  • Michelle Malkin post deleted on Facebook.
  • An Objectivist defended deplatforming.
  • David Horowitz restricted on Twitter.
  • Borderless video had delayed processing, then was taken down, on YouTube.
  • Facebook deleted a Paul Joseph Watson post consisting of the single word “honk” because it referenced a right wing political meme.
  • Koch Brothers Team Up With George Soros, Patreon and Airbnb to Fight Online Extremism (fighting online extremism is code for deplatforming).
  • Pinterest whistleblower told Project Veritas about their political bias. Then YouTube deleted the video after it had a million views. One consequence is that the link to the video in my email newsletter archives, which can’t be edited, is now broken.
  • Vdare article with non-classical-liberal tech censorship response.
  • I answer Alan Forrester’s question about what fraud Facebook has committed (part 2).
  • Apple threated to kick Parler (a Twitter competitor) off their app store unless Parler banned some people. Apple also blocks some channels on Telegram.
  • Reddit quarantined the The Donald subreddit and suspended Veritas’ account.
  • YouTube officially fraudulently lied that we apply our policies fairly and without political bias.
  • I commented on fraud and deplatforming on the House of Sunny podcast.
  • Wikipedia has biased editing, e.g. an example related to Jeffrey Epstein.
  • A gaming channel got banned at a million followers on YouTube and had to start over.
  • Links to collections of examples of Google and Facebook censorship.
  • Cloudflare deplatformed 8chan.
  • Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell got suspended from Twitter for sharing a video showing people making violent threats against him
  • Owen Benjamin has been deplatformed by YouTube and others.
  • Games Done Quick speedrun marathon deplatforms people for MAGA hats.

This is just a small sampling of deplatforming info. There’s far more. Post more in the comments below. I’ve posted, as the first comment, a list of deplatforming related links that Justin Mallone gathered earlier this year.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (50)

Taleb Is Wrong: Killing Millions Actually Is Risky

Alan Forrester writes Criticising Taleb’s Precautionary Principle Paper, quoting Nassim Nicholas Taleb (and his co-authors):

The PP states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing severe harm to the public domain (such as general health or the environment), and in the absence of scientific near-certainty about the safety of the action, the burden of proof about absence of harm falls on those proposing the action. It is meant to deal with effects of absence of evidence and the incompleteness of scientific knowledge in some risky domains.

I'm quoting this as context for what I say later. As a side note, I refuted the burden of proof idea in my Yes or No Philosophy.

The purpose of the PP is to avoid a certain class of what, in probability and insurance, is called “ruin” problems [1]. A ruin problem is one where outcomes of risks have a non zero probability of resulting in unrecoverable losses.

Taleb wants us not to use GMOs – genetically modified food like Golden Rice which helps provide more food and vitamins, especially for poor foreigners.

Forrester summarizes David Deutsch in The Beginning of Infinity (BoI) criticizing the Precautionary Principle (PP):

The PP assumes that new innovations will make the world worse and so that current knowledge is basically okay and not riddled with flaws that might lead to the destruction of civilisation. But our knowledge is riddled with flaws that might destroy civilisation. Human beings are fallible so any piece of knowledge we have might be mistaken. And those mistakes can be arbitrarily large in their consequences because otherwise we would know we were right every time we made a decision above the maximum mistake size. In addition, we can be mistaken about the consequences of a decision so a mistake we think is small might turn out to be a large mistake. The only way to deal with the fact that our knowledge might be wrong is to improve our ability to invent and criticise new ideas so we can solve problems faster. Taleb doesn’t address any of these points in his paper. He doesn’t refer to BoI. Nor do any of the arguments in his paper address Deutsch’s criticisms of the PP.

Taleb's argument is a Pascal’s Wager successor. Pascal's Wager says we should believe in God because the downside of being mistaken about atheism is eternity in hell. Meanwhile the downside of being a Christian, if God doesn't exist, is finite: e.g. some wasted Church visits and prayers. Even if the odds God exists are 0.00001%, given the stakes, one should believe in God and try to get into Heaven.

Pascal's trick is to compare an infinite downside (eternity in hell) with a finite downside (decades of having a worse life). The infinitely important issue will always win unless its probability is 0%. (Ignored is the possibility of a rational, atheistic approach to life helping create life-extension medicine that results in immortality.)

A "ruin" problem is, like eternity in hell, a problem with infinite downside.

With Pascal's Wager, one can argue that God's existence shouldn't be assigned any probability. Small probability is a bad way to deal with bad explanations, bad logic, bad reasoning, unanswered criticisms, losing the argument, etc.

With Taleb's ruin problems, there is risk above 0%. They aren't myths or superstitions like God or ghosts. They are conceivable scenarios.

Taleb uses his argument like Pascal's Wager, e.g. "No matter how increased the probability of benefits, ruin as an absorbing barrier, i.e. causing extinction without further recovery, can more than cancels them out." No matter how large the finite benefits, ruin always matters more. (Minor note: Taleb should have written "cancel" not "cancels".)

It's questionable that even the total extinction of humanity, or of all intelligent life in the universe, should be assigned infinite importance rather than just very very large importance. But I'll set that question aside.

There's a simple answer to Taleb. Everything he proposes also risks ruin. There are risks of ruin either way.

Taleb proposes, in short, to slow down industrial and scientific progress. He proposes more poverty for longer. He proposes more people being blind for lack of Golden Rice – and therefore they will be inferior scientists and inventors. He proposes more people dying for lack of food, or ending up in jail for stealing food – which gets in the way of being a philosopher, businessman, economist, etc.

Delays to industrial and scientific progress are risks of "ruin". They delay the time until we're a two planet species (or two solar systems or two galaxies). Every additional day we spend with a single point of failure (one planet) is a risk. Maybe that's the day a meteor, plague, alien invasion or other risk will ruin our planet. We're in a race against ruin. The clock is ticking before the next big meteor or other ruinous threat. The faster we improve our meteor defenses, and our wealth and technology in general, the better position we're in to deal with that ruin risk or any other ruin risk that may come up. There are some dangers that we don't foresee at all; our best defense against the unknown is to have lots of knowledge, lots of control over physical reality, and other general purpose tools and resources.

Slower progress with more poverty and misery is also a ruin risk for the individuals who go blind, starve, die of aging before a technological solution is available, etc.

And greater poverty and misery in the world, with worse science, increases our risk of ruin from violence. Our ruin could come from resentment from people who want Golden Rice and feel (reasonably, IMO, but it's a risk even if they're wrong) that we're oppressing them. Civilization may be destroyed by Islam, China, Russia or some other war. The sooner everyone lives in a much nicer world (paradise by current standards), the lower our risk of war.

Civilization may be destroyed by the spread of bad ideas. The more prosperity is brought by the use of reason (e.g. science), the more people will be impressed and value reason. Accomplishments help persuade people. The sooner the safer.

Perhaps Taleb things the destruction of civilization, and another dark ages, doesn't constitute ruin because one day people may reinvent civilization. But the destruction of civilization could result in extinction. It could involve biological warfare which creates a disease capable of killing us all. It could involve nuclear and chemical warfare which kills so many, and renders so much land uninhabitable, that everyone ends up dying. It could involve new weapons technology. If GMOs could ruin us, surely a violent conflict could where people are trying to cause mass destruction on purpose. If nothing else turns out to be more effective (doubtful, IMO), people could try to create harmful GMOs on purpose as a weapon.

Slower progress isn't safe. Nothing provides any guaranteed safety against ruin. In general, rapid progress is the safest option. The status quo isn't sustainable, as Deutsch explains in the "Unsustainable" chapter of BoI.

I wonder if Taleb tried to think of ruin problems affecting his proposal for the death of more poor non-white children and many other bad outcomes (even if no such thinking made it into the paper). With Guardian headlines like Block on GM rice ‘has cost millions of lives and led to child blindness’, a reasonable person would give serious consideration to not advocating more of that happening. Does it make sense that denying nutritious food to millions is the safe, no-risk option, while using science to improve their lives is the big risk? That's not impossible, intellectually, but one should make a serious effort to think of counter-arguments. But Taleb (in the full paper) didn't. He briefly suggested maybe the downsides of no GMOs are less than some reports because they have other causes which GMOs don't solve. OK but isn't there a risk that no Golden Rice has killed and will kill millions? Nothing he said could reasonably be treated as a reason that risk is zero. So then, did he analyze whether there is any way that that really bad stuff could lead to ruin? No, all he did is say:

Most of the discussions on "saving the poor from starvation" via GMOs miss the fundamental asymmetry shown in 7.

But it's only a fundamental asymmetry if there are no ruin risks associated with having governments forcibly malnourish the poor. But Taleb (and co-authors) didn't consider or analyze that.


What do I think of ruin risks? The short term affects our long term prospects, as I've been explaining, so they generally don't involve such a big difference as Taleb believes. In general, I think the right answer will be good in the short and long term, good in the big and small picture. We can make life good now and in the future instead of needing to make big, awful sacrifices to try to create a better future. Our success and prosperity now is what will lead to and create a good future.


Disclaimer: I don’t regard this as productive intellectual discourse. A reader might get the impression that this is the sort of critical debate which is supposed to take place between thinkers. I don't think so. I don’t think Taleb is making a good-faith or productive contribution to discourse. I don’t regard him as a worthy opponent. I think he acted intellectually irresponsibly, he’s not open to discussion or learning new ideas, and the bad philosophy thinking he’s a part of is one of the world’s big ruin risks. I regard my post as similar to debunking a UFO sighting.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (8)

Global Warming Debate

This video has a debate about global warming with 6 people including Richard Lindzen (an anti-global warming debater and scientist):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZsnAdGaxkY

A good way to begin a debate about global warming is to watch this video and say which ideas you think won the debate, what you found convincing.

So e.g. I might talk to one person who says "yeah Lindzen won that debate, his opponents were mediocre, but global warming is right b/c of some other arguments they didn't use". And a different person would say "i thought global warming won that debate". Those are two really different perspectives that are worth separating.

if someone says I'm right to think global warming lost in that particular debate, i'd want to know what they think is convincing. e.g. is there a debate Lindzen lost in video or, even better, writing? or are there some arguments he's never given a response to?

if someone thinks global warming won that debate, I'd want to know how they evaluate some specific statements. analyze some quotes from both side of the debate. show me some mistakes from Lindzen and his allies, and some key points from his opponents that should have been convincing but which he ignored or answered badly.

i think the pro global warming people in the video are irrational clowns who make fools of themselves. i say that not to flame but to express a perspective. i think it's a notable difference whether i evaluate someone as a clown and someone else sees a rational debater or, alternatively, they agree those people are clowns but think there are some much better pro global warming debaters elsewhere.

i too could analyze some specific statements. but i don't want to do it preemptively. it'd be a bad way to proceed with someone who says that particular debate wasn't convincing for global warming but something else is. if you want me to do it, debate me, say you think that video is convincing re global warming (rather than that you'll want to rely on other sources), share some of your analysis, and ask for mine. i find, in general, despite the alleged 97% consensus for global warming, there's a shortage of people who disagree with me and are willing to rationally discuss the matter.

People often want to debate the issues directly, from scratch. If your goal is to reach a conclusion about the field (rather than to practice debating or learn some introductory info), it's much more effective to look at what's already know, what smart people who study it have already said, and try to evaluate some of those ideas. Using existing knowledge gives you a head start compared to starting over. Looking at a debate like this helps you start to get a picture of the field, the issues, the relevant arguments, and so on. It's incomplete, it's in voice instead of writing, there are many flaws, but it's more productive to start with existing materials and then point out problems with them and start adding in some other sources rather than to start at zero and say you're own ideas about global warming.


PS here are some other videos with Lindzen that I liked:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2q9BT2LIUAt=277
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Xe5VeMYD7Y
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRwYZV-hYnA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJwayalLpYY


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (12)

Discussion Tree: State of Animal Rights Debate

I began organizing the current state of the animal rights debate into a discussion tree diagram. I started with Peter Singer because he's a well known intellectual with pro animal rights writing. I will update the diagram or create additional diagrams if some pro animal rights people point me to literature which addresses my unanswered arguments and questions, or make important arguments in the comments below. I hope they'll do that. I prefer pointers to specific parts of literature unless someone wants to first concede that key arguments for animal rights haven't been written down anywhere (and explain why they haven't been).

The diagram is just an outline. For details about a particular part, ask in comments below. The diagram is meant to show (a piece of) the structure of the debate/discussion. It selectively focuses on points Singer raised and points I consider important. I'm sure other people have written relevant things, but I don't know where to find that, I've done some Bing searches unsuccessfully, and I have other research priorities (such as how to have a rational discussion – this is an experiment for that purpose). My relevant expertise is primarily about epistemology, software and science, not the animal rights literature. I've debated ~25 people on these issues but they typically bring up sources like a YouTube video about how an animal did something that seems intelligent to them.

Click the diagram to expand or view the PDF for selectable text. The source links are clickable in the PDF and are Animal Liberation and Animal Liberation at 30.


Update: I explain more of my position, and do some research, in the comments below, and in Discussion about Animal Rights and Popper

Update 2: I wrote Animal Rights Issues Regarding Software and AGI


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (129)