News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 26, 2011 in News

A new post on Less Wrong: Less Wrong Rationality and Mainstream Philosophy, which spawned a very long debate between Yudkowsky and myself. (Which seems to have finally ended here.)

Another new post there: Costs and Benefits of Scholarship.

Part 2 and Part 3 of John Baez’s interview with Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Science of the Kalam Cosmological Argument: Big Bang and Singularities.

Great new website: Natural Philosophy of Life.

A donor paid to have Richard Carrier update and publish Why I Am Not a Christian (by Carrier, not Russell).

Revisiting “objectification” on Less Wrong: A Rationalist’s Account of Objectification?

Ya’ll noticed how flaming atheistic that movie Paul was, right?

John Loftus announced a new book.

I added four more debates to the debates page.

From Twitter:

  • Cosmonaut crashed into earth crying in rage (story, audio).
  • Video: Bruce Lee playing ping pong with nunchucks. This if fake, right?
  • Surprise! Julian Assange, via satellite, interrogates Australian prime minister on live television.
  • Awesome new photo stories online magazine: Pictory.
  • Really good Super Mario a capella.
  • Why democracy is not the future.
  • Daft punk a capella requires talent. Luckily, this guy has it.
  • Never cut your fingers with a table saw again (high-speed video of inventor sticking his finger in the saw).
  • Video: Julian Assange, terrible houseguest. (True, hilarious story.)

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel O. March 26, 2011 at 7:56 am

Good job on your debate with Eliezer. You responded well and I think you got the best of him. It is good for him to face those kinds of criticism to prevent him from becoming the Ayn Rand of LessWrong.


juhou March 26, 2011 at 9:09 am

I think that why democracy is not the future article is wrong. The main point is probably this; “Actually, non-democracies seem more our future than democracies, because while the two groups have the same average economic growth rates, non-democracy rates vary more, and high rates dominate”

The author seems not to have taken a look at the countries like Estonia which are democracies with very high growth rates (up until the financial crisis). Estonia have in common the fact that both are developing countries that are not yet near the technology frontier. Tech frontier is important due to increases in technology being the main cause for labor productivity improvements which in turn is the main cause of GDP growth according the neoclassical growth models (Solow). China and Estonia are not at the tech frontier but are adapting tech developed in rich countries at a rabid rate which turns into high GDP growth.

The same thing happened in Japan after world war 2. Japans “democracy” is very close to Chinas system and therefore these two countries seem pretty comparable to me. What happened in Japan after it reached high enough GDP is severe recession and stagnation for more than 10 years. This seems to me to be due to leadership failures. Therefore I would not take the article too seriously.


juhou March 26, 2011 at 9:10 am

Meant to say Estonia and China have in common the fact… in the second paragraph.


antiplastic March 26, 2011 at 10:16 am

@Daniel ITYM “The Alonzo Fyfe of computer science”.

I see EY is now claiming, in full Wolfram-savant mode, to have independently invented moral functionalism “on the fly”. Luke, you have got to keep calling bullshit on this.

“Analytic descriptivism”, “moral functionalism”, and “mature folk morality” are all highly technical terms which occur only in the context of Arch-Analytic Frank Jackson’s work and the responses to it (incidentally, for the best rebuttal from my fellow traveling expressivists Horgan & Timmons see here). What possible sequence of events could have lead to his unearthing that somewhat arcane discussion?

It simply defies belief that he “googled around to find the nearest philosophical neighbor”. Aside from being yet another example of someone committing philosophy while at the same time whingeing that philosophy is useless, how does one do a google search on a technical philosophical topic when one only has an unarticulated pre-philosophical hunch about it? What was the first google search term he tried? “Morality”? And that lead him, bloodhound-like, to Frank Jackson?

Pretty much any well-articulated philosophical view about morality is at least prima facie plausible, in that it puts into words a lot of what we already think and feel intuitively about the topic. I’m as anti-Libertarian as it is possible to be, but I’m hardly a tin ear when Nozick argues about how awesome freedom is, and how using the arm of the state to confiscate personal property should always make one suspicious. A more charitable reading is that, like most thoughtful people coming across an articulated philosophical view about morality, EY stumbled across Jackson, found the conclusions plausible, saw that he used sciency-sounding words like “functionalism” and squiggly math-looking Ramsey Sentences and decided to call it a day.

To animadvert that Jackson’s conclusions, which in the interview he repeated without qualification, “are built on entirely different premises of argument and never quite optimized for Friendly-AI thinking” rings hollow. (Well, OK, I suppose we could give “not optimized for AI” in the same way we should admit that donuts are “not optimized for space travel”. Why should they be?) Jackson’s monograph is an adaptation of his 1997 John Locke Lecture Series where he laid out a full-throated defense of conceptual analysis, which chapters on ethics were just one of several examples of how it was indispensiblel. And this causes zero cognitive dissonance?

If EY agrees with Jackson’s conclusions about ethics, then ipso facto he has to admit that Jackson’s method is not as useless as his torrent of scorn would lead you to believe. And not just any old philosophical method either – the bête noire of Conceptual Analysis itself! That’s like quoting Marx verbatim and agreeing that we need a dictatorship of the proletariat to socialize the means of production and then turning around and trash-talking communism.

Alternatively, if there is a substantive disagreement between his metaethical conclusions and Jackson’s, I think we are owed an explanation of what the differences between them are, where specifically Jackson’s argument fails and his does not, and why his own view is not vulnerable to the same criticisms leveled by e.g. the expressivists.


antiplastic March 26, 2011 at 10:31 am

Capsulized review:

Look, since childhood I always thought that reducing the amount of suffering in the world was a good thing but you don’t see me going around claiming to have “independently invented utilitarianism on the fly”. And you won’t see me sneering at a conference of Information Theorists because their methods “account for information but can’t explain knowledge and wisdom.”


Haukur March 26, 2011 at 11:34 am

Your discussions with Eliezer have significantly downgraded my opinion of him, Luke. He reacts like a child to what amounts to exceedingly polite, even deferential, criticism. Does he, at any point, stop and think, “hmm, looks like Luke is making some good points here – maybe I need to reconsider some of this stuff?” And this is supposedly the master of rationality, of changing his mind in response to evidence and so on and so forth.


Tshepang Lekhonkhobe March 26, 2011 at 12:57 pm


Your enquiries continuously impress me. Your superb contributions to Less Wrong gives you even greater credibility as an intellectual. Fact that you now challenge it’s (supposedly) great mind makes you rock even harder. Oh, and all that reading. Me a fan.


LilRobbie March 26, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Link to agency that created Bruce Lee ping-pong ad for Nokia.


cl March 26, 2011 at 2:16 pm


I forgot the “l” in my handle last comment, so you might have something in spam. If not, all I said was that I enjoyed your post on happiness over there…


Luke Muehlhauser March 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Ah! Thanks, LilRobbie.


mopey March 26, 2011 at 9:58 pm

I’ll just echo that the exchange with Yudkowsky is riveting. Luke made a remarkable defense of there being at least some value in philosophy, so much so that I think Luke takes some of his training in philosophy for granted when he says things like there is (or should be) an identity relationship between philosophy and cogsci. That being said, I that metaphilosophy is in dire need of more examination, but it takes a lot of sacrifice to do that sort of work.


Haecceitas March 26, 2011 at 11:40 pm

The originality of Loftus’ book titles never ceases to amaze me.


Ryan M March 27, 2011 at 12:21 am

Personally, I think Loftus’ books would be challenging to even the most sophisticated theists (I.e. Even Robert Gressis has said on Prosblogion that Loftus likely knows more about Christianity than him), but the book will not have much impact if the title is not attractive to the reader (Even philosophically minded readers).


Reginald Selkirk March 27, 2011 at 8:30 am

<i.Ya’ll noticed how flaming atheistic that movie Paul was, right?

I saw it yesterday.


cl March 27, 2011 at 10:42 am

Ryan M,

I grant that he knows the Bible, but personally, I find Loftus’ books a challenge to take seriously. Although I admire the candor in the opening chapters of Why I Became An Atheist, “I had an affair with a stripper and the church treated me bad so I left Christianity” is not a rational reason for becoming an atheist. John’s deconversion was emotionally prompted. Will anyone really deny that? Will anyone really deny that wrapping reason around emotion introduces the possibility of confirmation bias?

Thus far, what I’ve read of The End of Christianity also fails to impress. For example, Stenger’s false claim that, “None of the claimed prophetic revelations of the Bible have been confirmed[.]”

IMO, there are good reasons many theists–and atheists, for that matter–refuse to take Loftus seriously, and I’ve merely scraped the surface in those posts.


mojo.rhythm March 28, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Julian Assange is an absolute classic. Julia was clearly surprised by that.

Australian politics has of late descended into crap-throwing demagoguery.


Reginald Selkirk March 31, 2011 at 9:40 am

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