Sunday, June 11, 2023
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strange idea rule

It’s frustrating to come up with an idea and have people reject it just because it’s weird. You must have seen people laugh at ideas like worrying about wildlife suffering, computers becoming sentient or comets hitting the Earth. I’ve come across a few cases where it is claimed that aspartame may be harmless, but ultrasonic humidifiers may not be.

The thing is, to put aside the odd idea that is not wrong .

I have a relative who got vaccinated for Covid J&J vaccine, so while some people are getting their third shot, she still only has one shot. I’m claiming to go ahead with the second mRNA vaccination because it’s definitely going to be approved soon and it’s already approved in some countries. She responded gently, “When my doctor tells me, I’ll get another shot.”

Was she wrong? In a narrow sense, maybe. The mix and match of vaccines were approved very quickly, and I think that was known in advance. But more broadly, she follows a good strategy: For most people, “doing what the doctor says” will be better than “getting from an arrogant relative.” Where receiving unsolicited medical advice “works better.”

From a Bayesian perspective, if she does listen That’s probably a mistake, in my words. Doubt about weird ideas is an “immune system” that prevents us from believing nonsense.

Of course, the problem is that weird ideas are sometimes right. For 200 years, most Westerners thought tomatoes were poisonous. Imagine you were one of the original contrarians going around saying, “ Actually , tomatoes are good! ” and prove you can eat them. I bet you’re going to have a tough time.

Especially because if you convince someone and they go home and cook some tomatoes, their cooker May contain lead, the acidity in tomatoes can leach out and lead to lead poisoning. Your follow-up “Tomatoes are really okay, we just need to switch to lead-free cookware! would fry even more.

I’m glad people were sticking around so we didn’t cover our pizzas with mayo. But how are we supposed to resolve this tension? Here are eight Suggested rules.

1. We need to work at the population level

If you think about it, pretty much everything you know It’s all from other people. Even when you “check the facts” it usually means “see what other people have to say”. If you trace your knowledge back to observations of the world, it’s a huge graph that you trust trust Other people’s people trust other people.

Understanding the world is a social process. This is important because I don’t think the tension of weird ideas can on a personal level. You have limited time to work on crazy theories. But luckily, you don’t need need solve everything yourself. We just need to follow the lead We share our habit of identifying good ideas and discarding bad ones.

2. Don’t expect most people to take your weird ideas seriously

On the one hand, this is only true about the world. But more seriously, it is unreasonable to expect people to follow a strategy that is not good for them.

We are always subject to bad ideas Attack. If everyone who heard the claim that vaccines cause autism looked at the evidence with an open mind, we would have more people who thought vaccines caused autism.

There is no time to investigate every random claim anyway. The complexity of the world greatly exceeds the capabilities of individuals. We must live in a social process of obtaining credible information from others.

3. Don’t feel bad about rejecting weird ideas

Remember, be right before being biased against weird ideas, and be hesitant about them is definitely correct game theory because we have short lifespans and small brains and are prone to error.

However, somehow I think a lot of people feel like they shouldn’t? The problem is not People don’t dismiss weird ideas – most of us do it instinctively. The question is we’re dishonestwhy We’re firing them, both to others and to ourselves. Speaking of which…

4. Honestly why you reject weird ideas

There are many reasons why you might do this.

  • pure prior: the idea sounds silly, you haven’t seen the arguments.
  • You’ve seen the argument, but you think it’s wrong.
  • You read the argument, but then realize you don’t understand the context of it, so you go back to your previous point.
  • You read the argument, you get it, and it looks pretty good. But your prior is so strong that you reject the idea anyway.
  • You look at the argument, you get it, it looks powerful, and on an intellectual level , which overcomes your prior. But somehow, you just can’t get emotionally invested in the conclusion. (Sometimes I feel this way about AI risks.)
  • These are Effective! But it is very important to be clear which one you are using. Because this is what happens often:

    • Got a weird idea.
  • A lot of people reject it just because it’s weird (#1) or because they don’t understand the argument ( #3).

  • But they feel they don’t “should” reject for those people It justifies, so they give the misleading impression that they reject the argument in detail.

  • A false consensus, everyone thinks the argument is false, engage Disrupting the social process that should ultimately lead to the truth.

    5. Carefully shift the goalposts

    This is another mode:

    A: This is a strange idea.


    : This is not possible because X.

    A: [X is false evidence. ]


    : Oh well. But your idea is still wrong because Y.

    A: [Y is false evidence. ]

    : Good, but your idea is still wrong because Z.

    For example, with aspartame, it is often claimed that it is carcinogenic. When this turned out to be false, they fell back saying it was genotoxic (it wasn’t), it caused insulin spikes (it didn’t), it metabolized to formaldehyde (which is normal), and it caused obesity (only in correlation studies), and then something about the microbiome.

    Now, it’s good to object to an idea for X, Y, and Z reasons. When they give up reasons, giving up is good (admirably!) proven false. However, this pattern is still a warning sign.

    Most obviously, in divergences, it is best to start from your center point. If I say I disagree with you because of X, then showing that X is wrong should change my mind – otherwise, I’m not entirely honest about my reasons.

    But this pattern goes with weird ideas. What’s going on in everyone’s brain during the conversation?

    A will of course be frustrated because it seems without any evidence to convince B, so it feels like B is arguing maliciously.

    But B’s point of view is different. They decided that the idea was too bizarre to consider (which is reasonable!). Then, they applied basic logic: if you know that aspartame is harmful, and it is proven that it does not cause cancer, then it is correct Infer there must be some other damage mechanism.

    I think it is human nature to play the role of B in this conversation. When we dismiss strange thoughts, we often “feel” that we have a reason.

    What is the solution? I think B needs to be more introspective and more straightforward. It can be decided that you will not consider an idea and that you will not be persuaded by any evidence to the contrary. We all do this a lot. But when doing it, it is better to do explicitly . Fear of looking narrow-minded will lead you to throw out a series of Potemkin arguments that will only create a false sense of merit.

    6. Consider a small selection of strange ideas

    research A certain percentage of crazy ideas can be a good thing. This is mostly an act of altruism, and we should do something to make the social truth process work better.

    You may have already done so. For topics that are particularly important to you or that you particularly enjoy reading, you may be more patient to indulge in quirky concepts.

    Another criterion is expertise. Perhaps we should leave the refutation of perpetual motion machines to physicists.

    But I don’t think we want to be too bent on leaving the truth to the experts. The problem is that expertise is often concentrated in tiny bubbles in society. When we have a highly trusted channel from experts to the public, that’s great. For example, the systems we currently use to communicate during earthquakes work well.

    But other times experts are siloed and most have a few low-trust links away from them. Or maybe these experts aren’t that reliable, or they’re just not experts on this particular topic. In this case, we need more players to give truly bizarre ideas a chance to spread.

    7. Or on second thought maybe don’t

    Public health authorities are now considered less reliable than they were a few years ago. In my opinion, this is a “correct” update: they’re always fine, but not foolproof, so the current opinion is closer to reality.

    But what effect does that have?

    It is not clear if it is positive. Some have of course found alternative sources of information and learned the limits of what public figures can say. But many others also seem to be caught up in pointless conspiracy theories.

    This worries me and I don’t know what to do. It’s easy to say that if you can do this successfully, you should just look at things. But maybe your ability to assess details has something to do with your ability to judge your own abilities?

    8. Hesitant to accept strange ideas

    You don’t have to update all the way. Probably you should almost never do this! In most cases, the correct conclusion should be “if it really matters” or “I don’t see an obvious flaw”. This is enough to keep the social process going and avoid the personal risk of acting on crazy ideas.



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