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Don't you think it's possible that through diligent study of human interaction and how the mind works you could gain a better understanding of how biases are formed and reinforced and stand a chance of recognizing when your own rational decision making is being bypassed? And in fact there is a large group of people (mainly the nerds, as it happens) who are working daily towards exactly that? And haven't they earned at least a little bit of the right to call themselves more rational than the person who has never even thought in these terms for a single moment of their life?

>It's never me who's swayed by emotions, it's always less rational people, and if only those people could get their shit together, like me, we'd be in a much better place.

That is true, though I would amend it to "even if they got their shit together, like me, we would still have a long ways to go in that regard. But it sure would help if everyone knew what confirmation bias was so that politicians and the media couldn't so easily use it to convince people of things that might not be true!"




Diligent study of how biases are formed? Sure.

Nerds working daily towards that? Lol, no. Psychologists, maybe.

"Nerds" of the Hacker News variety are every bit as susceptible to various psychological failings as anyone else. There's nothing special about programming or physics or chemistry that makes you into some sort of uber-rational superhuman and it's very dangerous to believe that.

As time goes by, the more it seems to me that deep down we're all pretty much the same. The spectrum of human nature is pretty small: the gap between the most intellectual and moral and the least isn't anywhere near as big as some would like to think. For every intellectual with a convoluted theory that leads to an unintuitive conclusion, there's a man on the street armed with common sense and a degree from the University of Life who can blow it out of the water with a single sharp observation.


I don't know. If we're talking about the self-described "rationalist" technologist clique, you have a point. Their relative insularity and elitism sometimes serves to intensify their own biases.

However, I think it's too pessimistic to say that people can't learn to be better at this. Just knowing that bias exists is a step in the right direction. I can have productive discussions with those self-described rationalists, (although I have to learn their terms of debate first since they keep making up their own). But there's something admirable in people trying to adapt these great intellectual traditions to their lives now.

And furthermore, who else are you going to turn to? Maybe there will eventually be professional bias-shattering specialists you can call on, but for now we all have to do what we can.


> Diligent study of how biases are formed? Sure.

> Nerds working daily towards that? Lol, no.

You realize that the only difference between those two is a piece of paper? Getting a college education is - or rather, was - literally being a nerd of $SUBJECT_MATTER.


If you describe anyone with a college education as a nerd then the word loses almost all meaning, as it'd describe a huge number of people.


Well, the word nerd (and geek) used to mean someone who you'd expect to be better in their domain than your average college degree holder, so me having to defend nerds only shows we've already reversed the meaning.


Just as a counter point, I've never thought of nerd/geek as terms describing prowess in a field. I see 'geek' as a term to describe someone who is passionate about something that it isn't cool to be passionate about, or in a way that isn't concerned with being cool. Nerd would be basically the same, except it's taken on a stronger negative connotation, basically because it's used to imply lack of social skills, and perhaps more obsessive behaviour.


Simple miscommunication. I didn't mean that all nerds are like that. I meant that of those who are like that, they are disproportionately nerds.


I'd like to point to the "Effective Altruism" movement as a counterpoint. It's a bunch of nerds that decided on a rational approach to charity. But nowadays, these mostly male, white, Silicon-Valley-type, science-loving and science-fiction-reading do-gooders have found the threat of runaway AI as one of their supposedly objective main issues. Artificial Intelligence which, as it happens, is also something that these people have an interest in. What are the chance?

(Not that there aren't parts of EA that I think are worthwhile, such as givewell.org. Just as an example of how hard it seems to be to arrive and any purely rational outcome).


>But nowadays, these mostly male, white, Silicon-Valley-type, science-loving and science-fiction-reading do-gooders have found the threat of runaway AI as one of their supposedly objective main issues. Artificial Intelligence which, as it happens, is also something that these people have an interest in. What are the chance?

The chances are 5%. That is, 5% of people involved in EA actually put any money towards the AI stuff. 80%, on the other hand, consider global poverty worth throwing money at.


>Don't you think it's possible that through diligent study of human interaction and how the mind works you could gain a better understanding of how biases are formed and reinforced and stand a chance of recognizing when your own rational decision making is being bypassed?

No. That requires knowing what the rational decision would actually be, if you would only make it. Knowing exactly how emotionally distraught you are about your grandmother dying during a physics exam doesn't give you any information about physics.




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