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> Aren’t a lot of Scott’s examples just motivated reasoning?

If you buy Mercier and Sperber's argument that human reasoning evolved for argumentation [1], then motivated reasoning should be the default expectation, so it wouldn't be surprising that most commonsense examples are motivated reasoning.

[1] https://repository.upenn.edu/goldstone/15/

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I think many smart people disagreed with evolution when it was first introduced on this basis. Things that seem obvious post hoc often seem crazy to start with.

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certum est, quia impossibile might apply to AGI.

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Actually, existence of Jesus as person is quite well established. Definitely far more than existence of Thor.

Obviously, existence of Jesus as a God is not well established.

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

See for example https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/1650/32270 (not a great source, but feel free to find at least as good claiming that Jesus obviously never existed as a person)

> What we need to understand first, though, is that there is no contemporaneous or documentary evidence for the existence of most ancient figures. That's the nature of our historical sources for the ancient world. So if the question is "Do we have good historical evidence that Jesus existed, the kind of evidence that historians take as conclusive when they're doing ancient history" then the answer is a clear "yes."

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So, you are not disputing that historians believe otherwise and base it on your own thinking, right?

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He just cited Carrier that says Jesus did not exist and shows plenty of evidence and sound reasoning for that.

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Carrier is a known axe-grinder on this topic and there are plenty of problems with his arguments:

https://historyforatheists.com/jesus-mythicism/

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founding

The historicity of Jesus does not depend on the Gospels; there's secular history of the early Christian church that is inconsistent with Jesus being make-believe. Out of curiosity, when do you believe that people made up that story, and where?

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I think it's plausible that the Jesus of the gospels might be a combination of several real people, plus a bunch of made-up stuff.

But I'd still call this a "historical Jesus" scenario.

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I think that there is insufficient evidence to warrant a firm opinion either way. I'll agree that there doesn't seem to be much good evidence that he existed, but how much evidence would you expect to find? I was expecting to find court records, but it turns out those would have been destroyed in a fire.

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I watched an interview with Carrier a couple days ago on a Youtube channel I follow (Crecganford). I found him moderately persuasive, but not convincing. I think I updated my estimate of the existence of a historical Jesus downwards from something like 95% to 90%. Still much higher than Carrier's own estimate (stated in the interview) of about 30%.

His line of argument that seemed strongest to me was the comparative mythology angle, that our records of second-century Christianity fit several very common patterns around that time of savior cults and reinterpretation of divine/celestial entities as historical people. He also talked a little about an example of a mystery cult around the same time period that had an outer teaching that its central figure was a historical human, but an inner teaching that the central figure was purely celestial and that the outer teaching was allegorical. Collectively, these seem to provide better grounding for a hypothesis of how an ahistorical Jesus could have to be widely believed to be historical so soon after his purported death than the straightforward "Peter and Paul were con artists or lunatics" explanation.

On the other hand, there were several things that Carrier said that make me wary of believing his claims and arguments without strong corroboration. To start out, he seems to have a definite "angry atheist" attitude towards Christianity which I find off-putting and makes me suspect him of being biased towards believing claims that reflect poorly upon it. For another, he made several specific claims that seemed fishy given things I already know about.

One was that he relied heavily on "dog that didn't bark" evidence: that lack of contemporary record of Jesus, especially from secular sources implies that he probably wasn't real because if he was he would have left more concrete traces. This is at odds with my understanding of the extreme patchiness of pre-modern historical records, and Carrier's attempt to preempt this objection by bringing up extensive contemporary evidence of much more notable-at-the-time figures like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great feels like a swindle. I mean, of course great conquerers and rulers of continent-spanning empires leave more records than leaders of moderately-successful messianic cults in a peripheral client state that only acquired macrohistorical importance in hindsight a century or two later.

Carrier also cited as evidence that the Canonical Gospels were written in Greek rather than Aramaic, comparing this to the only accounts of an American figure being written in Italian. This seems to discount Greek's role as in the Roman world as a cosmopolitan language of trade and scholarship, so it's more analogous to someone in Anglo-Saxon England only being written about in Latin (which happened all the time). This ties in with how Carrier seemed to talk about the Gospels as if they were entirely original compositions by the authors of their canonical texts rather than (as is more commonly theorized) drawing heavily on lost earlier written and oral sources (e.g. Q, M, and Proto-Mark), especially in the case of the Synoptic Gospels that clearly draw on one another if not from lost common source. It wouldn't strike me as terribly surprising if Q and Proto-Mark were written or orally transmitted in Aramaic, then translated to Greek, and only the widely-distributed (and interleaved in improved forms in the cases oof Matthew and John) Greek versions survived to the Council of Constantine.

Carrier also seemed to rely too heavily on active and deliberate Christian suppression of documents to explain away the absence of additional evidence against a historical Jesus. Yes, Christians have suppressed heterodox religious writings on multiple occasions, but nowhere near as comprehensively as Carrier seemed to argue. In particular, the works of the fourth century Emperor Julian the Apostate (particularly "Against the Galileans", an extensive tract criticizing Christianity) seem like prime candidate for suppression but nevertheless substantial fragments of them survive (largely thanks to being quoted extensively by Christian scholars seeking to refute Julian's arguments in context).

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The best argument for Jesus' divinity is that there's some no-name loser with no major following during his life, no armies or accomplishments, with almost no direct evidence of his existence is somehow in the historical record for doing little other than being loving and then being tortured to death in some imperial backwater,

I roll to disbelieve. If it weren't something i already knew were true, and were deeply embedded in our culture, i'd say, look you're bullshitting me, that's just a feel-good story.

Far easier to believe this is the child of the simulation's author than that some random loser is the most impactful figure in human history.

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Muhammad was more impactful. A whole lot of credit for what became Christianity belongs to Paul rather than Jesus.

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This is survivorship bias. We're credulous beings and one fictitious story was bound to bubble to the top of the meme space. It happened to be the Jesus story in the West, the Muhammad story in other places and a few other stories in even more places.

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Muhammad had a huge army during his time alive, though. He wrote down words directly, and his followers copied a bunch of his own written words. His historical existence gets a much higher probability than Jesus'.

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Even if the person existed, his claims to divinity are fictional.

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Muhammad didn't claim divinity.

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Muhammad was illiterate. He recited the Quran from memory (his memory of what the Archangel Gabriel told him.) Memorizing the Quran is considered a feat of piety among Muslims to this day. It was only after Muhammed’s death that people realized they’d better write it down.

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founding

The same could be said of Gautama Buddha, Lao Tzu, or Confucius, more or less. And we're not even sure all of those even existed. But it's pretty clear that if Jesus is divine, those three aren't.

Ideas, well expressed, can change the world. A no-name loser in life, with the right idea and a first-rate talent for expression, can become the inspirational leader of hundreds of millions of people, a thousand or more years later.. No divine intervention required. We know this from multiple examples.

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Buddha was born a prince and had a significant number of followers before he died.

Confucius is a good example; as someone else argued, Jesus was championed by Paul, and Confucius was championed by Mencius, so it looks like what you really need is someone else championing you.

> But it's pretty clear that if Jesus is divine, those three aren't.

Maybe? If Jesus was divine AND a bunch of traditional interpretations of Christianity are correct, sure.

But let's say that every couple hundred years the simulation authors try their hand at fixing the place up; then maybe we periodically get visited by otherworldly persuasive people engineered from outside the simulation.

> Ideas, well expressed, can change the world.

I like that you're saying this; maybe i just need to take that concept more seriously.

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He was not a random loser. Jesus (as is described) was a highly charismatic leader of a Jewish cult, that has to deny its obvious seccesionist ambitions in order to avoid extermination like the Zealots in the first Roman-Jewish war.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zealots

You will have to start to explain yourself when people give up their cushy job of tax collectors/collaborators with the Roman occupation to become your apostle instead:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zacchaeus

The "render unto Caesar"-defense means that people were actually taking him quite seriously as a threat to the established order.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Render_unto_Caesar

Jerusalem may be an imperial backwater from the Roman perspective, but certainly a troublesome one. The authorities wouldn't bother to publicly crucify just anyone.

Whether he's historical or not, the story is not about some loser. If you read the bible, you'll note that Jesus and his apostles are in the process of starting a major movement.

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More existence than Thor. And certainly no reason to doubt some random person claiming some religious import and trying to “Reform Judaism” with that name. There were lots of people doing that, nothing that odd about it.

That even a small portion of the events of the gospels happened? Who knows, not well established in the historical record at all.

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More well established than Thor is pretty weak sauce though. Is the existence of Jesus more well established than, uh here's a list off the top of my head, Socrates, Alexander the Great, King David, Herod the Great, Plato, Augustus, Paul the Apostle, or... hmm any other historical or legendary figures that you think might be illustrative.

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Might be comparable to King David, or better attested even, since we have much less idea of King David's lifestyle than Jesus's afaik.

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Thanks

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Alexander the Great was well documented by sources in Greece, Syria, Egypt, Persia and elsewhere. There are all too many contemporary accounts and monuments in his name to have been faked. They didn't pull the name for Alexandria out of a hat. The rapid change in the region's political structure is also well documented. An unbeatable army came from the north of Greece and its leader called himself Alexander. He died young and without issue, and his kingdom was divided into three kingdoms that dominated the region for over a century.

Plato and Socrates are also pretty well documented. They were well documented in their own era and later. Unlike Jesus, there is not just documentation from their followers but also from their enemies. Obviously, one could argue that every surviving document from the era has been consistently edited for nefarious purposes, but ....

There is archeological evidence for Herod the Great. He existed and ruled the right place at the right time. He built a harbor and put his name on it. There are mentions of him in other Roman sources. Whether he did what was recounted in the New Testament is less well documented. Evil kings back then were always said to have demanded the death of every first born boy, so this might have just been "woke" posturing.

Augustus existed. The Romans didn't just make him up to slap his name on buildings, monuments and seaports and use in contemporary art work or mention in contemporary documents. His military and political actions were also well documented by allies and enemies.

King David is largely undocumented except for the Old Testament. There is the Tel Dan inscription which was written for some king who defeated the "King of Israel and the king of the house of David", but it was written centuries later, after David's kingdom had been divided. It is clearly not enough to establish his existence. (Supposedly, Jesus was a distant descendant of King David.)

Paul the Apostle is tougher. The only source is the New Testament and he was supposedly one of its authors. I'm sure some biblical scholars have weighed in on this, but I got the impression that Paul was written by a single author or at least in one consistent voice unlike, let's say, the book of Isaiah.

Did Jesus exist? Sure. He was one of many charismatic religious leaders in a turbulent time. How much of the New Testament's account of him is true? That's a much tougher question. (I think Life of Brian addressed this question surprisingly well.)

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Thanks for this. One further question. Regarding Socrates I was under the impression that Plato was the only contemporary source attesting his existence. Is it possible that Plato made him up as a rhetorical or narrative device? Is Socrates attested to in documents independent of Plato?

The reason I bring this up is that I've heard that Jesus is about as well attested as Socrates and almost nobody doubts the existence of Socrates. So the implication is that people who deny the mere existence of Jesus may have an ideological axe to grind.

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There are actually Socratic dialogues by people (or, well, a person) other than Plato. Xenophon wrote several, as well as various histories, both attempting to continue Thucydides' work, and also chronicle some of what he himself got up to (the Anabasis is definitely worth checking out). It's been a while, but I recall thinking that both Plato and Xenophon portrayed Socrates as having a very similar personality and style of argumentation, but as making wildly different points, in a way that was distinctly biased toward reinforcing the authors' personal views.

(I don't know if there are any Socratic dialogues by anyone other than Plato and Xenophon, but it should be easy to check.)

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I did not know that, thanks.

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I know Socrates makes an appearance in Aristophanes Clouds, but this could have just been an inside joke like Nicolas Bourbaki among French mathematicians.

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Thanks. Well this combined with the Xenophon Socratic dialogues Moon Moth mentioned puts the idea that Plato just made Socrates up to bed I think.

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I guess you can say we don't have enough evidence to be sure he existed in the same way some tiktokers believe we don't have enough evidence to believe Rome existed.

Tacitus spoke of the crucified Jew, and not because he was against cruficixition

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Like to the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law?

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Perhaps, but he wasn't talking about current events, but stories about things that happened "far off and long ago". (Well, not *that* long ago, but decades at least.) So not good evidence of fact. It's not just hearsay, it's "The way I heard it" kind of stuff.

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I found the wikipedia article on the historicity of Jesus pretty compelling, so I'll just suggest you read that (if you haven't already). If you happen to have especially high standards for historical figures or mythological figures (which I use in the sense of foundational stories, not in the sense of false) then ok.

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Actually, I found it rather unconvincing. There were a lot of "most people who study the Bible believe he existed" arguments, but that ignores the percentage of the folks who study biblical history that are committed Christians. Even if such people are honest, they will tend not to question extremely weak arguments. The strongest evidence that I find that he existed is that there's no reason to expect to find any evidence that he did. And there is admission in that article (if you attend carefully) that many documents were altered or forged by the early Christians.

So if you want a comparison today, look at the way history you have observed happening is altered by those with strong political beliefs. And don't assume those motivations are recent changes in humanity.

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Ok, we agree on what evidence exists, and I don't personally feel especially persuasive at the moment. It's more evidence than exists for nearly any other individual of that time. If you think it's not enough to be certain, we'll have to wait until someone finds his tomb to know for sure.

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It’s definitely not more evidence than exists for a large portion of the Roman upper class for hundreds of years.

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I think an underrated aspect of the Neom project is that it was developed my western consultants- it's worth making fun of, but predominantly because it shows the lack of imagination with the western mind.

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

It'd be a mistake to make a non-negligible update about Westerners based on one very unusual project concept made a few Westerners, under unknown design constraints, chosen among an unknown number of others, made to please a man whose aesthetic preferences you don't know.

Don't be the kind of person who reads a story about an unethical cardiologist and then believes that cardiologists in general are unethical: https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/09/16/cardiologists-and-chinese-robbers/

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Agree.

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The problem with NEOM is that it's impractical, not that it's unimaginative.

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Hard disagree- "efficient",public transport oriented, sustainable etc etc. These are common tropes that have been doing the rounds for around 3 decades amongst the western intelligentsia. Not remotely imaginative, merely the extreme of the consultants understanding.

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I think you misunderstand the point slightly. Being unimaginative is not *the* problem with this project. *The* problem, the reason it's _prima facie_ absurd, is that it's impractical.

The answer to Scott's question, "how do we know that the Saudis can't do construction ten times cheaper than anyone else?", is that there's an international market for large construction, and if they could, they would already be doing that and wiping the floor with everyone else.

(Note: this explanation is not "capitalism". It is "markets", which long predate capitalism and which will exist long after it's gone.)

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When it comes to, say, tunnel construction, France can do it ten times cheaper than the US. But construction markets aren't as free as you suggest. French and Chinese firms don't win big US construction contracts, even if they can undercut competitors on price.

Yes, Neom is terribly impractical, but not more so than Brasilia, and it's sure backed by more money. And yet Brasilia is real, in all its silly impracticality. And when you think about it, Dubai is arguably even more impractical, because Dubai went up really fast but without any livability-promoting coordination. We might easily think of better models than the big Neom line artery, but hey, at least it's one livability forethought, compared to Dubai's zero.

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I'm glad someone mentioned Le Corbusier's Brasilia. Neom seems to be more like one of Paolo Soleri's arcologies. They were both inspired by Buckminster Fuller's argument that cities are machines for living.

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Can you provide a source showing that the "machines for living" idea was Fuller's? I thought that was Le Corbusier's.

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Aug 8, 2022·edited Aug 8, 2022

Wikipedia:

Brasília was a planned city developed by Lúcio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer and Joaquim Cardozo (...)

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This is a quite puzzling generalization about Dubai; having lived in it for years, I've failed to notice it has a livability of zero. Thoroughly artificial? Yes. Unliveable? God no, very much to the contrary.

US has totally overbloated costs of everything (from medicine and universities to, yes, construction), for reasons that go into several blogposts of length (posts that were largely already written) - the short of it being that US intuitions on how much something should cost, can be ditched and disposed of as soon as you exit the US context.

For instance, the Burj Khalifa cost $1.5B compared to One World Trade Center's $3.9B, in spite of the Burj being a significantly more demanding project (top floor @ 605m, versus One's top floor @ 386m).

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> (Note: this explanation is not "capitalism". It is "markets", which long predate capitalism and which will exist long after it's gone.)

What does "capitalism" mean to you?

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Actually trying to build a city from scratch in a way that hasn't been done before is imaginative, even if the principles you choose to use to guide your city design process are the somewhat-stale principles of the secular religion of the Western intelligentsia.

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Also, pretty much any other shape would've been more efficient than a line.

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Strong disagree, see this comment by one of the western consultants involved: https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/model-city-monday-8122/comment/8112867 . Also, note that Westerners mostly aren't doing this (I agree they are doing stupid things, just not this particular kind of stupid)

I think a fairer criticism is that it's what a Saudi king who is kind of a westaboo but doesn't actually understand the West wants to make so that (his imagined version of) Westerners will like him.

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Westaboo. I like it.

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Is MBS cargo culting the West or is he cargo culting Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (the Sheikh of Dubai)?

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Oh give me a break. These western developers are giving the arabs what they want, and what will make them the most money.

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Seems less an east vs west thing more a contribution to the grand tradition of autocrats doing crazy shit.

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The recent issue of the Economist has a section on MBS. At the end is a bit on Neom where the author goes out to the site, looks around, and talks to the consultants on the project. They're constantly making new plans, hoping to continue making their fees for as long as possible before being fired. One likens it to riding a bull, you know you can't stay on forever but the point is to see how long you can go.

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There's a difference between things that 1. seem absurd but fall in realms where fundamental understanding is pretty poorly developed and there is a broad possibility space for surprises and 2. things that seem absurd and fall into very well understood spaces where surprises don't really happen anymore.

Centrally planned economies and modernist urban planning fall squarely into the category of "ideas that were once groundbreaking but have since been pretty conclusively shown not to work for reasons that were pretty obvious in hindsight", and Neom basically leaps into the arms of several extremely well understood pitfalls with no plan to address them.

Add to this that the project can serve many individuals' personal ends without actually succeeding and you have the ideal recipe for money-incinerating white elephant boondoggle nirvana. This is not "ambitious but doable in principle". This is "obviously terrible idea borne of rich-kid hubris on an unprecedented scale".

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Sorry, but I think you are overgeneralizing. I'm not sure what you mean by "modernist urban planning", but "Centrally planned economies" describes every national economy. The degree of control varies, but if they issue currency, they are planning on creating economic effects based on that issue. And the SF area BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) was quite successful. Not perfectly successful, but an immense improvement over not having it present. Enough of an immense improvement to more than justify its cost. So not all things that *I* consider "modernist urban planning" are failures.

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I would assume he's using the normal definitions of market vs centrally planned economy. All real countries fall on a spectrum between the two, but ones closer to the market end tend to be far more prosperous than ones closer to the centrally planned one.

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The US economy is centrally planned, though I've heard arguments that we are not as prosperous as we think. Just about every major industry is centrally controlled by a handful of cooperating corporate entities. The banking system is centrally controlled by the Federal Reserve. There's plenty of room of innovation if you don't run afoul of one of the big guys and don't need a lot of capital.

I agree that Neom is unlikely to work, but a lot of centrally planned scheme work out just fine. Look at the centrally planned and government funded technology we are using for this discussion.

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The U.S. economy is not centrally planned. That's simply incorrect. Even the Fed mostly interacts with the banking system through open market operations.

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Tell Wall Street. Tell the business press. Open market operations are centrally planned.

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If you are using a definition of "Centrally planned" which includes both the US and USSR, consider that your definition is overexpansive to the point of meaninglessness. Can you name a single country whose economy isn't "centrally planned" by your lights?

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I really can't think of any country where the economy isn't centrally planned. It's all a matter of degree, of how open the system is to allowing outsiders to expand and use formal channels. The US is fairly good about this. If your skin wasn't too dark and you worshiped in the correct manner, the sky was the limit. The USSR had no official tolerance for its massive underground economy, but relied on it much as North Korea does today. Still, we Americans used to joke that Russians had to shop at Grocery Store #815 while we Americans had a lot more choices. Of course, now, most of our food shopping is done at Grocery Store #815 as a handful of chains control the market.

The US has always had a lot of economic central planning. Differences between the central planners in London and in the Colonies were a major driver of the Revolution. After the Revolution the Colonies tried to move planning down to the state level, but that only lasted a few years.

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All that, and not a single remark about drawing bright lines in the sand.

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An excellent line, that. (Yours, I mean, not Neom's)

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> Maybe, every so often, do a deep dive into fact-checking something, even if you’re absolutely sure it’s true. Maybe if everybody does this, then someone will (by coincidence) catch the false absurdities, and then the social epistemology thing can work.

I do not recommend this. I did this with "Donald Trump is a Racist" and even though I hate the man and 80% of what he stands for, now half my in-group thinks I'm MAGA. For completeness, I went a little further down the rabbit hole than Scott did in his "You're Still Crying Wolf" essay, and started providing videos of black people saying Trump isn't racist.

On the other hand, much of my in-group isn't rationalists, so maybe that is where my error lies.

In any case, be prepared, after you do a deep dive fact checking things that are "obviously true" to your in-group, that you will have some very negative social interactions anytime you bring up what you found, if it doesn't turn out to be actually-true.

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There's a huge chance you and your friends are disagreeing about the definition of the word "racist" and not about Trump's behavior.

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It did finally come down to that. It turns out the definition of "racist" was just "someone I don't like, and who the mainstream media is willing to label as such."

For me it was the surprising large number of people that (completely) bought into it. Really made me wonder what other things I "know" because mainstream media says it, and it appeals to me.

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I'm saying something different. Trump is on record calling Mexicans rapists, African countries as shithole countries, saying he wanted more immigrants from Norway, calling for and implementing immigration policies that were discriminatory against Muslims, apologizing for white supremacists rallying against jews, and much more. Is that enough to call him "racist". I feel like that's a fair threshold.

You seem to be saying that you found videos of black people saying he's not racist and that's enough to put him in the "not racist" category. I disagree with you, but now we're arguing not about what he did or didn't do, we're not arguing if what he did was acceptable or not, we're just arguing where the threshold of "racist" is.

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> Trump is on record calling Mexicans rapists

I'm glad you started there, because that's where I stop. He is on record saying no such thing. You imply he said this about all Mexicans. Surely this was just you mis-speaking. Being charitable, you mean he said most, or maybe "far more than average" Mexicans are this. Again, he said no such thing.

I am familiar with all your talking points. Are you familiar with the alternative viewpoints? Have you bothered to do the research into the massive numbers of people who feel he is less racist than average, perhaps even far less racist than average? Can you summarise their viewpoints?

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You can just read his own words:

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

I never said *all*. He called a generalized version of Mexican immigrants rapists.

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Aug 5, 2022·edited Aug 5, 2022

How is that supposed to be racist? If I go to Mexico, round up a bunch of convicted rapists, and send them north, is it racist to call them rapists?

Racism is at least notionally supposed to ascribe characteristics to people because of their race. The quote you just mentioned says that Mexican immigrants differ from other Mexicans by consisting largely of undesirables. It doesn't say that Mexican immigrants differ racially from other Mexicans, even though that would be true.

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Michael Watts makes a good point as well.

And I, at the risk of sounding like a broken record... am 100% already familiar with your talking points.

So let me belabour my point.

There are many millions of Mexicans, living and working both in Mexico and the United States, who disagree with you. Can you characterise the viewpoint those millions of Mexican nationals and Mexican immigrants who think Trump is not racist? Hint, it sounds a lot like what Michael Watts said, but I encourage you to do your own research.

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As the "You Are Still Crying Wolf" article points out, Bill Clinton and John McCain both made the exact same point, though perhaps phrased more carefully.

McCain 2008:

> Border security is essential to national security. In an age of terrorism, drug cartels, and criminal gangs, allowing millions of unidentified persons to enter and remain in this country poses grave risks to the sovereignty of the United States and the security of its people.

When Clinton or McCain implies illegal Mexican immigrants commit terrible crimes, no one bats an eye.

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Every once in a while I'll get into an argument with non rationalists and then halfway through remember, to my surprise, that most people take disagreement as a personal insult rather than a point of factual debate.

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Yes. Typically I operate at Simulacra level 1. It sounds like you often do, too. This causes a great deal of misunderstanding.

https://markxu.com/simulacra-examples

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I think you might be able to side-step this failure mode in the future by presenting what you find as "here's my understanding of how the out-group thinks and why they believe what they do" rather than "here's some evidence against our belief"?

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Similar to another reply at same level, yes, this is one way to "white lie" away operating at different simulacra levels.

https://markxu.com/simulacra-examples

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Racism is a meaningless word and this is yet another example of it.

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Au contraire, the problem is that "racism" has *too many* meanings, and people simply pick the one that most confirms their beliefs.

Scott's written about this before, and the closest he came to a coherent definition was "a combination of Motive, Belief, and Consequences, weighted in favor of Definition By Motives" where "By Motives" was "An irrational feeling of hatred toward some race that causes someone to want to hurt or discriminate against them."

https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/06/21/against-murderism

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This is a great point. Too many people think "racis[t,m]" has become meaningless, but it most clearly has not, yet we still go in circles. Thanks for the reframing.

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Is Trump sexist? I think someone making an argument for him not being racist would be much more credible if they thought he was sexist. So I'm interested to see if you pass that test.

I can see an argument for him not being racist where someone argues he is just self-interested and crass or something. Framing him as not sexist is much more difficult.

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The OP doing "research" and finding that 3 black guys and some latinos don't think trump is racist is not "rationality", it's autism. The OP believes there's some precise meaning of racism and that you have to fulfill certain hard criteria for it. But racism is a useful definition even if it's loosely defined to refer to people that consistently say negative things about certain races independent of their internal motives. It's a social construction and a a little ambiguous, but still useful. Rationality is not about 0s and 1s, it's about navigating imprecision with reason.

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Sure but I'm interested in whether he actually really dislikes Trump as stated. Some fancy argument for him not advocating racism is plausible. Sexism is much more cut and dry. So it is a good sniff test.

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I find the exact opposite. For examples of Trump's racism, it's easy to point to his desired Muslim ban, his comments about the Khan family, etc. On the other hand, this may be my google-fu failing me, but it's hard to find a single Trump quote that's obviously sexist.

Searching for sexist Trump quotes, most quotes fall into one of these categories:

- Trump bragging about how every woman wants to date him or have sex with him.

- Trump insulting specific individuals who are women.

- Trump acting like a selfish jerk

- Trump saying women are superior to men

Trump gets into feuds with a lot of people and will happily throw insults at people of any race or gender. He's more likely to call women fat or ugly than men, but I think when he's insulting people, he just says whatever he thinks will be most hurtful and he tends to think men will be less hurt by being called "fat" or "ugly" than women. Regardless of his reasoning, it's really hard to convince someone that Trump is sexist with a quotes of him insulting a particular person, because it only shows he thinks badly of that person.

The statements of his which are the closest to sexism, in my opinion, are when he talks about women in general. When he does so, he tends to ascribe qualities he admires to them, although they aren't always qualities the rest of us admire: he thinks women in business are shrewd, cutthroat, strong, aggressive, and manipulative. In context, he seems to say these things with great admiration. It feels vaguely sexist, but I'm not even sure whether it feels more sexist against men or women. For example:

"Women have one of the great acts of all time. The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers. The person who came up with the expression 'the weaker sex' was either very naive or had to be kidding."

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> it's easy to point to his desired Muslim ban

Is that necessarily racist? Sam Harris has made similar arguments against Islam and the radicalization that is all too common. Since you can't distinguish moderate Muslims from radicalized Muslims, if you're being targeted by Muslim radicals, doesn't it naturally follow that you should restrict Muslim immigration to reduce the threat? This seems standard practice in times of war.

Assuming we agree that racism is "racial prejudice", and "prejudice" is holding "unreasonable preconceived judgments", is it not actually reasonable to be prejudiced against Muslims in the above scenario?

You could dispute that the threat from Muslim radicals was far too low to justify such a measure, but now we've switched to a more subjective debate and away from any obvious racist motives.

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> But racism is a useful definition even if it's loosely defined to refer to people that consistently say negative things about certain races independent of their internal motives.

Yes, racism is literally "racial prejudice". The example you cited wasn't talking about Mexicans though, but a specific subset of Mexicans. It's like saying calling all New Yorkers assholes is racist against white people. It might be an incorrect opinion that happens to include a racial or ethnic name, but that doesn't make it racist.

To my recollection Trump did not "consistently say negative things about other races", he said negative things about specific subsets. That's not racist as others have pointed out to you.

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

What you're calling an "absurdity heuristic" just seems like a very specific reframing of Occam's razor. An explanation like "there's a Saudi conspiracy to develop amazing construction technology and hide it from the rest of the world" is complex, whereas an explanation like "really rich people sometimes do stupid things with their money" is simple. It shouldn't be mistaken for a foolproof way to identify truth, but it's a useful shortcut.

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I came here to make basically this comment. I don't think it's about the complexity of the belief, though, it's about the complexity of the update to the rest of your beliefs the evidence would imply. In fact both "there's a Saudi conspiracy to develop amazing construction technology and hide it from the rest of the world" and "really rich people sometimes do stupid things with their money" are pretty complicated beliefs (involving complicated social constructs like theory of mind, deception, economics, socially constructed reality), but the latter belief doesn't require much updating to integrate, while the former requires shifting around many pieces of my understanding of reality. (If I had insider information on the existence of many conspiracies, and was one of the rich myself, I might find myself in the reverse position, where the former fits more naturally into my understanding of the world than the latter.)

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I think you're theoretically right - "absurd = unnecessarily complicated" seems correct to me.

The value of the "absurdity heuristic" is that it connects with our feelings and intuitions about the simplicity of various competing explanations or predictions. These feelings probably result from an semi-conscious or unconscious synthesis of a large amount of information into an intuitive judgment. For me, the question of "when to stop" is driven by the opportunity cost of further analysis relative to other things I could be doing, not a straightforward desire for better accuracy on the topic at hand.

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

This post looks like it's an exercise in something like ethics, or a values system. Rationality as a whole promotes a set of values (like any religion), but these values happen to be restricted to certain domains, namely processing and communication of information.

In this case, the 'absurdity' filter can be understood simply as, you have to use your value system to decide which hypothesis are worth exploring and which ones aren't.

If i try to point this out directly - that we are articulating and acting on values _just_ like religions do - people will usually say, no no, this is just about instrumental rationality. If that's so, then why 'obligations' to others? And what's wrong with 'the cowards 'way out?

> But I hate this answer. It seems to be preemptively giving up and hoping other people are less lazy than you are.

Words like 'lazy' and 'coward' have an obvious moral valence to them. Wouldn't a more fair interpretation be something like 'people are different, they will naturally explore different parts of the world, and you only have so much time and attention. You can't _not_ use your value system when determining which hypothesis to explore and test, and which ones aren't worth the expiration'.

Clearly, you are articulating norms and values here. You are trying to explore what is and isn't good, in the realm of reasoning and communication. But do value systems constrain anticipation? If not, then in this community they must live in the Jungian shadow; forever preventing us from fully introspecting what exactly the rationality project is about: defining a religion with truth as its deity.

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> Rationality as a whole promotes a set of values (like any religion), but these values happen to be restricted to certain domains, namely processing and communication of information.

This seems to me like a confusion of terminal values, instrumental values, and heuristics... if I may use the LW lingo.

Terminal values = things you want as such (e.g. feeling happy).

Instrumental values = things you want as tools to achieve other things (e.g. money allows you to buy stuff).

Heuristics = convenient shortcuts that work 99% of the time, and fail 1% of the time.

Having (terminal) values does not make you a religion. It just makes you an agent (i.e. someone who has preferences).

Being able to distinguish true statements from false statements is an instrumental value. It can help you achieve what you want. For example, if you are sick and want to be healthy again, it can be useful to distinguish between actual medicine and snake oil.

An example of a heuristic is "if something sounds absurd, it is usually false". It does not work perfectly. But it works most of the time, and it can save you a lot of effort, if you hear thousands of statements and do not have enough resources to investigate all of them separately.

> It seems to be preemptively giving up and hoping other people are less lazy than you are. It’s like answering a child’s question about how to do a math problem with “ask a grown-up”. A coward’s way out!

Scott is using an emotional language to make the text more pleasant to read. But the underlying issue is like this:

We hear a lot of statements, and we want to figure out which ones are true and which ones are false. (Because knowing that might hypothetically be useful for some purpose.) We do not have enough resources to fully investigate everything, so realistically we want to separate the statements into *three* buckets: "this is true", "this is false", and "this is complicated"; the last one meaning we did not spend enough resources on this one to figure it out.

Scott is basically asking, if a statement sounds absurd, whether it's okay to put it in the "false" basket, or rather in the "complicated" basket. The goal is, on one hand, to only put true statements in the "true" basket and only put false statements in the "false" basket; on the other hand, to leave as few as possible in the "complicated" basket because that one is not very useful for us.

He mentions a heuristics that says: If it feels absurd, don't think too much and put it into the "false" basket. If someone else, who seems like he thought about this issue more than you did, puts it in their "true" or "complicated" basket, move it into your "complicated" basket, too.

The problem with this heuristic is that it assumes that someone else will spend more resources on this question ( = "less lazy") than you did... but that is not guaranteed to happen, especially when other people use the same heuristic, or when you are the only person who cares about this question.

This heuristic resembles what people would do if they were afraid (= "coward’s way out") to actually pay attention to seemingly absurd statements. The problem is that this doesn't seem like a reliable way to generate true answers.

tl;dr -- words like "lazy" and "coward" are metaphors

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I'm well aware of the LW lingo. Here's why I don't buy it: saying "things you want, as such are terminal values" is, in an of itself an act of epistemic smuggling. It's asserting that happiness just stops, as if people being happy were a causal dead end. Arguing that humans can have terminal values asserts that goals can arise ex nihilo, or instead of being caused by things further upstream which themselves may look much like goals that it's reasonable to call them goals.

This is part of the LW religion: instead of saying, yes, there is a purpose to being happy, yes, happiness itself is instrumental to something else (say, evolutionary fitness? the well being of the state?). I'm guessing you'll agree that happiness isn't some causal dead end, but that it advances other outcomes that might be seen as goals : the well being of the state for sure, but evolution might be seen as having the 'goal' of ... well, what, exactly? Is there some broader goal that existed before our own desires, and gave rise to our desires, instrumentally?

Answering _that_ question - _is_ there a nested set of goals, out of which our own desires arise - that is what religions do. Our eschatology is to say, nope, that's it, that's where it ends. Positing that there is no answer is still taking a stand!

We pretend this stance makes us different from groups that posit something abstract as a terminal value (like serving a god) or something concrete (like serving the state) - but this is just our own myth about what makes us good and other groups not good. Except we can't come out and say this, because it's giving up the game!

> Scott is using an emotional language to make the text more pleasant to read.

> tl;dr -- words like "lazy" and "coward" are metaphors

I don't buy this. He's stating in the comments that he feels like he "ought" to be able to answer these questions on his own. How do ought beliefs constrain anticipation? Elsewhere he mentions having an obligation to communicate a certain level of hesitation. Well, where does that come from? Why does that thing exist?

If you take instrumental rationality alone, take it really really seriously, it eventually starts telling you things like:

- be kind to others and they'll share information with you

- have a diverse group of people you communicate with, and they are more likely to uncover flaws in your map

- avoid getting too excited or too worked up because that will prevent you from considering evidence that you are wrong

- be humble minded; it's easy to be far too confident in something and be wrong

In other words, even if you _just_ look at instrumental values like rationality, you end up recreating teachings from a number of different religions, which to me makes it seem like, ok, we're in the same business, let's stop pretending we aren't.

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"Having (terminal) values does not make you a religion. It just makes you an agent (i.e. someone who has preferences

It's the insularity, mandatory scriptures, and thought leader that make rationalism a religion.

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more things that would be religions under this definition: atheism, science, education

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Lots of people manage to be atheists without having popes of atheism, and lots of people manage to be scientists without being scientismists.

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Have you considered the possibility that, for some people, atheism, science, and education are in fact filling the same role in their lives as religion does for the religious, with the same shortcomings and criticisms often leveled at the religious?

If so, is there a special value in not calling it religion, even if it meets many of the same criteria we use to describe religion? Keep in mind that there are hundreds of different religions that are recognized as such, many of which do not meet standard Western notions of religion (i.e. are not one of the Abrahamic religions).

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Sure, some people "just f-ing love science TM" without actually studying it.

But that just means that you can develop a religion around anything, not that everything is a religion. There are also people doing science qua science.

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Agreed. Would you reformulate your response to The Ancient Geek with that in mind? He's not saying that all rationality-based thinking is religious, but a more specific claim that Rationalism (as in the specific group/movement) is religious.

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"In this case, the 'absurdity' filter can be understood simply as, you have to use your value system to decide which hypothesis are worth exploring and which ones aren't"

Or as part of a triage, where you disregard the obviously false and obviously true.

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Aug 5, 2022·edited Aug 5, 2022

There are plenty of statements whose truth or falsehood are non-obvious that you won’t bother investigating due to your values. Whereas you will likely investigate more absurd claims because of their impact on your presences.

For example I might claim to have cofounded a game company that sold to a child movie star and cryptocurrency scam artist. Is that worth your time and effort to investigate? It’s not an absurd claim but there’s no reward for investigating, so I think you’re unlikely to do it.

Now suppose you heard rumors that your new neighbor had paid off all the police and was running some international crime ring from next door, even thigh this sounds insane you might spend a little time trying to investigate because the answer influences you; you might decide to move away. This one sounds absurd on the face of it, but if the investigation can be done cheaply and the risk of being wrong is high enough, you’ll do the investigation.

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Just for your personal calibration I enjoyed the whole point you made except the Lia Thomas example which could have been anything else less controversial, and not something where I'd need to ask you to for example define the word Woman and open that whole can of worms. Easier and less controversial examples will work better to get your point across - this example signals your tribe somewhat I suppose, but is that the priority of your comment? Perhaps, but just wanted to give you a data point on how you sound to a member of the audience here.

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deletedAug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022
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Anti-trans = pro objective reality. 🤷‍♀️. No one born with balls gets to play dress up with my immutable biology.

10 years ago I didn’t care, it wasn’t hurting anyone, and adults do weird crap all the time to themselves, and this wasn’t all that much different than women getting 57 plastic surgeries trying to look like a plastic 9” Barbie doll. But 10 years ago “progressives” weren’t advocating child sterilization and genital mutilation, nor were they trying to force college women, victims of domestic violence, or women in prison to share private intimate living spaces with men, even rapists, to coddle said man’s delusions. There also wasn’t passionate advocating for the “civil rights” of mediocre male athletes to play dress up with women’s biology in order to claim female athletic championships.

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Is this comment necessary, kind, or true?

https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/register-of-bans

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This is sort of a case of murder, arson, and jaywalking, except that the jaywalking is the most visible and self-evidently stupid and so complaining about the jaywalking is a useful tool to draw attention to the ideology that is also endorsing the murder & arson.

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True - my main issue is human thinking being increasingly severed from reality. Though the whole men get access to naked women and girls to coddle their “feelings” and child genital mutilation certainly add a particular degree of passion to the gender ideology aspect of being severed from reality.

Pick an issue - Covid, energy production, economics, child development, food production, building a skyscraper as long as Ireland in 8 years, etc. We have become severed from reality.

Innovation is an amazing ability of humans. Creating something new, or a different way of doing things.

In many ways our society is no longer able to differentiate between genuinely innovative pursuits and ridiculous fantasies. Increasingly we waste money, and destroy real human beings, on fantasies hoping money and belief will magically produce outcomes.

Unless the Saudi government is hiding several million slaves and dozens of square kilometers of building materials, the Line being completed in 8 years is no more possible than Solar panels in NY or Germany producing even 30% of the kw claimed as their “capacity,” and used to justify their use, unless they can magically transport to a lower latitude and make the Earth stall it’s spin in early afternoon for 10 hours everyday. Both are as likely to happen as for a human man to magically start ovulating simply by taking estrogen drugs.

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I don’t take the easy path in life. Woman is an adult human female. Female is the sex that has ova. There is only something controversial about that to people who think human belief will somehow override human nature. Our biological sex is the most innate and immutable part of our being. We have zero ability to change it in any functional way. Refusing to accept reality is how people think they are “good people” by giving male feelings priority over immutable reality of actual females. It’s arrogant, entitled, and absurd. Same thing describes evil dictators. Your feelings or offense to that reality doesn’t change reality.

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You're not talking about reality now. You're talking about how you and other people might choose to use a word.

If the question with NEOM was whether they were using the words "tall as a skyscraper" differently from us, then maybe the analogy would be relevant. But that doesn't seem to be what's going on.

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If choosing to use a word differently didn't have implications in reality, I think people would care quite a bit less. However, the people choosing to use a word differently from NCmom are doing so in support of an ideology that is, over here in reality, sterilizing and mutilating children.

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No I’m not because the utilization of that word now has legal attachments. Women don’t want a mentally ill man as a college roommate, prison cell mate, or domestic violence shelter co-habitant and guess who gets kicked to the curb? Real women and girls.

We wouldn’t be talking about this if it was nothing more than differences in dialect that came without consequence.

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The controversial nature of the Lia Thomas example is why it’s such a good one. The current central claim of gender theory - that there is binary “brain gender” and that this is what people have always been talking about when they divide the population into ‘men’ and ‘women’ is so obviously dodgy that the only possible explanation for why some people have such a vociferous full-throated belief in it is ‘it’s social’

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Seriously?

So we’re all supposed to pivot from “Larry Summers is satan incarnate” to “everyone knows that men and women have totally different brains”; and this is considered normal intellectual discourse???

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It's so weird that it's hard to believe. But yes. So, for instance, here's Chase Strangio (who had and still has a very responsible position in the ACLU) from six years ago:

"Unfortunately, in our discussions of anti-trans legislation and in efforts to increase public awareness about the transgender community, we— advocates, journalists, storytellers— are falling back on the very narrative framings that entrench the idea that transgender women are really men and transgender men are really women. Most insidious, we use the same language that opponents of transgender people use, carelessly referring to women who are trans as having “male genitals” or being “born with a male body” or being “anatomically male.” This language is both factually wrong and dangerous

...

By embracing a narrative that one is born with a “male body,” we reinforce the idea that only the bodies we assign male at birth— bodies that have medically normative penises— are male.

But that simply isn’t true. It is a choice to refer to some bodies as male and some bodies as female, not a fact. Our genital characteristics are one component of who we are and do not define, medically or biologically, our sex.

...

if we classify people as male and female, such classifications should only be made based on a person’s gender identity"

Link here: https://slate.com/human-interest/2016/07/theres-no-such-thing-as-a-male-body.html

It's quite rare for the belief system to be laid out as clearly as that but, yes, this is a quite normal opinion in the Professional Managerial Classes. The ACLU, by the way, just this year filed a legal deposition that said, among other things, that "humans are not sexually dimorphic"

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I agree that using Lia isn't peak audience calibration but I also agree with being willing to use her as an example because it is unfair to 'bio women' when their competitions are open to people with large sex based physical advantages, and much more so that women's jails and other vulnerable spaces are and are at risk of being opened as well. I see this as an injustice worthy of risking spending social capital

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How you found a way to grind a personal culture war axe on this post is astounding.

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I could have also gone down the path of our government wasting hundreds of billions on dirty, ecologically destructive, weather dependent “renewables” energy that can’t possibly power any meaningful portion of our grid. I could point out the people cheering this nonsense don’t have a clue about the energy input/ actual realized output ratio regarding various forms of energy production, and they flip out on anyone trying to tell them the truth about it. Those humans that actually know those numbers aren’t stupid enough to think wind mills and solar farms are a “good,” or even sane ideas (nuclear would be a sane answer). Our government, the one we elected, has spent over a decade wasting hundreds of billions in public funds to enrich those who control Chinese slave labor. But, most here don’t actually care enough to learn anything about the hundreds of billions in public money wasted on useless “renewable” energy projects right here at home. Why would anyone expect the Saudi public to do better when their leaders will literally kill them for objecting?

Most people do however get basic reproduction. And yet they still buy into the physically impossible. They demand tens of billions in public money get wasted a year attempting to accomplish the physically impossible, with a side of child sterilization and genital mutilation. They still convince themselves there is no harm in denying objective reality, no matter how many people get harmed in the process.

Both a fair comparisons. Both point out many of the same people who feel superior for pointing out how insane people “over there” are have no clue history will look back on this time and note the complete insanity right here at home.

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Some Googling says that it would take about 21,000 square miles of solar panels to power the US. Depending on how someone feels about the absurdity of that number, it may affect their feelings about solar power as an option, or even about the feasibility of The Line.

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I think the difference is that in the Lia Thomas question the two sides are in disagreement mostly about how the word "woman" ought to be defined, while in the NEOM case the two sides are probably mostly in agreement over what it would mean for NEOM to "work".

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If X has no meaning it’s not a word at all.

Isn’t it great how much western society “progressives” values women more than others? 🙄. So much that half the population thinks women are so irrelevant and useless we shouldn’t even have one to define the only ones capable of giving birth to the next generation.

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I disagree. There aren’t competing definitions of woman as there is no alternate definition to adult human female. A circular description is of “feels like a woman” is not a definition as it fails to define woman. Moreover, the interchanging of male and female, despite no push to define female as an organism with either ovaries or testes, yet increasingly the proponents of the you were born in the “wrong” body theory call trans women females. What the argument is really over is human power to override the physical limitations of nature. I’ll take nature every time in that bet.

Don’t get me wrong, in 100 years we’ll likely be over this lunacy conflating gender norms with actual biological sex, but still no man will have ovulated human eggs from his balls. Give the Saudis 100 years, and the Line could be a real city, with 9 million probably prisoners.

Where it’s the same is demanding others claim something that is not possible actually is. Not in 8 years, not with the current coercive power. It’s not physically possible. Not any more possible in reality than a man ovulating eggs from his balls. Okay, maybe the Saudis is slightly more possible.

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author
Aug 5, 2022·edited Aug 5, 2022Author

Banned for unnecessarily introducing an unrelated super-controversial topic.

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Doesn't that give us the good parts of the absurdity heuristic, and leave out the bias?

Relativity sounds absurd; but if you show me the textbooks and the experiments, I can see it'd take an awfully large conspiracy to be lying about it, especially when the math seems to check out. It's a big claim but there's lots of evidence offered, much of which I could check for consistency, some of which I could even replicate (Michelson-Morely!).

Neom sounds absurd, and there's no evidence offered that the Saudi king can make it work, and plenty of explanatory power in his own vanity.

In either case, we're just saying "okay, is there big evidence to go with this big claim?"

Admittedly, sometimes a claim sounds absurd because it sounds bigger than it really is. Relativity doesn't noticeably affect time under ordinary life conditions. Evolution doesn't literally mean a monkey gave birth to a human. AI safety doesn't literally mean the movie _Terminator_.

But extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence. "Absurd!" is just shorthand for:

"Why do you expect me to swallow that without first showing me evidence?"

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I believe that it would take an awfully big conspiracy, for awfully small benefit, to pull off a lie about general relativity.

I believe it takes a very small conspiracy, for very obvious benefit, to sell the Saudi king on an unreasonable but glamorous and expensive proposal for his new city.

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Aug 5, 2022·edited Aug 5, 2022

This may imply that our ability to learn about the world is limited by our ability to differentiate actual scams from conspiracy-theory claims.

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People fall for scams all the time. Even well informed people that “should know better” It seems like we really only get better on the margin with improved institutions and incentive structures that are hard won through trial and error.

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I agree with you, but I'm having trouble seeing the difference (for someone who cannot understand the underlying science) between believing one theory verses the other. Or to take a recent example with significant real world implications - Covid protocols and restrictions, vaccines, etc., from either side. Lots of people created lots and lots of evidence in favor of and against everything related to Covid. It's not at all hard to find hundreds of reputable sounding sources who are completely at odds with each other. The worst part is, many of the things the public were told really were part of conspiracies. For an easy example, telling people early on that they did not need to wear masks, and then saying the opposite. We know that was a conspiracy of the top experts to mislead the public.

The heuristic to avoid scams was strongly evident, but I can't say it was wrong, given the general inability to tell truth from both indifferent and deliberate lies.

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

Our "absurd" threshold is social because we have to watch out for scams, including "Pascal's Mugging" scams.

If you tell me the AIs may wipe out humanity, and I seriously believe you, then I'll want to give money to any cause that might stop that. But that's true for any apocalypse, including scam apocalypses.

So I can't afford to lightly believe in your AI apocalypse, even if it's true. I need you to give me so much evidence that I know it's not a scam to take my money.

Personally, I know enough to see the difference between the AI safety issue and standard millennarian world-ending fantasies. Pandemics weren't a made-up fear; neither is AI safety.

But sometimes, when we say "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," there's an extra meaning:

"How can I believe you, but not fall for a bunch of fads and scams that sound a whole lot like you?"

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

The simple explanation here is that cognitive resources are limited and we have to decide whether, and how long, to evaluate all hypothesis based upon an expected ROI. If we think the expected ROI of investigating an absurd-sounding hypothesis is negative, we won't do it.

But this raises the question of which value system are we using, and makes clear it's impossible to separate fact-based reasoning from our own values.

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Yes! Although I think it's not so much our differing values as our differing priors.

Unlike me, a medieval Catholic would be more suspicious of an injected vaccine than of a saint's miraculous relic.

Why? Not because the medieval Catholic values being healthy any less. It's because my prior is that science works and religion doesn't, and his is nearly opposite.

Actually, maybe "different values" is the just outward sign of groups with different priors.

E.g., rural Americans have a lot less reliance on strangers and bureaucratic infrastructures day to day than an urban type like me, and that difference maybe explains why they often have anti-stranger and anti-bureaucrat values compared to me. Immigrants and government programs must seem a lot more suspect when you're not already seeing lots of both in your daily life. Naturally, I think they're wrong... but I would, wouldn't I? Look at my background priors!

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I agree that priors play a role here, but values clearly do, too. Expected value is a product of (probability of success) X (value of success). Priors effect the probability, but values obviously determine the value.

In the rationalist community it’s like there’s this aggressive unwillingness to reason about values and the role they influence our thinking. We tend to act like they are strictly orthogonal, when the reality is that our values determine where our attention does, and doesn’t go.

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Do you have any favorite examples? (Group A says it's absurd, group B investigates, the difference isn't knowledge or priors but values.)

I can easily come up with "that might pay off, but I don't want to work in that industry." But to resort to not just "eh, not my forte" but "that's absurd" based on values not priors sounds like an unusually strong case of motivated reasoning. But you seem to think it happens a lot - I'm guessing you have some cases you're thinking of?

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> the difference isn't knowledge or priors but values

Sure - suppose scott had some friend who really wanted to spend $10M investing in Noem and asked scott to investigate this project.

Given the higher value of determining truth or falsehood, i think scott would investigate more.

Or, bitcoin. To some people, "money that states can't control" is so screamingly obviously valuable that they investigate bitcoin further. To other people, it seems like a totally unimportant thing, so bitcoin sounds like some dumb pyramid scheme.

The thing is, if you wanted, you could phrase this difference in terms of priors (i.e. the probability that state-sponsored money would contribute to GDP). Maybe I'd ask you, how can a person tell the difference between their priors, and their values, on topics where they have very strong beliefs?

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> In the rationalist community it’s like there’s this aggressive unwillingness to reason about values and the role they influence our thinking.

I agree that the possibility and consequences of different values should be examined deeper.

From my perspective, "don't assume different values" is a useful *heuristic*, because assuming arbitrary different values is a popular lazy answer (e.g. "they hate our freedom"). It allows you to stop thinking about other possible explanations and considering their relative weight. It is mostly unfalsifiable, because even if the other person disagrees, you can still call them a liar or a hypocrite.

So I would guess that in 9 out of 10 situations, "different values" is not the most accurate answer. Instead, you should consider how things seem from the other person's perspective, what are their actual options and incentives, what do they believe. The probability that you are wrong about their beliefs or their situation is quite high.

(Even when the values are actually different, it still can be the case that the observed different of behavior is like 10% explained by the difference in the values, and 90% explained by the difference of circumstances. So the explanation that only talks about different values could still be incorrect in this sense.)

But of course, sometimes... like, when you have a violent psychopath torturing his victims to death and enjoying it, it would be silly to pretend that he actually deeply cares about his neighbors' wellbeing, but honestly mistakes their screams of pain for expressions of pleasure.

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This seems to miss the whole section of the post about how it's harder when you aren't just focused on what other people are saying and need to actually figure out what's true for yourself? "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" is all well and good when someone else is coming to you with claims, but if you've come up with a bunch of extraordinary claims yourself it doesn't help you figure out which ones are worth looking for evidence for, and how hard it's worth looking.

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

Typo: extra parentheses

"This is easy: their king is a megalomaniac, plus people are afraid to voice dissent)"

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If the absurdity heuristic is just "don't dedicate mental resources to things that have a tiny probability of being true/coming to pass" (with an asterisk about tail risks), I think the 1901 analogies shouldn't really make you apply it less.

Of the set of stories which would sound just as absurd as the internet one if told to someone in 1901, only a vanishingly small fraction came true. It may well have been rational to dismiss the internet story at the time, and saying otherwise may just be hindsight bias.

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I don't even think that the internet would sound absurd in 1901. People in 1901 grew up in a world with ubiquitous telegraphs, and they're starting to see the telephone take over. Converting an image to the equivalent of Morse Code and transmitting it over wires isn't going to blow their minds (the first proper fax machine would be trialled just seven years later).

Suggest to people of 1901 that in a bit over a century it will be possible for people to have sophisticated personal telegraph machines that can send and receive information from all over the world, and I don't think it will sound crazy.

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You're probably right actually. I don't really want to focus on that though since I do agree it's possible to tell stories about the present which sound absurd in the past.

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This is a fantastic point. The leap from “telegraph” to “television” isn’t beyond belief: “what if I told you that in a hundred years every room in your house would have a hologram projector that included Smell-O-Vision?!?” Shrug. Ok.

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Carl Stalling sez it will never work!

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The word "absurd" is covering up at least two gradients of variation -

1) just how unlikely are we talking? A worldwide network of prostitute-dispensing-UFOs is unlikely, but it's practically a certainy compared to the likelihood that gravity obeys color. Relativity, _being true_, was considered very absurd for quite some time, and honestly, still feels a bit absurd.

"The Line" looks unlikely to succeed by its own metrics, as-is. But I might be willing to put down a bet at 1000:1 odds.

2) What timescale are we covering? in 1900, a worldwide network of adding machines exchanging representations of pictures _would_ be absurd, because several technological, economic, and social changes had yet to take place, and the 'absurd' thing wouldn't come to be for about a century.

"The Line" isn't a claim that "the world of 2120 will heavily feature engineered mega-cities that would look to the world of 2020 as if they were sci-fi dreams", it's a claim that _the thing we're breaking ground on_ will work.

---

The post seems to be asking "how 'absurd' is so absurd we can stop discussing it, or stop thinking about it, as a serious going thing?"

And on that, my rough heuristics would be

- On a timeline under 20 years, the cutoff for "too absurd to be worth discussing" might be somewhere around the 1:10,000 mark. This can be tweaked based on the cost involved.

- On a timeline over 20 years, the sky's the limit, but on the other hand, nothing can really be said with any certainty anyway, so it's _less_ useful to talk about.

In the example of "The Line", I proposed that it might be something like a 1:1,000 chance of success. This might be considered non-absurd, except for the fact that it's such a high-cost endeavor, in terms of human time, money, ecological impact, and the upside so mundane, that it _should_ be laughed out of serious discussion until its proponents have come back with a much stronger case for why it should be possible and valuable.

As another example - earlier this century, there was some buzz about having possibly discovered a reactionless drive (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EmDrive). This was very very unlikely, that we'd discovered something that violated laws we believed inviolable, rather than being measurement error. let's say 1:10m. But, the potential upside was also very high - and the cost of taking it seriously was relatively cheap - some days or months of laboratory time. The EmDrive may have been absurd, but perhaps not _so_ absurd as to preclude serious discussions about it.

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One thing that makes it more realistic is the their plan to be incremental. They aren’t planning to build all of it at once, but start on one side and build from there. This is very feasible… there are skyscrapers in Riyadh. They can build what is effectively a cluster of 8 of them , even cost-ineffectively to start and the n keep going. Building the whole length might be absurd, but I see no reason why they couldn’t build the Leeds Certified version of Kowloon walled city. Will they pivot to a better surface-area design, will they keep blowing money on the original design, will they just let it fail on move onto the next project? Hard to tell, but I see the problem space as more interesting than the binary of completing the vision in full as it stands today

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"Even Alexandros agrees it probably won’t work."

Yes, but he doesn't agree that it's absurd, which is a different threshold. (His exact words are "Like, I'm not saying Neom will be a huge success or whatever.")

He's accusing you of cognitive self-dealing (roughly, of straw-manning where you could have steel-manned), and I don't think your discussion above clears you of that charge.

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founding

Suppose we taboo the word "absurd" here. What do Scott and Alexandros disagree about, really?

I guess that Alexandros is accusing Scott of strawmanning what could be an important project without doing the work to justify it, but Alexandros seems to have no higher confidence in the success of Neom than Scott* and does not appear to have done any additional investigating to reach that conclusion. Is the heuristic at work to give people the benefit of the doubt, if you aren't absolutely certain and haven't done a deep dive?

But given that neither party would put the probability of success above 1% (my assessment, not a quote from either), what are we even arguing about here?

*Evidenced by the fact that Scott publicly offered to make a bet with Alexandros on this, at what sounded like any odds, and he refused.

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You have no evidence that Alexandros would not give the project a probability of success above 1%. Again, his exact words were "Like, I'm not saying Neom will be a huge success or whatever," which is completely consistent with it having, say, a 20% chance of success, something that might make the project unwise, but still not appropriate to dismiss with mockery.

You suggest that we avoid the word "absurd," but "absurdity" is literally in the title of Scott's piece, and he uses it throughout. In fact, it's part of the *theme* of the piece, so you're tacitly undermining what Scott wrote, not steelmanning it.

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founding

Not saying "absurd" isn't a useful framing, but the point I was trying to make was orthogonal to it.

If Alexandros estimates a 20% chance of success, he should take Scott's offer of a bet at 5-1 or 10-1 or 20-1 odds; I'm sure Scott would grant it. My evidence: https://twitter.com/slatestarcodex/status/1554879981481709569

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That's hardly evidence of anything. I don't take bets like this, for reasons orthogonal to my estimate of probabilities, and this could easily be true of Alexandros as well.

Betting is a particular practice, and no one is obliged to engage in it. It's like investment. There are many possible good investments, and the decision not to participate in a particular investment often does not represent a judgment that it is bad.

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The answer here is that I don't think I have enough information to opine on the project, and the piece didn't help either. On the one hand, the Saudis don't have problems building some of the tallest buildings in the world. On the other, this is a whole other level. I'd have to go dig into the stages of the project and the related timelines to make up my mind. I'm generally suspicious towards "big state" projects, but then again, I bet someone also thought the pyramids of Egypt were a bridge to nowhere when they were being built.

My opinion is "looks unlikely, I don't know", and what's more I think people should practice saying "I don't know" a lot more often.

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Stephen -- thank you! I was beginning to worry I that what was in my mind was not coming through at all. Turns out, it was :)

I wrote a response before I saw yours, but good to know I'm not losing my mind:

https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/absurdity-bias-neom-edition/comment/8197344

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You're welcome! What you wrote was completely reasonable.

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Do you happen to be involved in building ambitious things or engineering of some kind? I think I'm trying to convey an intuition I have developed while building stuff that few people think are possible, and I'm pretty tired of low-effort "that's impossible" responses. Wondering if you have similar background.

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I am an engineer. I do try to build things. I dislike easy deprecation of low-probability outcomes.

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It appears we share a pet-peeve, sir. Should probably park this comment thread, but feel free to say hi on Twitter if you like.

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It's one thing to say Neom's design is absurd, but quite another to say "murdering the people who previously lived in the area" in reference to a single man who, according to the Saudis (and AFAIK not denied by anyone), was armed and shooting at police. You don't need sophisticated philosophy to see how misleading this framing is.

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Given how Saudis operate I am assuming that people shooting at their enforcers are likely to have valid reasons.

> AFAIK not denied by anyone

it is not like independent human right organisations can operate there

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That's irrelevant to this post, and using force to remove people from their land and shooting them if they resist is not meaningfully different to killing people to take their land.

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True, but people is different from person. (Though likely many of his friends and family might have tried to resist had they not known they would certainly die.)

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Does your country not have eminent domain laws? If the police come to enforce such a law, do you think you'd be excused for trying to shoot the officer?

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

I like Neom project. I hate living in cities although I currently live in the city myself. It is just because like majority of people I am not rich and for economic reasons, transportation issues, proximity to work, shops etc. I have to live in the city although I really feel that it is like a life in prison.

Neom, the Line is a fantastic compromise. From one side you will be close to nature, even if it is only a view over the desert. Maybe they can put some irrigation and greenhouses to grow food for the city that will make the view slightly greener. On the other hand it would be a city infrastructure. The space between two walls would be like a street with shops, bars, offices and residential quarters. It is a fantastic project.

Now back to the reality, of course it seems absurd to think that it could be built with merely 500 billion dollars when the real costs are at least 10 times of that. Maybe if they could built the city only 17 km long but even that is unlikely due to corruption and general unprofitability of this project. But it is a different thing to admit that the project is not feasible for various reasons rather than to think that the idea itself is absurd. The US might never have free-for-all universal health care but it is still not an absurd idea.

It is like thinking that Egyptian pyramids are absurd. One estimate was that building a pyramid today would cost 5 billion dollars. It is a lot even today when we have big machines to move stones and project management theories how to organize big projects. In the past it must be unbelievably expensive and basically an absurd project. And yet, pyramids were built because some powerful people believed in the necessity of building them. Who knows if Neom could become a reality if some powerful people believe in its necessity? Or it could be some other seeming absurd project. Or in contrary, if they lose faith in this or another project then “absurd” becomes self-fullfiling prediction.

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Comment on the comments: There are now at least two comments which say something like:

"<correct sounding general statement about absurdity>, as an example consider <thing I consider absurd/non-absurd but which a significant fraction of people disagree with me about>."

Come on surely you guys can figure out examples which all readers will agree with you on.

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I think they can figure out such examples, but are choosing other examples because they want to make a controversial rhetorical point.

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The meta-meta-argument is that it's brilliant to pick something that one tribe thinks is absurd and the other tribe thinks is self-evident because that demonstrates the social-proof nature of absurdity that also neatly explains why the Saudis are going along with Neom's The Line.

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founding

It looks bad that a group that happily discusses immortality, The Singularity, Roko's Basilisk, a universe turned into paperclips, etc., etc., cannot muster any sympathy for Neom.

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I think there's a lot of sympathy for NEOM. But I think that someone who claimed that DALL-E 2 was *already* Roko's Basilisk (or that DALL-E 3 will be, so that people are already working on it) would be asked for a lot of proof. NEOM is a project that claims to be in the works, not just a claim that some time in an unspecified number of decades, a project like this will work out.

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Roko's Basilisk doesn't look to me like something "happily discussed". Like, even Eliezer IIRC admitted he fucked up on that one.

Should also be noted that the paperclip maximiser is more a proof of concept than something we expect to have happen in that specific form. If you polled rationalists for probabilistic forecasts of "the universe is converted to literal paperclips" then you'd get numbers well under 0.1%.

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There have been times in human history when inventors working with governments have achieved a 10x or 100x breakthrough. Invention of radio, digging the Panama Canal the second time, building the pyramids, etc.

Neom would be exciting if they were showing that they understood the magnitude of the challenge they were taking on and were working on the hard R&D problems to try to solve it (like building a mobile factory-on-tracks that will build the city 1m across at a time with input feedstocks from nuclear-reactor-powered furnaces for steel and mixing concrete).

They aren't. It's a vanity project that's deeply braindead at the top that has no plan to even start a plan to develop the tools to work out when tools they need.

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No, it's really, really not. What IS a bad look is throwing all these things together and acting like they're all comparable. There's no obvious reason why the singularity won't occur at *some* point. It's true as a matter of computer science that a sufficiently advanced AI with enough computational resources could very likely wield tremendous power and have the ability to undergo recursive self-improvement, and the main question is how far away this is.

Most people disagree with the plausibility of Roko's basilisk, though we're dealing with an extremely speculative future technological issue that we cannot intuitively dismiss out of hand but also one which nobody is confidently declaring is true.

And nobody *ACTUALLY* thinks the universe will be turned into paperclips, it's a thought experiment to demonstrate the concept of perverse instantiation - I don't know how you could suggest otherwise except through deliberate dishonesty).

Neom is nothing like this. The issues with Neom are VERY near-term economic, financial, logistical, engineering, scientific and other issues that we understand very well.

We're not talking about a distant, speculative technological development. We're talking about a construction project that is supposed to be finished in the very near future and there's no conceivable way that they will be able to afford this project with the budget allotted. We're not talking about something that could eventually become possible through a century of scientific and technological development, we're literally discussing a current construction project that can only work if the Saudis have been sitting on revolutionary construction techniques that allow construction of extremely high tech buildings at a fraction of the cost of anyone else (despite the fact that they need to hire foreigners to design everything for them).

The uncertainty around AI is huge. The uncertainty around the line is extremely small. There's just so few degrees of freedom for skeptical projections to be subverted by the Saudis.

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I 90% agree with you, but here's where I 10% differ:

The implicit assumption that's being made here (apart from the ones about AI) is that 2040 is a long time from now but 2030 is a short time from now. If you're serious about thinking that the Singularity has a decent chance of happening in the 21st century, then all your estimates about the future will need to become fuzzier. "NEOM will only succeed if we have a slow AGI takeoff starting in 2026 that funds itself through building The Line for the Saudis in exchange for $500 billion" is different from "NEOM is impossible."

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

It is possible for there to exist a statement X that is true, and yet also anyone who believes statement X is true is crazy, because craziness is judged on not based on whether the statements you believe are true, but whether the process by which you arrived at them is crazy. If in 1901, someone says that they know for a fact that in 100 there there will network of blah blah blah adding machines, you would be right to judge them as crazy, because there is no plausible non-crazy chain of evidence and reasoning that could lead them to this conclusion. If you are Einstein, who has just finished deriving the speed of light, but not yet told anyone about it, and someone comes to you with this statement about relative speeds that they know for a fact is true, concluding that they are crazy would still be reasonable, though you'd likely want to consider other explanations such as "they've been spying on me" and "they are a brilliant physicist that I somehow haven't heard of". For a more modern example, if you told me that you know for a fact that there will be a AI singularity by 2050, I would probably conclude that you are crazy, though I may also consider the explanation that you are wildly overconfident, or don't actually know what a probability is. Compared to if you told me that you believed there was a distinct possibility of AI singularity by 2050, and it was more likely than not, I would not call you crazy. Whether there does end up being an AI singularity by 2050 is irrelevant, because the process by which you arrived at the conclusion is what makes you crazy or not, not the actual conclusion. I also wouldn't hire someone to invest money on my behalf _just_ because they correctly predicted some low probability event far in advance, I would look at their process for generating predictions. If it seems like a process that is capable of consistently generating correct predictions, I will judge them a genius. If they (earnestly) tell me that it's because they are communicating with themselves from the future, or god, or "hidden energy", I'd probably judge them crazy _because they made a correct prediction_.

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Now having determined your investment advisor is crazy (they believe they are communicating with the future/god/super-ai) AND you determined they have had consistently above market returns … are you crazy if you don’t invest with them anyway?

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I think there is a difference between "I think this is true now"/"I think this happened in the past" and "I think this will happen/be true in the future."

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The whole question could be reframed as "when do you think Neom will not be absurd?" If you believe that someday (maybe someday soon!) humanity might spread across the stars, build great cities in the canyons of Mars, invent nanomachines that extract buildings of superstrong carbon nanofibers directly from the soil -- then the question about Neom isn't How? But When? Also, still Why?

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I think there's several different levels of absurdity which people keep conflating here. Physical absurdity, economic absurdity, and design absurdity.

Is it physically absurd? No, it is entirely possible to build it (with the possible exception of some of the claims about the train system).

Is it economically absurd? If built all in one go, yes. If built in stages, selling off each stage to fund the next one, then no. It depends on whether you can find enough people willing to buy property in it, at the price you'd need to sell it for. I'm not in the target market for a high-rise apartment in the Saudi desert but I'm hesitant about declaring that nobody is, because there's markets for all sorts of things in the world that I'm not personally interested in. Still, that leads into the next question:

Is it absurd from a design point of view? Probably. If you are going to build a new city in an empty part of Saudi Arabia close to the Suez Canal (which is not necessarily a bad idea) then this seems like a silly way to do it; the disadvantages of the 500m height and the linear form factor outweigh the advantages.

It becomes a whole lot less silly if you just scale it down, though. Make it half the height and it's much cheaper to build, make it one tenth the length and it becomes easy to get around. And you've still got a respectable-sized walkable city of 450K people.

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My current theory on "The Line" is that someone mixed "Inspiration for the next important project" and "best recent video game featuring the middle east".

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On the original quoted example about absurdity bias, I think that a smart and well educated person from 1900 would be able to distinguish the truths from the lies there if they were allowed to ask follow-up questions, thoroughly interrogating our time traveller on the details of the supposed future. What happens if the shade of blue is slightly off? What equations exactly govern the distortion of space as you approach the speed of light? What has changed the economics of male prostitution so much as to make this scheme economically viable? How do you convert lesbians into numbers?

You can make anything sound absurd by describing it in a sufficiently wacky way, but reality holds up under interrogation while absurdity falls apart.

(What if those were bad examples and you could make up an absurd scenario that _would_ hold up under careful scrutiny? Then it probably isn't all that absurd. You could probably convince the people of 1900 that the Austro-Hungarian Empire dominates all of Eurasia in 2012, but that's not absurd, it's just untrue.)

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Just practically speaking, I find that in a lot of cases, made-up ideas untethered from reality hold up under interrogation better than the truth. People with wild ideas always have a long, detailed explanation of why they’re right. They make sure everything holds together. But the truth has no obligation to make itself seem to hold together. The person telling the truth sometimes has to shrug and say, “Yeah, I guess it doesn’t make sense, but I saw what I saw.”

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Aug 4, 2022·edited Aug 4, 2022

All you need to do is say that you don't see how it's possible (and give the reasons why you think it isn't possible). Saying "it's absurd" is essentially conflating opinion with fact. It's adding "something extra" that's not necessary, that's extraneous.

This is ubiquitous on the Internet, and in the long run doesn't add value.

Even "In my opinion it's absurd" is better, but still sub-optimal; you need to account for arguing from personal incredulity, and "I think it'd absurd" can run afoul of that problem.

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I like to spend a minute on a back of the envelope calculation wherever relevant. If anyone is seriously proposing X, and I'm writing a blog post criticizing X, I will apply at least a BOTEC level of analysis.

Kingdom Centre in Saudi Arabia is 76.8m * 302m * 37.8m and cost US$453 million in 2002, multiplied by 1.65 to adjust for inflation through 2022. This comes to $850/m^3. I previously calculated ( https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/model-city-monday-8122/comment/8116431 ) that the Neom Line would be $58/m^3 if they spend $1T. So it's off by an order of magnitude, but maybe still possible to do the project if they can sell the condos for more than the cost of construction. They could build 1% of the line, sell condos and office space to get their construction costs back with a profit, and rinse and repeat until they run out of buyers. Or with enough loans those steps could be somewhat parallelized. Real estate developers usually use tons of leverage and sell houses whenever they're completed rather than waiting for the entire subdivision to be completed.

I think Scott's prediction "Saudi Arabia builds a structure at least 100m x 100m x 1000m before 2040 or the Singularity, whichever comes first: <1%" was very overconfident. 100x100x1000 would cost only $8.5 billion at Kingdom Centre's $/m^3. MBS can easily spend that much on whatever he wants to build so long as it's possible with current technology. I would put the odds at 50% for the same prediction.

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If NEOM just claimed to be a bunch of adjacent skyscrapers, like what they've done in Dubai, then this would make sense. But the structure is claimed to be entirely different from that, with a continuous wall of some sort (that enables climate control of a sort, while still being well-ventilated?). I think it's fair to just multiply the volumetric cost of a skyscraper by this volumetric cost as a steel-man lower bound on the price, but you'd need to say more to make it plausible that you could keep the costs similar to that for this new type of structure. (Presumably things like labor and equipment costs are going to be a lot more expensive when you can't use the existing shipping facilities of a city.)

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And with luck, maybe it'll be as much of a destination as Dubai would be without its role as a global air hub.

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I think the continuous wall design suggests economies of scale that drive volumetric costs somewhat down, not up, relative to skyscrapers. Building in an empty desert 10 miles from the city is probably somewhat easier than building in the middle of a busy city, due to a combination of land costs, traffic, and trying not to mess up the things that are already built there while you dig the foundation.

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An empty desert 10 miles from Riyadh sounds like it would be cheaper than building in Riyadh. But this looks like it's over 100 miles from the city of Tabuk, and about 600 miles from Medina.

I think building a continuous wall would be cheaper per volume than building a single skyscraper, for a team with equal history building both. But I think the world has a *lot* of experience building regular-sized skyscrapers, and *no* experience with the new issues that arise when building a long one like this (what are the internal divisions like? how are staircases and elevators spaced?) so you're not going to get those economies of scale until you've already built a large part of it and developed the expertise.

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Building anything close to the line in relatively short succession will singlehandedly inflate material costs which will likely undercut economies of scale.

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Why be wary of the social epistemology? Do you hope to contain all human knowledge in your brain one day? Why would you hope to be able to do epistemology by yourself? I think rationalists should embrace social knowledge and epistemology, treat humanity as one huge complex sentient machine.

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