More Singularity stuff. I'm Not Saying People Are Stupid, says Eliezer Yudkowsky in response to my summary of his talk. The last line of his post says: "I'm here because I'm crazy," says the patient, "not because I'm stupid." So the issue is craziness, not stupidity in Eliezer's reading. The problem I would say is that stupid people have the "Not Even Crazy" problem. They often can't get beyond their basic cognitive biases because they don't have a good grasp of a rational toolkit, nor are they comfortable and fluent in analysis and abstraction. I can grant that many smart people are wrong or crazy, but at least there's a hope of having them internalize Bayes' rule.
This came up in the schizophrenia thread, and I think that normality itself can be the problem. Someone who lives their life defensively (to avoid problems) and conventionally will be normal, which is a rather passive state and means little more than doing your job, paying your bills, obeying the law, and not doing anything weird enough to upset people.
I think that when people talk about stupidity they're often talking about conventionality and fear of difference.
"stupid people ...often can't get beyond their basic cognitive biases because they don't have a good grasp of a rational toolkit, nor are they comfortable and fluent in analysis and abstraction": quite. But you can still learn useful amounts from them if you talk about concrete experiences they've had. Just ignore their attempts to generalise from them.
I get uncomfortable when scientists talk about stupidity. It's kind of like legacy Yalies reflecting on how disgusting it must be to be poor. It's also a very unscientific term. I get particularly uncomfortable when they say someone is stupid rather than that someone has acted stupidly, which is marginally better.
Cognitive biases? A good scientist is a person who has a strong cognitive bias (a non-conscious emotional preference) in favor of evidence-based rationality, at least in their field of expertise. They may have studied and discussed the philosophy of science and appreciate the power of rationality in understanding nature but they don't re-examine it constantly while going about their work. It's internalized and acts non-consciously to effectively perform its behavior guidance function. Even good scientists though, don't allow this usually beneficial bias to rule all areas of their lives nor at all times. Another way to say that is that in some areas of their lives and under some conditions stronger biases than their bias toward rationality will become dominant. That doesn't make them stupid, just human - and probably far more likely to survive than a Mr. Spock.
Very smart people can make very bad behavior decisions and acquire highly irrational beliefs. When someone calls another stupid, what has usually happened is that some of the latter's biases (internalized beliefs) have threatened their own; enough so that it feels good (lessens the emotional discomfort of the threat) to insult them.
I get particularly uncomfortable when they say someone is stupid rather than that someone has acted stupidly, which is marginally better.
Pray tell, why? Do you believe that people do not have differences in intelligence? I would like a backstory on why you consider "stupid" to be a term unbecoming of a scientist.
I'd make a distinction (I'm not sure of the precise definitions, but hey!) between irrationality, and low intelligence. I've met plenty of people who were pretty thick (ie conventionally stupid), but still capable of rational thought within their limits, including some with serious cognitive impairments. And I think anyone who went to university has met at least one academic who was totally incapable of applying their intelligence to real life, or indeed any discipline outside their own. (Ours was a logician, and we really used to wonder how he managed his daily commute in safety.) Of course, you get the reverses too: stupid people without the sense to come in from the rain, and people who are both smart and rational.
Meng, my primary discomfort with stupid is that it is a subjective judgment often even meant to be insulting. When a scientist makes a judgment it should be separated from subjectivity as far as possible. They should not only arrive at their judgment objectively but should be prepared to show how any subjectivity was prevented from entering into it. That's especially true if they wish to claim some scientific credibility for their judgment, which is how most assertions on this topic are put forth in this blog. I have other complaints about its use that focus on its implied reference to an inaccurate model of how brains produce behavior. But we have to get past the subjectivity problem before that one becomes even relevant to the discussion. I hope I answered the question you asked.
Meng, my primary discomfort with stupid is that it is a subjective judgment often even meant to be insulting.
Well, intelligence is a highly prized attribute among humans, so it's hard to imagine a word that would describe a lack of intelligence that could not be used as an insult. But if you read what Razib said, he's not affixing stupid as a label to an individual in the form of an insult, but rather saying that most of the population lacks the intellectual ability to live up to Eliezer's prescriptions.
Now, it may be correct that he was misrepresenting what Eliezer said or that he is flat out wrong in his conjecture, but it seems rather silly to say that a word that has insulting connotations cannot be used at all.
As for subjectivity, intelligence is usually a pretty poorly defined term, but all evidence suggests that there are indeed differences in ability to perform various mental tasks among a population. Obviously how you make your judgment as to which criteria you are going to use to constitute "intelligence" and where you draw the line for stupidity is indeed subjective, but it's not devoid of meaning and one can use it legitimately in conjecture.
Finally, to tie this together, this blog really doesn't consist of all science all the time, as evidenced most proximately by the next post. Flippant, oversimplified summaries are quite prevalent on blogs, even those that have the word "science" in their url.
Of course, this is a rather small issue and I don't care to continue discussing it. If Razib wants to defend the use of the term (he hasn't so far, so I don't know why he would now), that's his prerogative, but honestly this discussion takes much more time than it's worth.
> it's hard to imagine a word that would describe a lack of intelligence that could not be used as an insult
It's actually not that hard to do - only, it would definitely have to be some idiotic septa-syllabic phrase. Not facile for communication purposes. That's why reading even highly technical blog posts is so much more fun than reading papers. About half of the stiff language use found in papers actually furthers precision, and the other half is just a costly signal meant to display intelligence and make the whole thing seem more abstruse than it really is. For some reason no one talks like that on the internet even if they are making a very complex, nuts & bolts technical point.
Meng, I'm not sure I understand Razib's views on this well enough to criticize them. I wasn't disagreeing as much as expressing an area of discomfort. Most comments on blogs are attacks and defenses of existing beliefs. Very little reasoning goes on to actually examine the beliefs that are being attacked or defended - but a lot of mental energy goes into tactics, insults, riposts and such.
You are correct that "intelligence is a highly prized attribute among humans". I think it is perhaps overvalued in terms of its survival benefits. Most behavior decisions in adults - regarding important matters in life - are determined according to beliefs that we acquired long ago - that were probably not adopted as the result of a rigorous logical examination. Usually we adopt beliefs because our family or our friends hold them and they serve to cement our membership in those groups and also because they fit with and support our most important existing beliefs.
I think it is a rich topic for discussion which I hoped to encourage with my comments.