Re: Memetics: The 10 Suggestions

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Thu Jan 06 2000 - 08:15:57 MST

Damien Broderick wrote:
> At 01:19 PM 4/01/00 +0100, Eli wrote:
> > 1.
> > nor shalt thou offend them with ostentatious incredulity.
> Nyah nyah. Eliezer's always picking on me for using this common EdRegisian
> rhetorical device. It's *mock*, *feigned* or *provisional* incredulity, of
> course, and is intended to cosy up to the conventional reader before the
> mandatory second stage of `but hang on, waaaait a minute, maybe this
> apparent craziness isn't *quite* so loony *after* all...'
> It's a gambit. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't. Maybe it gets old quickly,
> maybe you should keep using what seems to work.
> I can tell you, though, as a writer in various public arenas for lo these
> many decades: what causes most readers to smirk and flip the page is any
> straight-up explicit announcement of the kinds of things Eli (and the rest
> of us) take utterly for granted.

Are the page-flippers the guys I care about, or the guys who I'd rather
stayed in the dark? Have you ever actually *seen* someone smirk and
flip the page? Did you *ask* them to take it seriously before they did
so? How many people flip the page on incredulity? What's the
borderline amount of future shock before they flip the page - one shock
level? Two shock levels? Now that it's been featured in _Time_
magazine, how many people are still shocked by nanotechnology? How does
presenting information-plus-incredulity affect the ability of people to
absorb information directly?

(I'm not implying that Damien is supposed to know the answer to all
these questions. I don't know the equivalent answers for combining
tech-and-futurism with morality-and-quest. I'm just saying that these
are the fundamental questions to consider.)

For that matter, what exactly is the mechanism whereby incredulity makes
a reader more likely to accept the argument? Is the idea that you're
synchronizing your presented emotions with the emotions that you guess
the reader is likely to be feeling? I'm willing to believe that most
readers will feel incredulity, but unless they're dead to the Universe,
I should think that they'd also feel a flash of hope, admiration, and
hubris. At the very least, those flashes should be explicitly
acknowledged along with the incredulity.

           Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Typing in Dvorak         Programming with Patterns  Writing in Gender-neutral
Voting for Libertarians  Heading for Singularity    There Is A Better Way

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