Kookiness and immunity

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (sentience@pobox.com)
Mon, 01 Mar 1999 02:13:55 -0600

Lee Daniel Crocker wrote:
> Much as I appreciate the approbation, I have to weigh in strongly in
> favor of continued anarchy. And not just for the same old pro-free-
> speech arguments, or diversity of thought, or dangers of central
> control, although those are good arguments. I think the greatest
> danger in setting up kook-control systems is the memetic equivalent
> of antibiotic overuse: by reducing our exposure to kookiness, we
> may endanger our future ability to deal with it, and may encourage
> more robust forms of kookiness to evolve. Far better for future
> generations that we arm them to recognize and deal with it rather
> than protecting them from it and leaving them defenseless.

I don't buy it. Children raised in a kook-free environment have far better defenses against kookiness. Rather than thinking of kookiness as normal, they see it as being exceptionally stupid and spit it back. It is not necessary to read the National Enquirer, just Martin Gardner. Perhaps in a generation, if we completely stamped out all kookiness everywhere and foolishly did not place "Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus" on school reading lists, the first kooky meme that arose would sweep a defenseless world. I highly doubt it.

Even so, let us assume that a certain minimal exposure to kookiness is necessary; and that the exposure gained from reading back issues of the Skeptical Inquirer is inadequate. The level of kookiness on this list has still risen above optimum, and, moreover, it would be just as easy to gain kookiness exposure by either reading other lists or the National Enquirer.

Even if this particular forum had its kookiness reduced to zero, I think the benefits outweigh risks, even if Crocker's projection were a certainty.

Even supposing that the Extropians list moves and the rest of the planet follows, perhaps because we developed and made available collaborative-filtering software, the benefits still outweigh the risks. The level of kookiness on the planet is way above optimum. I do not believe that even CF applied globally would wipe out kookiness.

CF does have a possible problem in that it could completely insulate, say, Democrats from Libertarians as well as vice versa. If we, who are developing the software, add a special maximally-important rating for "changed my worldview", or perhaps even correlate changes in ratings to find "turnpoint" pages visited, this may compensate and over-compensate for that effect.

Finally, I don't object to kookiness on the list, I object to stupidity, in its manifestation as lack of original and interesting ideas. Mentifex is a kook, but he's an intelligent, original, and self-aware kook who knows how to spell and how to change the subject.

        sentience@pobox.com         Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.