Afternoon Inquisition 12.9

If you didn’t see it over the weekend,  the Skepchick Hivemind got a little hate mail.   Rebecca made quick work of the dressing down, which prevented me from going batty because Wild Bill talked smack about my pigtails.  (Chicks are irrational, after all, and I loves me some pigtails.)

In the comments, russellsugden said:  “He almost raised an intersting point. Had he said “Given that HUMANS are irrational, how can we trust anything anyone says/writes as valid?” Is an interesting question.”

I agree, and since today I’m in San Francisco for the day job (come see me at Drinking Skepchickally tomorrow night, yo!), I’m stealing it:

Given that HUMANS are irrational, how can we trust anything anyone says/writes as valid?


A B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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  1. First off, it isn’t a given that humans are irrational. It is a given that humans are not perfectly rational. That doesn’t mean that humans can’t be rational or can’t follow rational trains of thought. Rational just means having reason and understanding, and humans certainly have reason and understanding on occasion.

    So the question sits on a faulty premise. But if we take as a premise that humans are occasionally irrational, we ask how can we trust what a human writes?

    And the answer has to be covered in context. Like, we can trust that a poem is a valid communication of feeling because we feel what the writer seems to intend. We can trust that a story is a valid communication of a moral if we feel that the moral is well communicated. We can trust that a scientific paper is likely a valid communication if the method and results are well described and we can easily check the sources, and if the publisher has a good reputation. And so on, man, and so on.

  2. I loves me some pigtails

    So do I they are so sexy and I don’t know why.

    We are not inherently rational or irrational we are a mixture of both. So we use our critical faculties and try our best to pick out what is rational and ignore or make fun of the irrational.

  3. Agreed with above. It’s fallacious to say “Given that HUMANS are irrational, how can we trust anything anyone says/writes as valid?” if there is no cause for that to be a valid assumption. Of course people behave irrationally, but I don’t think it’s “given” that we are, as humans, irrational. Irrationality is not a defining characteristic of our existence.

    It is possible to trust factual information when it is rationally backed up with evidence. In terms of artful forms and expressing internal feelings, we’d have to trust that the person 1) genuinely wants to express what they are feeling, 2) has the vocabulary necessary to do so, and 3) is capable of introspection to the extent that they can put their feelings into words at all. But the validity of such things doesn’t matter — the person shoots themselves in the foot by being unclear about their own subjective experience.

  4. @Kimbo Jones:
    I would add to that by saying that, the best evidence to back up anything you say or write is evidence that can be easily reproduced by others under identical conditions. That’s science, and it works!

  5. Seems to me that’s the whole point of skepticism. If everyone were perfectly rational, skepticism would be unnecessary. You can’t trust anything is valid but it’s reasonable to assume a lot of things are valid unless and until you have reason to doubt them.

    Say, for example, the National Security Advisor makes several public statements. It’s relatively reasonable to assume they’re true. Later you find out that many of them were false. On reviewing the press conferences on youtube, you notice rapid blinks and tiny head-shakes accompany the (now known to be) false statements. From that point on, it becomes reasonable to assume that statements from this person (who has now become Secretary of State) that are marked by similar behavior might also be false. This is, of course, just a hypothetical scenario and no reflection on Ms Rice.

  6. That’s why we have the scientific method and lots of experiments/data/etc. to get us closer to the answers of the universe (woooooo spooky music!)

    Um yeah, need to get me some sexy pigtails…

  7. I’m gonna have to toss in another strike against the premise. Evolution justifies having these enormous, calorically expensive brains because they are really profoundly good decision-making organs. If they consistently made crappy decisions, we wouldn’t have them, period. And a lot of what the first wave of psychology pointed at as human failures of reasoning look more and more like information overload, use of an unrealistic frame, or removal of a person from a group setting where everyone’s brains work well together.

    Humans are messy, limited decisions makers, and that sometimes makes them irrational. But they are also innantely intelligent, flexible, and teachable-which is why, on balance, we do as a well as a species as we do.

  8. @Nicole: don’t forget the glasses that adds even more sexy points, but seth is right you do already have some serious sexy points.

  9. Well, just because I’m an irrational human being doesn’t mean that what I say is unreliable, because floogle mop Blues Brothers orange peel economist scissors fifty-four!

  10. Pig snort, codswallop, mountebank, loon.
    Noodlebrain, bum tickle, adipose, boom.
    Unconscionably pert, soft crumbly dirt.
    Wiggly toad, icy road, giblet gravy, goon.

    Irrationality isn’t all bad.

  11. I don’t think you can trust anything any one person says or writes. You have to look at the method used to arrive at the conclusion, the extent to which the result can be replicated, and the degree to which the conclusion stands up to criticism from others knowledgable in the subject.

    You can have confidence in someone based on prior experience with that person’s methods, conclusions, and results, but even they can be wrong.

    Also, irrationality isn’t the only thing that prevents a person’s statements and writings from being accurate. Ego, for example, is a huge motivator (when someone expends significant time & effort trying to prove a hypothesis, only to find out the evidence isn’t sufficient, that’s hard to admit), also emotional comfort (some can’t give up religion because they’d be too depressed thinking that God has no purpose for them, isn’t watching over them, and they’re relatives didn’t really go to heaven – they just died).

  12. I’m NOT irrational. I’m going to hold my breath until you take it back and apologize.

    I am a Hedge

  13. @Gabrielbrawley: You are clearly a man after my own heart. I’ll go threesome with 7 of 9 and a Cylon, and save Firefly for desert. (and I’m only an irrational pig in my fantasies!)

  14. Uh, one symptom of being irrational is the ability is the ability to rely on irrational claims from others.

  15. The most rational thing to do is not to trust what people say, but to look at the direct evidence yourself.

    However, in practical day-to-day life, this is not feasible. There are not enough hours in the day. You have to trust most people on the small everyday stuff, trust people close to you with the personal stuff unless they give you reason to do otherwise, and maintain your skepticism about the big stuff.

  16. @sethmanapio: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the question. The phrase “humans are irrational” isn’t equivalent to saying “humans are always irrational” or “humans can’t be rational”. It might have been clearer to say “humans can be irrational”, but that seems nitpicky.

  17. @sethmanapio:

    Danger + H4WT = teh S3XY.

    Please translate. River was the supergirl who is the terminator tv show now right? She is pretty hot now but back then she was just another kid.

  18. @Stacey: Well the statement was “given that humans are irrational” which reads as a rather absolute statement. And if the statement were “given that humans *can* be irrational” then the obvious refutation is to point out the instances in which we are rational with the caveats already discussed above (evidence, context, etc).

  19. @Kimbo Jones:

    I think our default is to be irrational. That doesn’t mean that it always overrides rationality, but our first reaction to any situation is not to break it down piece by piece and examine every piece of evidence.

    I think more accurately than “humans can be irrational” is to state that “humans can be rational”.

  20. What I ment to say was “Humans CAN be irrational”, we can sometimes (at unpredictable times) behave in unpredictable ways that are irrational.

    @Aristothenes: Humans are not good descion makers at all. OK, so were pretty good at judging distances, working out what fruits we can eat, mating, dodging lions, killing small animals. Evolution has equiped us with brains perfect for survival on the african savanha.

    Thats why we do dumbass stuff like drink alcohol, eat junkfood, fail to take enough exercise, smoke, pollute, depleat resources etc. Their not the result of “information overload” (unless “Smoking causes Cancer and Heart Disease which kills People” is overload) is or individuals seperated from the group.

    Everyone knows about climate change, groups as well as individuals, but because are brains evolved to give us just enough smarts to eat, fuck and raise babies, we struggle to get a handle on it.

    Hell, even the Holy of Holies of Rationality, Mathematics turns out to be irrational and incompletable. Which isn’t that suprising if you believe it to be the product of our minds rather than something that already exsisted and we discovered.

  21. @Kimbo Jones: Yes, but on any point how do you (or anyone) know you are being rational? and able to jugde the rationality of others? You can’t say “I know I’m being rational right now”. You could be insane and not know it.

    How do you know the Scientific Method to be Valid? or better yet, How do you know the Scientific Method to be Rational?

    You can repeat an experiement a hundred times, get the same result a hundred times and it be just a fluke. Black Swanns exsist.

  22. @Stacey: “Humans are irrational” is too much of a blanket statement that does not indicate in any way that humans can be rational, but that they are only irrational. The question should have been something along the lines of “Given that humans are often irrational, what (and why) are they irrational about, and what (and why) are they rational about?”.

    As far as the question posed is concerned, the answer is that you can’t trust anything or anyone including Max Planck, Enrico Fermi, Bart and Priscilla Bok, etc.

    Given that the question claims that all humans are irrational, then Jenny McCarthy (and Carol Alt) must be as valid as Orac. Also then, that I’m as valid as Rush Limbau..gasp..gag arrgh… Oh No.. Pbbbth… Drool…

    “teh Management regrets to inform that Knurl Knarlssen has suffered a serious conniption and attempts are being made to revive him with Molson Canadian, administered by an educated feminist (who is drunk, but not an alcoholic). We are hopeful that he will be resucitated, as this condition is but one of many similar occurances.”

  23. @sethmanapio: @Kimbo Jones: @Knurl:

    To be honest, I’m not a big fan of attacking the question instead of answering it unless it contains a serious flaw.

    I think it’s clear that A was not suggesting that humans are irrational all the time. That would be absurd.

    To spend time & effort arguing that she was saying something so absurd seems to me a waste of time.

  24. @Stacey: Thanks for getting my back!

    Yeah, I considered changing that to be more along the lines of “can be irrational” but then I wouldn’t be directly quoting, now would I?

    Anyhow, the AI’s an open forum. You are welcome to argue the semantics of what I wrote, or the general question. Whatever your pleasure.

    But, dudes? All humans are irrational. Otherwise we’d be Vulcans.

  25. @a.real.girl: I don’t buy this premise at all. All humans are not “irrational”. Many humans, under many circumstances, can be persuaded by reason, and most humans have the capacity for rational thought. That said, not everybody uses it all the time, but even Vulcans have Pon Farr.

    @Gabrielbrawley: I was actually thinking of the Serenity movie. Summer Glau was 23 at time of filming, which is definitely inside the aesthetic appreciation limit.

    @russellsugden: Incompleteness doesn’t imply irrationality, its just a limit of formal systems, much as the halting problem doesn’t imply that computers are irrational, just limited. Your other examples also aren’t examples of irrationality, they are examples of priority setting that you disagree with. Some people prefer to smoke regardless of consequence. That isn’t irrational… after all, it isn’t like any of us get out alive.

  26. @Stacey: I don’t consider discussing the question itself a waste of time. In fact, some interesting discussions can arise from just analyzing a question. While the cries of “false dichotomy” to tend to be grating to me as well, I think it’s a healthy part of discussion to consider the nature of the question being asked in order to better understand the answer.

  27. @Kimbo Jones: Hear hear! I think one problem with a question like this is that “irrational” clearly means different things to different people. So saying that “Humans ARE irrational” is a poorly defined statement to begin with, and its hard to answer a question with a poorly defined premise.

  28. @Kimbo Jones: @sethmanapio:

    Sorry, while I agree that discussing the nature of a question can be interesting, in this case I think it’s petty and absurd to discuss whether A meant that humans can’t be rational.

    I can’t imagine that anyone actually thinks that’s what she meant.

  29. @Stacey: I apologize to a.real.girl and yourself if any disrespect or offence was perceived. But the question is really broad enough that a short comment cannot properly answer in anything but a simple way.

    Strictly speaking, in communications theory and philosophy, you can’t even trust your own perception of reality since you – yourself – change over time and may not even realize what is going on around you. That being the case, at a particular time in a particular place with a particular person, everything is valid and you have ultimate trust. Once you part ways, everything changes and you are subject to the influences of other people, places, and things, which changes your perception of reality.

    Often, as BA exemplifies here: our viewpoint is tainted by our own way of looking at things. (Yes, Phil did make a mistake).

    “Common Reality”, or what we hope to keep in touch with, and hope that others will agree with (such as all of us who visit and seek to communicate here), is a bit more more variable and complicates. I’d like to think that’s why we’re here and you and I are reading what is posted here.

    Excepting proven theories that are based in Physics (including applied physics like chemistry, engineering, electronics), Biology, and Geology that are actually in practice now, complete trust cannot be made in science. There is so very much that needs to be done, but that’s part of the long answer to the question posed.

    So now we are where?

    Without question, trust no one, including yourself because you may be wrong about yourself.

  30. @Stacey: First, it was not A’s question. Second, I mean no offense to russelsugden ether. Third, I think “petty” and “absurd” are some strong words for an open forum where scientists tend to frequent. Part of my job is to come up with operational definitions and well-structured research questions. It’s “business”, not personal, and the structure of a question can be *very* important in interpreting the answer (i.e., the results). Sometimes the AI questions are lighter and require less scrutiny to be answered, sometimes they are philosophical and generate discussions about meaning etc. I don’t see anything wrong with that. And you’ll notice that in my first post I did not simply “attack” (also a strong word) the question, I also answered it.

    These AI’s are for open discussion, but at times I feel that that’s not really true. It’s only for discussion in the certain permissible ways of certain people. I find *that* absurd. Don’t ask these questions if we aren’t welcome to answer them in the way we choose. You seem very defensive. I’m confused as to why. Who cares if that’s what they meant? We’ve interpreted the question a particular way and are discussing that interpretation. Others have offered different interpretations or suggestions of different wordings that they think are more appropriate. What, if not that (at least partially), do you want from us?

  31. @Kimbo Jones: Exactly. A philosopher friend of mine back in Phoenix (ex-Mormon, BS in philosophy fron NAU in Flagsteff) wanted to argue that all the time. Odd, but he pointed out to me that I was an apostate before I admitted it to myself!!

  32. @sethmanapio: Seth, first thing I want to say is that I am glad to see you commenting here again. I have missed you. I love seeing you here. I hope to see the return of your arch enemy because I love him also.

    Next I was thinking of the show but you are right as an adult she is very sexy but I was thinking of the black actress of the tv show she just drove me nuts.

    Okay Seth this has nothing to do with you.

    I am pissed off and I am pissed. I have biography channel this month because it is a free preview through dish network. I wouldn’t have cable except that my wife pays for it. I am much too cheap to pay for tv. I more than happy with free tv and a dvd player. I have never payed for tv and I won’t. TV is free or I will read a book.

    Anyway’s I am watching a show on biography called Shatner’s Raw Nerve. Shatner interviews celebrities for 3o minutes.

    I just watched Tim Allen and now I am watching Jenna Jameson. I have watched a lot of porn and I imagine that I will continue to watch it unti I can no longer get a hard on. But Jenna Jameson is not behaving in a manner that invokes deep thought. She just said that for a little while “I was lesbian” what the fuck does that mean? I don’t think it works that way. I have been with women who say they are straight, I have been with women who say they are bi, I have been with women who say they are lesbian but I have never been with anyone who claims that their sexuality is that changeable.

    I am so angry. I arrrgh.

    I hope that I don’t upset you but I feel that you are the people that I can talk to.

  33. Okay, I think everyone needs to go to and listen to the first show of this season. The show really deals with this and in a way that I would never expect. Next, Just answer the fucking question as you understand it. If you feel the need to state a limit to your answer as you understand the question fine state it. Don’t spend the whole fucking AI defining the question. Just answer what you think is the right answer. You aren’t being graded. This isn’t for credit. You are cool no matter what you say just answer the fucking question or one night you will wake up in bed saying to yourself “what was that?” and it will be me with a joy buzzer.

  34. @Gabrielbrawley: Dudester.

    First, thanks. I’ve been out for a while. I’m told that my archenemy is, well… dead. So I don’t think he’s coming back. If he does, we will all need to think deeply.

    Right now, we aren’t even discussing the question, we’re discussing whether we should discuss the question. Which is just silly. Obviously, if the question as posed is unclear to me or anyone else, we should clarify. And just as obviously, the question of human rationality is an interesting one in and of itself.

    I’m totally baffled by the negative responses to those two points, which I guess is a point in the ‘people are basically irrational’ column.

  35. Okay,

    Once again. This guy’s bagging on your looks, and or pigtails, and he’s got a problem with YOUR “natural” lack of intellect?

    So, it’s something like this:

    ” You’re not funny and dumb because your mom makes you wear pigtails and nobody likes you.”

    That’s a very rational and powerful argument, like only a “man” such as our “hero” can be. I’d just have to bow down to dudes intellectual might.

    I’m afraid I have no comment… Except.

    I’ll bet he pronounces it “Merikkka”.

    I’m just sayin’,


  36. @Kimbo Jones: I actually hadn’t bothered to follow up on the whole thing for a while. So I just flipped through the pages on the blog-o-lies and found out that dude is not dead.

    I guess I can’t say that I care either way.

  37. @Kimbo Jones:

    I agree 100% . A hastily posted question begs a widely ranging unfocused series of responses. On a site such as this one, which invites analysis and skepticism, it would be foolhardy to think that one’s premises would not be examined.

  38. Because humans are not *wholly* irrational, and we’re capable of catching one anothers mistakes. There is, therefore, a tendency for the best and soundest ideas to “rise to the top”.

    The success of this “marketplace of the ideas” approach is all around us, including the computer in front of you.

  39. @Kimbo Jones:

    I really have nothing more to add and I’m done with this conversation after this post.

    I think the criticism “A/Russell are saying that humans can’t be rational” is absurd. I think it’s obvious that’s not what was meant.

    I agree with you that analyzing a question from different angles can be interesting, but that is not what’s happening here. We’re debating semantics, or the possibility that the question could have been phrased better.

    If the question, “Given that HUMANS can’t be rational, how can we trust anything anyone says/writes as valid?” were at all interesting, then I would agree with you. But it isn’t. It’s just absurd.

  40. @Stacey: I never said any such thing and I feel very attacked right now. Your posts seem like a huge overreaction. I am deeply confused by your reaction to my posts. Why is thinking about *this* question semantics while other questions are not? Just because the question isn’t interesting to *you* doesn’t mean you get to call those of us who do find it interesting “petty” for bothering to discuss it and make it into something less absurd. So apparently when they AI’s are deemed absurd by one of the Skepchick staff, we’re therefore banned from discussing it at all and trying to make it more interesting. If you don’t find it interesting, then why take issue with the rest of us?

  41. @Kimbo Jones: If you find the question, “Given that HUMANS can’t be rational, how can we trust anything anyone says/writes as valid?” interesting, then by all means, discuss it.

    Being that this is a site in which humans are rational, I find it ironic that you want to have a serious discussion about how humans can’t be rational. If you believe that humans can’t be rational, how can we have a rational discussion about it?

    Nonetheless, you are right in saying that it’s not my job to deem which questions possess the requisite interest or lack of irony to warrant discussion. So, if the criticism of the question truly wasn’t semantic, and you seriously find the question interesting, by all means, discuss it. My bad.

  42. I never really could understand the point people are trying to make when they bring this up. “We can’t be 100% rational, so why even try to be 1% rational”? Sure, why don’t we fucking live in caves and give up on modern society and the human endeavor! Astrology? Shamanism? Human sacrifice? Anything goes, because it’s impossible to be 100% rational!

    Ugh. Does it never occur to them that one can strive towards an ideal, knowing full well they won’t ever quite reach it? Christians in particular ought to be quite familiar with that concept.

  43. “Shatner’s Raw Nerve. Shatner interviews celebrities for 3o minutes.”

    I quit caring about what Bill Shatner thinks about anything a long time ago. Why bother watching his show? I like ST, but IMHO he was a second-rate actor then, and is still so today.

    It seems to me that if we take the question in the spirit it was offered (including the clarification that humans CAN be irrational, but are not ALWAYS or even MOSTLY so), we soon end up talking about epistemology (How do we know what we know?).

    I think that we can all agree here that from a scientific basis, there is a such thing as physical objective reality and that solipsism only applies to our sensing of that reality and no tto the reality itself. If not, science would be useless.

    By objective reality, I mean that if I drop a hammer on Earth, it will fall at 32 ft/sec/squared, all things being equal. It matters not if I believe the hammer falls at that rate – it still does so, and my foot will inform me of that fact if it gets in the hammer’s way. Faith-based physics might be fun to watch from a distance, but it’s no way to plan how to build a bridge or an airplane.

    Ultimately, we are stuck with having to compare evidence and evaluate claims as best as we can as flawed humans and then running our conclusions past others for review and critique. It’s called “science,” and it works.

  44. @QuestionAuthority: His speaking albums or whatever are actually kind of cool, but I might be biased since Ben Folds produced and played piano on them and I heart Ben Folds. (They also did the Priceline commercials. They are BFFs lol.)

  45. @wytworm: What I mean by “all things being equal” here is that if all of the conditions are identical in the two instances, the results will be the same.


    If I drop a hammer on Mars, it will not fall as fast as a hammer does on Earth due to the differing gravitational fields.

    If I drop one hammer one meter and the other 1000 meters, the second hammer will undoubtedly reach terminal velocity – the difference between a sore foot and a missing foot. :-D

  46. @QuestionAuthority:
    I understand what you meant. I guess I was shooting at the pragmatic fact that all things are almost never equal except for in models of reality and wondering what affect that has on the whole of my existence.

  47. I am forced to conclude however, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that you ARE in Son of Sam mode and are actively engaged in speaking to your foot…


  48. @Kimbo Jones: If we’re arguing the same point, why are we arguing? Let me recap, to make sure we’re on the same page.

    Seth lodged this argument against the AI:

    First off, it isn’t a given that humans are irrational. It is a given that humans are not perfectly rational. That doesn’t mean that humans can’t be rational or can’t follow rational trains of thought. Rational just means having reason and understanding, and humans certainly have reason and understanding on occasion. So the question sits on a faulty premise.

    Then he specifically asked for my opinion:

    @Stacey: Points for getting the thread back on track. But do you agree with the basic premise of the question?

    I gave him my honest opinion.

    You argued with me.

    I continued to defend my opinion.

    I also find it ironic that you feel attacked, when I am sticking to the issue and you are attacking me for giving and defending an opinion that I was specifically asked for.

  49. @Stacey:
    You said:
    “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the question.”

    Then you said:
    “If the question, “Given that HUMANS can’t be rational, how can we trust anything anyone says/writes as valid?” were at all interesting, then I would agree with you. But it isn’t. It’s just absurd.”

    And now you are saying:
    “I am sticking to the issue and you are attacking me for giving and defending an opinion that I was specifically asked for.”

    Forgive me if I can’t decipher what the hell you are saying from that jumbled mess. Particularly when it was you who lamented about discussing the nature of the question in the first place. Seth asked you whether you agreed with the premise of the question and then you went off saying that we shouldn’t be discussing such things. I disagreed. That is all.

    My statements on this topic before it got so tragically derailed by cries of “it is silly to debate this question” were never an *attack* on you. They were me expressing my own opinion. The attacks started when my statements were called “petty” and “absurd” and was accused of “attacking” others when I was simply engaging in a “waste of time” debate. A disagreement does not equal an attack. Name-calling does. Grow up.

  50. Listen, I am having a pretty much shit-tastic week. Pretty much the sit-tastic-est week ever so my fuse is a bit short right now, I’ll admit. But I absolutely draw the line at my comments being belittled for no reason and then me being accused of saying things I haven’t said for motivations I don’t actually have. So if I have overreacted I’m sorry, but the last thing I expected when I came here for some relaxation out of the garbage pit that is this week was this.

  51. @Kimbo Jones: It sounds like you are trying to make this personal, and I’m just not interested. I don’t know you – I can only comment on the issue at hand. Here are my clarifications to the part of your comment that relate to the issue:

    What I referred to as petty is the difference between “humans are irrational” and “humans can be irrational”. I also called it nitpicky.

    As I said from the start, I think it’s clear that A meant the latter, and did not mean that humans can’t be irrational, which is what Seth proposed. That is my entire argument. That’s it.

    I illustrated my point by rephrasing the question as Seth interpreted it, “Given that HUMANS can’t be rational, how can we trust anything anyone says/writes as valid?”. I thought the obvious absurdity of the question, phrased in this way, would demonstrate that A didn’t mean this.

    As far as your confusion about the three quotes you listed, I’ll explain and hopefully clear things up:

    You said:
    “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the question.”

    Right…that has been my point all along. I don’t agree with Seth’s criticism of the question.

    Then you said:
    “If the question, “Given that HUMANS can’t be rational, how can we trust anything anyone says/writes as valid?” were at all interesting, then I would agree with you. But it isn’t. It’s just absurd.”

    Yes…I think the question rephrased as Seth interpreted it is absurd, thus demonstrating that A couldn’t possibly have meant it that way.

    I also conceded that, if you truly find that question interesting, by all means, discuss it. But you responded that you were actually opposed to that question. So, forgive me if I can’t deciper what you are saying.

    And now you are saying:
    “I am sticking to the issue and you are attacking me for giving and defending an opinion that I was specifically asked for.”

    Yes again…I think the first two quotes you listed demonstrate this point. I only see dicussion about the issue, not about anything personal.

  52. @Stacey: I’m saying the question can be talked about if I want to, I am clarifying what I have actually said vs. your interpretations, and now we are way off the track of any of that. I am confident in what I have previously said and I am confident in my opinions. My intentions were not malicious or personal. I’m done.

  53. Personal preference alert:
    I think both pigtails and short sassy haircuts on women are extraordinarily sexy.

    Didn’t think I had it in me to post that, did you ladies? ;-)

  54. @Kimbo Jones: With all due respect, I don’t think Stacey was saying it was “silly to debate the question” or reducing some argument about the “nature” of the question to mere semantics, as appears to be the source of your offense @#82. Even you indicate that the issue is one of “meaning” (@#65), and by definition, “semantics” is the study of the meaning or interpretation of a word. Indeed, the semantics of a question are a prerequisite to determining the nature or premises of the question.

    Clearly, semanapio at @#3, you at @#50, Knurl at @#57, and wytworm at @#78 all took the meaning of “are” in the question to imply “always” in order take issue with the premise of the question itself. According to the dictionary, “are” (in the plural-third person) simply means “be” (in the sense that we do not say “Humans be irrational,” but “Humans are irrational”). Interestingly enough, the uses two examples with reference to “be”: “She is witty” and “All humans are mortal.” Under Kimbo Jones and Knurl’s reading of the word “are” to be “absolute” and “blanket” statements, the first sentence should be presumed to mean “She is always witty” or “She is never serious”; and the modifier “all” in the second sentence would be mere meaningless surplusage. To be sure, the AI question could have been more artfully worded with a modifier, but still – grammatically speaking, the term “are” is vague at best, but should not be presumed with such certainty to be “absolute” from the structure of the sentence or the context. And yet that presumption is necessary to question the premise as the four of you did.

    Stacey seems to have argued that the assumed premise (that humans can’t be rational) was not intended by the authors (despite the vague use of the word “are”), or in the alternative, to assume such a premise in addressing the question would in her opinion be “petty” and “absurd” (@#63). I happen to agree (and do not find the terms inflamatory at all) in that “petty” literally means both “mean-spirited” and “of little importance,” and I think it is intellectually legitimate (i.e., not an ad hominem “attack”) to characterize a question based on the premise that humans are incapable of being rational to be mean-spirited (read: cynical) to the point of being useless.

    In any case, the inflated discussion should have ended when the authors clarified explicitly that your “absolute” reading of the word “are” was not the intended meaning of the question @#54 and @#58. Indeed, it should not have inflated at all considering that all the parties had already answered the underlying substantive issue in the earlier posts.

  55. @TheSkepticalMale:
    Here’s what happened from my perspective (my posts):
    1. An answer to the question
    2. A reply to Stacy with an opinion about wording (which was later called an attack)
    3. A reply as to the necessity of sometimes discussing a questions (which was later called petty and absurd)
    4. A clarification of the assumption that just because I was discussing the question from a particular point of view, doesn’t mean I was attributing that view to the person who posed the question. And a defense of such discussions.
    5. Another statement of the same (that I was being misinterpreted in meaning and intentions)
    6. Yet another correction to words being put in my mouth
    7. Me finally losing my patience with the whole thing.

    And here we are.

    Regardless of the intended meaning, some interpreted the question differently and discussed it a such. I was saying that discussions of a questions structure and meaning are sometimes important. But apparently the question is only to be superficially answered as asked (and with the “correct” interpretation only — whatever that means) with no further thought or development and any discussion that is a different opinion is automatically combative and belligerent rather than ordinary academic disagreement. So I clarified and was met with another accusation of continued attack. At comment 84 I was ready to be done with that one last correction, but then the “attack” accusations started flying when I did nothing of the kind. And now I’m done with the whole thing. Now that I have explained myself and am learning nothing more from this, there is nothing more I can add.

  56. @Stacey: Since I already said that such an interpretation would be absurd, I think you may have missed my point. I was trying to have a discussion about human rationality in general. Human’s are the only creatures that are rational, as far as I know, and I think that the question points towards a kind of bias that I disagree with.

    A. reiterates that bias when she states that humans are irrational, or else we’d be Vulcans. Funny, yes, and meant as a joke. But I think that the timber of the question suggests that Vulcans would be inherently more trustworthy in scientific papers than humans, and I don’t agree with that premise.

  57. Regardless of the merits of all arguments presented, I am hoping that we can take away:

    1) It is rather important to spend some time crafting/framing the question as clearly as possible to avoid thread-churn and meta-arguments.

    2) In the presence of an unclear question, I have found it to be a successful practice to take the time to state my interpretation of the question before otherwise responding with an answer.

    Such as: If by this you mean to ask, if human beings ALWAYS rational..blah blah blah

  58. @wytworm:

    In the presence of an unclear question, I have found it to be a successful practice to take the time to state my interpretation of the question before otherwise responding with an answer.

    Such as: If by this you mean to ask, if human beings ALWAYS rational..blah blah blah

    I like this idea. As opposed to stating that the question is based on a faulty premise.

  59. @Kimbo Jones: I think that people (sometimes me included) need to more actively try not to take things so personally. For example, the word “attack” (first used by Stacey to characterize your aguments @#57) could mean “to set upon in a forceful, violent, or aggressive way” (one definition of the word), but in this case, could very well mean just “to set about [a task] or go to work on [a thing] vigorously” (another less offensive definition). Maybe we could all do better to assume the best of meanings from the words of our fellow bloggers/commenters (i.e., give them the benefit of the doubt) until it is clear that they are trying to offend or engage in ad hominem commentary (as it does not appear to be in this case).

    From my experience on the blog, I really enjoy both yours and Stacey’s posts, and neither you nor Stacey are the type to take things very personally, so reading the entire AI at one sitting this morning, I don’t understand how the conversation degenerated. That’s all.

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