I (and most other LWers) don’t find “the basilisk” nearly as interesting as people at RationalWiki seem to. It’s basically a really clever re-imagining of Pascal’s Wager. Pascal’s Wager is kind of weak, but there are stronger versions (see “Pascal’s Mugging”) that are hard to pick apart logically. Nevertheless, most people have enough common sense not to take Pascal’s Wager seriously even if they can’t point to the exact logical flaws.
People who tragically lack common sense and compensate by making decisions based on pure reason (eg some Less Wrongers) are especially vulnerable to Pascal-type arguments. I know of a couple of people linked to the community who have actually converted to Christianity or Islam based on the Wager, and other people who haven’t gone that far but are at genuinely bothered by it.
So coming up with a really clever re-imagining of Pascal’s Wager targeted at exactly the community containing the people most vulnerable to being mentally screwed up by Pascalesque arguments is a dick move. It’s especially a dick move if part of the argument is that only people who have read the argument are going to suffer the eternal torture. It’s especially a dick move if you then immediately post it on the vulnerable community so everyone there can see how clever you are. Eliezer understandably got really angry at Roko and deleted the entire thing. Every so often there are vague rumors that someone actually took Roko’s Wager seriously and got panicked by it, but it’s always “a friend of a friend”. Overall I think he’s just angry that someone is deliberately spreading information designed to make people panicked and upset, the same way I might be angry if someone started waving posters of goatse around in a church.
If you do not know what this is all about, see here.
Regarding Eliezer Yudkowsky’s decisions on how to handle Roko’s Wager. Banning any discussion of an idea is known to spread it. But more importantly, as I have already argued, it can give even more credence to an idea whose hazardous effect is in the first place a result of an unjustified stamp of credence.
If Eliezer Yudkowsky was really interested to protect gullible people from an irrational idea then he should go ahead and openly dismiss it as insane and possibly even dissolve the problem once and for all.
It is utterly irresponsible to try to protect people who are scared of ghosts and spirits by banning all discussions of how it is irrational to fear those ideas.
I believe that the real reason for his decision to ban all discussion of Roko’s basilisk is rather that he is simply unable to disavow the idea without having his whole worldview come crashing down as a result or admit that the best he can do is to act based on intuition rather than pure reason or to instead go batshit insane and give in to some sort of Pascal’s mugging.
Tags: Roko's Basilisk