Misanthropic Principle

by John Holbo on May 9, 2012

My old poker buddy Eric Schwitzgebel needs a new, snappier title for this post because obviously what we have here is a straightforward application of what physicists refer to as the ‘misanthropic principle‘. Really, just an application of the mediocrity principle. What are the odds that we aren’t a bunch of jerks, to a first approximation? Low, right? From which it follows that any inference about the nature of the universe proceeding from the assumption that we, the observers, are not a bunch of jerks is probably invalid. (Don’t believe me? Then consider Anselm’s famous ontological proof. P1: Haters gonna hate. P2: Hate is a property. P3: Anything exhibiting a property must exist. P4: Necessarily existent entities are more likely to exist than other sorts. C1: Haters must exist. C2: Haters must exist in greater numbers than non-haters. C3: We are probably haters.) Bonus style points for applying the misanthropic principle to string theory and issues concerning the density of ice. Also, comment sections. Take it away!



dr ngo 05.09.12 at 8:54 am

I’m afraid that the voters here in North Carolina have just verified (again) the fact that “Haters Gonna Hate.” We just put the “NC” in “UNCOOL.” Sorry.


Manoel Galdino 05.09.12 at 10:37 am

Nice reference to Anselm’s argument. Nonetheless:
1. Only later it was called ontological argument (due to Kant, I guess).
2. I guess your approach is more similar to Descartes (so-called) ontological argument in Meditations than Anselm’s argument, though both arguments have something in common.


Yan 05.09.12 at 11:18 am


MattF 05.09.12 at 11:56 am

The application of this rule to electoral politics: Elections are decided by people who can’t make up their minds.


phosphorious 05.09.12 at 1:13 pm

I don’t know. . . looking around me, everyone and everything seems a little *too* mediocre. A little *too* explainable in purely naturalistic terms. We can’t *all* be exactly what you’d expect, can we?

Such thoroughgoing mediocrity requires some sort of supernatural explanation.


JP Stormcrow 05.09.12 at 1:37 pm

I can’t believe no one has mentioned Boltzmann brains.


JP Stormcrow 05.09.12 at 1:43 pm

“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omphalos”


William Timberman 05.09.12 at 2:16 pm

Phosphorious, I suspect that philosophy itself is the supernatural explanation you’re (we’re) looking for. Either that, or you’ve (we’ve) got a kink in your (our) DNA somewhere. Or perhaps both….

If there’s another reason for you (us) to notice such things, or at least to comment on them to each other, then maybe you’re (we’re) just a temporary perturbation in the mediocrity after all….


bianca steele 05.09.12 at 2:29 pm

“Any measurement more than one standard deviation from the mean is imaginary.”

The problem raised by the OP is, obviously, why should the mean be defined as “jerk” rather than “paragon”? Though (this being math) we can probably get by without specifying.


Data Tutashkhia 05.09.12 at 2:32 pm

Could this ‘mediocrity principle’ also be formulated as ‘90% of everything is crap’?


JP Stormcrow 05.09.12 at 5:13 pm

90% of everything is crap
90% of success is showing up.
Success is everything.
Showing up is crap.


Substance McGravitas 05.09.12 at 5:23 pm


Data Tutashkhia 05.09.12 at 5:34 pm

Actually, I feel that ‘90% of everything is crap’ is wildly optimistic. Back in the pre-wikipedian era I always thought it was ‘95% of everything is crap’. And even that seemed too low.


Substance McGravitas 05.09.12 at 5:40 pm

On the golden age of crap percentages:



Barry 05.09.12 at 9:31 pm

dr. ngo: ” I’m afraid that the voters here in North Carolina have just verified (again) the fact that “Haters Gonna Hate.” We just put the “NC” in “UNCOOL.” Sorry.”

I guess that a bunch of people in NC were envious of SC’s reputation. In the end, my conclusion is that Sherman should have finished the job.


dr ngo 05.09.12 at 9:38 pm

One of my friends said “I used to tell people that North Carolina was the smart Carolina. I guess we can forget that.” OTOH there’s a very nice visual linkage between education (% of the county population with higher degrees) and voting *against* the amendment; the eight counties (out of 100?) who voted against it rank #1-7 and #11. I’m afraid I only have a Facebook link, however: https://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/photo.php?fbid=3885017086336&set=a.1204927485771.2030775.1306168817&type=1&theater


Belle Waring 05.11.12 at 3:13 am

Oh, don’t think you can just sit there all smug, N.C. We are going to roar back, crazier and drunker and gas-huffing-er than ever and we are going to rock your little world in the general. South Carolina is going to expel all its Mexican residents. We are going to require concealed carry by first-graders in public school. We are going to top your crazy, hateful evil with something crazier and even more hateful.

As to the OP, the canonical situation in which haters hate is when you roll up on them dubs, rims so big people can see you coming, with the car so clean, and so cool, what with the wood interior and so on, that every time you hit the parking lot you turn heads, and at first everyone is like “who’s that” and then they start hating once they find out. The guys, but often the women secretly want to take a ride in the car. I don’t know exactly how this happens in comment sections. I mean, you might think “what’s this craziness here?” and then after 15 words, “oh, it’s bob mc manus,” but then, and I mean no disrespect to the man, you don’t want to get up in the comments box for a ride, exactly. Perhaps the parallels with string theory are more apt.

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