What is Unfalsifiability?

The typology is often accused of being unfalsifiable. This is of course quite a significant claim, and it’s worth considering. But first, we need to consider what unfalsifiability is and why it matters.

The main way to move forward epistemologically is to test various hypotheses. For this to work, we need experiments to distinguish the true hypotheses from the false ones. This requires us to be able to test the hypotheses and possibly end up with the result that they are false – that is, the theories must be falsifiable.

What does an unfalsifiable hypothesis look like, then? The obvious guess is that it’s a theory that permits everything. However, that’s not quite true. For example, suppose we were trying to understand some sequence of bits. In that case, a theory that permits everything might assign equal probability to each possible sequence. An opposing theory might say that the sequence is alternating between 0 and 1. How do we test which one is true?

Well, we observe the sequence. If it goes “0101010101…”, the opposing theory consistently makes correct predictions, whereas the theory that permits everything… well, it doesn’t get it wrong, but it assigns much lower probability to the correct options than the opposing theory, so it rapidly loses credibility.

Of course, it might have been right. Perhaps the sequence is highly unpredictable. In that case, the opposing theory would quickly get disproven, whereas the one that permits everything would survive.

In practice, we can never predict anything perfectly, so the opposing theory would probably assign some moderate probability to non-perfect flips, so that “010110101…” or “0101011101…” are also quite likely. However, this would still not make it unfalsifiable, as it would still have to compete with the other theories.

But if this is not what an unfalsifiable hypothesis looks like, then what is? I’m inclined to say that unfalsifiability is not a property of specific hypotheses, but instead of families of hypotheses. Generally, you don’t work with a specific hypothesis, because there are parameters that you are still uncertain about; instead you work with a parameterized hypothesis which depends on some variable. For example, you might have a family which says that 1’s occur stochastically at a rate of X. This depends on X and so is not a specific hypothesis yet.

Usually, this is no problem. The family I mentioned above can often be falsified by finding a better predictor than this, but of course it is more general than the original one. The problem arises when you allow the parameter to fit the hypothesis to arbitrary data.

As a toy example, you might say that the sequence begins with some specific sequence of bits, followed by stochastic values. This family can fit to any data that you see, making it impossible to test. Of course, real-world examples are hardly as transparent as this, but the basic pattern is the same: they fundamentally change their predictions to exactly match the data, regardless of how justified this is. For this to work, they often stay vague about their mechanism, so it becomes difficult to truly call them out on it.

So, there’s assertions which work based on noise, which are fully falsifiable, and assertions which work based on overfitting, which are not. How can we recognize the difference? I have some thoughts:

First of all, I think the ones which invoke noise still tend to have consistent macroscopic patterns. Noise is local, it only affects the individual that it’s relevant for, so a focus on general patterns instead of specific instances is important. Of course, the noise may be a result of specific repeating phenomena that it’s useful to study, but a failure to mention specific big patterns that clearly arise from the model is a red flag.

Secondly, as a followup to the above, the anecdotes must be thought about in the context of the greater patterns, so a big focus on specific contradictory anecdotes is dangerous. This is especially true if the anecdotes focus a lot on self-reports, as these can be unreliable. Data is more important than cherry-picked exceptions.

Third, it’s much easier to be unfalsifiable if you’re vague about your mechanism, because it makes things much harder to call out.

Fourth, those who have unfalsifiable theories will be hostile to empirical research, since it ends up requiring a lot of work and propaganda to refit things.

I would argue that the trans typology does quite well at avoiding these pitfalls; the explanation for exceptions to the typology are usually more like noise than unfalsifiability.

On the other hand, the competitor, which I’ve started calling Magical Innate Gender Identity (coined by my friend Trent), doesn’t do very well. There is hardly any focus on the macroscopic patterns, and the patches that get applied to MIGI are to a large degree about fixing its prediction failures there, rather than being relevant to specific individuals. The use of questionable anecdotes with unknown statistical support is heavy, and there’s very little consideration for the accuracy of them. The mechanism is incredibly vague, and it has little empirical basis. That is just not a workable starting point!

Of course, there is a very important counterargument here. It goes like this: If we don’t know the true mechanism of transness, then of course it looks like we’re working from an unfalsifiable starting point, but really we’re just looking for enough data to justify the conclusions. I take that argument seriously, and I’ve made it myself before I became convinced of the typology, but I think the effectiveness of the theory makes it dubious. If this was true, then the typology would not be as powerful as it is.

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The “Patches” Are Justified

Meta-attraction (also known as pseudo-androphilia) is an aspect of autogynephilia where one desires to have sex with men as a woman. It has been criticized for being a hack that actually shows that the AGP/HSTS typology is flawed, as there is more overlap between the groups than it actually claims. I don’t think that criticism is fair.

We’ve got two proposed types. Autogynephilic trans women are attracted to women and in particular to being women, and transition for this reason. HSTS trans women are attracted to men, which is associated with femininity, and they are at the most extreme end of femininity here, giving them plenty of reason to transition.

This basic description matches a lot of people, but there’s also a lot of people who seem to be exceptions. A main kind of exception relevant to meta-attraction is later-transitioning, non-feminine trans women whose primary sexual fantasies have been about having sex with men as women.

When we encounter this sort of exception, there are multiple options. We can throw our framework away. We can try to expand the framework with a new type. Or, we can try to fit the exception under consideration into the current framework. There’s also a fourth option, of calling the exception and outlier and refusing to take them into consideration. This is very useful in practice, but if your primary goal is to understand things better then it’s important to examine exceptions to your current model closer.

The problem with throwing the framework away is that I have yet to see any alternate model which explains transness as well as the AGP/HSTS typology does.

Expanding the typology might instead sound like the right choice. However, a big part of the strength of your model is what you predict won’t happen. A model that allows everything is worthless. Trying to fit it into your model can also lead to similar problems, so it should also be done with care. However, in this case, I think it’s the right choice.

The proposed explanation of meta-attraction is that the attraction to men doesn’t come from androphilia, but instead from an autogynephilic desire to be seen as an attractive woman who has sex with men in the way women usually have sex. Is it unreasonable to have this as an element of autogynephilia?

I don’t think so. In my experience, a lot of AGP porn includes these sorts of elements. I’ve talked to straight AGP trans women whose porn turned out to focus more on being-a-girl-who-has-heterosexual-sex than on the actual having-sex-with-men part (e.g. by using porn targeted at straight men, which focuses more on the woman and mostly leaves out the man from the image). I’ve also personally experienced weak degrees of meta-attraction.

Meta-attraction seems to both explain how the proposed group of exceptions match the AGP description, and also seems to be applicable to other contexts. For example, some might be bisexual instead of exclusively androphilic, which makes sense if meta-attraction and allogynephilia exist together.

What Do I Mean By Dysphoria?

In my surveys, one thing I’m interested in is whether people experience gender dysphoria. This is something that comes up in lots of things that I’m wondering about, such as what differentiates people with dysphoria from people who merely want to be the opposite sex, or how common it is to have or eventually develop dysphoria.

Dysphoria is also something that a lot of people find more important than a mere intense desire to be the opposite sex. People tend to use it as justification for transitioning, and tend to be more sympathetic to this justification. Dysphoria seems to have a big influence on many of the negative things about being trans. The fact that most trans people seem to be or have been dysphoric also suggests that dysphoria is near-necessary for actually ending up transitioning (many more people seem to want to be the opposite sex than seem dysphoric about it, yet most trans people have experienced dysphoria). The changes in dysphoria over time is also important to think about, as it is a big danger for younger people. People who want to have non-transition treatment will probably care more about dealing with their dysphoria than non-dysphoric gender aspirations. All of this makes dysphoria relevant to think about.

What do I mean by dysphoria? Probably the biggest revealing factor is how I measure it: I look at traits which indicate psychological trouble, such as depression, anxiety, body image issues and just plain unhappiness. In addition, I also try to measure it more directly, by asking about satisfaction/dissatisfaction with being one’s assigned sex. If these seem to appear in conjunction with trans-related things (e.g. A*P), then that suggests that dysphoria is in play.

One pattern that I tend to notice is that there’s a lot more variance in desire to be the opposite sex than in dysphoria. That is, there’s a big gap between wanting to be the opposite sex, and feeling distressed about it. This leads to one of my big questions: what is the cause of this gap? And that’s a subject I’m likely going to write more about soon…