The full quote is "Imagine, for example, that there existed a devoted band of crackpots who believed, for complicated, impossible-to-pin-down reasons of topology and geometric algebra, that triangles actually have five corners."
Scott Aaronson goes on to explain why he gave up trying to have a rational (i.e. reason-based) discussion with a particular crackpot. It's both amusing and depressing; you can find it here.
But I hadn’t actually studied Joy’s “work” at a technical level. Well, yesterday I finally did, and I confess that I was astonished by what I found. Before, I’d actually given Joy some tiny benefit of the doubt—possibly misled by the length and semi-respectful tone of the papers refuting his claims. I had assumed that Joy’s errors, though ultimately trivial (how could they not be, when he’s claiming to contradict such a well-understood fact provable with a few lines of arithmetic?), would nevertheless be artfully concealed, and would require some expertise in geometric algebra to spot. I’d also assumed that of course Joy would have some well-defined hidden-variable model that reproduced the quantum-mechanical predictions for the Bell/CHSH experiment (how could he not?), and that the “only” problem would be that, due to cleverly-hidden mistakes, his model would be subtly nonlocal.
What I actually found was a thousand times worse: closer to the stuff freshmen scrawl on an exam when they have no clue what they’re talking about but are hoping for a few pity points. It’s so bad that I don’t understand how even Joy’s fellow crackpots haven’t laughed this off the stage.Update (May 11): A commenter pointed me to a beautiful preprint by James Owen Weatherall, which tries sympathetically to make as much sense as possible out of Joy Christian’s ideas, and then carefully explains why the attempt fails (long story short: because of Bell’s theorem!). Notice the contrast between the precision and clarity of Weatherall’s prose—the way he defines and justifies each concept before using it—and the obscurity of Christian’s prose.These crackpots couldn’t be persuaded by rational argument—indeed, they didn’t even use words and sentences the same way you do, to convey definite meaning. And crucially, they had infinite energy: you could argue with them for weeks, and they would happily argue back, until you finally threw up your hands in despair for all humanity, at which point the crackpots would gleefully declare, “haha, we won! the silly ‘triangles have 3 corners’ establishment cabal has admitted defeat!” And, in a sense, they would have won: with one or two exceptions, the vast majority who know full well how many corners a triangle has simply never showed up to the debate, thereby conceding to the 5-cornerists by default.