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XFrequentist comments on Recommended reading for new rationalists - Less Wrong

27 Post author: XFrequentist 09 July 2009 07:47PM

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Comment author: XFrequentist 09 July 2009 07:48:56PM 16 points [-]
Comment author: Wei_Dai 13 July 2009 02:23:25AM 6 points [-]

There seem to be few reviews of this book, and almost no citations to it in Google Scholar. I found one review at http://www.bayesianinvestor.com/blog/index.php/2009/04/28/good-and-real/. Quoting from it:

He uses a concept which he calls a subjunctive relation, which is intermediate between a causal relation and a correlation, to explain why a choice that seems to happen after its goal has been achieved can be rational. That is the part of his argument that I find unconvincing. The subjunctive relation behaves a lot like a causal relation, and I can’t figure out why it should be treated as more than a correlation unless it’s equivalent to a causal relation.

I'm having trouble understanding it too. And it concerns me that neither the evidentialist camp nor the causalist camp seem to see a need to rebut or comment on Drescher's ideas.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 15 July 2009 10:12:21AM 3 points [-]

Also, chapter 7, "Deriving Ought From Is", doesn't take into account an important difference between Newcomb's Problem and One-Shot Prisoner's Dilemma that I pointed out at http://lesswrong.com/lw/6r/newcombs_problem_vs_oneshot_prisoners_dilemma/. I think this is a fatal flaw for Drescher's argument.

Comment author: lukeprog 15 May 2011 01:51:18PM 1 point [-]

Thank you for these comments. I've been meaning to go through Drescher with a fine-toothed comb and write a review, but I'll probably never have time.

Comment author: XFrequentist 11 July 2009 04:34:03PM *  4 points [-]

A simply flabberghasting defence of non-nihilistic materialism. This is the book I know that deals with the highest proportion of topics of general interest here; as the title claims, it really does span from physics to ethics. It is an absolute delight, and a wonderful example of how far clear thinking can take one in dispelling confusion.

Comment author: SilasBarta 13 July 2009 02:35:44PM 5 points [-]

I'm now in the middle of chapter 3, a really interesting demystification of Loschmidt's paradox (though it does not mention it by name), which is the question of how there can be an apparent "direction" to time in a universe with time-symmetric physics.

Like in my previous comment, I'm a bit frustrated that Drescher avoids introducing standard terminology when making his point. For example, he's using the concept of mutual information in his explanation, but he goes to great lengths to avoid using the term, even though it would make his explanation easier to follow and connect to existing literature.

Still satisfied though. I think I'll write a review and summary for LW.

Comment author: lukeprog 15 May 2011 01:59:34PM 1 point [-]

Please do!

Comment author: SilasBarta 16 May 2011 05:34:58PM 0 points [-]

Thanks. I see you already saw my other comment with the expanded verion, but for those who can't wait for the expanded and polished version, go here.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 11 July 2009 06:08:41PM 5 points [-]

Yep. It's practically Less Wrong in book form.

Comment author: lukeprog 15 May 2011 01:57:40PM 3 points [-]

Do you have any thoughts on Wei Dai's criticisms above?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 May 2011 08:33:18PM 7 points [-]

"And it concerns me that neither the evidentialist camp nor the causalist camp seem to see a need to rebut or comment on Drescher's ideas."

Doesn't concern me in even the tiniest, most infinitesimal amount. Remind me to post on the rationalist virtue of zs'hanh at some point.

Difference between PD and one-shot Newcomb: Agree the incentives are different; agree that the logical structure of the problem is potentially more complicated because of that; suggest that the decision to expend cognitive resources searching for a way to defect could be treated as a defection or a probabilistic defection itself.

Drescher on subjunctives - I agree, this strikes me more as Drescher trying to make partial progress toward a solution than presenting something well-defined in a logical sense. I'm not sure Drescher would disagree with that.

I've spoken to Drescher at length and I think he's trying to derive way too much "ought" from TDT, to the point of thinking TDT yields morality itself.

That said, "Good and Real" is still the reductionist book for now.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 16 May 2011 02:04:01AM 3 points [-]

Doesn't concern me in even the tiniest, most infinitesimal amount. Remind me to post on the rationalist virtue of zs'hanh at some point.

According to the provided link, zs'hanh means "contemptuous indifference to the activity of others". I'm not sure how that's supposed to apply here, since the entire subject of discussion is the activity of others (namely, Gary Drescher's writings).

If what you mean is that I should have tried to evaluate his ideas on the object level instead of depending on the opinion of others, I did say that I was unable to make sense of his subjunctive relation. Given that, it doesn't seem wrong to check if anyone else could make sense of it and be concerned that no one apparently could.

Drescher on subjunctives - I agree, this strikes me more as Drescher trying to make partial progress toward a solution than presenting something well-defined in a logical sense. I'm not sure Drescher would disagree with that.

He has told me that he now regards the decision theory approach in "Good and Real" (as well as the newer "meta-circular" approach) as inadequate and has recently been "rebooting" his thinking in order to try to find the right approach from a fresh perspective. (He seems to think that UDT is more promising but may not be the right approach either.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 May 2011 02:27:36AM 0 points [-]

According to the provided link, zs'hanh means "contemptuous indifference to the activity of others". I'm not sure how that's supposed to apply here, since the entire subject of discussion is the activity of others (namely, Gary Drescher's writings).

Not those others.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 17 May 2011 09:53:35AM 7 points [-]

You'll have to write that post and explain what heuristics you use to decide who to pay attention to. I think I'm actually relatively good at this (for example I've been following your career ever since "Staring into the Singularity" :) but I wasn't particularly impressed with Drescher until I met him in person.

Comment author: gwern 07 October 2009 02:00:54AM 3 points [-]

I just finished reading it a few weeks ago; when I reached the end, I wondered whether Drescher should sue all of us for intellectual plagiarism, or the other way around!

Comment author: gwern 07 October 2009 02:03:43AM 0 points [-]

A simply flabberghasting defence of non-nihilistic materialism.

non-nihilistic materialism? You must be reading the ending differently from me; I found one of the most interesting parts his attempt to argue that existence is a useless concept and that other possible universes are just as real.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 07 October 2009 02:21:51AM 2 points [-]

Non-morally-nihilistic, I suspect.

Comment author: XFrequentist 07 October 2009 02:50:40AM 0 points [-]

That is the correct interpretation.

Comment author: gwern 07 October 2009 02:44:01AM 0 points [-]

The reasonable interpretation; he could've said instead 'non-solipsistic materialism' or something.

But then, I'm not sure whether denying that existing, well, exists, is nihilism or solipsism (in European philosophy, nihilism is usually with regard to ethics, but in Buddhist philosophy, nihilism is often the word used to translate positions claiming that nothing whatsoever exists, not even perceptions or the atoms/'karmas' of the Hinayanists).

Comment author: Jack 07 October 2009 05:55:43AM *  1 point [-]

The word nihilism can be attached to different adjectives to explain what is being denied. Thus there is ethical nihilism, existential nihilism, epistemological nihilism, metaphysical nihilism etc. By itself it is usually taken to refer to ethical or existential nihilism (that there is no purpose to life).

Comment author: SilasBarta 12 July 2009 05:32:32AM 0 points [-]

I was just reading chapter 2 (which I did not get online and which I won't tell you how to get online if you private message me by clicking on my name and then the "send message" button), and I was pleasantly surprised to find that in pages 51 through 59, Drescher makes a more elaborate version of the point I made here although, frustratingly, without using the term "isomorphism".

Comment author: SilasBarta 11 July 2009 05:00:55PM 0 points [-]

Someone put it online. Don't message me asking for the location. That would be piracy, wouldn't it?