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HalFinney comments on The Hero With A Thousand Chances - Less Wrong

63 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 31 July 2009 04:25AM

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Comment author: HalFinney 31 July 2009 10:09:15PM 17 points [-]

I remember reading once about an experiment that was said to make rats superstitious.

These rats were used in learning experiments. They would be put into a special cage and they'd have to do something to get a treat. Maybe they'd have to push a lever, or go to a certain spot. But they were pretty good at learning whatever they had to do. They were smart rats. They knew the score, they knew what the cage was for.

So they did a new experiment, where they put them into the training cage as usual. But instead of what they did bringing the treat, they always got a treat exactly 30 seconds after going into the cage. This continued for a while, and what happened was the rats each learned an individual behavior to bring the treat. One would go to a corner, another would turn in circles, another would stand up on its hind feet. And sure enough, the treat came. Their trick worked.

I imagine the society in Eliezer's story had something similar happen. Given the anthropic effect we are postulating, they don't actually have to do anything - a certain fraction of the worlds will get lucky and survive. But after it happens a few times, the survivors may well assume that what they were doing at the time their "luck" arrived was causative. In this case, they had a hero who seemed to get lucky. Maybe several heroes. And then somewhere they got the idea of summoning them from other worlds. After all, if they need a lucky hero to save them, they should get the luckiest heroes they can find. (I wonder what this hero had done to earn their selection?)

But there would be just as many other worlds, even instances of the exact same world, which have developed their own superstitions about what defeats the evil. They each carry out their rituals, and in each case, it works - for the survivors. We just choose to eavesdrop on a world which had a particularly interesting and amusing superstition.

Comment author: CronoDAS 01 August 2009 04:05:07AM *  5 points [-]

On the other hand, for all we know, since the laws of physics in this universe allow for magic, the spell might actually do what the Council thinks it does - summons a hero who brings along the proper kind of luck for getting through the current crisis.

"I summon Deus Ex Machina!"

I know what Eliezer intended the story to mean, but narrative causality seems like a more likely culprit than the anthropic principle for this particular world's survival. Considering this is a world in which the events of Lord of the Rings actually happened, if I were the hero, I'd be assuming that there's a writer of some kind involved.

Comment author: HalFinney 01 August 2009 04:32:50AM 4 points [-]

I thought maybe we were hearing about the LOTR story through something like the chronophone - the translation into English also translated the story into something analogous for us.

Comment author: Peter_de_Blanc 31 July 2009 10:58:15PM 11 points [-]

Given the anthropic effect we are postulating, they don't actually have to do anything - a certain fraction of the worlds will get lucky and survive.

No, the fraction of worlds which "get lucky and survive" is determined by the strategies the people use.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 August 2009 10:47:01AM *  1 point [-]

But there would be just as many other worlds, even instances of the exact same world, which have developed their own superstitions about what defeats the evil. They each carry out their rituals, and in each case, it works - for the survivors. We just choose to eavesdrop on a world which had a particularly interesting and amusing superstition.

It's a fascinating anecdote, but not relevant. They did everything they could to combat the overwhelming odds. And the anthropic principle suggests that we should expect to find ourselves in a world that does just that. Particularly when facing an enemy that learns from its failures. As Peter alludes to, those worlds that don't do something remarkable yet still manage to survive would be sliced incredibly thin.