Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

BHTV: Yudkowsky / Robert Greene

13 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 November 2009 08:26PM

Latest Bloggingheads up with Robert Greene, bestselling author of The 48 Laws of Power and most recently The 50th Law ("Fear nothing").

Excellent commentary/summary by Andy McKenzie here.

The most important piece of advice I got from The 50th Law was "always attack before you are ready".

Comments (24)

Comment author: XFrequentist 17 November 2009 05:16:11AM *  13 points [-]

Greene - "No one can dispute that they're going to die."

E-Yud - *Flashes cryonics tag. "What what motherfucker?"

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 17 November 2009 05:36:15AM 4 points [-]

(The last comment didn't happen, but the cryo tag flash did.)

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 18 November 2009 05:29:52AM 3 points [-]

(The last comment didn't happen, but the cryo tag flash did.)

Timecodes or it didn't happen.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 19 November 2009 01:01:14AM 8 points [-]
Comment author: luff 17 November 2009 06:29:57AM *  5 points [-]

With the disclaimer that I'm likely projecting to some extent here, I made this analysis. Hope it's not too offending, it is written with the purpose of having my misconceptions corrected.

Quick summary of what I found interesting.

1) EY asked Greene which he valued most: power or happiness. Greene chose power.

2) EY asked if Greene would imagine a society working if everyone lived after the laws in his book. Greene answered no, but that's not a problem, since most people won't.

3) Greene asked what would motivate people in the absence of the sense of urgency imposed by death.

EY said that people don't fear death, since if so, they would try to solve it. Greene countered with that they are so terrified about death that they get into denial and avoid thinking about death, and therefor don't show the rational behavior Robin Hanson said one should expect.

Greene, like everyone, makes his statements from his own perspective, in which death makes him feel an urgency to get things done. Life is limited, he wants to makes the most of it, and if he doesn't act now it will soon be too late. To make the most of life, he seeks power. One way to power is to use society, another is to become a great wielder of rationality. His path to rationality is to acknowledge death which he sees as inevitable, but in opposition to most people, refuse to become petrified by the fear of it. Therefor the 50th Law.

This combined with the first point seems to reveal a fundamental difference of perspective on the nature of meaning between Greene and EY. Greene accepts death while EY does not, and this makes their values different. I was surprised, but I guess it would make some sense if you don't die: Does EY put value on happiness in disregard of what it represent? Sure, happiness is nice, and there is really no meaning in spending all of your life depressed. But attaching meaning to happiness is a mistake.

Happiness is a reward we get when we reach goals we, or our biology, have set for ourselves. For a reductionist, happiness is just a bunch of chemical in our brains, that we soon will be able to synthesize without adverse effects. If there is inherent meaning to happiness, it would make sense to take a happy ever after pill and just stare at a wall for an eternity. I'm probably interpreting things too much, but don't know why one would ask that question otherwise.

As someone who accept death and wants to make the most of life, how does he measure his success? Greene does not strive for happiness, for he has seen that happy people are content people, who idles away in closed loops of work, food, TV, sleep, not examining their own existence.

From hearing about his book, it would seem he chose comparing himself to other people. Not by what they think about him, but how much more rich and different his life is in content.

Also, we might have found a likely source of bias here. At the end, EY and Greene seemed to agree that people avoid thinking about death because of the fear it invokes. How would this influence their relationship with rationality? If thinking rationally made them feel a deep stab of fear every time they did, Pavlov sez: they'd start avoiding it.

Greene's method to solve this is to accept death, while in the video EY said people can be made to confront death by presenting them with a viable option(in the short term, EY suggested cryonics), thereby making it less scary by giving people hope.

Comment author: CannibalSmith 18 November 2009 11:21:23AM 3 points [-]

Actually, there's still urgency when you're immortal. The kinds of fun you can have depend on the era. For example, competitive athletics may soon cease to be a competition of athletes and become a competition of genetic engineers. Being an athlete may soon become less fun or no fun at all. So even if you're immortal you may miss out on opportunities for having fun if you don't hurry up and win the Olympics while they still take place.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 November 2009 04:29:46AM *  0 points [-]

EY's reply to that whole happy pill thing: http://lesswrong.com/lw/xy/the_fun_theory_sequence/

Comment author: MichaelGR 17 November 2009 12:18:39AM *  5 points [-]

This BHTV episode probably has the distinction of being the introduction to transhumanism of many rap fans...

I thought it was one of your best ones so far, Eliezer.

"Always attack before you are ready" seems to be a mantra around Y Combinator/Hacker News, though they phrase it differently.

If I can make a small superficial suggestion (as someone who's had media training): Try to nod once in a while when the other person is talking (as in "Ah, yes. I'm listening."). As far as I know BHTV is just audio, so it might not feel natural (ie. we do this when talking face to face, but not when talking on the phone), but it will look more natural to viewers, and actually be less distracting than a very still person staring into the camera.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 17 November 2009 05:37:16AM 5 points [-]

I'll try to move a bit more. Actually, I was trying to move a bit more in this episode. It does feel unnatural to me, but I suppose I can comprehend that a still face is even more unnatural.

Comment author: CannibalSmith 18 November 2009 11:25:19AM *  2 points [-]

What, you don't see each other when you talk??

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 18 November 2009 01:49:09PM *  2 points [-]

Typically, BHTV participants are just looking into webcams while talking on the phone.

Comment author: CannibalSmith 18 November 2009 03:33:44PM 4 points [-]

... Why!?

Comment author: timtyler 18 November 2009 04:13:17PM 0 points [-]

Presumably partly because:


...is not trivial and has drawbacks.

Comment author: CannibalSmith 18 November 2009 04:43:58PM 1 point [-]

Who's running BHTV then? If they have any amount of resources they can make the process a "just push a button and, bam, you're on air, no special software besides Flash plugin needed". You know, like Ustream.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 18 November 2009 06:07:26PM *  1 point [-]

BHTV is a very low-overhead operation. My understanding is that they want to be able to set up a diavlog between any two people in the world by just mailing a box with a video recorder and a mic to the participants.

ETA: They also want the participants to be looking into the camera, not off to the side at a screen showing their interlocutor. (Of course, many participants just stare off into space anyway.) The goal is to have something like those interviews via satellite that you see on TV talk shows. On those shows, the interviewee is usually just looking into a camera and can't see their interviewer.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 18 November 2009 06:22:18PM 1 point [-]

Judging by the varying and often bad quality of video, they probably don't mail any video recorders, and by extension a microphone.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 18 November 2009 06:33:32PM *  1 point [-]

Mailing a mic and camera is the most that I've heard them mention doing. I guess that they usually just provide some video recording software, if necessary, and then wait to receive the separate video files from the participants. Then they stitch them together in post.

Comment author: duckduckMOO 18 March 2012 03:35:32PM 0 points [-]

I'll be sure to listen to rather than watch them in the future then.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 18 March 2012 03:38:03PM 2 points [-]

For what it's worth, these days they can sometimes see each other through some kind of Skype-like interface.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 17 November 2009 04:05:29AM *  2 points [-]

This was very good, I believe your best diavlog so far. You should probably find a topic and do another one with Greene (as far as BHTVs go).

I feel discussion about transhumanism was rushed, with many assertions not given a motivation (along fun theory/shut up and multiply). Maybe that's something to amplify in a next talk.

Comment author: roland 17 November 2009 01:37:01AM 1 point [-]

Great quote from Greene about how he writes/researches his books:

"if it takes 40 books to find the idea I'm going to read them" http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/23870?in=18:00&out=18:40.

Comment author: Laoch 06 January 2014 05:04:19PM 0 points [-]

Coming from the other the side what makes Robert Greene think I want to be pushed to do anything. I can imagine situations were a person is a road sweeper(no offence intended) then fully accepts their mortality and still stays a road sweeper.

Comment author: self-actualizing 17 November 2009 08:44:18PM 0 points [-]

I actually only got to see the first half of this, so I missed "always attack before you are ready." I like it, but how was it justified/explained?

Comment author: childofbaud 15 January 2010 06:27:22PM *  0 points [-]

I can't remember the exchange verbatim, but the way I interpreted it was as a way to cope with the analysis paralysis phenomenon that can occur when one is confronted with a lot of information.

According to Greene's quoted maxim, it is always advisable to act before all the data has been gathered (presumably because one can never gather all the data).