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Mercurial comments on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) - Less Wrong

42 Post author: orthonormal 12 August 2010 01:08AM

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Comment author: Mercurial 13 May 2011 12:35:50AM *  11 points [-]

PART 2 (part 1 here):

I had the pleasure of meeting Eliezer in January 2010 at a conference for young cryonicists. At the time I thought he was just a really sharp Enneagram type Five who had a lot of clever arguments for a materialist worldview. Well, I guess I still think that's true in a way! But at the time I didn't put much stock in materialism for a few different reasons:

  • I've had a number of experiences that most self-proclaimed skeptics insist are a priori impossible and that therefore I must be either lying or deluded. I could pinpoint some phenomena I was probably deluded about, and I suspect there are still some, but I've had some experiences that usually get classified as "paranormal" that are just way too specific, unusual, and verified to be chance best as I can tell. And I'm under the impression that these effects are pretty well-known and scientifically well-verified, even if I have no clue how to reconcile them with the laws of physics. But I've found that arguing with most die-hard materialists about these things is about as fruitful as trying to converse with creationists about biology. They know they're right, and as far as they're concerned, one either agrees with them or is just stupid/deluded/foolish/thinking wishfully/worthless/bad. I don't have much patience for conversation with people who are more interested in proving that I'm wrong than they are in discovering the truth.
  • It seemed to me that the hard problem of consciousness probably came from assuming materialism. Since it's such a confusing problem and I was pretty sure that we can be more confident that we experience than that experience is a result of something more basic, it seemed to me sensible to consider that consciousness might the foundation from which the laws of physics emerge. (Yes, I'm aware that this sounds very much like a common confusion about quantum mechanics, but what I was thinking at the time was more basic than that. I was distinguishing between consciousness and the conscious mind. I'm not so sure anymore that this makes sense, though, since the mind is responsible for structuring experience, and I'm not sure what consciousness without an object (i.e. being conscious without being conscious of something) would mean.) But even if consciousness weren't the foundation, I was pretty sure at the time that materialism didn't have even an in-principle plausible approach to the hard problem. At the time, that seemed like a pretty basic issue since, without exception, all of our evidence that materialism is consistent comes from conscious experience (or at least I lack the imagination to know how we could possibly have evidence we use and know that we can trust but that we aren't aware of!).

But I've always tried to cultivate a willingness to be wrong even if I haven't always been as good at that as I would like. So when it became clear to me that Eliezer scoffed at the idea that the hard problem of consciousness might be fundamentally different than other scientific challenges, I asked him if he'd be willing to explain to me what his take was on the matter. He pointed me toward his zombie sequence since he understandably didn't want to take the time to explain something he had already put effort into writing down.

About a month later, I finally read that sequence. That had the interesting effect of undermining a lot of mystical thinking that had taken refuge behind the hard problem of consciousness, so I was really intrigued to read what else Eliezer had put together here. For reasons that would quite a while for me to explain, I quickly became really hesitant to read more than a small handful of LW articles at a time, and I wasn't sure I really wanted to become part of the community here. So I just sort of watched from the sidelines for a long time, occasionally seeing something about "Friendly AI" and "existential risk" and other similar snippets.

So I eventually started looking into those things.

I learned that there's a great deal of hunger for help in these areas.

And I realized that I had been an utter fool.

I have sat complacently on the sidelines entirely too long. It has become clear to me that we need less preparation and more action. So I am now stepping up to take action.

I'm here to do what I can henceforth for the future. I'm starting by plugging into the community here and continuing to refine my rationality to what extent I can, in the aim of solving what heady problems I can. (One that's still close to my heart is finding effective ways of eradicating deathism. I've actually encountered some surprisingly promising directions on this.) Once I've had a chance to attend at least one of the meetups (as I had to abandon the one after Anna's talk for personal reasons), I hope to encourage some regular meetups in the San Diego area (at least as long as I don't drive everyone here nuts!). Beyond that, I'll have to see where this goes; I'm not sure any of what I've just named is the most strategic boon I can offer, but it's a start and it seems very likely to quickly steer me in the best direction.

Of course, suggestions are welcome. I'm interested in doing what I can to eradicate the horror of death and exalt a wonderful future, and if that means I need to change course drastically, so be it.

I look forward to working with all of you.

Thank you for reading!