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Eliezer_Yudkowsky comments on Memetic Hazards in Videogames - Less Wrong

74 Post author: jimrandomh 10 September 2010 02:22AM

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Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 September 2010 03:48:04AM 135 points [-]

Have I ever remarked on how completely ridiculous it is to ask high school students to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives and give them nearly no support in doing so?

Support like, say, spending a day apiece watching twenty different jobs and then another week at their top three choices, with salary charts and projections and probabilities of graduating that subject given their test scores? The more so considering this is a central allocation question for the entire economy?

Comment author: Will_Newsome 10 September 2010 10:12:48PM 23 points [-]

At my high school the gifted program required a certain number of hours of internship at a company in the area, and indeed even those outside the gifted program were encouraged to meet with their counselors for advice on finding internships. 'Course, that program, along with AP classes, the arts, and half of science, was cut starting this school year. I think it's 'cuz Arizona realized that since they were already by far the worst state in the nation when it came to education they might as well heed the law of comparative advantage and allocate more resources to the harassment of cryonics institutions.

Comment author: dclayh 10 September 2010 10:57:40PM 12 points [-]

Indeed, some of us spend 9 more years in school to postpone this decision. (In case you were wondering, it doesn't help.)

Comment author: Morendil 10 September 2010 08:08:05AM *  10 points [-]

how completely ridiculous it is to ask high school students to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives

One common answer to that is to become a dropout, try a career or two to find out where your talents really lie, and then go for that. You can usually go back to school for an education when you've figured which one you need.

It doesn't even seem as if it would be very hard to build that right into the system. Doing it the artisanal way takes longer, generates more stress, loses more income.

Tentatively, thinking of my own experience, I'd point to the competitiveness of the system as the driving force. I had some smarts but school didn't suit me much. There were a bunch of things I was interested in - computers, AI, writing sci-fi, evolutionary biology - and I had no clear idea what I should do when I turned 18.

My parents' reasoning was "Most of your interests are scientific, so, the best way to keep your options open is to enrol in the top engineering schools, then you can have your pick of careers later". One problem with that is that these schools aren't a place for learning while you keep your options open. They are, basically, a sorting process, getting students to compete and ranking them so that they can eject the bottom tier, direct the middle tiers to various jobs and the top tier to yet another sorting process.

The material is taught more in video-game order than in the order which would optimize for deep comprehension - that's what turned me away from math. And only that material is taught which makes for an efficient sorting process.

Not that any of that is a new observation - "schools aren't about education".

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 10 September 2010 11:26:29AM 6 points [-]

From this point forward, I'm describing the past ten years of my life as "having taken the artisanal route".

Comment author: Aurini 10 September 2010 05:05:27PM 1 point [-]

I just call myself an 'autodidact'.

Comment author: Relsqui 14 September 2010 10:47:01AM 2 points [-]

One common answer to that is to become a dropout ... [and] go back to school for an education when you've figured which one you need.

Oh, hi. Didn't see you there describing my life. :)

Dropped out towards the end of high school, spent a lot of time unemployed or doing odd jobs, lived off other people, got sick of living off other people, and eventually woke up one morning and developed an idea about what I could do with my life that would fit my goals and suit what I'd learned about who I was (a picture which had changed a fair bit since high school). Long story short, I started college a few weeks ago. I'm trepidatious, because I haven't gotten along well with formal academics historically, but I've also never been there for me before. It's kind of a scary experiment, because I'm playing with real money (most of which isn't mine), but that's also an added incentive not to fail.

(The education I turned out to need to do what I want--if I've planned this out well--turns out to be in communications/language/linguistics. If I'd gone to college right after high school, I would probably have ended up in English or computer science.)

To her credit, the college counselor at my high school (in a mandatory appointment beore I dropped out), recommended that I take some time off, travel, and work before deciding if I wanted to go to college. I guess it was pretty clear from my record that putting me right back into a classroom the following fall wasn't going to be very productive.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 10 September 2010 07:22:38PM 0 points [-]

The material is taught more in video-game order than in the order which would optimize for deep comprehension - that's what turned me away from math.

Can you explain what you mean by this?

Comment author: Morendil 10 September 2010 07:43:20PM 6 points [-]

By "video-game" order I mean in an order which makes it increasingly challenging, as opposed to making it increasingly easy because built on more solid foundations.

For instance (as I dimly remember it), calculus was introduced as a collection of rules, of "things to memorize", rather than worked out from axiomatic principles. It was only later (and as an elective class) that I was introduced to non-standard analysis which provides a rigorous treatment of infinitesimals.

This may be a limitation of mine, but I can only approach math the way I approach coding - I have to know how each layer of abstraction is built atop the underlying one, I'm unable to accept things "on faith" and build upwards from something I don't understand deeply. I can't work with expositions that go "now here we need a crucial result that we cannot prove for now, you'll see the proof next year, but we're going to use this all through this year".

Comment author: DanielLC 12 September 2010 03:23:25AM 5 points [-]

Calculus is built on limits, not infinitesimals. At least, that's how it's normally defined. They both work, and neither was understood when calculus was discovered.

I think most people are fine using the tools without understanding the rules, and find that easier than learning the rules. Schools are built to teach the way that the majority learns best, as it's better than teaching the way that the minority learns best.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 10 September 2010 01:10:58PM 9 points [-]

Have I ever remarked on how completely ridiculous it is to ask high school students to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives and give them nearly no support in doing so?

Do we actually do that that much? The vast majority of high school students when I was in highschool had no idea what they wanted to do, and that was considered ok. Heck, a large fraction of people even when they were well into their undergraduate educations didn't know what they wanted to do and that was also considered ok. And as far as I can tell the general trend in high school education has been less emphasis on specific-job oriented classes as time has gone on.

Comment author: Relsqui 14 September 2010 10:32:32AM *  1 point [-]

The trend in reporting about education certainly seems to be that kids are being asked to specialize earlier and earlier--taking AP classes to prepare for majors, etc. Whether that corresponds to the actual advisement trends I couldn't tell you. I only went through it once.

Comment author: patrissimo 12 September 2010 04:30:03AM 12 points [-]

One possible solution is to have education financed by equity rather than loans, the third party who pays for your education does so in return for some share of future income. Besides the obvious effect of funding profitable education, this has the totally awesome side-effect of giving great incentive to an organization to figure out exactly how much each person's income will be increased by each job - which includes predicting salary, probability of graduating, future macro trends, etc.

The third party wouldn't have much incentive to predict what jobs will be most fun (only whether you will hate it so much you quit), but at least a big chunk of the problem would be solved. Personally I think the solution would involve "higher education is rarely worth it", and direct people towards vocational training or just getting a damn job. But I could be wrong - the great thing about a mechanism is that I don't have to be right about the results to know that it would make things more efficient :).

Comment author: [deleted] 29 May 2015 01:41:45PM 4 points [-]

This is called the income tax. So why doesn't the government do that?

Comment author: Morendil 10 September 2010 05:02:25PM *  4 points [-]
Comment author: NihilCredo 10 September 2010 10:57:48AM 4 points [-]

My high school used to organise a Saturday every year when they would invite their old alumni to come and tell any interested students about their academic and/or job experience. Lots of people would come, since it was a good chance to catch up and have a free quality lunch with their old friends and teachers (many of whom were friends too - it was a small, quality school).

The logistics and self-selection effect meant there was an overrepresentation of younger people who still lived in the area (usually working engineering, office, or teaching jobs), but it was still an extremely useful experience.

Comment author: RobinHanson 10 September 2010 10:05:59PM 3 points [-]

I suspect one reason for this is that many people hope to steer their kids into good career deals they understand especially well. Official competent training in who should pursue which careers threatens to eliminate this advantage.

Comment author: sark 12 September 2010 05:47:24AM 1 point [-]

Why won't parents trust the recommendations of official competent training, if it had a good track record?

Comment author: Baughn 24 September 2010 12:17:43PM 2 points [-]

Being a public good, it's quite likely to be biased towards what's good for society more than what's good for the individual kid. More so than the parents' advise would be, at any rate.

On the other hand, I'd expect to see them happy to have other people's kids steered in this manner.

Comment author: Kingreaper 14 December 2010 06:57:35PM 1 point [-]

If you know that a career is underfilled and overpaid, you can get your kid a job there.

If there's official competent training, then more people will be directed at the job, and the pay:effort disparity will disappear.

Comment author: sark 14 December 2010 07:17:47PM 0 points [-]

So parents can potentially do better. In the cases where the jobs they understand well are not underfilled or overpaid, shouldn't they trust official recommendations? Possibly parents could know enough relatives/friends to hear of at least one underfilled/overpaid job to make such cases rare.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 10 September 2010 02:16:39PM 8 points [-]

What we really need is a "brain plasticity in adulthood" pill. Because really the only reason we force these impossible choices on teens is that we're racing against their diminishing ability to learn.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 10 September 2010 02:51:16PM 15 points [-]

This argument may hold for things like languages or thinking habits, or other skills that take root early, but having tackled an undergrad maths syllabus at both ages 18 and 28, I've found an adult work ethic beats the pants off youthful 'plasticity' any day of the week. Any skillset mandatory to a specialised vocation will probably mostly be learned well into adulthood anyway.

Comment author: Spurlock 10 September 2010 02:57:56PM 7 points [-]

Why can't we have both? A plasticity pill wouldn't inherently destroy your work ethic. Having this useful ability, without the crippling shortcomings of youth (mostly various forms of inexperience, not to mention developmental/hormonal distractions) would be one hell of a combination.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 10 September 2010 03:34:27PM 8 points [-]

Well, at the moment we can't have both because brain plasticity pills don't currently exist. If someone asked me tomorrow to optimise the education system, "educate people at the point in their lives when that education would be most useful to them" would come considerably higher up the list than "invent brain plasticity pill".

Comment author: JulianMorrison 10 September 2010 03:49:12PM 0 points [-]

The win from skilled use of childhood plasticity maxes out at around 15 well-filled years of highly plastic learning. The win from a pill maxes out at a lifetime thereof. So if a pill were close to technologically plausible, it would be a much better use of effort.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 10 September 2010 04:22:04PM 3 points [-]

Assuming it's possible to get the 'plasticity' gains without a significant trade-off. Childhood brains are so flexible because they're still developing; concordantly they don't have a fully developed set of cognitive skills.

By way of analogy, concrete is very flexible in its infancy and very rigid in its adulthood. The usefulness it possesses when rigid is based on how well its flexibility is utilised early on. If you come up with a method to fine-tune the superstructure of a building on the fly later on in its lifetime, cool beans. If all you come up with is a way to revert the whole thing to unset concrete, I'd rather focus on getting the building right first time.

Comment author: JulianMorrison 10 September 2010 04:43:24PM 3 points [-]

Childhood brains are so flexible because they're still developing

Hmm. I don't trust that. It sounds too much like a just-so story.

What I know is that most species have a learning-filled childhood followed by an adulthood with little to learn.

I also know that evolution hates waste - it will turn a feature off if it isn't used. So if anything the relatively high human ability to learn in adulthood looks to me like neoteny.

Concrete is a poor analogy - rigidity is not an advantage to adult humans!

Comment author: b1shop 11 September 2010 12:05:32AM *  2 points [-]

I think rigidity fits well into the Aristotelian framework.

Too rigid and you hold fast to wrong ideas. Too plastic and you waste mental effort challenging truths that should have been established.

Yes, we don't want to be too rigid in our beliefs, but there's a high opportunity cost to mental thought. I've run into too many hippies who are "open-minded" about whether or not 1=1. We have to internalize some beliefs as true to focus on other things.

I worry some in this community are so used to getting others to reconsider false beliefs they forget there's sometimes a good reason to sometimes have rigid beliefs. Reversed stupidity is not intelligence.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 July 2012 11:16:18AM *  2 points [-]

By the way, if I recall correctly, in the proverb "a rolling stone gathers no moss", moss was originally intended to be a good thing, but most people now take it to be a bad thing.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 10 September 2010 06:57:08PM -2 points [-]

In what way does it sound like a just-so story?

Re: rigidity and humans, I suspect you would find it very difficult if you continued to adjust your speech patterns to accomodate every irregular use of the English language you'd heard since the day you were born. Your ability to rapidly learn language stopped for a reason. In that sense, rigidity is pretty advantageous.

Comment author: komponisto 11 September 2010 04:24:23AM *  11 points [-]

I suspect you would find it very difficult if you continued to adjust your speech patterns to accomodate every irregular use of the English language you'd heard since the day you were born. Your ability to rapidly learn language stopped for a reason.

I'm tempted to call this a just-not-so story.

Not only do I disagree with the general point (about "rigidity" being advantageous), but my sense is that language is probably one of the worst examples you could have used to support this position.

It strikes me as wrong on at least 4 different levels, which I shall list in increasing order of importance:

(1) I don't think it would be particularly difficult at all. (I.e. I see no advantage in the loss of linguistic ability.)

(2) People probably do continue to adjust their speech patterns throughout their lives.

(3) Children do not "accommodate every irregular use [they have] heard since the day [they] were born". Instead, their language use develops according to systematic rules.

(4) There is a strong prior against the loss of an ability being an adaptation -- by default, a better explanation is that there was insufficient selection pressure for the ability to be maintained (since abilities are usually costly).

So, unless you're basing this on large amounts of data that I don't know about, I feel obliged to wag my finger here.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 14 December 2010 06:03:49PM 2 points [-]

Come to think of it, beating the pants off youthful plasticity accounted for why I didn't do a lot of studying in college.

More seriously: yeah, IME the idea that 18-year-olds are more able to learn than 30-year-olds is mostly a socially constructed self-fulfilling prophecy.

Comment author: Kingreaper 14 December 2010 06:50:58PM *  4 points [-]

I often think that more of pre-adult education should be about teaching people how to put effort into things, and a good work ethic, rather than just facts.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 May 2015 01:51:26PM *  1 point [-]

A thousand THIS. Learning the same or similar things 30+ is far easier, as I don't only have a better work ethic, but I also have the practical experience to actually understand theoretical things that looked bullshit to me when I was 20.

Definitely practice, experience should be given before teaching theory, not after. Work on something, follow rules, also experiment with not following rules and fuck a bit up, and then people get curious and actually listen when you tell them why exactly the rules work.

It differs per country, but I think most ones the worst thing about education as a global average is that the majority of it is simply classification. Our average music class was preparing for tests like "name 5 brass instruments". The whole idea is that you know such categories, classes, like how brass instruments are a subset of aerophones and consist of two subsets, valve brass and sliding brass and for extra points you can also call them labrosones. This is more than just the teachers password, it is the whole philosopy that knowledge equals classification of words while you have no idea how a mellophone sounds... I think this is why I hated education, this is its worst part. However I have heard that in English-speaking countries this kind of thing is less bad, there is more hands-on experience going on.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 May 2015 12:14:44PM 0 points [-]

It is not at all clear that their goal is to match every student with their dream job. If for example society needs a lot of jobs done that are not fun, it is possible that they decided better not to tell to young people too loudly that they are not fun. Tell them they safe careers.