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What I've learned from Less Wrong

79 Post author: Louie 20 November 2010 12:47PM

Related to: Goals for which Less Wrong does (and doesn’t) help

I've been compiling a list of the top things I’ve learned from Less Wrong in the past few months. If you’re new here or haven’t been here since the beginning of this blog, perhaps my personal experience from reading the back-log of articles known as the sequences can introduce you to some of the more useful insights you might get from reading and using Less Wrong.

1. Things can be correct - Seriously, I forgot. For the past ten years or so, I politely agreed with the “deeply wise” convention that truth could never really be determined or that it might not really exist or that if it existed anywhere at all, it was only in the consensus of human opinion. I think I went this route because being sloppy here helped me “fit in” better with society. It’s much easier to be egalitarian and respect everyone when you can always say “Well, I suppose that might be right -- you never know!”

2. Beliefs are for controlling anticipation (Not for being interesting) - I think in the past, I looked to believe surprising, interesting things whenever I could get away with the results not mattering too much. Also, in a desire to be exceptional, I naïvely reasoned that believing similar things to other smart people would probably get me the same boring life outcomes that many of them seemed to be getting... so I mostly tried to have extra random beliefs in order to give myself a better shot at being the most amazingly successful and awesome person I could be.

3. Most peoples' beliefs aren’t worth considering - Since I’m no longer interested in collecting interesting “beliefs” to show off how fascinating I am or give myself better odds of out-doing others, it no longer makes sense to be a meme collecting, universal egalitarian the same way I was before. This includes dropping the habit of seriously considering all others’ improper beliefs that don’t tell me what to anticipate and are only there for sounding interesting or smart.

4. Most of science is actually done by induction - Real scientists don’t get their hypotheses by sitting in bathtubs and screaming “Eureka!”. To come up with something worth testing, a scientist needs to do lots of sound induction first or borrow an idea from someone who already used induction. This is because induction is the only way to reliably find candidate hypotheses which deserve attention. Examples of bad ways to find hypotheses include finding something interesting or surprising to believe in and then pinning all your hopes on that thing turning out to be true.

5. I have free will - Not only is the free will problem solved, but it turns out it was easy. I have the kind of free will worth caring about and that’s actually comforting since I had been unconsciously ignoring this out of fear that the evidence appeared to be going against what I wanted to believe. Looking back, I think this was actually kind of depressing me and probably contributing to my attitude that having interesting rather than correct beliefs was fine since it looked like it might not matter what I did or believed anyway. Also, philosophers failing to uniformly mark this as “settled” and move on is not because this is a questionable result... they’re just in a world where most philosophers are still having trouble figuring out if god exists or not. So it’s not really easy to make progress on anything when there is more noise than signal in the “philosophical community”. Come to think of it, the AI community and most other scientific communities have this same problem... which is why I no longer read breaking science news anymore -- it's almost all noise.

6. Probability / Uncertainty isn’t in objects or events - It’s only in minds. Sounds simple after you understand it, but I feel like this one insight often allows me to have longer trains of thought now without going completely wrong.

7. Cryonics is reasonable - Due to reading and understanding the quantum physics sequence, I ended up contacting Rudi Hoffman for a life insurance quote to fund cryonics. It’s only a few hundred dollars a year for me. It’s well within my budget for caring about myself and others... such as my future selves in forward branching multi-verses.


There are countless other important things that I've learned but haven't documented yet. I find it pretty amazing what this site has taught me in only 8 months of sporadic reading. Although, to be fair, it didn't happen by accident or by reading the recent comments and promoted posts but almost exclusively by reading all the core sequences and then participating more after that.

And as a personal aside (possibly some others can relate): I still love-hate Less Wrong and find reading and participating on this blog to be one of the most frustrating and challenging things I do. And many of the people in this community rub me the wrong way. But in the final analysis, the astounding benefits gained make the annoying bits more than worth it.

So if you've been thinking about reading the sequences but haven't been making the time do it, I second Anna’s suggestion that you get around to that. And the rationality exercise she linked to was easily the single most effective hour of personal growth I had this year so I highly recommend that as well if you're game.

 

So, what have you learned from Less Wrong? I'm interested in hearing others' experiences too.

Comments (230)

Comment author: cousin_it 20 November 2010 06:17:16PM *  31 points [-]

LW has helped me a lot. Not in matters of finding the truth; you can be a good researcher without reading LW, as the whole history of science shows. (More disturbingly, you can be a good researcher of QM stuff, read LW, disagree with Eliezer about MWI, have a good chance of being wrong, and not be crippled by that in the least! Huh? Wasn't it supposed to be all-important to have the right betting odds?) No; for me LW is mostly useful for noticing bullshit and cutting it away from my thoughts. When LW says someone's wrong, we may or may not be right; but when LW says someone's saying bullshit, we're probably right.

I believe that Eliezer has succeeded in creating, and communicating through the Sequences, a valuable technique for seeing through words to their meanings and trying to think correctly about those instead. When you do that, you inevitably notice how much of what you considered to be "meanings" is actually yay/boo reactions, or cached conclusions, or just fine mist that dissolves when you look at it closely. Normal folks think that the question about a tree falling in the forest is kinda useless; nerdy folks suppress their flinch reaction and get confused instead; extra nerdy folks know exactly why the question is useless. Normal folks don't let politics overtake their mind; concerned folks get into huge flamewars; but we know exactly why this is counterproductive. I liked reading Moldbug before LW. Now I find him... occasionally entertaining, I guess?

Better people than I are already turning this into a sort of martial art. Look at Yvain cutting down ten guys with one swoop, and then try to tell me LW isn't useful!

Comment author: Vladimir_M 21 November 2010 09:21:03AM *  25 points [-]

cousin_it:

Normal folks don't let politics overtake their mind; concerned folks get into huge flamewars; but we know exactly why this is counterproductive.

Trouble is, the question still remains open: how to understand politics so that you're reasonably sure that you've grasped its implications on your personal life and destiny well enough? Too often, LW participants seem to me like they take it for granted that throughout the Western world, something resembling the modern U.S. regime will continue into indefinite future, all until a technological singularity kicks in. But this seems to me like a completely unwarranted assumption, and if it turns out to be false, then the ability to understand where the present political system is heading and plan for the consequences will be a highly valuable intellectual asset -- something that a self-proclaimed "rationalist" should definitely take into account.

Now, for full disclosure, there are many reasons why I could be biased about this. I lived through a time and place -- late 1980s and early 1990s in ex-Yugoslavia -- where most people were blissfully unaware of the storm that was just beyond the horizon, even though any cool-headed objective observer should have been able to foresee it. My own life was very negatively affected by my family's inability to understand the situation before all hell broke loose. This has perhaps made me so paranoid that I'm unable to understand why the present political situation in the Western world is guaranteed to be so stable that I can safely forget about it. Yet I still have to see some arguments for this conclusion that would pass the standards that LW people normally apply to other topics.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 21 November 2010 05:42:06PM 14 points [-]

I agree with you on this, but honestly, its a difficult enough topic that semi-specialists are needed. Trying as a non-specialist to figure out how stable your political system is rather than trying to find a specialist you can trust will get you about as far as it would in law etc.

Comment author: wedrifid 30 November 2010 01:32:03AM 0 points [-]

Trickier than the 'how stable' question is that of what is likely to result from a failure. To the extent that such knowledge is missing the problem of what to do about it gains faint hints reminiscent of Pascal's Mugging.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 30 November 2010 12:22:44AM 0 points [-]

That sounds plausible, but should probably have a time frame added.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 November 2010 12:37:18PM 2 points [-]

Now, for full disclosure, there are many reasons why I could be biased about this.

With emphasis on "could be" as opposed to "am". Different past experiences leading to different conclusions isn't necessarily "bias". This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. I often see the naive, the inexperienced, quite often the young, dismiss the views of the more experienced as "biased" or by some broad synonym.

The implicit reasoning seems to be as follows: "Here is the evidence. The evidence plus a uniform prior distribution leads to conclusion A. Yet this person sees the evidence and draws conclusion B different from A. Therefore he is letting his biases affect his judgment."

One problem with the reasoning is that "the evidence" is not the (only) evidence. There is, rather, "evidence I'm aware of" and "evidence I'm not aware of but the other person might be aware of". It's entirely possible for that other evidence to be decisive.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 November 2010 10:11:05PM *  1 point [-]

Your comment is an instance of the "forcing fallacy" which really deserves a post of its own: claiming that we should spend resources on a problem because a lot of utility depends, or could depend, on the answer. There are many examples of this on LW, but to choose an uncontroversial one from elsewhere: why aren't more physicists working on teleportation? The general counter to the pattern is noting that problems may be difficult, and may or may not have viable attacks right now, so we may be better off ignoring them after all. I don't see a viable attack for applying LW-style rationality to political prediction, do you?

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 21 November 2010 10:35:42PM *  4 points [-]

The general counter to the pattern is noting that problems may be difficult, and may or may not have viable attacks right now, so we may be better off ignoring them after all.

This is valid where there are experts that can confidently estimate that there are no attacks. There are lots of expert physicists, so if steps towards teleportation were feasible, someone would've noticed. In case there are no experts to produce such confidence, correct course of action is to create them (perhaps from more general experts, by way of giving a research focus).

The rule "If it's an important problem, and we haven't tried to understand it, we should" holds in any case, it's just that in case of teleportation, we already did try to understand what we presently can, as a side effect of widespread knowledge of physics.

Comment author: Louie 21 November 2010 12:17:36AM 14 points [-]

(More disturbingly, you can be a good researcher of QM stuff, read LW, disagree with Eliezer about MWI, have a good chance of being wrong, and not be crippled by that in the least! Huh? Wasn't it supposed to be all-important to have the right betting odds?)

Saying that "Having incorrect views isn't that crippling, look at Scott Aaronson!" is a bit like saying "Having muscular dystrophy isn't that crippling, look at Stephen Hawking!" It's hard to learn much by generalizing from the most brilliant, hardest working, most diplomatically-humble man in the world with a particular disability. I know they're both still human, but it's much harder to measure how much incorrect views hurt the most brilliant minds. Who would you measure them against to show how much they're under-performing their potential?

Incidentally, knowing Scott Aaronson, and watching that Blogging Heads video in particular was how I found out about SIAI and Less Wrong in the first place.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 November 2010 05:39:53AM *  10 points [-]

How would Aaronson benefit from believing in MWI, over and above knowing that it's a valid interpretation?

Comment author: Louie 21 November 2010 01:08:13PM *  0 points [-]

Upvoted. This is definitely the right question to ask here... thanks for reminding me.

I hesitate to speculate on what gaps exist in Scott Aaronson's knowledge. His command of QM and complexity theory greatly exceed mine.

[...]

OK hesitation over. I will now proceed to impertinently speculate on possible gaps in Scott Aaronson's knowledge and their implications!

Assuming he still believes that collapse postulate theories of QM are equally plausible to Many Worlds, I could say that he might not appreciate the complexity penalty that collapse theories require... except Scott Aaronson is the Head Zookeeper of the Complexity Zoo! So he knows about complexity classes and calculating complexity of algorithms inside out. Perhaps this knowledge doesn't help him naturally calculate the informational complexity of the parts of scientific theories that are phrased in natural languages like English? I know my mind doesn't automatically do this and it's not a habit that most people have. Another possibility is that perhaps it's not obvious to him that Occam's razor should apply this broadly? So these would point to limitations in more fundamental layers of his scientific thinking ability. This could lead to him having trouble telling good new theories to spend time investigating from bad ones... or make forming compact representations for his own research findings more difficult. He consequently discovers less, more slowly, and describes what he discovers less well.

OK... wild speculation complete!

My actual take has always been that he probably understands things correctly in QM but is just exceedingly well-mannered and diplomatic with his academic colleagues. Even if he felt Many Worlds was now a more sound theory, he would probably avoid being a blow-hard about it. He doesn't need to ruffle his buddies' feathers -- he has to work with these guys, go to conferences with them, and have his papers reviewed by them. Also, he may know it's pointless to get others to switch to a new interpretation if they don't see the fundamental reason why it's right to switch. And the arguments needed to convince others have inference chains too long to present in most venues.

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 22 November 2010 11:31:18AM *  7 points [-]

Scott Aaronson is the Head Zookeeper of the Complexity Zoo! So he knows about complexity classes and calculating complexity of algorithms inside out. Perhaps this knowledge doesn't help him naturally calculate the informational complexity of the parts of scientific theories that are phrased in natural languages like English?

Just to be clear: there are two unrelated notions of "complexity" blurred together in the above comment. The Complexity Zoo discusses computational complexity theory -- it discusses how the run-time of an algorithm scales with algorithm's inputs (and thereby classes algorithms into P, EXPTIME, etc.).

Kolmogorov Complexity is unrelated: it is the minimum number of bits (in some fixed universal programming language) required to represent a given algorithm. Eliezer's argument for MWI rests on Komogorov complexity and has nothing to do with computational complexity theory.

I'm sure Scort Aarsonson is familiar with both, of course; I just want to make sure LWers aren't confused about it.

Comment author: XiXiDu 22 November 2010 11:45:51AM *  0 points [-]

Complexity is mentioned very often on LW but there is no post that works out the different notions?

Comment author: CarlShulman 22 November 2010 02:36:57PM *  3 points [-]
Comment author: timtyler 23 November 2010 09:10:01PM 0 points [-]
Comment author: wedrifid 20 November 2010 09:16:24PM 4 points [-]

No; for me LW is mostly useful for noticing bullshit and cutting it away from my thoughts. When LW says someone's wrong, we may or may not be right; but when LW says someone's saying bullshit, we're probably right.

I couldn't agree more. The "extra nerdy folks know exactly why the question is useless" theme is similarly incisive.

Comment author: XiXiDu 20 November 2010 07:49:32PM *  3 points [-]

I wonder if the main reason for why a post like Yvain's is upvoted is not because it is great but because everyone who reads it instantly agrees. Of course it is great in the sense that it sums up the issue in a very clear and concise manner. But has it really changed your mind? It seems naturally to me think that way, the post states what I always thought but was never able to express that clearly, that's why I like it. The problem is, how do we get people to read it who disagree? I've recently introduced a neuroscientist to Less Wrong via that post. He read it and agreed with everything. Then he said it's naive to think that this will be adopted any time soon. What he meant is that all this wit is useless if we don't get the right people to digest it. Not people like us who agree anyway, probably before ever reading that post in the first place.

Regarding Eliezers post I even have my doubts that it is very useful given confused nerdy folks. The gist of that post seems to be that people should pinpoint their disagreements before one talks at cross-purposes. But it gives the impression that propositional assertions do not yield sensory experience. Yet human agents are physical systems just as trees. If you tell them certain things you can expect certain reactions. I believe that article might be inconsistent with other assertions made in this community like taking logical implications of general beliefs serious. The belief that the decimal expansion of Pi is infinite will never pay rent in future anticipations.

I'm also skeptic about another point in the original post, namely that most people’s beliefs aren’t worth considering. This I believe might be conterproductive. Consider that most people express this attitude towards existential risks from artificial intelligence. So if you link up people to that one post, out of context and then they hear about the SIAI, what might they conclude if they take that post serious?

The point about truth is another problematic idea. I really enjoyed The Simple Truth, but in the light of all else I've come across I'm not convinced that truth is a useful term to adopt anywhere but in the most informal discussions. If you are like me and grew up in a religious environment you are told that there exist absolute truth. Then if you have your doubts and start to learn more you are told that skepticism is an epistemological position, and ‘there is no truth-there is truth’ are metaphysical/linguistic positions. When you learn even more and come across concepts like the uncertainty principle, Gödel's incompleteness theorems, halting problem or Tarski’s Truth Theorem the nature of truth becomes even more uncertain. Digging even deeper won't revive the naive view of truth either. And that is just the tip of the iceberg, as you will see once your learn about Solomonoff induction and Minimum Message Length.

ETA Fixed the formatting. My last paragraph was eaten before!

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 20 November 2010 07:59:10PM *  19 points [-]

I wonder if the main reason for why a post like Yvain's is upvoted is not because it is great but because everyone who reads it instantly agrees. Of course it is great in the sense that it sums up the issue in a very clear and concise manner. But has it really changed your mind?

That's how great arguments work: you agree with every step (and after a while you start believing things you didn't originally). The progress is made by putting such arguments into words, to be followed by other people faster and more reliably than they were arrived at, even if arriving at them is in some contexts almost inevitable.

Additionally, clarity offered by a carefully thought-through exposition isn't something to expect without a targeted effort. This clarity can well serve as the enabling factor for making the next step.

Comment author: shokwave 21 November 2010 09:59:06AM 6 points [-]

That's how great arguments work: you agree with every step (and after a while you start believing things you didn't originally).

And to avoid people giving in to their motivated cognition, you present the steps in order, and the conclusion at the end. To paraphrase Yudkowsky's explanation of Bayes Theorem:

By this point, conclusion may seem blatantly obvious or even tautological, rather than exciting and new. If so, this argument has entirely succeeded in its purpose.

This method of presenting great arguments is probably the most important thing I learned from philosophy, incidentally.

Comment author: patrissimo 15 December 2010 05:03:44AM 4 points [-]

"That's how great arguments work: you agree with every step (and after a while you start believing things you didn't originally)."

Also how great propaganda works.

If you are going to describe a "great argument" I think you need to put more emphasis on it being tied to the truth rather than being agreeable. I would say truly great arguments tend not to be agreeable, b/c the real world is so complex that descriptions without lots of nuance and caveats are pretty much always wrong. Whereas simplicity is highly appealing and has a low cognitive processing cost.

Comment author: shokwave 15 December 2010 06:54:04AM 2 points [-]

put more emphasis on it being tied to the truth rather than being agreeable.

Oh. I only agree with argument steps that are truthful.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 November 2010 01:39:03PM 4 points [-]

That's how great arguments work: you agree with every step (and after a while you start believing things you didn't originally).

There are nevertheless also conclusions that you agreed with all along. Sometimes hindsight bias makes you think you agreed all along when you really didn't. But other times you genuinely agreed all along.

You can skip to the end of Yvain's post (the one referenced here) and read the summary - assuming you haven't read the post already. Specifically, this statement: "We should blame and stigmatize people for conditions where blame and stigma are the most useful methods for curing or preventing the condition, and we should allow patients to seek treatment whenever it is available and effective." If you agree with this statement without first reading Yvain's argument for it, then that's evidence that you already agreed with Yvain's conclusions without needing to be led gradually step by step through his long argument.

Comment author: wedrifid 20 November 2010 09:18:54PM 5 points [-]

It seems naturally to me think that way, the post states what I always thought but was never able to express that clearly, that's why I like it

The best essays will usually leave you with that impression. As will the best teachers.

Comment author: David_Gerard 20 November 2010 10:08:06PM *  12 points [-]

Be careful. So will the less-than-best essays and teachers. It's a form of hindsight bias: you think this thing is obvious, but your thoughts were actually quite inchoate before that. A meme - particularly a parasitic meme - can get itself a privileged position in your head by feeding your biases to make itself look good, e.g. your hindsight bias.

When you see a new idea and you feel your eyes light up, that’s the time to put it in a sandbox - yes, thinking a meme is brilliant is a bias to be cautious of. You need to know how to take the thing that gave you that "click!" feeling and evaluate it thoroughly and mercilessly.

(I'm working on a post or two on the subject area of dangerous memes and what to do about them.)

Comment author: wedrifid 20 November 2010 10:57:38PM *  9 points [-]

Be careful. So will the less-than-best essays and teachers.

Less often. Learning bullshit is more likely to come with the impression that you are gaining sophistication. If something is so banal as to be straightforward and reasonable you gain little status by knowing it.

Yes, people have biases and believe silly things but things seeming obvious is not a bad sign at all. I say evaluate mercilessly those things that feel deep and leave you feeling smug that you 'get it'. 'Clicking' is no guarantee of sanity but it is better than learning without clicking.

Comment author: David_Gerard 20 November 2010 11:46:23PM *  5 points [-]

Yes, I suspect I'm being over-cautious having been thinking about memetic toxic waste quite a lot of late. This suggests that when I'm describing the scary stuff in detail, I'll have to take care not to actually scare people out of both neophilia and decompartmentalisation.

That said, I recall the time I was out trolling the Scientologists and watched someone's face light up that way as she was being sold a copy of Dianetics and a communication course. She certainly seemed to be getting that feeling. Predatory memes - they're rare, but they exist.

Comment author: wedrifid 21 November 2010 01:32:19AM 3 points [-]

That said, I recall the time I was out trolling the Scientologists and watched someone's face light up that way as she was being sold a copy of Dianetics and a communication course. She certainly seemed to be getting that feeling. Predatory memes - they're rare, but they exist.

Scary indeed. I suspect what we are each 'vulnerable' to will vary quite a lot from person to person.

Comment author: David_Gerard 21 November 2010 01:48:38AM *  13 points [-]

Yes. I do think that a particularly dangerous attitude to memetic infections on the Scientology level is an incredulous "how could they be that stupid?" Because, of course, it contains an implicit "I could never be that stupid" and "poor victim, I am of course far more rational". This just means your mind - in the context of being a general-purpose operating system that runs memes - does not have that particular vulnerability.

I suspect you will have a different vulnerability. It is not possible to completely analyse the safety of an arbitrary incoming meme before running it as root; and there isn't any such thing as a perfect sandbox to test it in. Even for a theoretically immaculate perfectly spherical rationalist of uniform density, this may be equivalent to the halting problem.

My message is: it can happen to you, and thinking it can't is more dangerous than nothing. Here are some defences against the dark arts.

[That's the thing I'm working on. Thankfully, the commonest delusion seems to be "it can't happen to me", so merely scaring people out of that will considerably decrease their vulnerability and remind them to think about their thinking.]

This sort of thing makes me hope that the friendly AI designers are thinking like OpenBSD-level security researchers. And frankly, they need Bruce Schneier and Ed Felten and Dan Bernstein and Theo deRaadt on the job. We can't design a program not to have bugs - just not to have ones that we know about. As a subset of that, we can't design a constructed intelligence not to have cognitive biases - just not to have ones that we know about. And predatory memes evolve, rather than being designed from scratch. I'd just like you to picture a superintelligent AI catching the superintelligent equivalent of Scientology.

Comment author: wedrifid 21 November 2010 10:18:20AM 6 points [-]

My message is: it can happen to you, and thinking it can't is more dangerous than nothing.

With the balancing message: Some people are a lot less vulnerable to believing bullshit than others. For many on lesswrong their brains are biassed relative to the population towards devoting resources to bullshit prevention at the expense of engaging in optimal signalling. For these people actively focussing on second guessing themselves is a dangerous waste of time and effort.

Sometimes you are just more rational and pretending that you are not is humble but not rational or practical.

Comment author: David_Gerard 21 November 2010 11:02:09AM *  1 point [-]

I can see that I've failed to convince you and I need to do better.

In my experience, the sort of thing you've written is a longer version of "It can't happen to me, I'm far too smart for that" and a quite typical reaction to the notion that you, yes you, might have security holes. I don't expect you to like that, but it is.

You really aren't running OpenBSD with those less rational people running Windows.

I do think being able to make such statements of confidence in one's immunity takes more detailed domain knowledge. Perhaps you are more immune and have knowledge and experience - but that isn't what you said.

I am curious as to the specific basis you have for considering yourself more immune. Not just "I am more rational", but something that's actually put it to a test?

Put it this way, I have knowledge and experience of this stuff and I bother second-guessing myself.

(I can see that this bit is going to have to address the standard objection more.)

Comment author: CronoDAS 21 November 2010 05:11:32AM 2 points [-]

Regarding Scientology, I had the impression that they usually portray themselves to those they're trying to recruit as being like a self-help community ("we're like therapists or Tony Robbins, except that our techniques actually work!") before they start sucking you into the crazy?

Comment author: wedrifid 21 November 2010 10:12:37AM 1 point [-]

Wait... did you just use Tony Robbins as the alternative to being sucked into the crazy?

Comment author: bbleeker 24 November 2010 12:53:37PM *  3 points [-]

(I'm working on a post or two on the subject area of dangerous memes and what to do about them.)

I'm very interested in that, I think I need it. I just read this article about Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, and I was like "what the hell is wrong with me, that I didn't see at least some of those points myself?" It really scared me, and made me wonder what other nonsense I believe in, that I ought to have seen through right away...

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 November 2010 04:24:51PM 6 points [-]

It might be worth doing some analysis on the authoritative voice (the ability to sound right), and I speak as someone who's been a CS Lewis, GK Chesterton, Heinlein, Rand, and Spider Robinson fan. At this point, I suspect it's a pathology.

Comment author: David_Gerard 26 November 2010 08:26:32PM 4 points [-]

Dude. AN ASSERTION IS PROVEN BY SOUNDING GOOD. It's a form of the Steve Jobs reality distortion superpower: come up with a viewpoint so compelling it will reshape people's perception of the past as well as the present.

(I must note that I'm not actually advocating this.)

Argument by assertion amusement from my daughter: "I'm running around the kitchen, but I'm not being annoying by running around the kitchen." An argument by assertion of rich depth, particularly from a three-year-old.

Comment author: ciphergoth 27 November 2010 02:18:02PM 1 point [-]

Did you ever get around to reading either of the papers I linked you to there btw?

Comment author: David_Gerard 27 November 2010 05:00:04PM *  -1 points [-]

Nuh. Still in the Pile(tm) with yer talk, which I have watched the first 5 min of ... I hate video so much.

Did you dislike your talk's content or your presentation? So far it looks like something that should be turned into a series of blog posts, complete with diagrams.

Comment author: ciphergoth 27 November 2010 05:08:17PM 0 points [-]

Neither really, it's the video itself I dislike. I've put the slides on Scribd, and I'm thinking of re-recording the soundtrack. Only trouble is, I'd have to watch the video first to remember what I said... and I hate video so much.

Comment author: Blueberry 28 March 2012 03:39:43AM 1 point [-]

This was over a year ago but I see that you're still around. I wanted to ask you more about this. How does Spider Robinson fit in with the others? I would also add Orwell, Kipling, and Christopher Hitchens. Maybe even Eliezer a bit.

A big part of it is that these authors talk about truth a lot and the harm of denying that it's there, and rail against and strawman other groups for refusing to accept the truth or even that truth exists.

What do you mean by a pathology? You think there was something wrong with those authors? Are you talking about overconfidence?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 March 2012 03:58:49AM 1 point [-]

Spider Robinson is very definite and explicit about how things ought to be. Unfortunately, he extends this to the idea that people who are worth knowing like good jazz, Irish coffee, and puns.

I meant that there may be a pathology at my end-- being so fond of the authoritative voice that I could be a fan of writers with substantially incompatible ideas, and not exactly notice or care.

Comment author: Blueberry 28 March 2012 04:58:12AM *  1 point [-]

I suspect you may be reading his exaggerated enthusiasm for these things as a blanket statement about people who aren't worth knowing. For instance, I might, in a burst of excitement, say that people who don't like the song Waterfall aren't worth talking to, but I wouldn't mean it literally. It would be a figure of speech.

For instance, in one of the Callahan books he states (in the voice of the author, not as a character, IIRC) that if he had a large sum of money he'd buy everyone in the US a copy of "Running, Jumping, Standing Still" on CD because it would make the world so much better. I read this as hyperbole for how much he likes that CD, and I don't take it literally.

I may be misremembering or have missed something in his writing, though.

As far as you liking the voice, I doubt it's a pathology. I feel the same way you do and it's not surprising to me that a lot of people would find that kind of objectivity and confidence appealing. It is a bias, if you confuse the pleasure of reading those writers with their actual ideas, but since I vehemently disagree with most of the above writers I'm not too worried about it. (Do you still read or like those writers?)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 March 2012 09:23:50AM *  1 point [-]

I recently started rereading Atlas Shrugged, and was having fun with it-- no matter what else, Rand created a world where interesting things happen. It was also interesting because some things have changed. Her bad guy rich people were bad because they were slack-- they weren't interested in running their businesses, they had barely enough energy to get government favors. The modern type who's energetically taking as much money as possible out of the business with the intent of going somewhere else is barely present.

I can't stand Robinson any more. The tone of "we're cooler than the mundanes" has revolted me to the point where even the milder earlier version gets on my nerves. It's possible that I should give Stardance another chance some time. It's also possible that the effects of Very Bad Dreams have faded. Robinson has a sadistic imagination.

Back when, I bought a copy of Running Jumping Standing Still when I happened to see it, and was annoyed to find that I liked it.

I reread "Magic, Inc." recently, and liked it very much. I haven't read much Lewis or Chesterton lately.

My concern about pathology is a suspicion that what I like is the comfort of being told what to think in a palatable way.

I obviously haven't completely lost my taste for didactic fiction.

Comment author: bbleeker 25 November 2010 03:11:55PM *  1 point [-]

Hm, I'm a fan of Heinlein too, I guess I'd better not start reading those others. ;p Any idea where I can look for clues about the 'authoritative voice'?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 March 2012 05:48:06AM 0 points [-]

That's odd. I've been a fan of Heinlein and Spider Robinson but never Rand or Lewis. Haven't tried Chesterton.

Comment author: Blueberry 28 March 2012 06:00:48AM 0 points [-]

You're actually the reason I started reading Spider Robinson.

Comment author: wedrifid 27 November 2010 01:01:41AM 2 points [-]

I'm very interested in that, I think I need it. I just read this article about Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, and I was like "what the hell is wrong with me, that I didn't see at least some of those points myself?"

The strength of C. S. Lewis's works seem to be that they were a whole lot less bad than the alternate sources of the same message.

Comment author: David_Gerard 24 November 2010 02:40:35PM 1 point [-]

The hard part with something like that not being how to question your ideas, but to notice that you have an idea that needs questioning. It's like reading Michael Behe's books on intelligent design and trying to understand the view inside his head, how a tenured biology professor could come up with such obvious-to-others defective arguments and fail to notice the low quality of his own thinking.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 23 November 2010 10:07:37PM 2 points [-]

Be careful. So will the less-than-best essays and teachers. It's a form of hindsight bias: you think this thing is obvious, but your thoughts were actually quite inchoate before that.

Given a clear explanation, it's more probably correct than secretly wrong. We don't live in a world dominated by true-sounding lies. Incorrect things should be generally more surprising than correct things, even if there are exceptions.

(It's confirmation bias, not hindsight bias. Hindsight bias is overestimation of prior probability upon observing a positive instance of an event.)

Comment author: Swimmy 22 November 2010 07:43:25AM *  18 points [-]

Going back and looking at the sequences is funny. Across many posts, comments accuse Eliezer of simplifying and attacking straw-men. But as someone who was religious when he was first reading OB, and who got deconverted specifically because of the arguments therein, I think that Eliezer had it right and the accusers had it wrong: many of the arguments he refutes seem like straw-men to people who associate with other rationalists, but to those steeped in irrationality they are basically the world. Witness, for instance, a former Christian's revisiting of CS Lewis to find that he not only fails to provide a strong defense of Christianity, he's basically a joke to anyone who knows enough history or biology or sociology or psychology. But when you're in an affective death spiral, you often can't notice such things.

While I worry about the self-congratulation of threads like these, I want to nominate a lesson I learned from Robin Hanson (and Daniel Klein, another GMU economist), which will probably affect me professionally as much as my religious deconversion affected me personally:

It is ok to believe things that are obvious, even if they are unpopular.

It seems non-controversial, but when you actually find yourself in a discussion with an intelligent, like-minded person with similar interests and arguments with the backing of high-status individuals, the temptation is enormous to switch sides.

Comment author: FrankAdamek 21 November 2010 05:38:32PM 11 points [-]

My gains from LessWrong have come in several roughly distinct steps, all of which have come as I've been working my way through the Sequences. (Taking notes has really helped me digest and cement the information.)

1) Internalizing that there is a real world out there, and like Louie said, that ideas can be right or wrong. Making beliefs pay rent, referents and references, etc. A perspective on beliefs that they should accurately reflect the world and be used for achieving things I care about; all else is fluff. That every correct map should agree with every other, so that life does not seem such a disconnected jumble of different domains. Overall these kinds of insights really helped to give focus to my thoughts and clear out the clutter of my mind.

2) Having a conception of what beliefs should do, LessWrong helps me be aware of and combat various biases that interfere with the formation of accurate beliefs, and with taking coherent action based on those beliefs. I've made large gains here, but of course I'm not finished.

3) Forming a coherent, productive, happy me. Bootstrapping and snowballing effects. As I learn more, I seek out more good information, better. On this point, see Anna Salamon's posts going back to "Humans are not automatically strategic." The book "The Art Of Learning" by Josh Waitzkin has been immensely helpful. Learning about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (this book is good) has been very helpful in being empirical and rational about the self. I believe this is basically the material of the Luminosity sequence, though I read those posts some time ago and should probably review them.

There's far too much to go into specifically, but the transformation has been huge, and continues. When conversing with non-rationalists, arguments feel like a match between Bruce Lee and some guy off the street. It's not that I have any more raw intellectual power than I had before, but my set of tools/training has improved tremendously. Unfortunately without being a rationalist, a non-rationalist doesn't (much) realize the extent to which they're outmatched, and indeed there is seldom a point to "beating someone." Instead you realize that even a poorly argued-position can be correct, looking out for points you may have missed, and perhaps try and introduce a few concepts. It feels like I'm working at a level above most people, that the conversation is a different thing to me and them; it's not like I can just tell them all this. I discovered LessWrong through an interest in existential risk and at first it seemed kind of boring, not very useful, this weird academic exercise. I wish I could convey to more people how helpful it's been, and the extent to which I didn't know what I didn't know.

(A note on the community: I think it's great that it's here, and I think that some really great material has been produced, and continues to be produced, beyond the "core" material by Eliezer. That said, I almost never read comments and I only read front-page, promoted posts; the return on time for reading anything else doesn't seem great enough right now, compared to my other work and studies. Just to give an idea on how I'm using LessWrong.)

Comment author: Meryseshat 30 November 2010 10:32:31PM *  9 points [-]

I've been looking around the site for awhile, having several people I know who go here. What I've learned is unfortunately that I'm unlikely to be able to learn from this site unless something changes. Which is too bad because I don't think I'm unable to learn in general.

I have no academic background whatsoever, and no expertise in science or philosophy. I am not an intellectual. I am good at noticing jargon, but terrible at picking it up and being able to use and understand it. I have no particular skill in abstract thinking. While tests aren't everything, I score in the range of borderline intellectual functioning on IQ tests and I do so for a reason: I am quite lacking in several standard cognitive abilities.

I also have obvious cognitive strengths, writing among them, but they don't match up with the ones necessary to navigate this site. From my perspective, reading this site is like trying to read a book with several words per sentence chopped out, and the words that remain being used in /ways/ that don't match well with my ability to comprehend.

Normally I would just turn around and walk away. I don't think anyone here has any particular desire to see someone like me shut out. I find it saddening though that a site dedicated to helping people think more accurately is mostly dominated by people who have a good deal of intellectual skills already. I would be curious to see how the ideas here could be modified to assist people who are not typical users here. People who can't read mountains of text in order to prepare themselves for the conversations that are taking place, and who need things explained in ways that are understandable even if you're average or even a slow learner.

This isn't meant as an attack, just a suggestion for new directions the site could take in order to benefit people who aren't all that intellectual. You don't have to have all the traditional cognitive abilities to appreciate the importance of thinking clearly about reality. I even bet that the techniques would have to be modified for some of us who can't hold complex ideas in our heads. But modifying them would be a good way to show there's more than a single set of cognitive techniques to get to the same goal of understanding the world as accurately as possible.

Comment author: DSimon 01 December 2010 06:03:43AM 3 points [-]

Please excuse me if you've already had someone suggest this to you (and you probably have), but: have you looked through the sequences? They're the closest thing to a tutorial this site has, and many of them are (a) written in everyday language and (b) pretty darn useful, and not just for sounding informed while participating in discussions on this website. :-)

Comment author: BenLowell 07 December 2010 05:55:07AM *  3 points [-]

Many of the sequences are still quite difficult and dense. Some of them lead to relatively simple conclusions, but for me the insights only come after rereading, reflecting, and sometimes discussing them with others.

I think that having more summary pages, such as the one for 37 Ways Words Can Be Wrong, would be helpful. Also, we could make a page in the wiki for techniques that cataloged techniques in very simple way, similar to 5 minute techniques. It would be something good that I could link people to. They could see what we have produced, learn something, and then decide to dig deeper. Linking to the sequences often scares people away, and they don't learn anything during their visit here because all of the insights are hidden.

Comment author: DSimon 07 December 2010 06:15:54PM 2 points [-]

Agreed, good ideas!

I also think it would be helpful if we had tighter association between the sequences and the site's UI. I like TV Tropes' index system where a trope will have a list at the bottom of what indexes it belongs to, with arrow buttons that make it easy to go through an index's articles in order.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 December 2010 05:37:22AM 2 points [-]

Damn, your writing is absolutely brilliant. If only you could understand all the ideas here in the first place - you would be able to take them to a whole new level of accessibility.

Comment author: Vive-ut-Vivas 20 November 2010 01:34:58PM 9 points [-]

And many of the people in this community rub me the wrong way.

Yes, like you, for stealing my post idea! Kidding, obviously.

At the risk of contributing to this community becoming a bit too self-congratulatory, here are some of the more significant concepts that I've grokked from reading LW:

Most of all, LW has taught me that being the person that I want to be takes work. To actually effect any amount of change in the world requires understanding the way it really is, whether you're doing science or trying to understand your own personality flaws. Refusing to recognize said flaws doesn't make them go away, reality doesn't care about your ego, etc.

And apparently there was this Bayes guy who had a pretty useful theorem...

Comment author: komponisto 21 November 2010 05:22:37PM *  8 points [-]

Interestingly, although reading the Sequences and other LW articles significantly affected my thinking style and general outlook over time, I've probably learned as much if not more from participating -- writing posts and comments, and receiving feedback.

...which feels strange to say, because I was skeptical in the beginning of the whole transition of Overcoming Bias into LW. For one thing, I didn't like the idea of having to "move". And I was highly suspicious of the karma system, because I was afraid of having my status numerically measured. I had been perfectly content to sit back and passively read Hanson and Yudkowsky posts, skim the comments, and only rarely chime in with a comment of my own when I thought it was particularly important.

But now, I think the interactive, community aspect of LW is probably its greatest feature.

Comment author: MartinB 22 November 2010 08:13:20PM *  1 point [-]

But now, I think the interactive, community aspect of LW is probably its greatest feature.

It was pointed out by EY how the easier access to posting made some high quality poster appear from behind their viewscreens.

Comment author: multifoliaterose 20 November 2010 05:51:55PM *  7 points [-]

Great post!

My experience on Less Wrong has been that many of the top-voted articles initially have seemed sort of mundane and obvious if mildly pleasant to read, but that returning to them and having them reverberate in my mind has been very helpful to me in framing the issues that come up in my day to day life. Over and over again I've had the experience of being subliminally aware of a given phenomenon discussed on Less Wrong but that reading a well-written explanation is very helpful to me in drawing the key issues at hand into focus.

  1. Eliezer's articles listed under Shut Up and Multiply helped me become more comfortable with expected utility theory. (Disclaimer: I do not fully agree with all points that he makes therein.)

  2. Yvain's The Trouble With Good and Missing the Trees for the Forest have been helpful to me in dispelling halo effects.

  3. I'm continually amazed by how relevant I find Yvain's Generalizing From One Example and Typical Mind and Politics to my own life and to understanding the thinking of others.

  4. I'm a very unusual person and have had little opportunity to meet people who I have a lot in common with in the past. On Less Wrong I've found some people who think in terms similar to the ones that I do and interacting with them has given me the opportunity to trade insights with them, about self-improvement, about the world at large and about interacting with more mainstream people.

  5. I think that people's willingness to engage with those who disagree with them is noticeably higher (on average) on Less Wrong than it is on most online forums. A major benefit that I've reaped from this is that I've learned more about communication with those who have different worldviews here than I would have had the chance to elsewhere. I describe a special case of this in the conclusion to my Reflections on a Personal Public Relations Failure: A Lesson in Communication posting.

Comment author: Academian 20 November 2010 06:17:22PM *  6 points [-]

Very nice post! My personal favorite things I've learned about from reading LessWrong:

  • Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference, a book by Judea Pearl written in 2000 which is frequently referenced by the SIAI and on LessWrong.

  • Spaced Repetition Software.

  • Politics as charity: that in terms of expected value, altruism is a reasonable motivator for voting (as opposed to common motivators like "wanting to be heard").

  • That a significant number of people are productively working on philosophical problems relevant to our lives.

  • Lots of little sanity checks to keep in mind, like Conservation of Expected Evidence, i.e. that without evidence, your expectation of what your confidence will be after seeing evidence is equal to your prior confidence. (But see this comment on things you can expect from your beliefs.)

I can't claim to be "converted to rationality" or any particular school of thought by LessWrong, because most of the ideas in the sequences were not new to me when I read them, but it was extremely impressive and relieving to see them all written down in one place, and they would have made a huge impact on me if I'd read them growing up!

Comment author: multifoliaterose 20 November 2010 09:37:13PM 1 point [-]

Politics as charity: that in terms of expected value, altruism is a reasonable motivator for voting (as opposed to common motivators like "wanting to be heard").

Yes, I was impressed by Carl's posting as well - I look forward to seeing his followup postings.

I can't claim to be "converted to rationality" or any particular school of thought by LessWrong, because most of the ideas in the sequences were not new to me when I read them, but it was extremely impressive and relieving to see them all written down in one place, and they would have made a huge impact on me if I'd read them growing up!

Same here :-).

Comment author: CarlShulman 24 November 2010 05:03:54PM *  2 points [-]

Here's the followup.

Comment author: peuddO 27 November 2010 06:55:37PM 5 points [-]

I've learned that people significantly more knowledgeable and intelligent than me do exist, and not just as some mythical statistical entity at the fringes of what I'll realistically encounter in my everyday life.

The internet - and indeed communications technology in general - is beneficial like that, even if it takes some searching to find a suitable domain.

Comment author: David_Gerard 20 November 2010 06:46:43PM 12 points [-]

See, this is the way to get people to read the posts in the sequences: give them a reason and speak personally. For example, you've just given me another attack of tab explosion ...

Comment author: JamesAndrix 20 November 2010 10:44:12PM 4 points [-]

That it is possible to take confusing issues and write clearly about them.

That this may require sequences.

Comment author: Kevin 20 November 2010 04:43:39PM *  4 points [-]

I have learned that philosophy remains a big unsolved problem where no one seems to have really gotten anywhere for a long time, yet concerted effort by determined smart people might lead to us answering some of the most important questions that have always plagued human philosophers. I have learned that solving philosophy (where philosophy includes questions like "what is human value?", "what is the nature of intelligence?", "what are the simple equations that unify the physical laws of our universe/multiverse?") is of importance on a mind bogglingly cosmological level.

Keep on thinking, friends.

Comment author: ata 20 November 2010 05:53:35PM *  10 points [-]

I have learned that philosophy remains a big unsolved problem where no one seems to have really gotten anywhere for a long time

I disagree. I think most of what has historically been considered "philosophy" has been solved at this point, it just doesn't seem that way because once we understand a philosophical problem well enough to solve it, it doesn't seem like a philosophical problem anymore. Usually it turns into a scientific problem, or an easy question of inference from scientific knowledge, thus losing its aura of respectable mysteriousness.

Comment author: Kevin 20 November 2010 10:19:42PM *  2 points [-]

The difference between our beliefs is that I see philosophy as a superset of science. Just because "what is human value?" starts mapping to science doesn't mean it stops being philosophy.

I wasn't referring to historical philosophy. I was referring to the specific hard problems I listed, namely "what is human value?" which even though it decomposes to being a problem of science, still has much more of the philosophy problem nature than the science problem nature.

Anyways this is a disagreement about the meaning of words only.

Whether you call a problem like "what is human value?" a science problem or a philosophy problem, it is still an important unsolved problem that via concerted effort we have a very real chance at solving.

Comment author: shokwave 21 November 2010 10:08:34AM 3 points [-]

The most important thing I learned from LessWrong is that my brain isn't always right.

This was a huge thing for me.

I already had the reductionist viewpoint, that I was just a brain. But I only had a part of it. I basically presumed that my thought processes were right: they couldn't be wrong, since if they were wrong, correcting it was merely a matter of changing some of the biological structures and firing patterns. But since I was that structure and those patterns, the 'corrected' version wouldn't be me; it would be someone else. The way I was, was the only way I could be, if I wanted to be me. So I had what you might call biological relativism.

The sequences' focus on biases let me realise that wasn't the case.

Comment author: timtyler 21 November 2010 04:37:28PM *  0 points [-]

That sounds pretty strange! Were there adverse social effects, I wonder?

Comment author: shokwave 21 November 2010 04:55:27PM 3 points [-]

Social effects were actually positive: although I disagreed with people and could sometimes spot why they were wrong, I didn't voice my opinion. I made exceptions in the case of genuine mistakes, things like doing your math wrong, but if someone wanted to believe something, I didn't feel like I should take that away from them if it meant taking away part of their biological identity. So, during that time, I was noticeably easy-going and agreeable.

In terms of adverse effects, there were really only mental ones, in that I wasn't correcting my mistakes. It wasn't as literal a belief as I make it sound - it was more like belief in belief and such. Most of the time I think I rounded it off the cached wisdom of respecting others' opinions.

Comment author: Manfred 20 November 2010 11:56:03PM *  4 points [-]

Not only is the free will problem solved, but it turns out it was easy.

Haha. Ha.

Although it is easy to resolve it to your own satisfaction, it is more difficult to resolve it to other peoples' satisfaction. Which suggests that there is a problem, at least if you want to avoid retreating to fully general counterarguments like "you disagree with me, so you must be irrational." A quote comes to mind here: "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." - Richard Feynman.

A good resource for getting you to ask the right questions about free will might be Yvain's excellent post.

In general, though, thank you for summarizing what you've learned, it was interesting.

Comment author: nshepperd 22 November 2010 12:19:55PM 0 points [-]

I'm confused as to what you mean by this. The link discusses dissolving the question; isn't that what Eliezer's solution did? It feels like the question has been dissolved, anyway.

Comment author: Manfred 22 November 2010 10:16:01PM *  0 points [-]

Eliezer's solution is to say, to give it the strongest interpretation I can, "us being determined by physics doesn't make us not us. Therefore if we seemed to have free will before figuring out physics, we have free will with it too." This is like approaching the heap problem by saying "I know when it's a heap by looking at it, so there's no problem with saying (thing X) is a heap." Approaching the problem from "below" would be an argument like "a deterministic object like a billiard ball doesn't seem to have free will, so we don't either."

Like in the heap problem, there's a fundamental divide that wasn't addressed. Dissolving the problem should involve asking the question "what do we mean when we say "free will?"," and trying to answer as well as Yvain did about disease.

It might be helpful to give away some of my thoughts (and probably someone else's): one thing free will means is "unpredictable." But there's no problem with having unpredictable objects in the real world, and not just by quantum-mechanical randomness, which doesn't seem much like free will. You can have objects where the quickest way to predict them is to just watch them run. Humans are such objects - there's no way to predict a human with 100% certainty except to watch them. Two pieces of metal can also make such an object,so obviously there are a few other parts of the definition of free will. But I think unpredictability is what a lot of people see missing in the real world (or, more philosophically, in a deterministic universe) that causes them to reject free will, so it's a good one to share.

EDIT: Apparently the unpredictable thing may have been thought first by Daniel Dennet, though he seems to use it as a thing by itself rather than one part of a definition. Also, I edited the first paragraph slightly to better translate things into the heap problem.

Edit Two: If whoever downvoted simple stuff like this (or someone who wants to express objections in their stead) wants to reply, that would be nice of them.

Comment author: wedrifid 29 November 2010 02:43:53PM 3 points [-]

one thing free will means is "unpredictable."

No it doesn't. Fortunately. Otherwise my solution to Newcomb's problem would be "Forget the damn boxes. I'm hunting down Omega, killing him and freeing the will of every creature in the universe!"

Comment author: Manfred 29 November 2010 05:36:15PM 0 points [-]

Major depressio time:

Omega could find something to say to you that you would disregard even though you knew it was a vitally important truth. Omega could tell Ghandi things that would make him kill someone. To Omega, you are as complicated as game of billiards. If you asked Omega if you had free will, Omega would say "no," because games of billiards do not have free will. And Omega would be right, because Omega is always right.

Fortunately, Omega is unphysical.

But really, you're free to your definition of free will, so long as we're both just going by intuition. I don't want to commit the typical mind fallacy too hard, here. It's just that my intuition thinks that a creature that can be perfectly predicted and therefore manipulated by Omega doesn't feel free-willed.

Comment author: wedrifid 29 November 2010 11:40:23PM 0 points [-]

I am not going by my intuition.

Comment author: Manfred 30 November 2010 01:21:36AM 0 points [-]

Because your argument from the implications for Newcomb's problem is so empirical :D

Comment author: wedrifid 30 November 2010 01:27:00AM 0 points [-]

It is quite clearly deductive, not empirical.

Comment author: Manfred 30 November 2010 01:29:27AM 0 points [-]

What are your premises, and where did they come from?

Comment author: wedrifid 30 November 2010 01:48:54AM *  0 points [-]

The comment's parent and descriptions of Newcomb's Problem.

I don't think this line of questioning is serving you. You don't want to challenge the obvious logical implications of your 'unpredictable' partial definition. They are hard to deny but don't technically rule it out. Instead you want to question just where my own definition of 'Free Will' comes from if not my intuition. That, if followed through, would require appeals to authority, etc.

I would actually not argue too hard on the point of what the 'true' definition of Free Will is. The point that I do consider important is the assertion "If the concept Free Will requires unpredictability then it is stupid and pointless and should be discarded entirely". I already avoid the phrase myself by habit - it just confuses people.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 29 November 2010 02:51:27PM 2 points [-]

If unpredictability is part of free will, then I don't want free will.

I want to be governed by my own purposes - I don't want my behaviour to be random and unpredictable.

Comment author: Perplexed 29 November 2010 06:13:53PM 1 point [-]

Even when playing Paper, Stone, Scissors?

I think that when the word 'unpredictable' is used, it is important to specify: unpredictable by whom?

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 30 November 2010 10:01:29AM 1 point [-]

In "Paper, Stone, Scissors," like in other contests and conflicts, (and same as in humour), you just need to be unpredicted, not really to be "unpredictable". True complete unpredictability is neither good humour ("Two men walk into a bar, then the moon exploded. Why aren't you laughing?"), nor good gaming ("My rocket-launcher defeats your paper, your stone and your scissors"), nor good storytelling ("The killer was this guy that had never appeared, and you could have never guessed at, and which were were never clued about").

Sure, it would be dull if everyone predicted everything everyone else did; but that's different to being capable of being predicted in the theoretical/philosophical sense that was being discussed -- in the sense of existing inside a deterministic universe, and that we theoretically could predict other people's behaviours.

Comment author: Perplexed 30 November 2010 06:35:33PM 0 points [-]

A good analysis.

What I am struggling with here is an intuition that the whole idea of unpredictability in "the theoretical/philosophical sense" is a bad, ill-formed idea. I know roughly what it means to have predictability as a two-place predicate. P(E, A) means that person A (a person equipped with the theory and empirical information that A has) is capable of predicting event E. Fine. But now how do we turn that into a one-place predicate. Do we define:

  • P1(E) == Forall persons A . P(E,A)

or is it

  • P1(E) == Forall physically possible persons A . P(E,A)

or is it

  • P1(E) == For some hypothetical omniscient person A . P(E,A)

or is it something more complicated, involving light cones and levels of knowledge that are still supernatural.

The thing is, even if you are able to come up with a precise definition, my intuition makes me doubt that anything so contrived could be of any possible use in a philosophical enquiry.

Comment author: Manfred 29 November 2010 05:41:17PM *  0 points [-]

You appear to be conflating random and unpredictable. A double pendulum is not random, in the typical sense, its course is merely unknown. You can be governed by your own purposes and still be unpredictable to someone else, not in the sense that you go out of your way to defy all predictions, but in the sense that such predictions are never totally accurate - the fastest way to find out what a human will do with 100% accuracy is to watch them.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 29 November 2010 03:04:24PM -2 points [-]

If unpredictability is part of free will, then I don't want free will.

This is logically rude. You must judge on the whole of consequences, and accept or reject any argument only based on its validity, without singling out particular detail.

Comment author: NihilCredo 29 November 2010 11:25:48AM *  1 point [-]

Disclaimer 1: I didn't downvote your comment. Disclaimer 2: I have only quickly skimmed Eliezer's take on the free will question, since it includes part of the Quantum Physics sequence which I intend to read as a whole and without hurry. But I didn't spot anything that conflicted with my take on it, and I would be very surprised if that were the case since it's basically a matter of epistemic hygiene.

I think you're falling into the assumption that just because people use a term a lot, that term must have some unique value, even if its borders are fuzzy (hence your comparisons to "heap" and "disease"). But that is not always the case. Free will is supposed to describe an objective property of ourselves - either you have it or you don't, true or false tertium non datur - but is there any concept of how Universe[PeopleHaveFreeWill] and Universe[PeopleHaveNoFreeWill] would look different to us (or to anyone else, full brain scanner included)? No, there isn't. We cannot imagine the experience of a world where our HasFreeWill boolean variable has been flipped (whatever its value used to be!), any more than we can imagine the experience of a world where we are dead. As a predicate, "free will" is a complete and utter failure.

So where does the flatus vocis "free will" come from, then? (That question, which is more historical than philosophical, always has an answer, even if the term is a delusion that pretends to be a reality, e.g. "soul") Here's how I put it: "'Free will' means 'what decisional brain activity looks like from the inside'". That's where I spot the seed of meaningfulness in the term, and the less rigorous usage started when people tried to connect it to the difficulties of cosmology - at first God's puppeteering, and later the alienness of physics (I suppose I could say "Free will is an illusion of the self" if I didn't hate to sound like a street corner preacher). If you try the straight replacement, the usual statements and questions about free will generally appear to be either trivial or nonsensical - and yes, I'm aware that that doesn't prove anything on its own.

Comment author: Manfred 29 November 2010 05:09:31PM *  0 points [-]

Ah, right. The good ol' "the only consistent meaning of 'free will' is 'what humans do'" approach.

However, I think that it IS possible to imagine how it matters if PeopleHaveFreeWill=false (though it's quite difficult to visualize it from inside - I can only imagine "toning down" the free will by eliminating certain desiderata). Imagine that Laplace's demon could exist, and it wrote down the story of your life in a book when you were born. Someone else could read the book and know exactly what you do next year. My intuition doesn't think this sounds like free will.

Or imagine a universe where all your decisions were completely random. That doesn't sound like free will either, right? But all your (note: my definition of "your," i.e. "the measured you") decisions are random, to the extent that a muon could come screaming out of the atmosphere and make your brain misfire at any time.

So if free will is really poorly defined (and it is), then the simple definition that makes sense is "what humans do;" importantly this definition agrees with our intuition that we have free will. However, if our intuition is allowed to speculate a bit more, we can think up scenarios where we might not have free will. But this contradicts the intuition from two sentences ago that we definitely have free will! What I am trying to demonstrate is that there is a problem after all, and it is in the murky way in which our intuition handles the question "does X have free will?" If the problem is really dealt with, we should end up understanding how our intuition works here, at least to a large degree. That's why I think Yvain's post is a good model.

New idea: Laplace's demon slasher movie: I know what you did next summer!

Comment author: NihilCredo 29 November 2010 05:39:55PM *  0 points [-]

Someone else could read the book and know exactly what you do next year. My intuition doesn't think this sounds like free will. Or imagine a universe where all your decisions were completely random. That doesn't sound like free will either, right?

So, you suddenly realise you live in either of those universes and go "oh, well, I have no free will".

Does that imply anything for you? Do you start behaving any differently? Is there any practical conclusion that you would reach in both of those universes that you wouldn't in one where you had free will (which shouldn't exist since you ruled out both determinism and non-determinism, but we'll allow it since the lack of a counterfactual would also make free will meaningless)? Emphasis on 'both' - there are interesting consequences to determinism and non-determinism, but you need free will to be the discriminating factor for the concept to be worth existing.

(As a side note, my "intuitive answers" aren't the same as yours, but I won't bring them up since I'm arguing that everyone's "intuitive answers" are just non-answers to a non-question.)

Comment author: Manfred 29 November 2010 06:04:27PM 0 points [-]

Well, it would certainly shake up my morality a bit, which would then change my actions. My ideas of punishment and reward would become more utilitarian as I held people less "responsible" for doing good or bad, for example.

However, if you're asking "what would be different if you'd been living in that universe all along and never found out," I must admit I can't think of anything. Wait, nevermind. "The bell inequalities wouldn't be violated." Or "fermions wouldn't be identical particles." "Arithmetic would be inconsistent." But it's possible to imagine "just so" theories that would fit observations without having much free will. I wouldn't say a Boltzmann brain has free will in the second before it boils away into the plasma.

Still, I think Occam's razor helps rule that stuff out. I'll have to think about it more.

Comment author: Upset_Nerd 29 November 2010 07:10:37AM 2 points [-]

I've found out about PJ Ebys ideas and even though I just recently managed to use them to make a substantial change, I'm pretty sure it's the largest positive change in my entire life so far.

Comment author: Louie 29 November 2010 07:47:07AM 3 points [-]

Really? Which idea of his helped you make that substantial change? Maybe I should take another look at his stuff. I've tried reading him before but found it to be a mix of obvious life insights + harmfully wrong motivational advice.

Comment author: Upset_Nerd 29 November 2010 09:38:15AM 12 points [-]

I'm a member of his group so I've gotten personal assistance but what I've done is basically first diagnose my problems by using his so called RMI technique, which I'm pretty sure he's mentioned several times here in the comments, which basically just consists of sincerely questioning yourself about your problem and passively notice what comes to mind without trying to rationalize it away logically.

Through that technique I found out that I've unconsciously judged all my decisions in life for "goodness", that is I've constantly feared that I'll not be a good person if I make the wrong decisions. Unfortunately the number of rules for things which make me a bad person have been very large so I've basically lived a passive lonely life waiting for someone to come and tell me what to do. One particularly frustrating thing has been that I've felt that I'm a bad person if I actually try to take control over my life, and that includes using PJs methods, so for about six months I've been completely clear on what my problem is, how to solve it, believed that it would work on a rational level, but at the same time feeling completely uninterested in actually doing anything about it. The trigger for action was when my girlfriend broke up with me and I temporarily got into an emotional state where I felt that I had nothing to lose, and since I knew PJs techniques I managed to use the opportunity to break the deadlock.

The specific technique I used is his so called "rights work", which I also think he's mentioned here. You basically tell yourself that you have the right to feel feeling X even if condition Y is true. The big one for me was when I hit upon the phrase: "I have the right to feel like a good person no matter what I do."

Realising that instantly made me start to cry what can best be described as tears of joy mixed up with some anger and indignation. Then after a couple of minutes it was over and now I feel like a completely different person. Or rather closer to the person I've always wanted to be but never felt I've been allowed to be. For example, writing this answer has been trivial whereas I've previously been a chronic lurker on all forums I frequent due to worrying about what everyone will think of my writings.

Comment author: pjeby 29 November 2010 05:58:46PM *  5 points [-]

The specific technique I used is his so called "rights work", which I also think he's mentioned here. You basically tell yourself that you have the right to feel feeling X even if condition Y is true. The big one for me was when I hit upon the phrase: "I have the right to feel like a good person no matter what I do."

I think it's important to clarify here that the "rights" in this method are not directly about morality, but rather access or ability, like an ACL in a filesystem grants you the "right" to read a file.

IOW, it's a method used to counteract learned helplessness and restore your ability to control a portion of your mind, rather than a method of moral rationalization. ;-)

There are also four general categories of ACL: to desire, acquire, respond, and experience -- the D.A.R.E. rights -- and the one you described here is an E - the right to experience the feeling of being a good person.

(You of course probably realize all this already from the workshops, but I can imagine what some people here are likely to say about the small bits you've just mentioned, so I'd like to nip that in the bud if possible.)

Unfortunately the number of rules for things which make me a bad person have been very large so I've basically lived a passive lonely life waiting for someone to come and tell me what to do.

Yeah, that's the essential insight of rights work, which is that the rules we learn for which emotions to have are not symmetrical. That is, a rule that says "X makes you a bad person" does NOT automatically imply to your (emotional/near) brain that the opposite of X makes you a good person. It only tells your brain to rescind your (access) right to feeling good when condition X occurs.

Btw, feeling like a "good person" is normally an Affiliation-category need; it's not about judging yourself good per se, but rather, whether other people will consider you likable, lovable, and a good/worthy ally.

(Again, I know you know this, because you already mentioned it on the Guild forum, but for the benefit of others, I figure I should add the clarifications.)

Affiliation, of course, being the second of the S.A.S.S. need groups - Significance, Affiliation, Stability, and Stimulation. (Based on feedback here, and more recent personal experiences, I've renamed Status and Safety to better cover the true scope of those groups.)

Anyway, if you multiply DARE by SASS, you get a sixteen-element search grid within which the access rights to X can be sought for and restored (relative to a given condition Y) -- assuming you have the necessary skill at RMI.

It is not really a "system", however, in the way that so many gurus claim their acronyms and formulations to be. That is, I do not claim DARE and SASS are natural divisions that actually exist in the world; they are only a convenient mnemonic to create a search grid that can be overlaid on the territory, without claiming that they are an accurate map of that territory.

And if you search using only that grid, then of course you will only find the things that are already within it... and the fact that I've tweaked the names of two of the SASS categories, already shows that there may be other things that still lie outside our current search grid. Nonetheless, having some search grid is better than none at all.

(Tony Robbins, for what it's worth, claims that there are two additional categories that should belong on the SASS dimension of this grid; he may be right in a general sense, but I have not really found them to be useful/relevant for fixing learned helplessness.)

One last point, which again is intended for bystanders rather than you, U.N., is that merely saying the words "I have the right" has no particular consequence. It is not a magical incantation like "wingardium leviosa"!

It is merely the expression of a realization that you already have that right, the forehead-slapping epiphany that really, you were wearing the magic shoes this whole time, and could have gone back to Kansas at any moment up till now, and just didn't notice.

And this realization cannot be faked or brought about by a mere ritual; the function of the DARE/SASS search grid is merely to help you find that within yourself that you haven't been noticing you were even capable of. That's why, when it works, as in U.N.'s case here, the result can often be... intense.

But it's also why you should not be fooled by reading U.N.'s comments or mine, that this is a simple matter of following a grid and making the appropriate incantations. It is a search process, not a quick fix technique.

And the process of your search is hindered by the nature of your own blind spots: U.N. mentions his meta-akrasia here, but there are subtler forms of complexity that can arise from this basic pattern. For example, one may believe that feeling you're a good person, makes you a bad person... and in order to fix that, you have to remove the second rule first.

(Otherwise, what happens is that your attempted right statement sort of fizzles like a mis-cast spell... you say, "I have the right to X..." and your brain goes, "Yeah right," or, "maybe, but I'm not gonna DO that.... 'cause then I'd be bad.")

Anyway, I won't say, "don't try this at home," because really, you should. ;-)

But you should know that it is not a trivial process, and if done correctly it will bring you face to face with your own mental blind spots... by which I mean, things you do not want to know about yourself.

(For example, one thing that often happens is that, in the process of restoring a right, you realize that you are actually going to have to give up your righteous judgment of some group of people who you previously felt yourself superior to, because that judgment depends on one of the SASS rules that you are about to give up... and both the realization that you have been misjudging those people, and the realization that you still don't really want to give up that judgment, can be painful.)

Anyway... it's fun stuff... but not necessarily while you're doing it, if you get my drift. ;-)

Comment author: wedrifid 30 November 2010 12:12:28AM *  0 points [-]

You of course probably realize all this already from the workshops, but I can imagine what some people here are likely to say about the small bits you've just mentioned, so I'd like to nip that in the bud if possible.

Thankyou. If someone had the gall to moralize at someone who had just broken free from the 'goodness' cage I would have been displeased, to put it mildly.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 December 2010 06:31:01AM 2 points [-]

Thankyou. If someone had the gall to moralize at someone who had just broken free from the 'goodness' cage I would have been displeased, to put it mildly.

On the other hand, without further context "I have the right to feel like a good person no matter what I do" is a dangerous thing to internalize. In fact I suspect that rules, like "If I want to murder someone, I should feel like a bad person" exist in the brain using the same mechanism. Obviously this is one rule you shouldn't get rid of.

Comment author: Upset_Nerd 01 December 2010 09:30:32AM *  4 points [-]

This sounds very similar to the argument against atheism where the believer is afraid that he might start to do a whole bunch of horrible things if he'll no longer fear punishment from God.

What I've noticed in my case is that yes, I now do think I could feel like a good person even if I do bad things to others. However, I now genuinely don't want to hurt other people. In a way it feels like this is the first time in my life where I'm actually able to really care for and empathise with other people since I no longer have to be so preoccupied with myself.

Comment author: pjeby 01 December 2010 02:29:06PM *  1 point [-]

What I've noticed in my case is that yes, I now do think I could feel like a good person even if I do bad things to others. However, I now genuinely don't want to hurt other people.

Yep. Motivation is not symmetric.

What used to boggle my mind about this, is how it could be that our brains are built in such a way as to seemingly automatically believe that motivation is symmetric, even though it isn't.

My working hypothesis is that the part of our brain that predicts other minds -- i.e. our built-in Theory Of Mind -- uses a symmetric model for simplicity's sake (i.e., it's easier to evolve, and "good enough" for most purposes), and that we use this model to try to predict our own future behavior when anticipating self-modification.

Comment author: pjeby 01 December 2010 02:49:32PM 3 points [-]

On the other hand, without further context "I have the right to feel like a good person no matter what I do" is a dangerous thing to internalize.

Not really. Our experiences indicate that the brain's ACL system matches rules by specificity. A blanket rule change like this one will only remove the specific generalizations matched during the retrieval process, not any broader or narrower rules. (This is implied by memory reconsolidation theory, btw.)

In fact I suspect that rules, like "If I want to murder someone, I should feel like a bad person" exist in the brain using the same mechanism. Obviously this is one rule you shouldn't get rid of.

Actually, funny you should mention, because that's an ill-specified rule right there, and it's precisely the sort I would say you ought to get rid of!

Why? Because you said "if I want to murder someone". Merely wanting something bad doesn't make you a bad person. Who hasn't wanted to murder somebody, at some point in their life?

If the rule you state ("If I want to murder someone, I should feel like a bad person") were a genuine SASS rule that you'd internalized, then every time you got mad enough at somebody, you'd suppress the anger... and keep right on feeling it. Most likely, you'd have people or situations you'd avoid because you'd feel chronically stressed around them -- vaguely angry and disappointed in yourself at the same time.

Usually, though, unless you actually said you wanted to murder somebody when you were a kid, and shocked an adult into shaming you for being bad, you probably don't have an explicit SASS rule against wanting to murder people, and don't actually need one in order to avoid actually murdering people. ;-)

Negative SASS rules are compulsions that override reflective thinking and outcome anticipation; they hijack logical thought processes and direct them into motivated reasoning. Oddly enough, positive SASS rules don't seem to have the same degree of power... although it occurs to me that perhaps my current model is flawed in this description of "positive" and "negative" -- better words might be "surplus" and "deficit".

(That is, if your brain thinks a desired positive SASS quality is scarce, you can be just as compulsive in acquiring it, as you can be compulsive in avoiding things with negative SASS. However, the rules themselves seem to influence what levels are perceived as surplus or deficit, so there's a bit of recursion involved.)

Comment author: David_Gerard 01 December 2010 09:00:28AM *  0 points [-]

Yes, it was only with pjeby's explanation that I realised "I have the right to" in this context actually means "I am not denied the right to" - I am not barred by access control list - rather than "I am justified in". Like "pride" meaning "not ashamed".

I have known too many people who do in fact use it to mean "I am automatically justified in feeling great about myself, therefore you should not criticise my behaviour." This suggests the ambiguity in wording may be problematic. (On the other hand, I suspect the process is that the conclusion is assumed and then arguments are found to justify it, so the wording may make little difference.)

Comment author: pjeby 01 December 2010 02:53:42PM 1 point [-]

Like "pride" meaning "not ashamed".

There's that, but there's also the ability to feel pride. "I have the right to feel proud when I make a mistake" means that you can be proud that you tried.

You will notice, though, that this rights stuff tends to be very controversial, in that everybody on first encountering it will tend to start listing the exceptions they think should be made, i.e., the access rights that should never be granted.

Usually (though not always), that list of exceptions is effectively an excerpt from the list of rules that are keeping them from succeeding at whatever prompted them to seek out my help in the first place. ;-)

Comment author: wedrifid 30 November 2010 12:08:40AM 4 points [-]

I must congratulate you. Trauma of some kind seems to be required for significant rapid changes to identity (and so behavior). You seem to have harnessed a negative, undesired trauma and executed positive considered change. That sort of navigation of human psychological quirks always impresses me.

Comment author: Upset_Nerd 30 November 2010 06:50:44AM 2 points [-]

Thanks :-)

And I agree in that I don't think I could have made this change without any kind of dramatic incident; I'm pretty sure that it would never have happened on it's own since my behaviour was stuck in a kind of stable equillibrium.

I suspect that another person could have triggered the change in me though by kind of forcing me through this process and not relenting even if I try to make them stop. I imagine that when then feeling completely exposed they could give me the basic need that I've always feared that I don't have and finally support me in realizing that I can give it to myself. This probably has to be done in person though so you can't easily get away.

The big problem is of course that if you're the person who's trying to help you have a huge responsibility for actually diagnosing the other persons problems correctly. Since it unavoidably is a traumatic process I can imagine how horrible it must feel if the person who forced you to completely expose yourself turned out to completely misunderstand what you actually feared.

Comment author: wedrifid 30 November 2010 07:59:04AM 0 points [-]

Since it unavoidably is a traumatic process I can imagine how horrible it must feel if the person who forced you to completely expose yourself turned out to completely misunderstand what you actually feared.

Being misunderstood is annoying all right, for some more than others. I find that it mostly makes inclined to disengage - unless, of course, the misunderstander is maintaining active engagement with new information that I provide.

I'm curious how long has your newfound identity has lasted? Weeks or months? I got the 'months' impression.

Comment author: Upset_Nerd 30 November 2010 08:33:58AM 2 points [-]

I actually just started to get my new identity at the end of last week. And the big realization that I'm allowed to feel like a good/likeable/worthwhile person no matter the circumstances was made just about 50 hours ago.

The reason you might get the impression that I've had it for a longer time is that for many months I've been pretty clear on what my new identity would be like on a rational level. I've been expecting many of my new behaviours to turn out as they've now did for example. The big difference is that now I finally get to know what it feels like to have this new identity, and of course, that I'm able to implement it in practice. :-)

Comment author: Upset_Nerd 01 December 2010 05:39:01AM *  1 point [-]

Just wanted to add that I also felt very inclined to disengage with PJ on many occasions, something which I also did for long periods. That feeling was the very thing that kept me stuck and not being able to make a change.

Now from my new vantage point I can see what was going on. The crucial part was my rule that in effect said that I should start to feel like a bad person as soon as I started thinking about taking a major initiative on my own. It made me feel uncomfortable and I unconsciously felt an urge to find some kind of authority figure whom I could check the decision with to find out if it is okay to do.

So when PJ told me to give myself these rights, my brain automatically interpreted it as being a major initiative and therefore as a demand for doing something bad. I started dragging my feet and coming up with a whole bunch of bogus rationalizations for why I couldn't follow his request and when he didn't buy them and simply insisted that I'd do the technique, I instead started to feel kind of resentful and angry that he wouldn't listen to me or understand me. Sometimes I even started to feel a personal dislike towards him since my brain automatically jumped to the conclusion that since he's insisting that I'd do something that will make me feel bad, he obviously doesn't care about me and thinks I'm a bad person who deserves to feel bad.

Now I tried my best to constantly reflect about and rationally analyze these emotions when they came up but I can tell you that it's extremely hard to do when you're engulfed by them. I remember that often when I started to feel angry and frustrated I tried to ask myself something like: "Is this feeling actually justified? Isn't this is just what you'd expect to feel based on your understanding of this process?"

Unfortunately if I'd fallen to deep into the emotion the answer I often got back was a kind of childish answer that stopped me from going further. "But I'm angry with him! I don't wan't to let him get away with a bunch of unreasonable and uncaring demands!"

Comment author: pjeby 01 December 2010 02:13:19PM 0 points [-]

Btw, it'd be awesome if you shared this comment on the Guild forum as well, and I would like to be able to use it in future training materials.

I mean, sure, I tell people that this kind of thing is going to happen, but it's easier to absorb hearing it from somebody else.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 December 2010 01:42:16PM 0 points [-]

Just wanted to add that I also felt very inclined to disengage with PJ on many occasions, something which I also did for long periods.

I've disengaged with PJ from time to time but never when he's been giving advice. I suspect it is a different scenario. :P

Comment author: nikson 05 December 2010 10:58:08PM *  1 point [-]

Very strange, Upset_Nerd. I have been living my life more or less the same way as you have. When I read your post it sent chills down my spine. I thought I was the only one. Now we are two of a kind. :)

Comment author: Upset_Nerd 09 December 2010 02:46:05AM 0 points [-]

I guess that our situation isn't that uncommon unfortunately. I hope you'll also be able to improve your mind state similar to what I've done. I recommend reading PJ Ebys comments here on Less Wrong since he's mentioned a large amount of his important ideas in them. You can also PM me if you'd like.

Comment author: pjeby 09 December 2010 03:19:52AM 3 points [-]

I guess that our situation isn't that uncommon unfortunately.

It's ridiculously common, actually. In the next Guild newsletter I've written about the impact of social signaling emotions on our motivation, and the unintended consequences of same in our non-evolutionary environment -- where we're all basically the tribal chieftains or feudal lords of our lives, even though we were mostly raised to be serfs.

(I'll probably do an LW post at some point on this same topic, though with less how-to and personal stories. But first I gotta finish the training CD.. which incidentally discusses how to apply the Litanies of Gendlin and Tarski to motivational issues. Fun stuff, having a little Guild in my LW and a little LW in the Guild. ;-) )

Comment author: pjeby 29 November 2010 11:46:47PM 1 point [-]

I've tried reading him before but found it to be a mix of obvious life insights + harmfully wrong motivational advice.

Just out of curiosity, which motivational advice did you consider wrong, and why?

Comment author: Louie 30 November 2010 08:03:42AM 2 points [-]

Everything related to the "don't use willpower" idea.

It's the kind of advice that sounds just reasonable enough for someone desperate to try. But then when it comes time to actually develop a new habit (the way real people avoid needing willpower in the long run), they will be unable to get through the first week.

I agree that being on life-hating auto-pilot and just continuing to push is an awful way to go through life. But if you're not there, waiting until all your internal sub-agents align with your goals is the perfect strategy for high motivation, low productivity, and no success.

Comment author: pjeby 30 November 2010 03:47:37PM 5 points [-]

I agree that being on life-hating auto-pilot and just continuing to push is an awful way to go through life.

Right. The point is, if whatever you call "willpower" isn't working for you now, doing more of it is not likely to produce any better results. (Definition of insanity, and all that.)

But then when it comes time to actually develop a new habit (the way real people avoid needing willpower in the long run), they will be unable to get through the first week.

The problem with your hypothesis here is that there are two very different ways to build a habit that can be described as using "willpower"... but the one that actually works is really a special kind of pre-commitment, and isn't willpower at all.

In the less-useful way, somebody simply "decides" that they're going to build this habit, and they attempt to deal with conflicts as they come up. So, they haven't, for example, already decided that if they don't feel like exercising, they're still going to do it. Instead, at the point of precommitment, they simply assume they're still going to feel the same way about their decision all week.

And that's what I'm referring to as using willpower: attempting to override conflicts on-the-fly by pushing through them.

The type of precommitment that works, OTOH, (and this is backed by at least one study that I know of) is to identify in advance what kinds of obstacles you're likely to face, imagining them in experiential detail, and preparing for how to handle them.

People who take this approach more-or-less automatically (i.e. without having explicitly been taught or told to do so) are likely to still describe this as "willpower" or "gutting it out" or, "you just have to decide/make up your mind", or any number of other descriptions that sound like they're the same thing as using raw willpower to override conflicts as they come up.

Comment author: wedrifid 30 November 2010 08:27:47AM 0 points [-]

Good answer. I don't agree with it but it is a good answer all the same. I disagree only in as much as I would describe PJ's suggestions somewhat differently. "Use willpower wisely" instead of as a tool for self flagellation and definitely no waiting.

Comment author: wedrifid 30 November 2010 12:01:37AM *  1 point [-]

I'm curious too. Harmfully wrong motivational advice seems rather drastic.

Comment author: Caspian 24 November 2010 10:34:48PM 2 points [-]

I learned that meditation can be fun, and there are instructions available.

I learned that trying to get an exact definition of a term can be futile, since the meaning in one's mind is structured more like a simple artificial neural network than like the expected kind of verbal definition. Examples: "what is science fiction", "what is a fish".

Comment author: XiXiDu 22 November 2010 11:24:28AM 2 points [-]

It states that Less Wrong is a blog devoted to refining the art of rationality. Rationality is about winning and you and me and the rest of humanity can only win if we are able to solve the problem of provably Friendly AI. What I have learnt is that one should take risks from artificial intelligence serious. And I still believe that it is the most important message Less Wrong is able to convey.

Why shouldn't the discussion of risks posed by AI be a central part of this community? If risks from artificial intelligence are the most dangerous existential risk that we face how is it not rational to inquire about it and try to improve how this risk is communicated towards outsiders?

“The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy’s cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him. More than anything, you must be thinking of carrying your movement through to cutting him.” via Twelve Virtues of Rationality

This is what I learnt and that the enemy is unfriendly AI.

Comment author: ChristianKl 25 November 2010 06:26:27PM 3 points [-]

Even when most peoples beliefs are junk you won't know before you considered the belief in detail. You probably just increase the effect of confirmation bias when you reject beliefs without examining them.

Thinking outside your own set of beliefs is also good training.

Comment author: Perplexed 30 November 2010 12:34:18AM 0 points [-]

You probably just increase the effect of confirmation bias when you reject beliefs without examining them.

I understood the strengthened confirmation bias as being in the person with 'junk' beliefs and 'reject' to mean public rejection. Wedrifid apparently interpreted the person in danger of having confirmation bias strengthened as being 'you', and to 'reject' meaning simply to not accept. Which did you intend?

Comment author: wedrifid 30 November 2010 12:41:14AM 1 point [-]

Wedrifid apparently interpreted the person in danger of having confirmation bias strengthened as being 'you', and to 'reject' meaning simply to not accept. Which did you intend?

I make the first of those interpretations. With respect to 'reject' I would maintain my comment with either definition. (Although with acknowledgement that pubic rejections can be mere politics and barely relevant to beliefs and explorations thereof.)

Comment author: wedrifid 30 November 2010 12:21:16AM *  0 points [-]

Even when most peoples beliefs are junk you won't know before you considered the belief in detail. You probably just increase the effect of confirmation bias when you reject beliefs without examining them.

Of course, there is an opportunity cost associated with exploring any given belief. The prior probability of the belief and the potential benefits and costs associated with the topic determine whether or not it is worth investigating further. It is not confirmation bias to ignore ideas that have a low expected value of investigation. You simply leave your level of confidence unchanged.

Thinking outside your own set of beliefs is also good training.

That is one factor consider. Another is "thinking outside your own set of beliefs can be fun".

Comment author: spriteless 23 November 2010 01:21:41PM 3 points [-]

I learned that humans are all very alike.

I learned that natural selection uses up diversity.

I learned some more graceful words and arguments for what I wanted than I had. For instance, previously I explained that I think about religion logically because I used to be Catholic and we do that, now I can say that it is because logic is useful for thinking about everything and tell people my backstory later if they ask.

I learned that emotion and rationality are not enemies. Vulcans we are not.

I learned that normally rational people will take sides in emotional name calling once you blame them. Much like everyone else. (See most any mention of gender.)

Comment author: RobinHanson 22 November 2010 03:58:13AM 3 points [-]

"Most peoples' beliefs aren’t worth considering ... dropping the habit of seriously considering all others’ improper beliefs that don’t tell me what to anticipate and are only there for sounding interesting or smart."

Seems you assume that most peoples' beliefs are "improper." Did LW offer you evidence for that conclusion? And don't you also need to assume you have a way to generate beliefs that is substantially better at avoiding the desire to sound interesting or smart?

Comment author: Louie 25 November 2010 04:03:56AM 7 points [-]

Seems you assume that most peoples' beliefs are "improper." Did LW offer you evidence for that conclusion?

Most of my evidence for this comes from my own observations. It's pretty easy to see just from looking at how people's lives end up that almost no one can make sound decisions over the time-frame of years. My working hypothesis is that most people can make what looks like an approximation to rational decisions on the order of hours or days in situations where there's enough at stake for them in the short-term. But the error coefficients compound over time and people carry the scars of their worst failures (ie religion, drug abuse, bigotry, poverty, life threatening obesity, illiteracy, etc).

What Less Wrong helped me realize was that the problem was even worse for abstract reasoning. Almost no one can reason through abstract inference chains longer than 2 or 3 steps, so if people don't have concepts big enough (or small enough) to explain everything with 1 or 2 steps of inference, they can never learn truth from falsehoods in those domains. I think this is a big reason for the "10 year rule" to become an expert in any field. It takes that long to cache out all the mental boxes the right size so that the experts without natural inference ability (most?) can turn everything into (obvious) 1 step inferences.

The other thing that Less Wrong taught me was that even of those with the ability to reason abstractly, most don't feel bound to accept conclusions that follow from the premises they believe unless they like the conclusions they get. "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion" is an improvement on "Everyone is entitled to be Catholic", but it's a shame that the aftermath of religion accidentally turned being inconsistent into such a cherished personal freedom in our society. So that's a big problem.

And of the few people left who can and do use reason and aren't egregiously inconsistent, most are so unprepared to correct for detectable (and correctable) human biases that they can't reliably reach sound conclusions on an abstract topic anyway even if they do have 10 years of thought put into a field. So where previously, I thought there was something akin to a sizable group of experts who were more or less "above the system" and could look down on problems from a higher level than me and just inevitably get the correct answers for correct reasons, I now accept the less magical (and obvious in retrospect) belief that scientists and other thinkers are inside the system too. And because of the reasons I mentioned above combined with lots of predictably biased behavior, most scientists / thinkers are "worse than noise" in terms of their contribution to the progress of human thought.

And don't you also need to assume you have a way to generate beliefs that is substantially better at avoiding the desire to sound interesting or smart?

Intellectually engage more with people who are at least trying to use reason. You know, like instead of 4chan or people in my real life.

Comment author: jsalvatier 23 November 2010 05:31:23AM *  0 points [-]

I am not sure LW offers evidence for that conclusion, and I don't think that conclusion is correct. Caplan's "rational irrationality"(link) gives evidence (in the form of theory) for the narrower idea that people's beliefs that don't have strong causal influences on their lives and do offer psychological rewards are suspect.

Comment author: Vaniver 20 November 2010 10:25:36PM 1 point [-]

I enjoyed the post (enough for a vote up!) but I find myself wishing it had stopped at #5.

6 is mostly correct but has significant edge cases (even if you subscribe to MWI, probabilities pop up when dealing with tiny things). Something like "Probabilities exist in minds" is a much more agreeable statement than "Probabilities don't exist elsewhere," and has the same framing benefits.

7 just flat out bothers me. Many Worlds is just an interpretation, a flavor- it shares the exact same math with all other flavors of quantum mechanics. I agree with Eliezer that it's a far more agreeable flavor than Copenhagen- but those aren't the only two flavors available. And if you are making predictions based on your flavor preferences, something went wrong somewhere. I cannot see how your tastes when it comes to QM should impact whether or not you sign up for cryonics with the currently existing firms offering cryonic services.

Comment author: JamesAndrix 20 November 2010 10:42:31PM 5 points [-]

I didn't get the impression that MWI mattered to cryonics. The connection from the Quantum physics sequence to cryonics that I got was "This atom is essentially the same as that atom, Replacing all your atoms wouldn't change 'you'. " And related to that, that your atoms could be computer simulated and you'd still be you.

Comment author: Vaniver 20 November 2010 11:01:51PM 2 points [-]

That's a very reasonable interpretation, but it's orthogonal to why I'm bothered.

If the argument is "my objection to cryonics was I wasn't convinced a remade me would be me, but as soon as I realized the configuration was important and not the pieces inside the configuration, that toppled my last objection," then I don't have an issue with that.

What it looked like to me was "I am convinced of Eliezer's viewpoint" instead of "I believe Eliezer's arguments are correct in the domain that they are argued." The linked argument that cryonics is reasonable is an argument that cryonics is possible, not an argument that signing up with Alcor or CI actually increases your likelihood of being awoken in the future. The linked argument is necessary but not sufficient for the action stated.

That came to the forefront of my mind because Eliezer's declaration that MWI is "correct" could mean two things- either MWI is the single truest / best flavor of QM, which I do not think he is qualified to state, or MWI gives the right answers when you ask it relevant questions, just like Copenhagen. Eliezer can rightly say MWI is more satisfactory than Copenhagen, but when you go further and make plans based on multiverses that you would not make if you were just planning for a singular future, that is a giant red flag.

Comment author: wnoise 21 November 2010 02:04:23AM 3 points [-]

MWI agrees with Copenhagen in all currently reasonably accessible experimental regimes. But it is not just a flavor -- it allows for the possibility of "uncollapse" after an observation by delicate recoherence. (Though after such a demonstration the Copenhagenite could just say that the collapse was inferred too soon.)

Comment author: Vaniver 21 November 2010 07:30:51PM 2 points [-]

I agree that the question "Has this system collapsed?" is a bad question, and people shouldn't be interested in it. (That's the main reason I don't like Copenhagen; it invented that question and still considers it relevant.)

The real question is "if we set up a bunch of these systems in identical conditions, what distribution of results do we expect?". The reason I am not optimistic about MWI 'beating' Copenhagen with such an experiment is that any physical process that "uncollapses" an observation is readily understandable by both MWI and Copenhagen. The Copenhagenite would just say "well, the system collapsed here, and then you uncollapsed it there, and then you recollapsed it in this last place" and come up with the same answer for the final state as the MWI believer.

Comment author: topynate 21 November 2010 07:57:43PM 0 points [-]

Wave function collapse deletes eigenvalues. 'Uncollapse' would have to put them back, in which case you have to keep track of those eigenvalues, in which case you never deleted them in the first place, in which case no collapse occured. So the Copenhagen interpretation can deal with uncollapse, so long as nothing ever collapses.

Comment author: Vaniver 21 November 2010 08:24:16PM *  0 points [-]

Illustration: if we use the example of the experiment here, the Copenhagenite would just point to the steps between measurement 2 and measurement 3 that reverse measurement 2 and say "look, to do this you need to put your subject in either |+> or |-> according to what's still in your memory, and so the collapse at measurement 2 is entirely separate from what the result of measurement 3 will be."

The only difference between the two physicists will be their vocabulary- one will have the unfortunate word "collapse" and the other will have the unfortunate word "multiverse"- but they'll agree on the final result.

Comment author: topynate 21 November 2010 11:41:49PM *  0 points [-]

OK, the example linked is defective, in that there are two different operations that get the same result when the machine reverses its x-axis measurement. The first is the time-reversal of the measurement operation; the second is the recreation of the state created by measurement 1. You seem to be saying that the Copenhagenite would assume the latter.

Here is a modification of the experiment that tests the idea of collapse more severely. Instead of preparing an electron in a |+z> or |-z> state, I prepare an entangled pair of electrons with opposite z-axis spin (a spin anti-correlated pair). I now give one electron to the machine intelligence, which measures its spin in the x-axis, and then applies the time-reversal of the measurement, restoring the electron's original state and erasing its memory of the x-axis state. It then passes the electron back to me, and I measure the two electrons' z-axis spins.

If the machine intelligence's measurement had caused a collapse, the anti-correlation would be erased. But in fact everything we know about quantum mechanics says that the electrons should remain anti-correlated.

Comment author: Vaniver 22 November 2010 12:14:35AM 0 points [-]

I now give one electron to the machine intelligence, which measures its spin in the x-axis, and then applies the time-reversal of the measurement, restoring the electron's original state and erasing its memory of the x-axis state.

I don't see why the Copenhagenite can't make the exact same objection here. Perhaps it would be clearer if you gave an example of how one would perform the time reversal of a measurement? If I have a z spin up electron, and I put it through a Stern-Gerlach device and find it is now a x spin up electron, how do I go back to a z spin up electron?

Comment author: topynate 22 November 2010 12:44:56AM 2 points [-]

The link doesn't make it explicit, but a reversible machine intelligence which can actually reverse a measurement is a quantum computer. In this context, a measurement occurs when the AI purposefully entangles its computing elements with the electron. The AI can now choose whether to let the information it gains leak out of it or not. Provided it does not allow the entanglement between the electron and the outside world to increase, it can choose to unentangle its state from that of the electron. In the simplest case, where it does not allow the rest of its mind to become entangled with the part of itself that it is using as a measurement apparatus, all it need do is run the inverse of the unitary transform that it used to entangle the apparatus with the electron. However, it can theoretically do quite a bit more. It can use the information in other computations, and then carefully carry out an operation that restores the original state of the electron and turns the results it obtains into superpositions.

Humans don't have such fine-grained control over where they shuffle quantum information, nor can they keep themselves from becoming entangled with their environment. Using macroscopic devices to register phosphorescence is right out.

Comment author: Vaniver 22 November 2010 01:08:30AM 0 points [-]

It seems to me that this makes assumptions about entanglement and disentanglement which I find suspect (but I am not an expert on entanglement, so they may hold). It doesn't appear to be "choosing" to unentangle its state from the electron- we're assuming that the information it generates through entanglement is not leaked to the outside world, and that the information can be thrown away and the system returned to where it was before. If it's making a choice, it seems that that choice would cause information leak.

If those assumptions hold, I don't see why they hold for just MWI. That is, I believe it may be possible to get to a final situation where you have your initial configuration despite the fact that your apparatus poked the system- but I don't think that gives you any meaningful information differentiating the flavors of QM.

Comment author: wnoise 22 November 2010 01:25:07AM 0 points [-]

that the information can be thrown away

Quantum Information cannot be thrown away. Nor can it be copied. Information is conserved. *Apart, perhaps, from Copenhagen collapse). Information can be made difficult to retrieve by e.g. entanglement with the environment, specifically propagating modes that take it beyond your control, but it's still "in principle" there.

Comment author: wnoise 22 November 2010 01:33:58AM 0 points [-]

As stated you can't. In the MWI picture, you are split into two one who has measured it x+, the other x-. Both must send it back to have it recohere, and they must at the same time erase their measurement of which way it went -- really anything that distinguishes those two branches. They can record the fact that they did measure it, as this is the same in the two branches.

A person obviously can't just "forget", and will at best leak information into the environment, encoded as correlations in the noise of heat. A (reversible) computer, on the other hand, works quite well for doing this.

Comment author: Nisan 21 November 2010 04:25:46AM 1 point [-]

Right, and after several such experiments it would become apparent that the Copenhagenite doesn't know how to predict when collapse happens.

Comment author: timtyler 21 November 2010 02:52:19PM *  1 point [-]

Many Worlds is just an interpretation

It isn't according to The Everett FAQ's: Q16 Is many-worlds (just) an interpretation?

Comment author: Vaniver 21 November 2010 07:21:10PM *  1 point [-]

Have you read that and considered it convincing?

They use four supports, all of which collapse under examination (I don't number them the way they do, because they seem confused about what are separate supports):

  1. Though it makes the same predictions about our world as de Broglie-Bohm, they have different philosophical implications. Believe in something because of math, not philosophy.

They list three predictions made MWI, all of which are already disproved or nonsense:

  1. If memory is reversible, it's not memory because thermodynamic fluctuations make it unreliable. Beyond that confusion, the crux of this argument is whether or not a spin measurement can be reversed- if so, it should work for any flavor, and not depend on whether or not you also erase what's in memory.

  2. Their discussion of quantum gravity serves to make MWI not more plausible, as it supposedly requires quantum gravity, while other flavors function whether gravity is quantum or classical.

  3. Their discussion of linearity is flat-out bizarre. Paraphrased: 'We're pretty damn sure that QM is linear, but if it weren't and MWI were true, aliens would have teleported to our dimension, and that hasn't happened yet.' Why they think that is evidence for MWI is beyond me- using Bayesian logic, it strictly cannot increase the probability of MWI.

Comment author: nshepperd 22 November 2010 01:50:05AM 0 points [-]

I don't think the intention was to offer these as evidence for MWI. The evidence for MWI is that it has one less postulate (and therefore is "simpler"). They're just showing what MWI rules out. That these predictions are different correctly justifies saying "MWI is not just an interpretation".

Comment author: timtyler 21 November 2010 07:40:03PM *  0 points [-]

It is best not to use quotation marks - unless you are actually quoting - or otherwise make it very clear what you are doing. The resulting self-sabotage is too dramatic.

I read that - and your incorrect comments about reversible memory - and concluded that you didn't know what you were talking about.

Comment author: Vaniver 21 November 2010 07:54:04PM 0 points [-]

At your suggestion, I've revised my comment to make clear that I'm paraphrasing my interpretation of their comment instead of quoting it directly.

I was least sure about my reversible memory objection, and was considering placing a disclaimer on it; however, I feel I should stand by it unless given evidence that my understanding of information entropy is incorrect. My statement is in accord with Landauer's Principle, which I see is not known to be true (but is very strongly suspected to be). There appears to be a fundamental limit that their trend is bucking up against, and so I feel confident saying the trend will not continue as they need it to.

Even if we shelve the discussion of whether or not memory can be reversible, the other objection- that any process which reverses a measurement can be understood by both MWI and Copenhagen- demolishes the usefulness of such an experiment, as none of the testable predictions differ between the two interpretations.

Comment author: timtyler 21 November 2010 09:59:20PM 0 points [-]

If it helps, this seems relevant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reversible_computing

Landauer's Principle doesn't seem particularly relevant - since in reversible computing there is no erasure of information.

Comment author: Vaniver 21 November 2010 11:26:53PM 0 points [-]

I don't see the relevance- the description of the experiment linked purports to hinge on the reversibility of information erasure. It sounds like both of us agree that's impossible.

(It actually hinges on whatever steps they take to 'reverse' the measurement they take, which is why it's not an effective experiment.)

Comment author: timtyler 22 November 2010 06:34:37PM 1 point [-]

It seems relevant to the comment that "if memory is reversible, it's not memory". Reversible computers have reversible memory.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 22 November 2010 07:33:48PM 0 points [-]

Reversible computer designs people actually consider building do a small bit of irreversible computation copying end results of the reversible computations into irreversible memory before rolling back the reversible computation. Perfectly reversible computations are a bit useless since they erase their results when they start rolling backwards.

Comment author: wnoise 22 November 2010 08:01:30PM 0 points [-]

You can erase some of their results without erasing others, of course.

Comment author: timtyler 22 November 2010 07:41:30PM *  0 points [-]

Nobody says you have to run a reversible computer backwards.

A big part of the point is to digitise heat sinks and power management. For details about that, see here.

Comment author: timtyler 20 November 2010 01:42:53PM 0 points [-]

How constructive is:

  1. Beliefs are for controlling anticipation (Not for being interesting)

...? ...since beliefs, do in fact, serve all kinds of signalling purposes among humans.

Comment author: Vive-ut-Vivas 20 November 2010 01:45:52PM 4 points [-]

It's probably useful at this point to differentiate between actual beliefs and signaled beliefs, particularly because if your beliefs control anticipation (and accurately!), you would know which beliefs you want to signal for social purposes.

Comment author: timtyler 20 November 2010 02:12:31PM *  4 points [-]

...though it is also worth noting that humans are evolved to be reasonable lie-detectors.

If your actual beliefs don't match your signalled beliefs, others may pick up on that, expose you as a liar, and punish you.

Comment author: saturn 20 November 2010 08:56:25PM 3 points [-]

You can choose to think of signaling beliefs as lying, but that's not very helpful to anyone. It's what most people do naturally and therefore not a violation of anyone's expectations in most contexts. Maybe instead it should be called speaking Statusese.

People don't pick up on the literal truth of your statements but on your own belief that you are doing something wrong. For instance, writers of fiction aren't typically considered immoral liars.

Comment author: sark 20 November 2010 10:29:49PM 0 points [-]

People will agree to fiction not being true, but not to their professed beliefs not being true.

Comment author: timtyler 20 November 2010 09:15:00PM *  0 points [-]

Signalling beliefs that don't match your actual beliefs is what I said and meant.

Like claiming to be a vegan, and then eating spam.

Comment author: saturn 20 November 2010 09:26:15PM *  4 points [-]

If the whole world claims to be vegan and then eats spam, and moreover sees this as completely normal and expected, and sees people who don't do it as weird and untrustworthy, what exactly are you accomplishing by refusing to go along with it?

Comment author: sark 20 November 2010 10:33:18PM 0 points [-]

Some of us have trouble keeping near and far modes separate. People like us if we try professing veganism, will find ourselves ending up not eating spam.

My personal solution is to lie, I'm actually quite good at it!

Comment author: timtyler 20 November 2010 09:32:58PM 0 points [-]

What does that have to do with the topic? That was just an example of signalling beliefs that don't match your actual beliefs.

Comment author: wedrifid 20 November 2010 09:03:21PM 0 points [-]

One could as easily say that it isn't useful to consider lying from the viewpoint of morality.

Comment author: Vive-ut-Vivas 20 November 2010 02:16:53PM *  1 point [-]

And ideally, you'd take that fact into account in forming your actual beliefs. I think it's pretty well-established here that having accurate beliefs shouldn't actually hurt you. It's not a good strategy to change your actual beliefs so that you can signal more effectively -- and it probably wouldn't work, anyway.

Comment author: timtyler 20 November 2010 02:22:21PM *  3 points [-]

I think it's pretty well-established here that having accurate beliefs shouldn't actually hurt you.

Hmm: Information Hazards: A Typology of Potential Harms from Knowledge ...?

Comment author: Vive-ut-Vivas 20 November 2010 02:35:13PM 0 points [-]

I haven't read that paper - but thanks for the link, I'll definitely do so - but it seems that that's a separate issue from choosing which beliefs to have based on what it will do for your social status. Still, I would argue that limiting knowledge is only preferable in select cases -- not a good general rule to abide by, partial knowledge of biases and such notwithstanding.

Comment author: wedrifid 20 November 2010 09:07:58PM 1 point [-]

I think it's pretty well-established here that having accurate beliefs shouldn't actually hurt you.

Not at all. It is well established having accurate beliefs should not hurt a perfect bayesian intelligence. Believing it applied to mere humans would be naive in the extreme.

It's not a good strategy to change your actual beliefs so that you can signal more effectively -- and it probably wouldn't work, anyway.

The fact that we are so damn good at it is evidence to the contrary!

Comment author: Vive-ut-Vivas 20 November 2010 09:36:52PM 0 points [-]

I'm not understanding the disagreement here. I'll grant that imperfect knowledge can be harmful, but is anybody really going to argue that it isn't useful to try to have the most accurate map of the territory?

Comment author: wedrifid 20 November 2010 10:48:42PM 1 point [-]

We are talking about signalling. So for most people yes.

Comment author: Laoch 28 December 2013 05:53:52PM *  1 point [-]

Right, I've read the solution sequence to "free will" and all I've managed to glean from it is that a) I'm physics, whose ontology I'm quite ignorant of and b) free will is conceptually incoherent and needs dissolving. I certainly don't feel like or believe I have free will or that I could influence the creation of FAI by desire for example. Is there something Louis(me) is missing that Louie isn't from the sequence? I find the sequence too long and prosaic to fit in my head to make a visceral impact. Is there a more concise alternative or even just an alternative that would make Louis.belief == Louie.belief? I'm struggling guys please help.

Comment author: AlephNeil 20 November 2010 09:16:53PM 0 points [-]

Number 4 is totally wrong.

"In order to be able to think up a hypothesis which has a significant chance of being correct, I must already possess a sufficient quantity of information" is obvious, following immediately from the mathematics of information. But that's emphatically not the same thing as "I obtain my hypothesis by applying a 'principle of induction' to generalize the data I have so far."

The way induction was supposed to work was that your observation statements served as the premises of a kind of inference. Just as one can use deductive logic to infer "Swan[1] is white" from "All swans are white", so one was supposed to be able to infer "All swans are (probably) white" from ("Swan[1] is white", ..., "Swan[N] is white") for sufficiently large N.

But there is no such thing as a "method of induction" which finds hypotheses for you. Consider those swans: In order to even write down the data we needed to have the concepts 'white' and 'swan', and something must have motivated us to look specifically at swans and note down specifically what colour they are. In other words, by the time we get round to actually applying our "method of induction" we must already have formed the very hypothesis that the method was supposed to return, or something close to it (like "all swans are some colour - perhaps white").

This becomes comical when we turn to GR:

Our raw, unprocessed 'sense data' comes streaming in: ("The precession of Mercury's perihelion looks exactly as if (long description of the mathematics of general relativity)", "The apparent position of this star as the sun moves in front of it changes in a manner that looks exactly as if (long description of the mathematics of general relativity)", "A clock aboard this high-flying plane runs slightly faster than one on earth, exactly as if (long description of general relativity)") ... and then, as if by magic, the Method Of Induction selects for us the appropriate hypothesis: (long description of the mathematics of general relativity).

Comment author: JamesAndrix 22 November 2010 01:51:40AM 0 points [-]

No.

There must be a process to turn data into hypotheses. It may be that that process in our brains is biased towards dealing with things like animal colors, but even that came from evolution being handed raw data.

The thing to keep in mind is that all the intermediate sensory processing may also be part of the process of induction (or a biased version of it.) If the data is pre-selected, then that just means that much of the inductive work has already been done. The selection could not have happened otherwise.

A less biased, more raw system might systematically look for correlations between variables, including computed variables like "What species is this?" Which can themselves be inferred from the raw data.

Doing this efficiently is a trick.

Comment author: wedrifid 20 November 2010 09:22:44PM *  0 points [-]

But there is no such thing as a "method of induction" which finds hypotheses for you.

Yes there is although one must of course already have some kind of vocabulary within which to represent hypotheses. It is finding a hypothesis out of an infinite number of hypothesis that such a method is useful for.

Comment author: AlephNeil 20 November 2010 09:29:34PM 1 point [-]

No there isn't, because as I have illustrated above, an 'inductive inference' pointing to a hypothesis presupposes a set of data selectively chosen and written down in such a way that the hypothesis is already present.

I think you probably have something else in mind, perhaps "abductive inference" (i.e. "inference to the best explanation").

Comment author: wedrifid 20 November 2010 11:12:18PM *  0 points [-]

abductive inference

That's the kind of science aliens use.

Comment author: anonym 21 November 2010 11:15:40AM *  0 points [-]

Yes, abductive inference or some form of analogical thinking are how powerful hypotheses are really generated. Neither of the posts linked to in number 4 above even mention induction, so I'm not sure why the author thought they were evidence for the thesis.