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Wei_Dai comments on Purchase Fuzzies and Utilons Separately - Less Wrong

75 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 April 2009 09:51AM

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Comment author: Wei_Dai 10 January 2010 04:09:43AM 10 points [-]

Today I overhead a man in the supermarket telling his wife that maybe they should buy some lottery tickets, and I was reminded of Eliezer's "opening doors for little old ladies" line (which he repeated in his recent video answers).

Isn't buying lottery tickets also a form of purchasing warm fuzzies? I'm not sure that opening doors for little old ladies is any more defensible for a utilitarian than buying lottery tickets is for a rationalist.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 10 January 2010 06:33:54AM *  13 points [-]

To expand on this comparison a bit more, one important difference between the two is that once a person understands the concept of expected value, and knows that lottery tickets have expected value below purchase price, the warm-fuzzy effect largely goes away. But for some reason, at least for Eliezer, the warm-fuzzy effect of opening a door for an old lady doesn't go away, even though he knows that doing so creates negative expected utilons.

Perhaps the warm-fuzzy effect remains because Eliezer rationalizes it thus: if I can restore my willpower through the warm-fuzzy effect of opening doors for little old ladies, I can be more productive in producing utilons through my work, so it's really a good thing after all, and I deserve the warm-fuzzy effect. But perhaps a rationalist can use a similar line of thought to keep the warm-fuzzy effect of buying lottery tickets. Should one do so?

ETA: Apparently Eliezer already addressed the issue of lottery tickets, with the following conclusion:

Biases are lemons, not lemonade, and we shouldn't try to make lemonade out of them - just burn those lemons down.

Which seems completely inconsistent with the position he takes here...

Comment author: [deleted] 13 October 2011 07:58:44AM *  5 points [-]

Humans are social animals.

Buying lottery tickets seems less likley to trigger ancestral envrionment reward circuitry than having a positive interaction with another person. Windfall from the capricious environment seems a worse bet than good will towards you in a small tribe where word gets around. This is even completely ignoring the plausible root of most altruism in kin selection.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 10 January 2010 01:32:47PM 1 point [-]

The difference seems to be that the appeal of lottery tickets is already a change from the baseline (in the wrong direction), caused by confusion, and so it's easier to retract this appeal by understanding the situation. Removing more immediate inbuilt drives is on the other hand infeasible.

Comment author: Desrtopa 16 April 2013 11:09:55PM 3 points [-]

I know this is an old comment, but...

I think holding open doors for old ladies is not only defensible, but entirely practical for utilitarians.

First, there's plenty of research suggesting that little actions like this can have significant spillover effects on our attitudes for some time after . Second, how exactly are you going to convert that handful of seconds into a higher utility payoff? Are you going to stay at work for an extra hour so that, if you run into some people in need of assistance after you leave, you can not help them? Are you going to stand there on the other side of the door and think about important AI problems while the old lady struggles to open it?

Time is a great deal less fungible than money.

Comment author: RobinZ 10 January 2010 04:13:34AM *  -1 points [-]

Note: This comment is off-topic.

I consider opening the door for a frail old lady roughly equivalent to opening the door for a perfectly healthy but heavily encumbered young lady. My utility function includes a term for them, and the change in that term outweighs the change in the term for me.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 10 January 2010 05:28:03AM 1 point [-]

I think you're missing the point here, Robin. Have you read Eliezer's post that my comment is filed under? Please do that if you haven't.

Comment author: RobinZ 10 January 2010 05:41:38AM 2 points [-]

...right - ignore my comment.