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abigailgem comments on Rationality is Systematized Winning - Less Wrong

48 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 April 2009 02:41PM

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Comment author: abigailgem 03 April 2009 03:32:33PM *  8 points [-]

Suggestion: "Rationalists seek to Win, not to be rational".

Suggestion: "If what you think is rational appears less likely to Win than what you think is irrational, then you need to reassess probabilities and your understanding of what is rational and what is irrational".

Suggestion: "It is not rational to do anything other than the thing which has the best chance of winning".

If I have a choice between what I define as the "Rational" course of action, and a course of action which I describe as "irrational" but which I predict has a better chance of winning, I am either predicting badly or wrongly defining what is Rational.

I am not sure my suggestions are Better, but I am groping towards understanding and hope my gropings help.

EDIT: and the warning is that we may deceive ourselves into thinking that we are being rational, when we are missing something, using the wrong map, arguing fallaciously. So what about:

Suggestion: "If you are not Winning, consider whether you are really being rational".

"If you are not Winning more than people you believe to be irrational, this may be evidence that you are not really being rational".

On a different tack, "Rationalists win wherever rationality is an aid to winning". I am not going to win millions on the Lottery, because I do not play it.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 03 April 2009 09:05:15PM 2 points [-]

Choosing what gives the "best chance of winning" is good advice for a two-valued utility function, but I'm also interested in reducing the severity of my loss under uncertainty and misfortune.

I guess "maximizing expected utility" isn't as sexy as "winning".

Comment author: timtyler 04 April 2009 08:05:34AM 2 points [-]

Indeed. Forget about "winning". It is not sexy if it is wrong.

Comment author: Elit 18 August 2014 07:55:33PM 1 point [-]

I don't think so. I take "wining" to be actualization of one's values, which encompasses minimizing loss.

Furthermore, I think it actually helps to make the terms "sexy", because I am a heuristic human; my brain is wired for narratives and motivated by drama and "coolness." Framing ideas as something Grand and Awesome makes them matter to me emotionally, makes them a part of my identity, and makes me more likely to apply them.

Similarly, there are certain worthwhile causes for which I fight. They ARE worth fighting for, but I'm deluding myself if I act as if I'm so morally superior that I support them only because the problems are so pressing that I couldn't possibly not do anything, that I have a duty to fulfill. That may be true, but it is also true that I disposed to be a fighter, and I am looking for a cause for which to fight. Knowing this, dramatizing the causes that actually do matter (as great battles for the fate of the human species) will motivate me to pursue them.

I have to be careful (as with anything), not to allow this sort of framing to distort my perception of the real, but I think as long as I know what I am doing, and I contain my self-manipulation to framing (and not denial of facts), I am served by it.

Comment author: JDM 07 June 2013 01:47:10AM 0 points [-]

I think you're defining "winning" too strictly. Sometimes a minor loss is still a win, if the alternative was a large one.

Comment author: timtyler 07 June 2013 10:18:48AM *  2 points [-]

Winning is a conventional dictionary word, though. You can't easily just redefine it without causing confusion. "Winning" and "maximising" have different definitions and connotations.

Comment author: JDM 07 June 2013 07:34:20PM 0 points [-]

The first definition from google - Be successful or victorious in (a contest or conflict).

This is no different than I or most people would define it, and I don't think it contradicts with how I used it.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 04 April 2009 08:14:54AM 1 point [-]

"Winning" refers to outcomes, not to actions, so it should just be "maximizing utility".

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 03 April 2009 03:51:47PM 3 points [-]

Suggestion: "If you are not Winning, consider whether you are really being rational".

The problem with this is that winning as a metric is swamped with random noise and different starting points.

Someone winning the lottery when you don't is not evidence that you are not being rational.

Someone whose parents were both high-paid lawyers making a fortune in business when you don't is not evidence that you are not being rational.

Comment author: abigailgem 03 April 2009 04:02:36PM 3 points [-]

Yes, but...

Of course there is random noise and different starting points, but there is also some evidence of whether one is really rational. It is a question of epistemic rationality what Wins should accrue to Rational people, and what wins (eg, parentage, the lottery) do not.

Comment author: thomblake 03 April 2009 08:11:26PM 1 point [-]

I disagree. Someone winning the lottery when you don't is evidence that you are not being rational, if getting a large sum of money for little effort is a goal you'd shoot for. But on evaluation, it should be seen as evidence that counts for little or nothing. Most of us have already done that evaluation.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 03 April 2009 09:21:38PM *  3 points [-]

I don't follow.

I used the lottery as an example of very randomized wins. It's the "right place at the right time" factor. Some events in life are, for all practical purposes, randomized and out of an agent's direct control. By the central limit theorem, some agents will seem to accumulate large wins due in large part to these kinds of random events, and some will accumulate large losses.

Most agents will be, by definition, near the center of the normal distribution. The existence of agents at the tails of the curve does not constitute evidence of one's own irrationality.

Comment author: thomblake 03 April 2009 10:24:46PM 2 points [-]

Right, but you could be wrong about it being randomized, or having negative expected value; not winning it can be taken as evidence that you're not being rational.

Suppose that everyone on your street other than you plays the lotto; you laugh at them for not being rational. Every week, someone on your street wins the lotto - by the end of the year, everyone else has become a millionaire. Doesn't it seem like you might have misunderstood something about the lottery?

Of course, it could be that you examine it further and find that the lottery is indeed random and you've just noticed a very improbable event. It was still evidence that was worth investigating.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 03 April 2009 10:52:52PM 3 points [-]

There's a big difference between "someone else wins the lottery" and "everyone else on your street wins the lottery". One is likely, the other absurdly unlikely.

Given your current knowledge of how the lottery works, the expected value is negative, ergo not playing the lottery is rational. Someone else winning the lottery (a result predicted by your current understanding) is itself not evidence that this decision is irrational.

However, if an extremely improbable event occurs, such as everyone on your street winning the lotto, this is strong evidence that your knowledge of the lottery is mistaken, and given the large potential payoff it then becomes rational to examine the matter further, and alter your current understanding if necessary. Your earlier actions may look irrational in hindsight, but that doesn't change that they were rational based on your knowledge at the time.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 04 April 2009 11:28:27AM 2 points [-]

...presuming that your knowledge at the time was itself rationally obtained based on the evidence; and in the long run, we should not expect too many times to find ourselves believing with high confidence that the lottery has a tiny payout and then seeing everyone on the street winning the lottery. If this mistake recurs, it is a sign of epistemic irrationality.

I make this point because a lot of success in life consists in holding yourself to high standards; and a lot of that is hunting down the excuses and killing them.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 04 April 2009 11:59:23AM *  0 points [-]

...presuming that your knowledge at the time was itself rationally obtained based on the evidence; and in the long run, we should not expect too many times to find ourselves believing with high confidence that the lottery has a tiny payout and then seeing everyone on the street winning the lottery. If this mistake recurs, it is a sign of epistemic irrationality.

Yes. I was generally assuming in my comment that the rhetorical "you" is an imperfect epistemic rationalist with a reasonably sensible set of priors.

The point I was trying to make is to not handwave away the difference between making the most optimal known choices at a moment in time vs. updating one's model of the world. It's possible (if silly) to be very irrational on one and largely rational on the other.