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thomblake comments on Rationality is Systematized Winning - Less Wrong

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

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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.