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Open thread, October 2011

5 Post author: MarkusRamikin 02 October 2011 09:05AM

This thread is for discussing anything that doesn't seem to deserve its own post.

If the resulting discussion becomes impractical to continue here, it means the topic is a promising candidate for its own thread.

Comments (290)

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 03 October 2011 01:16:24PM *  18 points [-]

Some time ago, I had a simple insight that seems crucial and really important, and has been on my mind a lot. Yet at the same time, I'm unable to really share it, because on the surface it seems so obvious as to not be worth stating, and very few people would probably get much out of me just stating it. I presume that this an instance of the Burrito Phenomenon:

While working on an article for the Monad.Reader, I’ve had the opportunity to think about how people learn and gain intuition for abstraction, and the implications for pedagogy. The heart of the matter is that people begin with the concrete, and move to the abstract. Humans are very good at pattern recognition, so this is a natural progression. By examining concrete objects in detail, one begins to notice similarities and patterns, until one comes to understand on a more abstract, intuitive level. This is why it’s such good pedagogical practice to demonstrate examples of concepts you are trying to teach. It’s particularly important to note that this process doesn’t change even when one is presented with the abstraction up front! For example, when presented with a mathematical definition for the first time, most people (me included) don’t “get it” immediately: it is only after examining some specific instances of the definition, and working through the implications of the definition in detail, that one begins to appreciate the definition and gain an understanding of what it “really says.”

Unfortunately, there is a whole cottage industry of monad tutorials that get this wrong. To see what I mean, imagine the following scenario: Joe Haskeller is trying to learn about monads. After struggling to understand them for a week, looking at examples, writing code, reading things other people have written, he finally has an “aha!” moment: everything is suddenly clear, and Joe Understands Monads! What has really happened, of course, is that Joe’s brain has fit all the details together into a higher-level abstraction, a metaphor which Joe can use to get an intuitive grasp of monads; let us suppose that Joe’s metaphor is that Monads are Like Burritos. Here is where Joe badly misinterprets his own thought process: “Of course!” Joe thinks. “It’s all so simple now. The key to understanding monads is that they are Like Burritos. If only I had thought of this before!” The problem, of course, is that if Joe HAD thought of this before, it wouldn’t have helped: the week of struggling through details was a necessary and integral part of forming Joe’s Burrito intuition, not a sad consequence of his failure to hit upon the idea sooner.

I'm curious: do others commonly get this feeling of having finally internalized something really crucial, which you at the same time know you can't communicate without spending so much time as to make it not worth the effort? I seem to get one such feeling maybe once a year or a couple.

To clarify, I don't mean simply the feeling of having an intuition which you can't explain because of overwhelming inferential distance. That happens all the time. I mean the feeling of something clicking, and then occupying your thoughts a large part of the time, which you can't explain because you can't state it without it seeming entirely obvious.

(And for those curious - what clicked for me this time around was basically the point Eliezer was making in No Universally Compelling Arguments and Created Already in Motion, but as applied to humans, not hypothetical AIs. In other words, if a person's brain is not evaluating beliefs on the basis of their truth-value, then it doesn't matter how good or right or reasonable your argument is - or for that matter, any piece of information that they might receive. And brains can never evaluate a claim on the basis of the claim's truth value, for a claim's truth value is not a simple attribute that could just be extracted directly. This doesn't just mean that people might (consciously or subconsciously) engage in motivated cognition - that, I already knew. It also means that we ourselves can never know for certain whether hearing the argument that should convince us if we were perfect reasoners will in fact convince us, or whether we'll just dismiss it as flawed for basically no good reason. )

Comment author: hamnox 03 October 2011 06:19:43PM 3 points [-]

Yes, I think I know what you mean. I hit that roadblock just about every time I try to explain math concepts to my little brother. It's not so much that he doesn't have enough background knowledge to get what I'm saying, as that I already have a very specific understanding of math built up in my head in which half of algebra is too self-evident to break down any further.

Comment author: lessdazed 04 October 2011 09:46:33AM 12 points [-]

I propose a thread in which people practice saying they were wrong and possibly also saying they were surprised.

Comment author: wedrifid 04 October 2011 09:52:57AM 3 points [-]

Decent idea. Second.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 04 October 2011 01:15:16PM *  10 points [-]

For the passed year or two I've felt like there are literally no avenues open to me towards social, romantic, or professional advancement, up from my current position of zero. On reflection, it seems highly unlikely that this is actually true, so it follows that I'm rather egregiously missing something. Are there any rationalist techniques designed to make one better at noticing opportunities (ones that come along and ones that have always been there) in general?

Comment author: pedanterrific 05 October 2011 12:22:09AM *  8 points [-]

Okay, I've read through the other responses and I think I understand what you're asking for, but correct me if I'm wrong.

A technique I've found useful for noticing opportunities once I've decided on a goal is thinking and asking about the strategies that other people who have succeeded at the goal used, and seeing if any of them are possible from my situation. This obviously doesn't work so well for goals sufficiently narrow or unique that no one has done them before, but that doesn't seem to be what you're talking about.

Social advancement: how do people who have a lot of friends and are highly respected make friends and instill respect? Romantic advancement: How did the people in stable, committed relationships (or who get all the one-night stands they want, whichever) meet each other and become close? Professional advancement: How did my boss (or mentor) get their position?

Edit: Essentially I'm saying the first step to noticing more opportunities is becoming more familiar with what an opportunity looks like.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 05 October 2011 11:17:52AM 2 points [-]

This is useful, actually. I think I've been kind of doing that indirectly, but not with a direct conscious effort. It doesn't do me much good right now, since I'm still completely isolated and don't know of anyone who got out of a situation like mine, but I think it could still be helpful.

Comment author: rwallace 05 October 2011 09:11:47AM 14 points [-]

I was about to explain why nobody has an answer to the question you asked, when it turned out you already figured it out :) As for what you should actually do, here's my suggestion:

  1. Explain your actual situation and ask for advice.

  2. For each piece of advice given, notice that you have immediately come up with at least one reason why you can't follow it.

  3. Your natural reaction will be to post those reasons, thereby getting into an argument with the advice givers. You will win this argument, thereby establishing that there is indeed nothing you can do.

  4. This is the important bit: don't do step 3! Instead, work on defeating or bypassing those reasons. If you can't do this by yourself, go ahead and post the reasons, but always in a frame of "I know this reason can be defeated or bypassed, help me figure out how," that aligns you with instead of against the advice givers.

  5. You are allowed to reject some of the given advice, as long as you don't reject all of it.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 05 October 2011 01:14:18PM 4 points [-]

That's actually exactly what I usually try to do. Unfortunately, most advice-givers in my experience tend to mistake #4 for #3. I point out that they've made an incorrect assumption when formulating their advice, and I immediately get yelled at for making excuses. I do actually have a tendency to seek excuses for non-action, but I've been aware of that tendency in myself for a long time and counter it as vigorously as I am able to.

I suppose it couldn't hurt to explain my actual situation, though. Gooey details incoming.


I live in the southwestern suburbs of Fairfield, California, on a fixed income that's just enough to pay the bills and buy food, with a little left over. (Look the town over in Google Maps to get a sense of what kind of place it is.)

Most critically, i suffer from Non-24, which, in the past, was responsible for deteriorating health and suicidal depression during high school, for forcing me to drop even the just-for-fun classes I was taking at the community college, as well as causing me to completely lose touch with my high school acquaintances before I figured out what I had and that there was a pattern to it and not just random bouts of hypersomnia and insomnia. It rules out doing anything that involves regularly scheduled activities; I even had to quit my World of Warcraft guild because of it.

Before I lost touch with my high school acquaintances, I did get to experience some normal social gatherings, though to me there was never anything particularly fun about being pelted with straw-wrappers at Denny's or dancing to Nirvana under a strobe-light or watching them play BeerPong. None of those people were ever my friends or even much of a support structure, and I don't actually miss any of them. I've been on several dates through OkCupid and my brief time in college, but they were all failures of emotional connection and in each case I was relieved when the girl told me she didn't want to go out with me anymore. I mention this to show that I'm not just assuming certain generic solutions won't work for me; I've confirmed it by experiment.

So, I'm living without much disposable income, with a sleep disorder that precludes regularly scheduled activities of any kind, in a highway-tumor town, with no friends or contacts of any kind. Oh, and I have a mild photosensitivity condition which means I'm slaved to my sunglasses during the day and even with them can't do anything that involves exposure to direct sunlight for more than a few minutes at a time, just for the sake of thoroughness.

That's the summary of the situation.


My career goals aren't actually precluded by any of this, though becoming a successful graphic artist, or writer, or independent filmmaker or webcomic author or whatever I end up succeeding at, is made more difficult. I only included the professional category because my social goals mostly pertain to my career goals: I'd like to have a useful social network. It'd be nice to have friends just for the sake of having friends, but that's of low value to me. My only high value purely-social goal is meeting and befriending a woman with whom I can have a meaningful and lasting intimate relationship, which dissolves away the romantic category as well.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 05 October 2011 07:42:42PM 8 points [-]

Unfortunately, most advice-givers in my experience tend to mistake #4 for #3. I point out that they've made an incorrect assumption when formulating their advice, and I immediately get yelled at for making excuses.

If this conversation is representative, 'making excuses' might not be entirely accurate, though I can see why people would pattern-match to that as the nearest cached thing of relevance. But to be more accurate, it's more like you're asking "what car is best for driving to the moon" and then rejecting any replies that talk about rockets, since that's not an answer to the actual question you asked. It could even be that the advice about building rockets is entirely useless to you, if you're in a situation where you can't go on a rocket for whatever reason, and they need to introduce you to the idea of space elevators or something, but staying focused on cars isn't going to get you what you want and people are likely to get frustrated with that pretty quickly.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 05 October 2011 11:46:24PM 2 points [-]

it's more like you're asking "what car is best for driving to the moon" and then rejecting any replies that talk about rockets, since that's not an answer to the actual question you asked. It could even be that the advice about building rockets is entirely useless to you, if you're in a situation where you can't go on a rocket for whatever reason, and they need to introduce you to the idea of space elevators or something,

Wow... that may just be the most apt analogy I've ever heard anyone make about this. I'm having a "whoa" moment here.

'kay. So, my first thought is, how does my actual goal fit into the analogy? If my terminal goal fits as finding the right car then the problem lies in everyone hearing a different question than the one asked. If, on the other hand, my terminal goal fits into the analogy as getting to the moon then the problem is a gap of understanding that causes me to persist with the wrong question. Which sounds like exactly the sort of flaw-in-thinking that I was talking about in the first place!

I am vaguely disturbed that I don't actually know which part of the analogy my terminal goal fits into. It seems like its something I should know. I would guess it is the latter, though, due to there actually being a cognitive flaw that remains elusive.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 06 October 2011 01:56:36AM 4 points [-]

It could be that you want both. Human values do tend to be complex, after all. (Also, I'd map 'wanting the best possible mind' to 'wanting the best car', and 'wanting to get your life moving in a good direction' as 'wanting to go to the moon', if that was a source of confusion.)

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 06 October 2011 07:46:16PM 6 points [-]

How does your Non-24 function? Is it completely unpredictable, or would you be able to maintain a regular N-hour cycle for some value of N? Best if N could be something like 33.6, 28, 21, 18.7, because then you could maintain a week cycle, which would allow you a part-time job. But any predictable schedule allows you to plan things.

If your sunglasses are not very helpful in day, could you try some darker sunglasses? You could have a set of sunglasses with different levels of darkness, for inside and outside.

As a general strategy, I would suggest this: If you cannot find one perfect solution, focus on small improvements you can do.

It is generally good to have a "big picture", so your actions are coordinated towards a goal. But even if you don't have it, don't stop. If you do nothing, you receive no information, and that does not make your future planning any better. Even doing random (non-dangerous) things is good, because you gain information.

For example, I don't think that buying darker sunglasses is going to fix all your problems. But still, if darker sunglasses would be an improvement, you should get them. It is better than waiting until you find a pefect strategy for everything.

Comment author: Swimmer963 05 October 2011 01:49:33PM 2 points [-]

Most critically, i suffer from Non-24

Have you seen doctors about this or tried any treatments? I did a quick Wikipedia search and the 'Treatment' section suggested light therapy or melatonin therapy. It said they don't always work well and may be completely ineffective for some people, and it sounds like a lot of work for not much gain, but if you haven't tested it out, it might be worth at try.

for forcing me to drop even the just-for-fun classes I was taking at the community college.

Are online classes perhaps a better option? I don't know how flexible they are in terms of what time of day you can view the lectures and stuff, and I don't know whether you've already tried that.

Actually, there may be online work opportunities as well. I've never investigated this personally, but it might be worth hunting around or asking some other LWers.

RE: writing, that's something that fits pretty well into an irregular schedule. You can do it at home at whatever time of day. What sort of material are you interested in writing? I've been working on writing fiction for a number of years now, and I would happily do an email exchange and read/edit your work. I can't offer to do the same thing for graphic art, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are other people on LW who can.

though to me there was never anything particularly fun about being pelted with straw-wrappers at Denny's or dancing to Nirvana under a strobe-light or watching them play BeerPong.

I can understand that. Those things are pretty boring. Feeling emotionally connected to the people you're doing them with is what makes it worthwhile, and if you don't, you just don't.

As for your original comment about having some cognitive flaw, it might boil down to the fact that you just aren't interested in the same life experience as, say, your high school acquaintances were. Having a group of acquaintances and doing regular social activities with them is a conventional solution for a lot of people, but it if doesn't work for you, it just doesn't work. And when your reward structure isn't the same as everyone else's, there will be fewer "opportunities to be rewarded" that automatically presen themselves.

What will work for you is another question. Finding a job that would self-select for coworkers who had similar interests to yours could help. Also, learning how to steer a conversation from something banal towards something interesting to you is a skill that can help deepen your social connections. (Although the first step is to have enough practice with conversations that you know how to make yourself interesting to the other person. This took me a long time and a lot of conscious effort to acquire.)

Also, depression is its own form of cognitive bias that might make you more likely to see opportunities negatively or as a "waste of time", when otherwise you might think "why not?" If you were depressed for several years, these kind of thoughts or more subtle versions might have become habits.

My only high value purely-social goal is meeting and befriending a woman with whom I can have a meaningful and lasting intimate relationship, which dissolves away the romantic category as well.

I wish you the best of luck with this. It does make a huge difference once you can find that person.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 05 October 2011 03:18:29PM 1 point [-]

Have you seen doctors about this or tried any treatments?

I've made some inquiries. According to all the information I've seen, success of treatment seems to correlate with undersensitivity to light or outright blindness. Since I'm oversensitive to light, that places me on the extreme end of Untreatable.

Are online classes perhaps a better option?

Not really; I was taking those classes for social reasons, not educational reasons.

Also, learning how to steer a conversation from something banal towards something interesting to you is a skill that can help deepen your social connections.

I'm actually reasonably good at this, but it has usually just accelerated the exposure of lack of common ground with whoever I was talking to.

I think meeting the right people is a much bigger problem for me than interacting successfully with those people.

Comment author: jsalvatier 05 October 2011 05:27:54PM 3 points [-]

I've made some inquiries.

If you haven't given several potential treatments serious attempts, I think you should. Improving this issue seems like it would be worth a lot to you, so even smallish probabilities of success are worth investigating.

Comment author: Kingreaper 06 October 2011 12:11:34PM 1 point [-]

I'd say that your statement:

It rules out doing anything that involves regularly scheduled activities

Is inaccurate. It rules out regularly scheduled activities where you have to attend every single one.

The majority of meetups are perfectly happy with someone who attends 1/2 or 1/3 of the meetings; which non-24 shouldn't prevent.

Meetups also have a more structured feel than the social gatherings you mention, and tend to be more useful for networking.

A deeper problem is your location. I'm assuming given your sunlight issue that you can't really drive very far on sunny days?

Comment author: rwallace 05 October 2011 05:18:38PM 1 point [-]

Okay, as Swimmer observes, writing can easily be done from home on a random sleep schedule; so can graphics work, so can creating web comics. There's plenty of relevant educational material for all of these that doesn't require attending scheduled classes. And if you don't bond well with random people, probably the best way to improve your social life is to look for people with whom you have shared interest; which means you might be better off getting the career stuff up and running first; once you do that, it will probably lead to encounters with people with whom you have something in common.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 05 October 2011 08:07:14AM 5 points [-]

You might be interested in The Luck Factor-- it's based on research about lucky and unlucky people, and the author says that lucky people are high on extroversion, have a relaxed attitude toward life (so that they're willing to take advantage of opportunities as they appear (in other words, they don't try to force particular outcomes, and they haven't given up on paying attention to what might be available), and openness to new experiences.

The book claims that all these qualities can be cultivated.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 04 October 2011 04:49:32PM *  5 points [-]

Alright, since no one seems to be understanding my question here, I'll try to reframe it.

(First, to be clear, I'm not having a problem with motivation. I'm not having a problem with indecision. I'm not having a problem with identifying my terminal goal(s).)

To use an analogy, imagine you're playing a video game, and at some point you come to a room where the door shuts behind you and there's no other way out. There's nothing in the room you can interact with, nothing in your inventory that does anything; you poor over every detail of the room, and find there is no way to progress further; the game has glitched, you are stuck. There is literally no way beyond that room and no way out of it except reseting to an earlier save point.

That is how my life feels from the inside: no available paths. (In the glitched video game, it is plausible that there really is no action that will lead to progression beyond the current situation. In real life, not so much.)

Given that it is highly unlikely that this is an accurate Map of the Territory that is the real world, clearly there is a flaw in how I generate my Map in regards to potential paths of advancement in the Territory. It is that cognitive flaw that I wish to correct.

I am asking only for a way to identify and correct that flaw.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 October 2011 05:20:14PM 2 points [-]

I rather doubt there is a fully-generalizable theory of the sort you seem to be looking for. Some territories are better left than explored in more detail, if it be within your power to do so; others can be meaningfully understood and manipulated.

If you are in a dead-end job in a small town where you are socially isolated and clash culturally with the locals, do not have professional credentials sufficient to make a lateral move plausible (ie, working retail as opposed to something that requires a degree), the advice will necessarily be different than if you are in a major city and have a career of some kind.

What works in New York may not work so well in Lake Wobegon.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 04 October 2011 06:12:08PM 2 points [-]

Some territories are better left than explored in more detail

Forgive me if I'm mistaken, but are you saying that some blank places on our Maps ought to be deliberately kept blank? That seems, well, insane.

In any case, at no point did I ask for advice about my specific situation. I want the algorithm being used to generate that advice, not the advice itself.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 October 2011 06:19:53PM 2 points [-]

Forgive me if I'm mistaken, but are you saying that some blank places on our Maps ought to be deliberately kept blank? That seems, well, insane.

No, I'm saying that not all situations present the same amount of opportunities, and your situation makes a difference whether or not you think it does.

I do not think there is a fully-general piece of advice for you, but you clearly believe there is. I believe this is a mistake on your part, and have said so several times now. Since you are not apparently interested in hearing that, I will not bother to repeat myself further.

Good luck finding what you're after though.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 04 October 2011 06:37:58PM 6 points [-]

I'm saying that not all situations present the same amount of opportunities, and your situation makes a difference whether or not you think it does.

Okay, and that's not something I dispute. If I did somehow manage to correct my cognitive flaw, one of the possibilities is that I'd discover that I really don't have any options. But I can't know that until the flaw is solved.

I do not think there is a fully-general piece of advice for you, but you clearly believe there is.

Of course I believe there is a fully general algorithm for identifying avenues of advancement towards a terminal goal. But phrasing it like that just made me realize that anyone who actually knew it would have already built an AGI.

Well, crap.

Comment author: vi21maobk9vp 04 October 2011 09:27:50PM 2 points [-]

Well, having it described in terms suitable for human improvement and relying on existing human cognitive abilities would lower it just to universally applicable intelligence amplification.

So you did not ask for something AGI-equivalent.

Comment author: dlthomas 04 October 2011 06:17:13PM 2 points [-]

I don't think many here would propose that portions of the map be kept blank for the sake of keeping them blank.

It is easy to see that, with limited resources, it may be preferable to leave some regions blank when you've determined that there are likely to be bigger gains to be had elsewhere for cheaper.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 October 2011 06:24:09PM 1 point [-]

This is in fact what I meant -- one's map is necessarily local to one's territory, and sometimes the gains of going over it in more detail are minimal.

To go with the analogy of maps: if what you want is advice on how to plant a garden, it matters whether or not you're in the middle of the Sahara Desert.

Comment author: Swimmer963 04 October 2011 05:12:00PM 1 point [-]

I think I understand the feeling you're having now. Still, It seems highly unlikely to me that you can fix this "cognitive flaw" in isolation, before you've found a few concrete avenues of advancement...I find that my habits, including habits of thought, are trainable rather than fixable in the abstract.

Are you in school? If so, would you like to study something different? If not, is there something you do want to study? Are you working or is there somewhere you want to work? These are conventional paths to life-advancement.

Comment author: thomblake 05 October 2011 03:01:17PM 4 points [-]

As a general comment on the progress of this thread, you seem entirely too certain of what information is irrelevant to this problem, given that you have no idea how to solve it.

Comment author: Swimmer963 04 October 2011 01:35:21PM -2 points [-]

Probably. The technique I've had the most success with is "just go out and DO it!" Whether or not it's a job/friend group/ relationship that seems viable or desirable in the long term, you probably benefit more from trying it than not trying it.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 04 October 2011 01:52:53PM *  1 point [-]

Yeah, that's not really what I was talking about. My problem is with being unable to see that there's anything I should just go out and do, not with actually going out and doing it. I don't have any trouble following a path to my goal once that path has been identified; it's identifying possible path(s) to my goal(s) in the first place that I seem to have a deficiency in. What was unclear about my question that prompted you to answer a different question than the one I asked?

Comment author: Kingreaper 05 October 2011 01:55:09PM *  3 points [-]

"Just go out and DO it!" is then the wrong advice.

However "Just go out and DO!" remains good advice.

Next time you see a poster for a meetup; just go to it. Even if it doesn't sound like it'll help, just go to it.

Next time you see a request for volunteers, which you can afford the time to fulfil, just volunteer. Even if it's not something you care much about.

While you're out doing those things you'll come across people, and random events, etc. that may give you new paths to your goals.

Don't worry about achieving your goals, just do things. To use your video-game analogy: you've been looking around for things that look like they'll be useful for you. But you haven't been pressing random buttons, you haven't clicked "use" on the poster in the corner: because why would that help? But of course, sometimes there's a safe behind the poster. Or sometimes, pressing shift and K simultaneously activates the item use menu, etc.

Comment author: Swimmer963 04 October 2011 01:59:20PM 0 points [-]

You may have to explain some context here, because I'm not sure I understand what you mean by 'not seeing anything that you should go out and do.' Do you find your lack of employment/social/romantic opportunities distressing? If not, then there isn't a problem unless you want there to be a problem. If you do want to change this situation, then I can't point out the opportunities you have because I know nothing about your day-to-day. However, you're right that unless your situation is very unusual, it's unlikely that there are really no opportunities.

Comment author: lessdazed 04 October 2011 10:31:23PM 6 points [-]

I propose a thread in which people refine their questions for the speakers at the Singularity Summit.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 October 2011 04:19:01AM 5 points [-]

I'm having trouble finding a piece which I am fairly confident was either written on LW or linked to from here. It dealt with a stone which had the power render all the actions of the person who held it morally right. So a guy goes on a quest to get the stone, crossing the ocean and defeating the fearful guardian, and finds it and returns home. At some point he kills another guy, and gets sentenced by a judge, and it is pointed out that the stone protects him from committing morally wrong actions, not from the human institution of law. Then the guy notices that he is feeling like crap because he is a murderer and it is pointed out that the stone isn't supposed to protect him from his feelings of guilt. And so on, with the stone proving to be useless because the "morality" wasn't attached to anything real.

If somebody knows what I'm talking about, could they be so kind as to point me towards it?

Comment author: Alicorn 09 October 2011 04:47:45AM *  7 points [-]

The Heartstone in Yvain's Consequentialism FAQ. Except it's a cat the guy kills.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 October 2011 08:25:02PM 1 point [-]

Yes, that's what I was looking for! Thank you very much for the link.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 04 October 2011 10:28:03PM *  4 points [-]

I propose a thread (about anything) where the OP and comments must be written entirely in concrete language (or as concrete as possible).

Comment author: selylindi 14 October 2011 05:05:35AM 8 points [-]

On the Freakonomics blog, Steven Pinker had this to say:

There are many statistical predictors of violence that we choose not to use in our decision-making for moral and political reasons, because the ideal of fairness trumps the ideal of cost-effectiveness. A rational decision-maker using Bayes’ theorem would say, for example, that one should convict a black defendant with less evidence than one needs with a white defendant, because these days the base rates for violence among blacks is higher. Thankfully, this rational policy would be seen as a moral abomination.

I've seen a common theme on LW that is more or less "if the consequences are awful, the reasoning probably wasn't rational". Where do you think Pinker's analysis went wrong, if it did go wrong?

One possibility is that the utility function to be optimized in Pinker's example amounts to "convict the guilty and acquit the innocent", whereas we probably want to give weight to another consideration as well, such as "promote the kind of society I'd wish to live in".

Comment author: lessdazed 17 October 2011 02:54:08PM 7 points [-]

Pinker didn't address evidence screening off other evidence. Race would be rendered zero evidence in many cases, in particular in criminal cases for which there is approximately enough evidence to convict. I'm not exactly sure how often, I don't know how much e.g. poverty, crime, and race coincide.

It is perhaps counterintuitive to think that Bayesian evidence can apparently be ignored, but of course it isn't really being ignored, just carefully not double counted.

Comment author: Jack 17 October 2011 05:40:29PM *  5 points [-]

The percentage arrestees who are black is higher than the percentage of offenders who are black as reported by victims in surveys.

(Suggesting the base rate is screened out by the time the matter gets to the court room)

Comment author: JoshuaZ 16 October 2011 05:10:38AM 6 points [-]

The problem isn't using it as evidence. The problem is that it is extremely likely that humans will use such evidence in much greater proportion than is actually statistically justified. If juries were perfect Bayesians this wouldn't be a problem.

Comment author: komponisto 17 October 2011 02:13:34PM 4 points [-]

Yes indeed. And the same goes, by the way, for other kinds of rational evidence that aren't acceptable as legal evidence (hearsay, flawed forensics, coerced confessions, etc).

Comment author: Jack 17 October 2011 05:59:15PM 4 points [-]

The more interesting question isn't for the jury-- for whom the race of a defendant has long been swamped by other evidence-- but for a police officer deciding whether or not a person's suspicious behavior is sufficient reason to stop and question them. Not only does including race in that assessment seem rational but it is something police officers almost certainly do (if not consciously) which makes it rather more interesting as a policy question.

Comment author: lessdazed 16 October 2011 07:26:03AM *  8 points [-]

A rational decision-maker using Bayes’ theorem would say, for example, that one should convict a black defendant with less evidence than one needs with a white defendant, because these days the base rates for violence among blacks is higher.

One would compare black defendants with guilty black defendants and white defendants with guilty white defendants. It's far from obvious that (guilty black defendants/black defendants) > (guilty white defendants/white defendants). Differing arrest rates, plea bargaining etc. would be factors.

Where do you think Pinker's analysis went wrong, if it did go wrong?

He began a sentence by characterizing what a member of a group "would say".

Comment author: Jack 17 October 2011 05:27:42PM 7 points [-]

One would compare black defendants with guilty black defendants and white defendants with guilty white defendants. It's far from obvious that (guilty black defendants/black defendants) > (guilty white defendants/white defendants). Differing arrest rates, plea bargaining etc. would be factors.

60% of convicts who have been exonerated through DNA testing are black. Whereas blacks make up 40% of inmates convicted of violent crimes. Obviously this is affected by the fact that "crimes where DNA evidence is available" does not equal "violent crimes". But the proportion of inmates incarcerated for rape/sexual assault who are black is even smaller: ~33%. There are other confounding factors like which convicts received DNA testing for their crime. But it looks like a reasonable case can be made that the criminal justice system's false positive rate is higher for blacks than whites. Of course, the false negative rate could be higher too. If cross-racial eyewitness identification is to blame for wrongful convictions then uncertain cross-racial eyewitnesses might cause wrongful acquittals.

Comment author: APMason 16 October 2011 11:44:45PM 4 points [-]

Yes. It's important to remember that guilty defendants aren't the same thing as convicted defendants. A rational decision-maker using Bayes' theorem wouldn't necessarily put all that much weight on the decisions of past juries, knowing as we do that they're not using Bayes' theorem at all. And, of course, a Bayesian would need exactly the same amount of evidence to convict a black defendant as they did a white defendant. That question is whether skin colour counts as evidence.

Comment author: selylindi 17 October 2011 05:27:29AM 1 point [-]

The conviction rate for black defendents is sometimes much higher than the conviction rate for whites, so the solution you've suggested here would intensify the racial disparity.

Comment author: lessdazed 17 October 2011 02:39:10PM *  1 point [-]

so the solution you've suggested here

If I suggest reconciliatory solutions rather than try to just delineate mere unfair reality, then let my car's brake pedal fail half the time, and let my car's gas pedal work perfectly!

Comment author: Morendil 17 October 2011 04:10:18PM 3 points [-]

One (more) reason to be uncomfortable with such an argument: "black" doesn't carve nature at its joints.

(Whereas, relevantly for such arguments, "poor" does - though I believe that arguing that way leads down the path that has been called "reference class tennis".)

Comment author: Jack 17 October 2011 06:03:56PM 3 points [-]

For questions of, say, population genetics, I think that is quite right. But for questions of sociology or social policy I don't see why one wouldn't include 'black' as part of the ontology.

Comment author: Emile 17 October 2011 07:20:17PM *  3 points [-]

Doesn't it?

When it comes to US demographics, "black" covers a "natural" cluster of the population / identifiable blob in thingspace. Sure, there are border cases like mixed-race people and recent African immigrants, just like there are edge-cases between bleggs and rubes. "Is person X black or not?" is probably one of the top yes/no questions that would tell you the most about an American (Along with "Did he vote for Obama?", "Is he richer or poorer than the median?", or "Does he live north or south of the Mason-Dixon line?")

Sure, when it comes to world demographics, or Brazilian demographics, it doesn't cut reality at it joints as well.

Comment author: Vaniver 17 October 2011 10:18:01PM 2 points [-]

Mason-Dixie

It's Mason-Dixon, after the two surveyors.

Comment author: Emile 18 October 2011 07:41:43AM 1 point [-]

Whoops, thanks!

Comment author: lessdazed 17 October 2011 11:22:40PM 0 points [-]

That's not too important. If I go to my closet and pull out twenty items of clothing at random, and designate those group A, and designate the rest group B, if I know what is in each group I can still make predictions about traits of random members of either group.

Comment author: pedanterrific 15 October 2011 11:57:38PM 8 points [-]

If you instituted a policy to require less evidence to convict black defendants, you would convict more black defendants, which would make the measured "base rates for violence among blacks" go up, which would mean that you could need even less evidence to convict, which...

Comment author: Emile 17 October 2011 07:46:35AM 3 points [-]

No, you'd just need to keep track of how often demographic considerations influenced the outcome, so that any measure of "base rates for violence among blacks" you use for such decisions is independent of the policy.

(That's not to say that such a policy would be a good idea of course)

Comment author: selylindi 17 October 2011 05:18:47AM 3 points [-]

It's not clear that "the base rates for violence among blacks is higher" is meant to be measured by convictions. I interpreted it to be based on sociological data, for example, and in that case there would be no feedback loop. Pinker didn't cite a source, unfortunately. A very quick stroll past Google Scholar 1 2 shows that a common source used is arrest data in the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Plainly there are also important ways in which arrest data may be biased against blacks, but I'm hesitant to simply dismiss a finding based on that difficulty as I'm willing to bet that researchers in the field would have attempted to account for the difficulty.

Comment author: Jack 17 October 2011 05:51:36PM 4 points [-]

The right kind of data would come from things like the National Crime Victimization Survey which collects data outside the criminal justice system. The base rate for the offender in a violent crime being black, is, according to that survey, lower than the probability that a given person arrested for a violent crime is black. So it looks to me that the evidence is long screened out by the time the case gets to the court room.

Comment author: Vaniver 17 October 2011 07:07:57PM 1 point [-]

Note that the NCVS requires that the victims survive, and does not collect data on crimes like murder, which may cause systematic differences.

Comment author: Jack 17 October 2011 07:24:12PM 4 points [-]

Right. I'm comparing particular categories of crime-- reports from robbery victims to arrests for robbery, reports of rape to arrests for rape etc. I'm definitely not comparing total arrests for violent crimes to reports of violent crimes minus homicide.

Comment author: Vaniver 17 October 2011 10:17:02PM 1 point [-]

I presumed as much, but that problem may still be noticeable: every rape that's also a murder won't get counted. I don't know how frequently the various violent crimes are paired with murder, though, or how large the difference between reported victimization and arrests are.

Comment author: Jack 17 October 2011 10:19:39PM 1 point [-]

Good point.

Comment author: Emile 17 October 2011 08:00:25AM 2 points [-]

Why single out race? There are other demographic factors that could count too: sex, age, social class ... and if a policy of "OK, conviction standards for blacks are lower" would be political suicide, a policy of "OK, conviction standards for working class people" would be even worse.

Even so such policies may indeed increase the accuracy of convictions, 1) they don't match our intuitions about justice, which I suspect would make people less happy, 2) judges and juries already take such factors into account (implicitly and approximately), so there's a risk of overcorrecting, and 3) energy would be much better spent increasing the accuracy of conviction with less ambiguous things like cameras, DNA tests, etc.

I do believe that such demographic data can be useful to help direct resources for crime prevention, though.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 October 2011 08:28:46AM 1 point [-]

There are other demographic factors that could count too: sex, age, social class ... and if a policy of "OK, conviction standards for blacks are lower" would be political suicide

Isn't that the status quo?

Comment author: Emile 17 October 2011 08:37:07AM 0 points [-]

Not explicitly, as far as I know (implicitly, possibly, hence what I said about over-correcting).

Comment author: wedrifid 17 October 2011 10:21:16AM 0 points [-]

Not explicitly, as far as I know

One would hope not.

Comment author: pedanterrific 17 October 2011 08:06:24AM 0 points [-]

I do believe that such demographic data can be useful to help direct resources for crime prevention, though.

Leaning more towards "increased police presence in the ghetto" or "only frisk the Muslims"?

Comment author: Emile 17 October 2011 08:35:50AM 6 points [-]

Whatever works, I don't have any specific policies in mind (I'm far from being an expert in law enforcement).

But to take a specific example, I don't think information about higher crime rates for blacks is enough to tell whether we need "increased police presence in the Ghetto" - for all I know, police presence could already be 10 times the national average there.

There is a tendency I dislike in political punditry/activism/whatever (not that I'm accusing you of it, you just gave me a pretext to get on my soap box) to say "we need more X" or "we need less X" (regulation, police, taxes, immigrants, education, whatever) without any reference to evidence about what the ideal level of X would be, and about whether we are above or below that level - sometimes the same claims are made in countries with wildly different levels of X.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 October 2011 02:30:32PM 5 points [-]
Comment author: Vaniver 16 October 2011 04:35:21AM 4 points [-]

Where do you think Pinker's analysis went wrong, if it did go wrong?

The word "thankfully."

Comment author: selylindi 17 October 2011 05:29:54AM 2 points [-]

Do you care to elaborate? The interpretation of your response that comes to my mind is that you dissent from the moral viewpoint that Pinker expresses.

Comment author: Vaniver 17 October 2011 01:04:49PM 10 points [-]

I do not consider it laudable that, when someone makes a rational suggestion, it is seen as a moral abomination. If it's a bad idea, there are rational ways to declare it a bad idea, and "moral abomination" is lazy. If it is a good idea, then "moral abomination" goes from laziness to villainy.

If his argument is "this causes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because we will convict blacks and not convict Asians because blacks are convicted more and Asians convicted less, suggesting that we will over-bias ourselves," then he's right that this policy is problematic. If his argument is "we can't admit that blacks are more likely to commit crimes because that would make us terrible people," then I don't want any part of it. Since he labeled it a moral abomination, that suggests the latter rather than the former.

Comment author: Incorrect 17 October 2011 01:39:34PM *  3 points [-]

The latter is probably not his intended meaning given that he states "these days the base rates for violence among blacks is higher."

I think calling something a "moral abomination" means it directly conflicts with your values, rather than only being a "bad idea." For example, lying may be a bad idea but probably not a moral abomination to a consequentialist whereas killing the healthiest humans to reduce overpopulation would not only be a bad idea because it would be killing off the workforce, it directly conflicts with our value against killing people.

The laziness in calling something a "moral abomination" is failing to specify what value it is conflicting with. Of course, having such a complex, context-dependent, and poorly objectively defined value as "non-discrimination" might be unfashionable to some.

Comment author: Vaniver 17 October 2011 03:51:57PM 2 points [-]

The latter is probably not his intended meaning given that he states "these days the base rates for violence among blacks is higher."

Those are the words he puts in the mouth of "a rational decision-maker using Bayes Theorem," whose conclusion he identifies as a moral abomination. It is ambiguous whether or not he thinks that belief should pay rent.

I think calling something a "moral abomination" means it directly conflicts with your values, rather than only being a "bad idea."

The purpose of indignation is not to make calculations easier, but to avoid calculations.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 18 October 2011 12:33:48AM *  2 points [-]

I think he's just saying that not all rational evidence should be legal evidence. I don't think that he should be read according to LW conventions when he calls lower evidence standards for blacks a "rational policy". He doesn't mean to say that it would be rational to institute this policy (and yet somehow also morally abominable). He means that institutionalizing Bayesian epistemology in this way would be morally abominable (and hence not rational, as folks around here use the term).

Comment author: Vaniver 18 October 2011 01:08:39AM 4 points [-]

I think he's just saying that not all rational evidence should be legal evidence.

Sure; in which case calling it a moral abomination is laziness. (The justification for holding legal evidence to a higher standard is very close to the self-fulfilling prophecy argument.)

Comment author: lessdazed 18 October 2011 01:38:46AM 1 point [-]

lower evidence standards for blacks

It's already been pointed out that being a member of a group is evidence, so the evidence standards are identical. This is important because some evidence screens off other evidence.

The problem with our conversation is that Pinker's argument is so wrong, with so many errors sufficient to invalidate it, that we are having trouble inferring which sub-components of it he was right about. I encourage moving on from what he meant to what the right way to think is.

Comment author: TimS 17 October 2011 04:16:39PM 1 point [-]

Where do you think Pinker's analysis went wrong, if it did go wrong?

Pinker is not distinguishing between members of the audience and members of the jury.

For the audience, Pinker is basically correct. The prior probability that the defendant committed the acts charged is fairly high, given the evidence available to the audience that the government charged the defendant with a crime.

But the jury is given an instruction by the judge that the defendant is entitled to a presumption of innocence that must be overcome by the government. In Bayesian terms the judge means, "For social reasons not directly related to evidence, set your prior probability that the defendant is guilty as close to zero as is logically possible for you. If the probability of guilt is sufficiently high after hearing all the evidence, then you may vote to convict."

If a rationalist juror ignores this instruction and acts like a rational audience member, then the juror is doing wrong, as Pinker notes. But ignoring the judge's instruction is wrong, and Pinker is not presenting a great insight by essentially highlighting this point.

Comment author: komponisto 17 October 2011 07:51:45PM 8 points [-]

There shouldn't be any such distinction. The audience (I assume you mean the courtroom audience) should reason the exact same way the jury does.

The prosecution is required to make an explicit presentation of the evidence for guilt, so that the mere fact that charges were brought is screened off. As a consequence, failure to present a convincing explicit case is strong evidence of innocence; prosecutors have no incentive to hide evidence of guilt! Hence any juror or audience member who reasons "the prosecution's case as presented is weak, but the defendant has a high likelihood of guilt just because they suspect him" is almost certainly committing a Bayesian error. (Indeed, this is how information cascades are formed.)

See Argument Screens Off Authority: once in the courtroom, prosecutors have to present their arguments, which renders their "authority" worthless.

Comment author: TimS 17 October 2011 09:26:34PM 9 points [-]

I wrote this long post defending my point, and about halfway through, I realize it was mostly wrong. I think the screening off point is probably a better description of what's wrong with Pinker's analysis. Specifically, the higher rate of crime among blacks should be screened off from consideration by the fact that this particular black defendant was charged.

To elaborate on my earlier point, the presumption of innocence also serves to remind the juror that the propensity of the population to commit crimes is screened off by the fact that this particular person went through the arrest and prosecution screening processes in order to arrive in the position of defendant. In other words, a rationalist should not use less evidence to convict black defendants than required for white defendants because this is double counting the crime rate of blacks.

Comment author: taw 16 October 2011 11:19:02PM 1 point [-]

"Thankfully" part is wrong. We don't use any explicit probability thresholds to judge people guilty or not, we rely on judge's gut feeling about the defendant, which is very likely even more biased.

With a serious probability threshold being black would count slightly against you, but it would be very small bias.

Comment author: lessdazed 14 October 2011 01:40:03AM 7 points [-]

Grocery stores should have a lane where they charge more, such as 5% more per item. It would be like a toll lane for people in a hurry.

Comment author: Jack 14 October 2011 01:47:49AM *  4 points [-]

Grocery stores also routinely keep track of how fast each cashier is-- by measuring items per minute. Such lanes could be staffed by the fastest cashiers and have dedicated baggers.

Comment author: pedanterrific 16 October 2011 11:31:07PM 3 points [-]

There are already 'express' lanes with maximum item limits, which achieve faster service by making sure the average time to process each customer is reduced. In that case, assigning faster cashiers make sense, but it seems like the 'toll lane' idea would achieve faster service primarily by being much less crowded than other lanes (that is, if the toll lane has a line the same length as other lanes, there would be no point going to it). So having your best cashier there just ensures they spend more time idle, thereby increasing the average time for all lanes.

Comment author: pedanterrific 16 October 2011 11:42:02PM 3 points [-]

Obvious corollary: bribing the maître d'.

Comment author: Prismattic 19 October 2011 01:56:05AM *  2 points [-]

I've actually considered leaving a note in my supermarket's suggestion box, to the effect that there should be a $1 congestion charge to enter the parking lot between 10am and 5pm on Saturday and Sunday. The wait in line doesn't bother me anywhere near as much as fruitlessly driving around the parking lot looking for someplace to park.

($1 is a starting point. The point being trial and error to hit the equilibrium of a moderately full parking lot at peak hours.)

I suspect this supermarket would actually not lose customers on net, because it is so much better than its competition that people previously deterred by the crowds would balance out people deterred by the congestion charge.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 19 October 2011 03:46:27AM 2 points [-]

I share your sentiment, but you want to be a little bit careful doing this sort of thing by trial and error as there can be hysteresis effects, as with the Israeli day care experiment made famous by Freakonomics. You may find, for example, that offering sales that start after 5pm works better than charging a fee before 5pm, but only if you do it first.

Comment author: taw 16 October 2011 11:20:51PM 1 point [-]

People value fairness very highly. Unless cultural norm allowing this particular kind of unfairness existed, people would be strongly opposed to this.

Comment author: Vaniver 16 October 2011 11:47:27PM 0 points [-]

Since grocery prices are pretty competitive and waits are pretty short currently, this seems more likely to exist as a discount for waiting than as a surcharge for being faster. It's not clear to me that offering that option benefits the grocery store.

Comment author: lessdazed 17 October 2011 12:00:54AM 0 points [-]

this seems more likely to exist as a discount for waiting than as a surcharge for being faster

What does this mean? That it would be better for a store to have a sole 5% discount lane and no other special lanes than a 5% surcharge lane, and that it would be better for a store to have no special lanes than a 5% discount lane?

I am suggesting that a grocery store could a) unilaterally b) bring the situation closer to a Pareto optimum and c) capture much of the benefit.

To the extent consumers are rational, the store pushes off the decision to commit to a faster or cheaper store until the consumer has more information. To the extent they are irrational, it offers them an impulse purchase that is easy to rationalize.

Comment author: Vaniver 17 October 2011 04:43:53AM *  3 points [-]

Suppose the local grocery store offers this option.

Now, whenever* you don't choose the toll lane, you'll be struck by how long the non-toll lines are. You may even wonder if it's a plot to make you pay 5% extra at the register and thus display lower prices on the shelves, or maybe to just waste your time if you don't want to pay the extra 5%.** You don't recall waits at the other grocery store being this torturous, and so you start going there instead.***

*Offer subject to availability and confirmation bias.

**Offer subject to attribution bias.

***Indeed, you're giving other grocery stores a great advertising hook to springboard off of: "our cashiers are fast, friendly, and free!"

The grocery store isn't offering a new, supplemental service; they're charging you for quality service rather than mediocre service. (A more loaded way to put it is that they're ransoming your time back to you.) I suspect customers would resent that quite a bit.

The comment about discounts was because 5% is a lot when it comes to groceries (typical profit margins are around 1%), and charging people just 5 cents per plastic bag causes plastic bag usage rates to drop significantly. It seems like people would go to a different grocery store to save the 5%, and so prices would have to be lowered to compensate- which means that the grocery store is now paying you to wait, which is further from the Pareto optimum.

The new, supplemental service that targets time-starved customers is grocery delivery, which had a number of high-profile failures. The survivors are growing, but it seems likely that perhaps 5-10% of customers are time-starved enough to pay extra. If you only have ~5 cashiers working at a particular time, are you going to put one of them on the toll lane, significantly decreasing throughput?

There's also the question of the time calculation from the customer's point of view. Suppose they save 5 minutes; at $8 an hour that comes out to 67 cents. If the order costs more than $30, that's not worthwhile. (I can't remember the last time I had to wait more than 2 minutes to check out.)

Comment author: lessdazed 18 October 2011 04:27:41AM 0 points [-]

The comment about discounts was because 5% is a lot when it comes to groceries (typical profit margins are around 1%)

I can think of several reasons why typical markup rates would be relevant, but not for why typical profit margins would be. I suspect you looked up "profit" when what was doing the work in your implicit arguments was "markup". 5% then ceases to be thought of as 500% of 1% and becomes thought of as a more reasonable 33% of ~15% or so.

charging people just 5 cents per plastic bag causes plastic bag usage rates to drop significantly.

This is because humans are irrational about free things, rather than the sum of money involved. See Arieli's Lindt/Hersheys experiment. It is possible they see checking out as free, but also possible they see the price as a surcharge on each item. I don't know.

Also, I think your emphasis on what you see wrong with a 5% toll violates the spirit of least convenient possible world, as I used that as an example of what I thought would approximately achieve the ends I had in mind.

perhaps 5-10% of customers are time-starved enough to pay extra.

Rather than create something entirely new, with different advantages and disadvantages (e.g. someone has to be there to take in the groceries, but one doesn't have to go to the store), I am discussing a small improvement to an existing structure. I don't really buy the analogy because the point of this is that people could decide what to do after going to the store that has choices and looking at the lines. People like to keep their options open. They don't have to decide yet how impatient, hungry, or busy they are.

There's also the question of the time calculation from the customer's point of view. Suppose they save 5 minutes; at $8 an hour that comes out to 67 cents. If the order costs more than $30, that's not worthwhile.

Here you predict people will be rational, while I predict they will be impatient for an immediate reward. I also think orders of less than $30 and people who make more than $8/hour are pretty common.

I can't remember the last time I had to wait more than 2 minutes to check out.

To this I'm going to invoke LCPW again. From 5pm to 7pm where I live, lines are long. The toll lane doesn't have to be active at 10am.

Comment author: Vaniver 18 October 2011 01:01:20PM 0 points [-]

I can think of several reasons why typical markup rates would be relevant, but not for why typical profit margins would be. I suspect you looked up "profit" when what was doing the work in your implicit arguments was "markup".

Profit margins strike me as a better measure of how competitive prices are; markup rates are necessarily higher because of the costs of running the store. To put it another way, high profit margins are a better sign of low competition than high markups.

The argument I was making was that grocery store customers are not a captive market, and are sensitive to price increases (and probably insults).

Also, I think your emphasis on what you see wrong with a 5% toll violates the spirit of least convenient possible world, as I used that as an example of what I thought would approximately achieve the ends I had in mind.

Since I'm pointing out potential downsides of your suggestion, isn't invoking LCPW for me invoking MCPW for yourself?

I am discussing a small improvement to an existing structure.

You are suggesting a small change to an existing structure. It has both positive and negative effects.

I don't really buy the analogy because the point of this is that people could decide what to do after going to the store that has choices and looking at the lines. People like to keep their options open.

The original examples of extra choices making people worse off come from grocery stores (though choice paralysis is different from the game theoretic concerns I'm making).

Comment author: lessdazed 19 October 2011 01:10:20AM *  1 point [-]

high profit margins are a better sign of low competition than high markups.

I see. High competition does not strongly imply high price competition with other factors such as service fluctuating little, I think there is significant service competition in the current market.

Since I'm pointing out potential downsides of your suggestion, isn't invoking LCPW for me invoking MCPW for yourself?

It depends. "...are you going to put one of them on the toll lane, significantly decreasing throughput?" and "I can't remember the last time I had to wait more than 2 minutes to check out," seem like implausible over-interpretations of my suggestion, as if I meant for it to apply at all times and in all places regardless of store layout and business etc. "5% is a lot when it comes to groceries" is much more fair.

You are suggesting a small change to an existing structure.

This is a good point. I said "improvement" because increasing choice is usually, all else equal, an improvement, though it isn't always. Here it sort of obviously isn't a pure improvement, but the cost to consumers (assuming store prices are constant) that they pay for a chance to check out much faster is a slightly slower checkout if they don't so choose (i.e. the toll line might be half as long as the others, distributing those it would have were it free among many other lanes).

To have consumers think they are worse off, it isn't plausible to think that their free lanes have noticeably longer lines than they would have were all lanes free, so you rightfully didn't say they would - particularly if the store loses customers. Instead you said consumers would irrationally disfavor the system - which is perfectly fair. In particular, you said they would resent being in a longer line compared to those in the toll lane (rather than compared to the line they would have been were all free, the rational comparison that people might not make), and that they would have a negative feeling they would associate with the store, despite the lines at other stores being just as long.

extra choices making people worse off

While choices make people worse off, they are still biased towards preserving their choices, so I think this factor would still benefit the supermarkets, though this part of it wouldn't simply be from creating value and taking some of it rather than have consumers take all of it.

I think you are overly caught up in the subject matter here, which disguises how little those examples are relevant here, a great analogy furthering some of your points is from traffic showing Braess's Paradox.

One important thing to track is if either of us is "cheating" in a general way I will try to describe by example. It would be cheating to make certain simultaneous claims, such as that 5% isn't enough that people would mind paying it but that it would also be enough to make the toll lane noticeably shorter, or that free lanes would be longer under the toll system than they would be otherwise and that many people would avoid the toll store,

There is something very worthwhile to point out, and that is that people would favor or disfavor the store, and for other reasons the store would benefit or lose, from three types of influences. The first is people's simply rational natures, the second is people's simply irrational natures, and the third is people's strategically rational causally irrational mindsets. That is not a technical term so if anyone would tell me what it is I would appreciate that. See this great post and TDT/UDT.

The store with a toll lane during rush hour (that at least does not make throughput worse, though for many stores that would be improved by having some lines consistently longer than others, and for other stores that would make throughput worse), and how the toll policy changes things from the status quo:

I) Rational decision making:
Pros:
a) Consumers get to put off deciding whether or not to pay a premium for faster service until after they see how much time it too them to reach the market, shop, and observe the lines.
b) Free lanes are barely longer with one toll lane existing than they would have been were all free unless the policy greatly increases store traffic, which would simply be good for the store, which has the power to implement the policy unilaterally (unless people go to this store whenever they need just a few things, and the cashiers' time is taken up largely by individuals paying, such that store profit comes from people buying many items at once, and people who need to buy many things go to other stores...or something else I haven't considered).
c) Rich people, whose time is worth the cost, and who buy more expensive things and with fewer coupons, might favor the toll store during rush hour.
Cons:
a) Free lines are slightly longer, which would particularly not be worth it if store prices were unchanged despite increased profit from the toll lane.

II) Irrational decision making:
Pros:
a) Consumers are biased towards keeping options open, and would choose to put off deciding between spending more time or money.
b) Consumers in line have to resist their impatience every second they are in the longer line, and have many opportunities to pay the store more, even if they told themselves they were going to this store and paying regularly.
Cons:
a) Consumers resent paying for something they think of as free, such as checking out.
b) Consumers might compare their experience in the more crowded free lane to that of those in the toll lane and have negative feelings about the store, rather than properly comparing that experience to the lines had all lanes in that store been free or the lines in other stores.

III) Game theoretic decision making
Cons:
a) Consumers might punish institutions that raise prices or attempt to influence them by taking advantage of their irrational behavior (i.e. manipulating them).

Comment author: shminux 03 October 2011 01:29:16AM *  7 points [-]

Why does the argument "I've used math to justify my views, so it must have some validity" tend to override "Garbage In - Garbage Out"? It can be this thread:

I estimate, that a currently working and growing superintelligence has a probability in a range of 1/million to 1/1000. I am at least 50% confident that it is so.

or it can be the subprime mortgage default risk.

What is the name for this cognitive bias of trusting the conclusions more (or sometimes less) when math is involved?

Comment author: dspeyer 03 October 2011 01:38:51AM 9 points [-]

Sounds like a special case or "judging an argument by its appearance" (maybe somebody can make that snappier). It's fairly similar to "it's in latin, therefore it must be profound", "it's 500 pages, therefore it must be carefully thought-out" and "it's in helvetica, therefore it's from a trustworthy source".

Note that this is entirely separate from judging by the arguers appearance.

Comment author: DanielLC 03 October 2011 02:07:59AM 14 points [-]

He didn't use math to justify his views. He used it to state them.

Comment author: ahartell 15 October 2011 06:04:03PM *  3 points [-]

In his talk on Optimism (roughly minute 30 to roughly minute 35), David Deutsch said that the idea that the world may be inexplicable from a human perspective is wrong and is only an invitation to superstitious thinking. He even mentions an argument by Richard Dawkins stating that evolution would have no reason to produce a brain capable of comprehending everything in our universe. It reminds me of something I heard about the inability to teach algebra or whatever to dogs. He writes this argument off for reasons evolution didn't prepare me for, so I was wondering if anyone could clarify this for me. To me it seems very possible that Dawkins was right, and that without enhancement some problems are just to hard for humans.

If you can't watch the video, in one line he says that I'm having trouble with is "If we live inside a little bubble of explicability in a great inexplicable universe, then the inside couldn't be really explicable either because the outside is needed in our explanation of the inside." This seems wrong to me. In a hypothetical universe where humans were too stupid to go beyond Newtonian mechanics, we would be in a bubble that suitably explained the movement of large objects. We wouldn't need knowledge of the quantum things that would be beyond our grasp to understand why apples fall.

Am I missing something or am I misunderstanding him or is he wrong?

Comment author: selylindi 15 October 2011 09:34:16PM 4 points [-]

without enhancement some problems are just to hard for humans.

Without the enhancement of a computer or at least external memory like pen and paper, can you compute the n-th roots of pi to arbitrary decimal places? I can't, so it seems plain that Dawkins was correct. But it's a mighty big jump from there to "and there are processes in the universe which no constructible tools could ever let us explain, even in principle".

Humans with our enhancements haven't yet found any aspect of the universe which we have good reason to believe will always continue to escape explanation. That lack of evidence is weak evidence in favor of nothing remaining permanently and necessarily mysterious.

Comment author: ahartell 15 October 2011 09:41:22PM 3 points [-]

I agree that it should all be possible with enhancement, but I'm not sure he was saying that. To your second point, I don't think dogs walk around with the knowledge that they're too stupid to comprehend the universe.

Comment author: ahartell 15 October 2011 09:37:24PM 2 points [-]

Also, he seems to have the same feelings about progress and the "creation of knowledge" that young/reckless! Eliezer had about intelligence.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 15 October 2011 09:54:00PM 0 points [-]

Deutsch essentially thinks that humans are what I think he called at one point "universal knowledge generators". I confess that I don't fully understand his argument for this claim. It seemed to be something like the idea that we can in principle run a universal Turing machine. He does apparently discuss this idea more in his book The Beginning of Infinity, but I haven't read it yet.

Comment author: lessdazed 15 October 2011 10:12:42PM 0 points [-]

I haven't read it yet.

What would you think of a loose convention to not say one hasn't learned about a specific thing yet?

Saying that I haven't read something yet makes me more likely to think others think I am more likely to read it than if I hadn't said "yet". But that prematurely gives me some of the prestige that makes me want to read it in the first place, making it less likely I will.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 15 October 2011 10:29:28PM 2 points [-]

That might make sense. In this particular context, I do intend to read it eventually. But some of Deutsch's less insightful comments and the whole Popperclipping episode here has made me less inclined to do so.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 16 October 2011 09:54:25AM 0 points [-]
Comment author: antigonus 06 October 2011 03:46:58AM *  3 points [-]

Where can I find arguments that intelligence self-amplification is not likely to quickly yield rapidly diminishing returns? I know Chalmers has a brief discussion of it in his singularity analysis article, but I'd like to see some lengthier expositions.

Comment author: kilobug 07 October 2011 09:08:27AM 2 points [-]

I asked the same question not so long ago, and I was pointed to http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/The_Hanson-Yudkowsky_AI-Foom_Debate which did contain interesting arguments on the topic. Hope it'll help you as it helped me.

Comment author: NihilCredo 05 October 2011 05:09:45PM 3 points [-]

Is there a term for the following fallacy (related to the false dilemma)?

  • While discussing the pros and cons of various items in the same category, people switch to 'competition mode thinking' - even if they hold no particular attachment towards any item, and nobody is in need of making a choice among the items - and they begin to care exclusively for the relative ranking of the items, rather than considering each one on its own merits. Afterwards, people will have a favourable opinion of the overall winner even if all items were shown to be very bad, and vice-versa they will have an unfavourable opinion of the overall loser even if all items were shown to be veryy good.
Comment author: fubarobfusco 09 October 2011 09:48:35PM *  1 point [-]

This isn't quite the same, but I wrote an essay for Wikipedia a few years ago (2005!) on why encyclopedia articles shouldn't contain pro-and-con lists. Even though I didn't know much about cognitive biases at the time, and was thinking about the specific domain of Wikipedia articles rather than argumentation or truth-seeking in general, it may be relevant.

One of the things that occurred to me at the time was that pro-and-con lists invite Wikipedia readers who already support one "side" to think of more items to add to "their side" of the list, and add them. In LW-speak, they inspire motivated cognition for people whose bottom line is already written.

Comment author: lessdazed 04 October 2011 08:05:27PM 3 points [-]

I propose a permanent jobs thread, to lower the barrier to posting relevant job information and reduce clutter in the discussion section.

Comment author: lessdazed 14 October 2011 01:53:03AM *  6 points [-]

People are bothered by some words and phrases.

Recently, I learned that the original meaning of "tl;dr" has stuck in people's mind such that they don't consider it a polite response. That's good to know.

Some things that bother me are:

  • Referring to life extension as "immortality".
  • Referring to AIs that don't want to kill humans as "friendly".
  • Referring to AIs that want to kill humans as simply "unfriendly".
  • Expressing disagreement as false lack of understanding, e.g. "I don't know how you could possibly think that."
  • Referring an "individual's CEV".
  • Referring to "the singularity" instead of "a singularity".

I'm not going to pretend that referring to women as"girls" inherently bothers me, but it bothers other people, so it by extension bothers me and I wouldn't want it excluded from this discussion.

Some say to say not "complexity" or "emergence".

Comment author: Nisan 16 October 2011 01:05:09AM 3 points [-]

Expressing disagreement as false lack of understanding, e.g. "I don't know how you could possibly think that."

This, more than the others, is a sign of a pernicious pattern of thought. By affirming that someone's point of view is alien, we fail to use our curiosity, we set up barriers to communication, and we can make any opposing viewpoint seem less reasonable.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 16 October 2011 08:27:59PM *  2 points [-]

*Referring to AIs that don't want to kill humans as "friendly".
*Referring to AIs that want to kill humans as simply "unfriendly".

"Friendly" as I've seen it used on here means "an AI that creates a world we won't regret having created," or something like that. It might be good to link to an explanation every time the term is used for the benefit of new readers, but I don't think it's necessary. "Unfriendly" means "any AI that doesn't meet the definition of Friendly," or "an AI that we would regret creating (usually because it destroys the world)." I think these are good, consistent ways of using the term.

Most possible AIs have no particular desire either to kill humans or to avoid doing so. They are generally called "Unfriendly" because creating one would be A Bad Thing. Many possible AIs that want to avoid killing humans are also Unfriendly because they have no problem doing other things we don't want. The important thing, when classifying potential AIs, is whether it would be a very good idea or a very bad idea to create one. That's what the Friendly/Unfriendly distinction should mean.

Expressing disagreement as false lack of understanding, e.g. "I don't know how you could possibly think that."

I've found that saying, "I don't think I understand what you mean by that" or "I don't see why you're saying so" is a useful tactic when somebody says something apparently nonsensical. The other person usually clarifies their position without being much offended, and one of two things happens. Either they were saying something true which I misinterpreted, or they really did mean something I disagree with, at which point I can say so.

Referring [to] an "individual's CEV".

I think this is a good idea, because humans aren't expected utility maximizers. We have different desires at different times, we don't always want what we like, etc. An individual's CEV would be the coherent combination of all that person's inconsistent drives: what that person is like at reflective equilibrium.

Referring to "the singularity" instead of "a singularity".
referring to women as"girls"

These ones bother me too, and I support not doing them.

Comment author: pedanterrific 16 October 2011 08:37:17PM *  2 points [-]

Expressing disagreement as a false lack of understanding

I've found that saying, "I don't think I understand what you mean by that" or "I don't see why you're saying so" is a useful tactic when somebody says something apparently nonsensical.

Yes, when you actually don't understand, saying that you don't understand is rarely a bad idea. It's when you understand but disagree that proclaiming an inability to comprehend the other's viewpoint is ill-advised.

Referring [to] an "individual's CEV".

I think this is a good idea, because humans aren't expected utility maximizers.

I could be wrong, but this may be a terminology issue.

Coherence: Strong agreement between many extrapolated individual volitions ...

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 16 October 2011 09:58:25PM *  1 point [-]

Coherence: Strong agreement between many extrapolated individual volitions ...

It would indeed appear that EY originally defined coherence that way. I think it's legitimate to extend the meaning of the term to "strong agreement among the different utility functions an individual maximizes in different situations." You don't necessarily agree, and that's fine, because this is partly a subjective issue. What, if anything, would you suggest instead of "CEV" to refer to a person's utility function at reflective equilibrium? Just "eir EV" could work, and I think I've seen that around here before.

Comment author: pedanterrific 16 October 2011 11:22:45PM 1 point [-]

I think it's legitimate to extend the meaning of the term to "strong agreement among the different utility functions an individual maximizes in different situations."

Me too. I consider the difference in coherency issues between CEV(humanity) and CEV(pedanterrific) to be one of degree, not kind. I just thought that might be what lessdazed was objecting to, that's all.

Comment author: wedrifid 16 October 2011 05:12:53AM *  1 point [-]

Referring to AIs that don't want to kill humans as "friendly".

Necessary, within the an infinitesimal subset of mindspace around friendliness but not quite sufficient. Examples of cases where this is a problem include when people go around saying "a friendly AI may torture <any set which includes a wedrifid or anyone he likes>". Because that is by definition not friendly. Any other example of "what if a friendly AI thing did <something absurdly undesirable all things considered>" is also a misuse of the idea.

Referring to AIs that want to kill humans as simply "unfriendly".

That seems entirely legitimate. uFAI is rather useful and well established name for an overwhelmingly important concept. I honestly think you just need to learn more about how the concept of Unfriendly AI is used because this is not a problem term. AIs that want to kill humans (ie. most of them) are unfriendly.

Referring to life extension as "immortality".

Do people even do that? I haven't seen it. People attempting immortality (living indefinitely) will obviously use whatever life extension practices they think will help achieve that end. Yet if anyone ever said, for example, "I'm having daily resveratrol for immortality" then I suggest they were being tongue-in-cheek.

Comment author: lessdazed 16 October 2011 07:09:16AM *  2 points [-]

want

AIs that want to kill humans (ie. most of them) are unfriendly.

Just as "want" does not unambiguously exclude instrumental values in English, "unfriendly" does not unambiguously include instrumental values in English. As for the composite technical term "Unfriendly Artificial Intelligence"...

If you write "Unfriendly Artificial Intelligence" alone, regardless of other context, you are technically correct. If you want to be correct again, type it again, in wingdings if the mood strikes you, you will still be technically correct, though with even less of a chance at communicating. In the context of entire papers, there is other supporting context, so it's not a problem. In the context of secondary discussions, consider those liable to be confused or you can consider them confused.

We might disagree about the extent of confusion around here, we might disagree as to how important that is, we might disagree as to how much of that is caused by unclear forum discussions, and we might disagree about the cost of various solutions.

Regarding the first point, those confident enough to post their thoughts on the issue make mistakes. Regarding the fourth point, assume I'm not advocating an inane extreme solution such as requiring you to define words every comment you make, but rather thoughtfulness.

Examples of cases where this is a problem include when people go around saying "a friendly AI may torture <any set which includes a wedrifid or anyone he likes>". Because that is by definition not friendly. Any other example of "what if a friendly AI thing did <something absurdly undesirable all things considered>" is also a misuse of the idea.

No torture? You're guessing as to what you want, what people want, what you value, what there is to know...etc. Guessing reasonably, but it's still just conjecture and not a necessary ingredient in the definition (as I gather it's usually used).

Or, you're using "friendly" in the colloquial rather than strictly technical sense, which is the opposite of how you criticized how I said not to speak about unfriendly AI! My main point is that care to should be taken to explain what is meant when navigating among differing conceptions within and between colloquial and technical senses.

Comment author: wedrifid 16 October 2011 09:26:28AM 1 point [-]

Or, you're using "friendly" in the colloquial rather than strictly technical sense

No, you're wrong about the dichotomy there. The words were used legitimately with respect to a subjectively objective concept. But never mind that.

Of all the terms in "Unfriendly Artificial Intelligence" I'd say the 'unfriendly' is the most straightforward. I encourage folks to go ahead and use it. Elaborate further on what specifically they are referring to as the context makes necessary.

Comment author: lessdazed 16 October 2011 08:06:01PM 2 points [-]

I encourage folks to go ahead and use it. Elaborate further on what specifically they are referring to as the context makes necessary.

This implies I'm discouraging use of the term, which I'm not, when I raised the issue to point out that for this subject specificity is often not supplied by context alone and needs to be made explicit.

What is confusing is when people describe a scenario in which it is central that an AI has human suffering as a positive terminal value, and they use "unfriendly" alone as a label to discuss it. The vast majority of possible minds are the ones most overlooked: the indifferent ones. If something applies to malicious minds but not indifferent or benevolent ones, one can do better than describing the malicious minds as "either indifferent or malicious", i.e. "unfriendly".

I would also discourage calling blenders "not-apples" when specifically referring to machines that make apple sauce. Obviously, calling a blender a "not-apple" will never be wrong. There's nothing wrong with talking about non-apples in general, nor talking about distinguishing them from apples, nor with saying that a blender is an example of a non-apple, nor with saying that a blender is a special kind of non-apple that, unlike other non-apples, is an anti-apple.

But when someone describes a blender and just calls it a "non-apple", and someone else starts talking about how almost nothing is a non-apple because most things don't pulverize apples, and every few times the subject is raised someone assumes a "non-apple" is something that pulverizes apples, it's time for the first person to implement low-cost clarifications to his or her communication in certain contexts.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 October 2011 04:01:03AM 1 point [-]

What is confusing is when people describe a scenario in which it is central that an AI has human suffering as a positive terminal value, and they use "unfriendly" alone as a label to discuss it. The vast majority of possible minds are the ones most overlooked: the indifferent ones. If something applies to malicious minds but not indifferent or benevolent ones, one can do better than describing the malicious minds as "either indifferent or malicious", i.e. "unfriendly".

I would use malicious in that context. A specific kind of uFAI requires a more specific word if you expect people to distinguish it from all other uFAIs.

Comment author: wedrifid 16 October 2011 04:31:17AM 1 point [-]

Expressing disagreement as false lack of understanding, e.g. "I don't know how you could possibly think that."

People get away with this and more disingenuous forms of this far too often.

Comment author: ParagonProtege 16 October 2011 08:33:57PM *  2 points [-]

I'm working to improve my knowledge of epistemology. Can anyone recommend a good reference/text book on the subject? I'm especially looking to better understand LW's approach to epistemology (or an analogous approach) in a rigorous, scholarly way.

Until recently, I was a traditional rationalist. Epistemologically speaking, I was a foundationalist with belief in a priori knowledge. Through recent studying of Bayes, Quine, etc., these beliefs have been strongly challenged. I have been left with a feeling of cognitive dissidence.

I'd really appreciate if my thinking on epistemology can be set straight. While I think I understand the basics, I feel like a lack of coherent epistemology is really infecting the rest of my thinking.

[I'm having trouble explaining exactly what I'm looking for while still being concise. If you have any questions about my request, please feel free to ask.]

Edit: I've recently picked up a copy of Probability Theory: The Logic of Science by E. T. Jaynes. I've heard his name referenced a lot of LW and the reviews of the book are glowing. I'm going to read it to see if I can get a better understanding of probability theory, as it seems essential to the LW approach to epistemology.

Suggestions of other books are still very much appreciated.

Comment author: ParagonProtege 19 October 2011 04:15:42PM 3 points [-]

Update: I've stopped reading Probability Theory, as it is too advanced for me. I'll shore up my knowledge of more basic probability first, and then go back to it.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 07 October 2011 08:49:55AM *  2 points [-]

Can someone explain to me the point of sequence reruns?

I honestly don't get it. Sequences are well organised and easily findable; what benefit is there from duplicating the content? It seems to me like it just spreads the relevant discussion into multiple places, adds noise to google results, and bloats the site.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 October 2011 01:48:00PM 6 points [-]

Many people find blogs easier to read than books. Reacting to prompts with bite size chunks of information requires far less executive control and motivation than working through a mass of text unprompted.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 08 October 2011 10:28:56AM 4 points [-]

Hm. Yeah, that makes sense I suppose, though that's a rather alien way of thinking for me. I like the organisation and permanence of the Sequences, the fact that I can read them at my own pace and in what order they interest me. Especially since we don't seem to suffer from the "don't necro old threads" disease as much as most other forums, and arguments from 2007 still get developed today. Which is good IMO, I never liked how most of the Internet has a 1-2 day attention span, and if something isn't freshly posted then it's not worth reading or replying to. But I digress.

To each their own, I suppose, it's not like this stops me from reading the original Sequences the way I like to.

Comment author: lessdazed 03 October 2011 08:18:28AM 2 points [-]

Was it possible for the ancient Greeks to discover that cold is the absence of heat?

Comment author: Jack 06 October 2011 02:20:18AM 2 points [-]

I'm not confident they didn't know that. Cite?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 06 October 2011 02:39:05AM 1 point [-]

Not exactly a great citation, but the Wikipedia article on the history of heat suggests that their understanding was not very good.

For what it is worth, marginally related ideas seemed to be going around at least by the end of the sixth century since I seem to recall an argument in the Talmud about whether or not transfer of heat by itself from a non-kosher thing to a kosher thing could make the kosher thing non-kosher. But it is possible that I was reading that with a too modern perspective. I'll try to track down the section and see what it says.

Comment author: Emile 03 October 2011 09:29:24AM 1 point [-]

Probably, by considering how there are several ways to "create" heat (burning, rubbing things together, as Oscar says), but none of "creating" cold. That makes more sense in a model where heat is a substance that can be transmitted from object to object, and cold is merely the absence of such a substance.

Comment author: lessdazed 03 October 2011 09:56:48AM 4 points [-]

What if they built a building or found a cave where wind ran over a bucket or pool of water, cooling the air?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evaporative_cooler#Physical_principles

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windcatcher

Comment author: Jack 06 October 2011 02:48:33AM 3 points [-]

"Water produces cold" is a plausible hypothesis for someone using Earth/Air/Water/Fire chemistry.

Comment author: Desrtopa 06 October 2011 03:16:10AM *  1 point [-]

A number of substances have high enthalpy heats of solution, and appear to "create" cold when added to water. Some, like calcium chloride, would likely have been known in Classical Greece.

Edit: My mistake. Dissolution of calcium chloride is actually exothermic. I'm not sure if any salts which have high endothermic dissolution occur in a naturally pure state.

Comment author: ParagonProtege 19 October 2011 05:14:07PM *  3 points [-]

Last night, I had an idea for a post to write for LW. My idea was something along the following:

For many good reasons, LessWrong-ers have gone through great lengths to explain how to use Bayes' theorem. While understanding Bayes' theorem is essential to rationality, has anyone written an explanation (targeted toward traditional rationalists) about why Bayes' theorem is so essential in the first place? If such a post hasn't be written, maybe I could write that post...

Here are some of the main points I'm thinking of addressing

  • A very brief history of Bayes' theorem and its past usefulness.
  • The advantages of Bayesian rationality over traditional rationality. (For example, the ability to directly update your beliefs in proportion to the evidence.)
  • How their traditional logic is just a special case of Bayesian rationality
  • A list of more resources for further study

I suppose my overarching goal is this: if someone mentions Bayes' theorem in a discussion and they get a blank look from their interlocutor, they can first point them toward my post to give them the basic idea of what Bayes theorem is and why it is useful. Then, if they're enticed, then they can go learn the rigorous mathematics about the subject.

Has such a post already been written? If it hasn't, do you think such a post would be helpful? Would it be appropriate for LW?

All constructive criticism, advice, and questions are welcome.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 October 2011 07:03:02PM *  2 points [-]

I'd love to see the kind of post you're describing regardless of any overlap with previous posts. If you're aiming for a basic introduction targeted at non-LWers, I think you have a roughly the right amount of subject matter to make it work. If you're aiming for a more in-depth analysis, you might want to split the topics up into separate posts.

Luke wrote this post on the history of Bayes' Theorem, which incorporates some of these ideas.

Comment author: ParagonProtege 19 October 2011 08:22:29PM *  1 point [-]

Thanks for the support, Tetronian!

I think you said it well. I am "aiming for a basic introduction targeted at non-LWers." This will be my first post on the main site, so I want write something important without it being overwhelming for myself and the reader. So I want to to be short, non-technical, and without LW-vernacular.

I've read a lot of Luke's work, including the post you linked. His work is fantastic and he's a very big inspiration to me. I think his work is what (in major part) helped led me to this idea.

Comment author: lessdazed 04 October 2011 07:54:06PM 3 points [-]

I propose a discussion thread in which people can submit requests for pdfs of scholarly articles. I have found promising things for debiasing racism but I've been figuring out the contents of important articles indirectly - through their abstract and descriptions of them in free articles.

Comment author: pedanterrific 05 October 2011 12:42:25AM 4 points [-]

You mean, like this?

Comment author: lessdazed 03 October 2011 09:24:40AM 3 points [-]

I propose a thread in which ideas commonly discussed on LW can be discussed with a different dynamic - that of the relatively respectable minority position being granted a slight preponderance in number and size of comments.

This might include feminism in which one is offended by "manipulation", deontology, arguments for charities other than X-risk ones, and the like.

Nothing would be censored or off limits, those used to being in the majority would merely have to wait to comment if most of the comments already supported "their" "side" (both words used loosely).

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 03 October 2011 12:47:40AM 3 points [-]

http://becominggaia.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/why-do-you-hate-the-siailesswrong/#entry I'll reserve my opinion about this clown, but honestly I do not get how he gets invited to AGI conferences, having neither work or even serious educational credentials.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 04 October 2011 09:59:04PM 18 points [-]

I'll reserve my opinion about this clown

Downvoted. Unless "clown" is his actual profession, you didn't reserve your opinion.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2011 07:23:55AM 12 points [-]

Wow, I loved the essay. I hadn't realized I was part of such a united, powerful organisation and that I was so impressively intelligent, rhetorically powerful and ruthlessly self interested. I seriously felt flattered.

Comment author: vi21maobk9vp 03 October 2011 08:03:45AM 4 points [-]

You are in a Chinese room, according to his argument. No one of us is as cruel as all of us.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 October 2011 04:47:46PM 11 points [-]

Not to call attention to the elephant in the room, but what exactly are Eliezer Yudkowsky's work and educational credentials re: AGI? I see a lot of philosophy relevant to AI as a discipline, but nothing that suggests any kind of hands-on-experience...

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 03 October 2011 06:32:27PM 1 point [-]

This for one http://singinst.org/upload/LOGI//LOGI.pdf is in the ballpark of AGI work. Plus FAI work, while not being on AGI per se, is relevant and interesting to a rare conference in the area. Waser is pure drivel.

Comment author: Solvent 03 October 2011 06:22:43AM 11 points [-]

He didn't actually make any arguments in that essay. That frustrates me.

Comment author: lessdazed 03 October 2011 07:34:00AM *  10 points [-]

They...build a high wall around themselves rather than building roads to their neighbors. I can understand self-protection and short-sighted conservatism but extremes aren’t healthy for anyone...repetitively screaming their fear rather than listening to rational advice. Worse, they’re kicking rocks down on us.

If it weren’t for their fear-mongering...AND their arguing for unwise, dangerous actions (because they can’t see the even larger dangers that they are causing), I would ignore them like harmless individuals...rather than [like] junkies who need to do anti-societal/immoral things to support their habits...fear-mongering and manipulating others...

...very good at rhetorical rationalization and who are selfishly, unwilling to honestly interact and cooperate with others. Their fearful, conservative selfishness extends far beyond their “necessary” enslavement of the non-human and dangerous...raising strawmen, reducing to sound bites and other misdirections. They dismiss anyone and anything they don’t like with pejoratives like clueless and confused. Rather than honest engagement they attempt to shut down anyone who doesn’t see the world as they do. And they are very active in trying to proselytize their bad ideas...

In a sense, they are very like out-of-control children. They are bright, well-meaning and without a clue of the likely results of their actions. You certainly can’t hate individuals like that — but you also don’t let them run rampant...

What do you mean no arguments? Just read the above excerpts...what do you think those are, ad hominems and applause lights?

Comment author: Solvent 03 October 2011 07:56:48AM 9 points [-]

...I think that that was one of those occasional comments you make which are sarcastic, and which no-one gets, and which always get downvoted.

But I could be wrong. Please clarify if you were kidding or not, for this slow uncertain person.

Comment author: lessdazed 03 October 2011 07:58:31AM *  4 points [-]

Don't worry, if my sarcasm is downvoted, that will probably be good for me. I get more karma than I deserve on silly stuff anyway.

Comment author: Solvent 03 October 2011 11:01:39AM 4 points [-]

The silly comments you make are far more insightful and useful than most seriously intended comments on most other websites. Keep up the good work.

Comment author: endoself 04 October 2011 09:53:01PM *  2 points [-]

I like the third passage. It makes it very clear what he is mistaken about.

Comment author: vi21maobk9vp 03 October 2011 06:55:23AM 6 points [-]

Maybe he submits papers and conference program comittee find them relevant and interesting enough?

After all, Yudkowsky has no credentials to speak of, either - what is SIAI? Weird charity?

I read his paper. Well, the point he raises against FAI concept and for rational cooperation are quite convincing-looking. So are pro-FAI points. It is hard to tell which are more convincing with both sides being relatively vague.

Comment author: lessdazed 03 October 2011 07:48:15AM 15 points [-]

Based on the abstract, it's not worth my time to read it.

Abstract. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. “Friendly AI” (FAI) meets these criteria on four separate counts by expecting a good result after: 1) it not only puts all of humanity’s eggs into one basket but relies upon a totally new and untested basket, 2) it allows fear to dictate our lives, 3) it divides the universe into us vs. them, and finally 4) it rejects the value of diversity. In addition, FAI goal initialization relies on being able to correctly calculate a “Coherent Extrapolated Volition of Humanity” (CEV) via some as-yet-undiscovered algorithm. Rational Universal Benevolence (RUB) is based upon established game theory and evolutionary ethics and is simple, safe, stable, self-correcting, and sensitive to current human thinking, intuitions, and feelings. Which strategy would you prefer to rest the fate of humanity upon?

Points 2), 3), and 4) are simply inane.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 October 2011 04:50:34PM 6 points [-]

Upvoted, agreed, and addendum: Similarly inane is the cliche "insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2011 08:22:37AM 5 points [-]

Maybe he submits papers and conference program comittee find them relevant and interesting enough?

Which invites the question of why clearly incompetent people make up the program committee. His papers look like utter drivel mixed with superstition.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 03 October 2011 10:34:06AM 12 points [-]

Interestingly, back in 2007, when I was naive and stupid, I thought Mark Waser one of the most competent participants of agi and sl4 mailing lists. Must be something appealing to an unprepared mind in the way he talks. Can't simulate that impression now, so it's not clear what that is, but probably mostly general contrarian attitude without too many spelling errors.

Comment author: vi21maobk9vp 03 October 2011 08:31:03AM 1 point [-]

If you are right, it is good that public AGI field is composed of stupid people (LessWrong is prominent enough to attract - at least once - attention of anyone whom LW could possibly convince). If you are wrong, it is good that his viewpoint is published, too, and so people can try to find a balanced solution. Now, in what situation should we not promote that status quo?

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2011 09:57:12AM *  6 points [-]

Now, in what situation should we not promote that status quo?

Bad thinking happens without me helping to promote it. If there ever came a time when human thinking in general prematurely converged due to a limitation of reasonably sound (by human standards) thought then I would perhaps advocate adding random noise to the thoughts of some of the population in a hope that one of the stupid people got lucky and arrived at a new insight. But as of right now there is no need to pay more respect to silly substandard drivel than what the work itself merits.

Comment author: lessdazed 03 October 2011 10:03:26AM 2 points [-]

If there ever came a time when human thinking in general prematurely converged...I would perhaps advocate adding random noise to the thoughts of some of the population

Keen, I hadn't thought of that, upvoted.

Comment author: lessdazed 03 October 2011 08:51:17AM *  1 point [-]

That's a fully general counterargument comprised of the middle ground fallacy and the fallacy of false choice.

We should not promote that status quo if his ideas - such as they are amid clumsily delivered, wince-inducing rhetorical bombast - are plainly stupid and a waste of everyone's time.

Comment author: vi21maobk9vp 03 October 2011 09:21:17AM 2 points [-]

It is not a fully general counterargument because only if FAI approach is right it is a good idea to suppress open dissemination of some AGI information.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2011 10:01:01AM 3 points [-]

It is not a fully general counterargument because only if FAI approach is right it is a good idea to suppress open dissemination of some AGI information.

That isn't true. It would be a good idea to suppress some AGI information if the FAI approach is futile and any creation of AGI would turn out to be terrible.

Comment author: lessdazed 03 October 2011 09:42:17AM 3 points [-]

information

It's a general argument to avoid considering whether or not something even is information in a relevant sense.

I'm willing to accept "If you are wrong, it is good that papers showing how you are wrong are published," but not "If you are right, there is no harm done by any arguments against your position," nor "If you are wrong, there is benefit to any argument about AI so long as it differs from yours."

Comment author: vi21maobk9vp 03 October 2011 01:38:40PM 1 point [-]

Well, I mean more specific case. FAI approach, among other things, presupposes that building FAI is very hard and in the meantime it is better to divert random people from AGI to specialized problem-solving CS fields. Or into game theory / decision theory.

Superficially, he references some things that are reasonable; he also implies some other things that are considered too hard to estimate (and so unreliable) on LessWrong.

If someone tries to make sense of it, she either builds a sensible decision theory out of these references (not entirely excluded), follows the references to find both FAI and game-theoretical results that may be useful, or fails to make any sense (the suppression case I mentioned) and decides that AGI is a freak field.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 03 October 2011 02:03:34PM 2 points [-]

FAI approach

Talk of "approaches" in AI has a similar insidious effect to that of "-ism"s of philosophy, compartmentalizing (motivation for) projects from the rest of the field.

Comment author: jsalvatier 03 October 2011 02:45:27PM 3 points [-]

That's an interesting idea. Would you share some evidence for that? (anecdotes or whatever). I sometimes think in terms of a 'bayesian approach to statistics'.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2011 10:13:47AM 1 point [-]

Another way to put it is that it is a fully general counterargument against having standards. ;)

Comment author: Solvent 03 October 2011 07:15:42AM 1 point [-]

Which paper of his did you read? He has quite a few.

Comment author: vi21maobk9vp 03 October 2011 07:34:46AM 1 point [-]

AGI-2011 one.

Comment author: Thomas 02 October 2011 12:46:05PM -1 points [-]

I estimate, that a currently working and growing superintelligence has a probability in a range of 1/million to 1/1000. I am at least 50% confident that it is so.

Not a big probability but given the immense importance of such an object, it is already a significant event to consider. The very near term birth of a superintelligence is something to think about. It wouldn't be just another Sputnik launched by some other people you thought they are unable to make it, but they sure were. We know that well, it wouldn't be just a minor blow for a pride as Sputnik was for some, and a triumph for others who conceived it and launched it.

No, that could be a check mate in a first move.

Non the less, people are dismissive of any short term success in the field. I am not and I want to express it in an open thread.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 October 2011 01:15:03PM 5 points [-]

I estimate, that a currently working and growing superintelligence has a probability in a range of 1/million to 1/1000. I am at least 50% confident that it is so.

The probability is already just an expression of your own uncertainty. Giving a confidence interval over the probability does not make sense.

Comment author: kilobug 02 October 2011 02:48:00PM 6 points [-]

Well, the probability is computed by an algorithm that is itself imperfect. "I'm 50% confident that the probability is 1/1000" means something like "My computation gives a probably of 1/1000, but I'm only 50% confident that I did it right". For example, if given a complex maths problem about probabilities of getting some card patterns from a deck with twisted rules of drawing and shuffling, you can do that maths, ends up with a probability of 1/5 that you'll get the pattern, but not be confident you didn't make a mistake in applying the laws of probability, so you'll only give a 50% confidence to that answer.

And there is also the difference between belief and belief in belief. I can something "I believe the probability to be of 1/1000, but I'm only 50% confident that this is my real belief, and not just a belief in belief".

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 01 October 2013 12:06:43AM *  0 points [-]

Maybe when you say it, that's what you mean (do you say it?), but that's pretty weak evidence about what Thomas means. Added: oops, I didn't mean to revive something two years old.

Comment author: Vaniver 02 October 2011 02:56:35PM 4 points [-]

It sounds to me like he is describing his distribution over probabilities, and estimates at least 50% of the mass of his distribution is between 1/1,000 and 1/1,000,000. Is that a convenient way to store or deal with probabilities? Not really, no, but I can see why someone would pick it.

Comment author: bentarm 04 October 2011 01:40:09PM 4 points [-]

The problem with this interpretation is that it renders the initial statement pretty meaningless. Assuming he's decided to give us a centered 50% confidence interval, which is the only one that really makes sense, that means that 25% of his probability distribution over probabilities is more likely than 1/1000, and this part of the probability mass is going to dominate the rest.

For example, if you think there's a 25% chance that the "actual probability" (whatever that means) is 0.01, then your best estimate of the "actual probability" has to be at least 0.004, which is significantly more than 1/1000, and even a 1% chance of it being 0.1 would already be enough to move your best estimate above 0.001, so it's not just that I'm not sure the concept makes sense, it's that the statement gives us basically no information in the only interpretation in which it does make sense.

Comment author: gwern 02 October 2011 02:04:48PM 3 points [-]

If you can have a 95% confidence interval, why can't you have a >50% confidence interval as well?

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2011 12:40:26AM *  2 points [-]

50% confidence intervals are standard practice. But not the point and not what I questioned.

There is no way in which my comment can be read which would make your reply make sense in the context.

Comment author: bentarm 04 October 2011 01:33:41PM *  1 point [-]

I basically agree that the part of the original comment that you quote doesn't make any sense at all, and am not attempting to come to the defence of confidence intervals over probabilities, but it does feel like there should be some way of giving statements of probability and indicating how sure one is about the statement at the same time. I think, in some sense, I want to be able to say how likely I think it is that I will get new information that will cause me to update away from my current estimate, or give a second-derivative of my uncertainty, if you will.

Let's say we have two bags, one contains 1 million normal coins, one contains 500,000 2-headed coins and 500,000 2-tailed coins. Now, I draw a coin from the first bag and toss it - I have a 50% chance of getting a head. I draw a coin from the second bag and toss it - I also have a 50% chance of getting a head, but it does feel like there's some meaningful difference between the two situations. I will admit, though, that I have basically no idea how to formalise this - I assume somebody, somewhere, does.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 05 December 2011 01:41:26PM 1 point [-]

http://www.questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=2070

Let's get FAI right. It would be the ultimate insult if we were ever turned into paperclips by something naming itself Gary.

Comment author: lessdazed 22 October 2011 01:03:04PM 1 point [-]

I face a trivial inconvenience. If I want to send someone a message through LW, I am held up by trying to think of a Subject line.

What is a good convention or social norm that would enable people to not have to think about what to put there and how that affects the message?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 22 October 2011 03:17:46PM 1 point [-]

This isn't quite an answer to your question, but my approach is to write the message first. Usually by then the subject is obvious.

But for where it isn't, I generally go with something like "A question" or "A thought" or "Some possibilities" or something equally neutral like that.

Comment author: lessdazed 13 October 2011 02:54:23PM 1 point [-]

If there is a safe and effective way to induce short term amnesia, wouldn't that be useful for police lineups?

People are good at picking the person who most resembles who they saw, but not at determining if someone was who they saw. Amnesia would allow people to pick among different lineups without remembering who they chose in the first lineup and whether or not that is someone in a later lineup.

People would be given a drug or machine interfering with their memory and pick someone out of a lineup of a suspect and similar looking people. Then, the person they identified as who they saw would be removed and they would be asked to pick again. One could also have a new lineup with the person chosen from the first one and new extras, but I think the greatest benefit would be if the selected person is removed. This would allow one to see if the witness actually recognizes the person or chose the best fit in the first lineup and is subsequently remembering that person as the culprit.

Comment author: lessdazed 13 October 2011 02:29:43AM 1 point [-]

If asked to guess a number that a human chose that is between zero and what they say is "infinity", how would one go about assigning probabilities to both a) assign higher numbers lower probabilities on average than lower numbers and b) assign higher values to low complexity numbers than higher complexity ones?

For example, 3^^^3 is more likely than 3^^^3 - 42.

Is a) necessary so the area under the curve adds up to 1? Generally, what other things than a) and b) would be needed when guessing most humans' "random" number?

Comment author: NihilCredo 13 October 2011 10:56:11AM 3 points [-]

I think (a) is a special case of (b).

Comment author: endoself 17 October 2011 12:05:19AM 1 point [-]

This is correct; for every x, there is a largest number of complexity x.

Comment author: lessdazed 08 October 2011 10:00:10PM 1 point [-]

How common are game theory concepts that are not expressed in nature?

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 09 October 2011 05:57:37PM 0 points [-]

I don't understand you, could you give an example?

Comment author: lessdazed 14 October 2011 02:34:58AM *  2 points [-]

I was surprised to find out about stotting being cooperation between cheetahs and gazelles. I was amused by the "rock-paper-scissors" common side blotched lizard.

In nature, is there a Rubinstein bargaining model or a game without a value, for example?

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 13 October 2011 01:32:07AM *  2 points [-]

Well, the superiority of Tit-for-Tat to most other Iterated PD strategies was discovered by evolutionary sims, and evidence has been found of its being used in nature. For instance, the behavior of WWI soldiers who stopped killing each other in the trenches by mutually choosing to only fire their artillery when fired upon first, and several instances in animals. I'm too lazy to look up the latter, but I'm pretty confident they're in The Selfish Gene. I think lessdazed is asking if there are any other important game theory findings that don't have that kind of real world support.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 06 October 2011 07:33:30PM *  1 point [-]

Interesting - http://www.takeonit.com/question/332.aspx (Is living forever worthwhile?)

Comment author: lessdazed 03 October 2011 07:16:51AM 1 point [-]

Assuming infinite matter were available, is there a limit to the possible consciousnesses that could be made out of it?

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2011 08:18:27AM 1 point [-]

Assuming infinite matter were available, is there a limit to the possible consciousnesses that could be made out of it?

No limit, unless you construct an arbitrary definition of 'consciousness' that for some reason decrees that vast sets of different consciousnesses must be lumped in together as one.

Comment author: lessdazed 03 October 2011 08:32:59AM 1 point [-]

Assuming a speed limit of communication such as light speed, why couldn't sufficiently large minds always either be made from less matter or merely be larger versions of smaller, identical patterns?

Comment author: pengvado 03 October 2011 10:14:22AM *  2 points [-]

If you're talking about possibility rather than efficiency, then what does a speedlimit have to do with anything? A big algorithm (mind or otherwise) that requires too much nonlocal communication will just run slowly.

Comment author: lessdazed 03 October 2011 10:18:48AM *  2 points [-]

With no speed limit, a designer of a bigger mind could easily take advantage of its size to form new, unique mind patterns by linking distant parts.

With the speed limit, many big minds are in exactly the same pattern as smaller ones, only slower.

If a mind is big enough, it may dwarf its components such that it is consciously the same as a smaller mind in a similar pattern.

Comment author: lessdazed 02 October 2011 07:58:39PM 1 point [-]

Negative utility: how does it differ from positive utility, and what is the relationship between the two?

Useful analogies might include the relationship of positive numbers to negative ones, the relationship of hot to cold, or other.

Comment author: saturn 03 October 2011 01:34:12AM 7 points [-]

Mathematically, all that matters is the ratio of the differences in the utilities of the possible alternatives, so it's not really important whether utilities are positive or negative. Informally, negative utility generally means something less desirable than the status quo.

Comment author: vi21maobk9vp 02 October 2011 08:35:42PM 1 point [-]

Well, in the simplest case (when we are not talking being vs. non-being), the utility function is something that you can shift and even multiply by a constant. The only thing that matters for a selfish rational agent which either not considers ceasing to be or ascribes it some utility is ratio of utility differences. You usually maximize expected utility; and you do not care about absolute value, but only about the actions you are going to take. Shifts and multiplication by positive constants do not change any inequality with expectations of utilitiy. And shifts can make negative become positive and vice versa.

Now, if we consider moral questions with variable count of agents, we can find ourselves in a situation where we want to compare being to non-being - and some people implicity ascribe non-being utility zero. Also we can try to find a common scale for the wish intensities different people have. Buddhism with its stopping of reincarnation seems to ascribe negative utility to any form of being before transcending into nirvana. Whether it is better not to be born or to be born into modern world in Africa is a question that can get different answers in Western Europe; now, we can expect that as accurate a description as possible of Western Europe could cause a pharaoh of Egypt say that it is better not to be born than to be born into this scary world.