Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Konkvistador comments on [Link] Reddit, help me find some peace I'm dying young - Less Wrong

24 [deleted] 18 August 2012 03:17PM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (181)

You are viewing a single comment's thread. Show more comments above.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 August 2012 03:57:54PM *  15 points [-]

I don't recall any third party evidence but I would say the pictures of her in the first reddit post count as weak evidence this is real, also if it was a scam isn't it a bit silly that she didn't go for the skydiving thing? Expected income from that seems higher no?

I suggest you make a comment on her blog or on the thread defining what you would find acceptable evidence and asking for it. Those who agree with you and want to donate can then commit to donating should she provide it. Or if you won't do that people who would otherwise donate but are concerned about this can use the tactic to discover if that is their true objection.

Even if it was a scam deathist rants still need debunking.

Comment author: gwern 18 August 2012 04:05:05PM *  9 points [-]

Why would you donate to her, with a highly nontrivial chance of the money being wasted, spent on something else, or turning out to be just another Reddit scam - even if some iota of evidence was presented - rather than donate straight to ALCOR or CI or the Brain Preservation Prize? Especially given her claimed aim to give the money to ALCOR/CI? Why would you not cut out a highly dubious middleman? (And don't tell me that it will help create an additional suspension at the margin: ALCOR runs at a loss, and money is fungible.)

I'm astonished that on a site that discusses charity & philanthropy all the time, anyone could think donating a good idea.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 August 2012 04:14:44PM *  16 points [-]


I already covered this in the OP, I felt a strong sense of kinship, I would get a lot of warm fuzzies from doing this, if it is real, that I wouldn't from other things. It buys me more hedons than eating more ice cream this summer.

I didn't claim this was the best thing people could do with their money, I just wanted to encourage and alert those who might feel as I do.

Also I did think the Brain Preservation Prize was worth donating to. Its just that perhaps you didn't notice that I haven't exactly been around on the forums here for the past month+, no?

Comment author: Vaniver 18 August 2012 06:50:31PM 4 points [-]

I already covered this in the OP, I felt a strong sense of kinship, I would get a lot of warm fuzzies from doing this

I agree that it feels uncharitable to ask hard questions of someone claiming to go through a rough time. But gwern's proposed suggestion- of donating the money to CI directly, and trying to earmark it for her suspension if she does sign up- feels like it should give the same fuzzies while protecting you from this being a scam. You can even send her an email saying "I donated to CI on your behalf" for some extra fuzzies.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 August 2012 07:16:53PM 2 points [-]

That was in response to this not being optimal philanthropy (something I'm well aware of), not about asking for third party evidence with which I don't have a problem.

Comment author: hankx7787 18 August 2012 04:24:23PM *  3 points [-]

This is more than purchasing fuzzies to me. I'm counting on people sufficiently like me to cooperate on cases of this nature. It's the superrational thing to do.

Comment author: J_Taylor 19 August 2012 07:35:18PM 2 points [-]

If you have the time, could you elaborate on an issue? That is, if you were acting rationally in this particular scenario, and not super-rationally, how would your behavior differ?

Comment author: hankx7787 03 January 2013 03:05:04AM *  1 point [-]

If you were acting "rationally" and not "super-rationally" in this context - you would declare this an absurd expense of fuzzies, which can be obtained much more cheaply, and not dare divert your resources from the much more effective things you're already doing.to maximize your goal system

This is missing the point, assuming you a somewhat comparable person here (and if this doesn't really apply to you, then there is no "superrational" justification for this), that cooperating and encouraging cooperation on cases of this nature increases your chances that, should you yourself (or anyone else you care about for that matter) be caught in a situation like this, there will be a safety net to catch you.

Granted it would be improbable for me personally to end up in this situation, but it's much the same economy as insurance for me - I pay for health insurance and cryonics (my life insurance) despite the long odds I'll ever need them in anywhere near as much quantity as I'm paying in the next 25 years, at least, so a hundred bucks or whatever one-time is just a drop in that budget.

Call me paranoid, but for me there is a clear superrational justification here.

Comment author: siodine 19 August 2012 07:28:54PM *  -1 points [-]

Shouldn't this community be tabooing this behavior (going for fuzzies rather than optimal philanthropy) even though it might be a reasonable personal decision? I think by upvoting Konkvistador's comment and post, this community is enforcing obviously suboptimal norms and making this behavior acceptable and even appreciated (16 karma to gwern's 0?). By tabooing this behavior, this community could enforce the opposite reaction (i.e., fuzzies for optimal philanthropy while humiliation and shame just purchasing fuzzies [actually suboptimal charity]).

Comment author: [deleted] 19 August 2012 07:55:32PM *  6 points [-]

I guess. But then to be consistent we should probably also make a norm against buying medicine for relatives too. This is only a half joking proposal since there are excellent arguments in favour of not spending more on last ditch attempt treatments. Also the general Hansonian argument on the uselessness of medical spending our society indulges in.

Oh and since we are on this topic we should shame everyone who uses cryonics because that clearly isn't optimal charity. And we don't want people to be selfish.

A strange thought has struck me, if it is de facto ok for me to be selfish for myself, why isn't it ok for me to be selfish on someone's else's behalf? I'm pretty sure I'm selfish enough on say my daughters behalf that its worth at least a few lives when we do the number crunching.

I just care more about some people than others. I'm generally ok with this. I don't recall a rule carved into the fabric of reality demanding I care about all humans equally. And if there is one... pshaw... no thanks I'm going to follow something that's more fun and in tune with my values. I wouldn't take objective morality that wanted me to stone adulterers seriously either, why should I treat this hypothetical one thus?

Neither do I aspire to eventually take such a rule seriously. In fact I would find a society where I couldn't treat some people preferentially a horrible one to live in as I have pointed out in a different context. This has been my ethical stance for quite some time.

Comment author: siodine 19 August 2012 08:17:57PM *  0 points [-]

So, that was a long winded way of saying, "okay, if this community taboos buying fuzzies rather than optimal philantropy [note: there's a lot to unpack in that], then what's to stop this community from sliding down the undesirable slope towards ultimately tabooing any nonessential personal spending?"

The answer is simple. While completely avoiding nonessential personal spending is suboptimal in the most obvious sense it's, as you alluded to, unmaintainable. I.e., a society like that is likely to die from emigration and stagnation.

Here's an example of tabooing and how it works in realistic terms: Large SUVs, especially in certain areas, have become taboo for their environmental impact. Now, you could say, "if we're going to taboo large SUVs for their negative environmental impact, why then don't we all ride bicycles, because that's obviously where this is leading, isn't it?" But, no; that isn't where it leads at all. The taboo is an communal awareness of an obviously bad thing.

On lesswrong, and in this context, we could start with tabooing pet charities, and quickly move towards your example, but I'm doubtful that we would find that we'd want to take that to dystopic levels. And this reminds me of a common criticism of consequentialism in yvain's faq:

7.1: Wouldn't consequentialism lead to [obviously horrible outcome]?

Probably not. After all, consequentialism says to make the world a better place. So if an outcome is obviously horrible, consequentialists wouldn't want it, would they?

(also, personal objections are irrelevant in the context of a community taboo; "but I drive a hummer because I want a warmer climate!")

Comment author: [deleted] 19 August 2012 08:46:12PM *  1 point [-]

"okay, if this community taboos buying fuzzies rather than optimal philantropy [note: there's a lot to unpack in that], then what's to stop this community from sliding down the undesirable slope towards ultimately tabooing any nonessential personal spending?"

Just for reference it should be pointed out that people have already attacked people spending money on medicine or buying cryonics based on this reasoning on LW.

Comment author: siodine 19 August 2012 09:08:33PM *  -2 points [-]

To be clear, you mean people have attacked others for investing in cryonics for themselves rather than, e.g., a GiveWell charity. All I have to say regarding that is that it's been, as you say, attacked rather than tabooed, and that I think it should be attacked (or without the negative connotation of attack, 'questioned').

The issue of cryonics being a worthwhile expenditure is currently somewhat unclear, and I don't see it being tabooed soon. Knowingly buying fuzzies (in the context of charity) over more optimal charity is clear.

To put in within my previous analogy, cryonics is on the slope towards driving a prius rather than a bike, and you're more towards driving a hummer than a prius.

Comment author: hankx7787 18 August 2012 04:10:14PM *  7 points [-]

Personally, I am not in a financial position to engage in philanthropy. I contributed $100 to her (and I contributed $100 to thefirstimmortal on the immortality institute forums, who did get cryopreserved with the Cryonics Institute after dying of cancer shortly thereafter), because I will always help someone who is terminal and begging for cryo. This girl is literally begging for her life. I hope to meet her someday in the distant future...

(As a side note, everyone should get started signing up for cryonics BEFORE anything bad happens - like now! I highly recommend just giving Rudi Hoffman a call. He makes it easy.)

Comment author: gwern 18 August 2012 04:18:19PM *  18 points [-]

I am not in a financial position to engage in philanthropy.

Of course you are, you just gave away $200. Good grief.

Not to pick on you... Well actually yes, to pick on you: What the hell is wrong with you people? If this were religious-oriented - for a pilgrimage to Mecca or buy Mormon underpants or pay for one last course of Scientology auditing - you'd be laughing your ass off hysterically! But because it's cryonics...

How could you fail and compartmentalize so epically? This is like, fractally bad: at every level, donating is a bad idea. It's probably a scam, so donating is a bad idea; if it weren't a scam, you still have no idea what she would really do with it or how close to the cryonics fee she'd come, so donating is a bad idea; even if she would collect enough, donating to ALCOR or the Brain Preservation Prize is a better idea; even if you wanted to donate to them, they're still almost certainly not as good as Givewell's best charity; and so on.

Comment author: shminux 18 August 2012 04:24:55PM 7 points [-]

From a hedonistic point of view, what would you propose to be a better way to buy warm fuzzies for those already moved by and emotionally invested in the story?

Comment author: gwern 18 August 2012 05:08:23PM 2 points [-]

Maybe a charity specializing in Africans which will send you pictures of little kids? Another option might be to go to the local pound, play with some of the kittens, and then donate; if warm fuzzy kittens and cats don't get you warm fuzzies, I dunno what will!

(Best of course would be to not fall for the trap in the first place.)

Comment author: Vaniver 18 August 2012 06:48:50PM 13 points [-]

Maybe a charity specializing in Africans which will send you pictures of little kids?

You're missing the similarity drive. Pictures of smiling Africans is different from "this girl thinks like me"- the former are just kindred bodies, the latter are kindred spirits.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 August 2012 07:20:38PM 6 points [-]

I felt a very strong sense that she is one of us, whoever "us" is

Comment author: KPier 18 August 2012 05:12:25PM 7 points [-]

Not to fall into the "trap" of buying warm fuzzies? Do you advocate a policy of never buying yourself any warm fuzzies, or just of never buying warm fuzzies specifically through donating to charity (because it's easy to trick your brain into believing it just did good)?

Comment author: gwern 18 August 2012 05:23:24PM 9 points [-]

Yes, I am deeply suspicious of Eliezer's post on warm fuzzies vs utilons because while I accept that it can be a good strategy, I am skeptical that it actually is: my suspicion is that for pretty much all people, buying fuzzies just crowds out buying utilons.

For example, I asked Konkvistador on IRC, since he was planning on buying fuzzies by donating to this person, what utilons he was planning on buying, especially since he had just mentioned he had very little money to spare. He replied with something about not eating ice cream and drinking more water.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 August 2012 08:56:39AM *  1 point [-]

He replied with something about not eating ice cream and drinking more water.

I was going for how this increase in fuzzy spending would be counteracted by me specifically cutting out fuzzy spending elsewhere, so total fuzzy spending remains unchanged by this particular decision.

Also me loosing weight does bring me utility.

Comment author: gwern 19 August 2012 08:18:51PM 5 points [-]

So now you're passing the buck twice: you're passing the buck from donating to her to actually cutting down on the ice cream, and from there, you're passing the buck to having increased hedons to at some point buying more utilons. Do you see why this sort of reasoning makes me go all -_- ?

Also me loosing weight does bring me utility.

More rationalizing doesn't make me feel better either!

Comment author: Decius 19 August 2012 01:38:51AM 0 points [-]

Fuzzies are utilons.

Personally, I prefer Kickstarter projects for my fuzzies, because they typically also come with direct physical rewards.

Comment author: 7F5768D4 19 August 2012 01:37:07AM 3 points [-]

Assuming her story is not a scam, ponder why I find the idea of donating for cute kittens instead of helping another human being facing death and begging for help repugnant.

Comment author: gwern 19 August 2012 01:48:45AM *  12 points [-]

I have; now please ponder why I might find repugnant the idea of donating towards something as inefficient and low-probability as cryonics rather than the very high probability charities identified by GiveWell, based solely on some identity politics and a Reddit post.

If everyone is going to justify donating to her on fuzzies, then have the guts to defend fuzzies. Fuzzies are not a good way of helping human beings 'facing death': that's the point. Don't equivocate between arguing that donating to her is a good way of making you feel better, and arguing that donating to her is a utilitarianly optimal sort of donation.

Comment author: Dolores1984 19 August 2012 05:27:36PM 7 points [-]

You make an interesting assumption that we care about other people in general. If you assume that we model the human species as a group of people with the bell curve split fifty percent above and below the zero value line symmetrically, then it's perfectly rational to give only to people who are familiar enough with to rank in the positive half.

Note: I do not believe this.

Also, if you actually believe in optimal charity for utilitarian reasons, then abusing people for sub-optimal charity is ridiculous. It does not make them more likely to engage in optimal charity, it makes them more likely not to engage in charity at all. You're shooting your cause in the foot at least as much as they are.

Comment author: gwern 19 August 2012 06:03:35PM 7 points [-]

It does not make them more likely to engage in optimal charity, it makes them more likely not to engage in charity at all.

It may make them overall less likely to engage in charity, yes, but if they do, it also makes them more likely to engage in optimal charity*. Since optimal charity is something like 2-3 orders of magnitude better than this particular instance of fuzzy charity, I should be willing to cause a lot of overall drops in charity in exchange for diverting a small fraction of that to an optimal charity.

* If it doesn't even do that, though, then I have some serious problems on my hand.

Comment author: 7F5768D4 19 August 2012 12:43:53PM *  8 points [-]

I have. You know what, you're perfectly right, there are better ways to help people, and that's even if you're selfish and wish to help groups in which you're likely to find yourself, for instance setting a precedent of people helping needy, terminally ill cryonics patients because "someday I could be in her shoes".

You're also too good at rhetoric for your own good. I wouldn't have been so distracted from the content of your message if you hadn't been acting so aggressive, indignant and grandiloquent in the comments from the beginning on. Why did you have to? Do you feel like the strength of your arguments alone wouldn't suffice? Or were you too engrossed in the game of putting your ideas forward and destroying those on the other side?

Comment author: gwern 19 August 2012 08:28:45PM *  8 points [-]

Why did you have to? Do you feel like the strength of your arguments alone wouldn't suffice?

That's exactly it. This page is stuffed with identity politics, prewritten bottom lines, base-rate neglect, likely sexism, sheer abandonment of optimal charity, scope insensitivity, equivocation & abuse of fuzzies vs utilons, and so on.

This is all LW orthodoxy to the extent there is such a thing, yet even so, the pull of 'dying cute girl wants cryonics! MUST HELP!' is so strong that LW orthodoxy + good rhetoric* still earns me a mix of heavy down and upvotes with the flow of donations apparently unabated.

* I don't think I'm very good at rhetoric, but I'll take your word for it.

Comment author: shminux 18 August 2012 06:06:42PM 4 points [-]

Not sure if your suggestion would work at this stage. This dying (assuming it's not a scam) person is already real and embedded in their hearts, especially if they read her older posts. They would have to pick cute kittens or sad pictures over a cancer girl, not an obvious decision. Like Murder-Gandhi, they have been irreversibly changed and would require a sobering pill to snap out of it, which they would probably refuse to take.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 19 August 2012 12:22:59AM *  12 points [-]

Assuming this is not a scam, I would donate for practical reasons (and not only fuzzies) - for those who plan to be frozen, we want cryonics to be popular. A public incident like this might make it into news, etc., and make a difference. Plus Reddit has gotten quite big.

Comment author: RobertLumley 18 August 2012 04:30:16PM 14 points [-]

As Konkvistador points out, I don't think people are being philanthropic, they're purchasing fuzzies.

Comment author: mtaran 19 August 2012 01:46:43AM *  7 points [-]

There are a lot of things I'd like to say, but you have put forth a prediction

It's probably a scam

I would like to take up a bet with you on this ending up being a scam. This can be arbitrated by some prominent member of CI, Alcor, or Rudi Hoffman. I would win if an arbiter decides that the person who posted on Reddit was in fact diagnosed with cancer essentially as stated in her Reddit posts, and is in fact gathering money for a her own cryonics arrangements. If none of the proposed arbiters can vouch for the above within one month (through September 18), then you will win the bet.

What odds would you like on this, and what's the maximum amount of money you'd put on the line?

Comment author: gwern 19 August 2012 01:53:58AM *  6 points [-]

As I said in my other comment, I'm now giving 5-10% for scam. I'd be happy to take a 1:10 bet on the CI outcome risking no more than $100 on my part, but I think 1 month is much too tight; 1 January 2013 would be a better deadline with the bet short-circuiting on CI judgment.

Comment author: mtaran 19 August 2012 02:15:50AM 5 points [-]

Done. $100 from you vs $1000 from me. If you lose, you donate it to her fund. If I lose, I can send you the money or do with it what you wish.

Comment author: gwern 19 August 2012 02:27:03AM 5 points [-]

Wait, I'm not sure we're understanding each other. I thought I was putting up $100, and you'd put up $10; if she turned out to be a scam (as judged by CI), I lose the $100 to you - while if she turned out to be genuine (as judged by CI), you would lose the $10 to me.

Comment author: mtaran 19 August 2012 05:44:58AM 3 points [-]

Well I still accept, since now it's a much better deal for me!

Comment author: philh 19 August 2012 10:14:24AM 3 points [-]

Um, the way I'm reading this it looks like gwern is taking the position you were originally trying to take?

Comment author: hankx7787 19 August 2012 05:37:37PM 0 points [-]

Genius, I should have thought of that ^_^

Comment author: khafra 18 August 2012 08:48:00PM 4 points [-]

Great textbook example of the biases affecting charitable giving, isn't it? People will give more to a single, identifiable person than to an anonymous person or a group. People want to feel like they actually changed something they can directly see, rather than contributing a small amount to a big goal; etc.

Comment author: LukeStebbing 18 August 2012 09:35:23PM *  7 points [-]

People will give more to a single, identifiable person than to an anonymous person or a group.

As a counterpoint to your generalization, JGWeissman has given 82x more to SIAI than he plans to give to this girl if her story checks out.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 August 2012 02:18:18AM 1 point [-]

And how many JGWs are there in the world?

Comment author: LukeStebbing 20 August 2012 02:37:59AM *  3 points [-]

More and more, if I can do anything about it. (Edit since someone didn't like this comment: That's a big if. I'm trying to make it smaller.)

Comment author: faul_sname 18 August 2012 10:36:16PM 0 points [-]

I think what hankx means is that (s)he's not in a position to donate large amounts of money (as in large enough to save 50 or more life-years). However, $100 is still enough to buy warm fuzzies.

Comment author: hankx7787 18 August 2012 11:05:16PM 0 points [-]

No, I mean this is not just about fuzzies for me.