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

Morality is Awesome

83 [deleted] 06 January 2013 03:21PM

(This is a semi-serious introduction to the metaethics sequence. You may find it useful, but don't take it too seriously.)

Meditate on this: A wizard has turned you into a whale. Is this awesome?

Is it?

"Maybe? I guess it would be pretty cool to be a whale for a day. But only if I can turn back, and if I stay human inside and so on. Also, that's not a whale.

"Actually, a whale seems kind of specific, and I'd be suprised if that was the best thing the wizard can do. Can I have something else? Eternal happiness maybe?"

Meditate on this: A wizard has turned you into orgasmium, doomed to spend the rest of eternity experiencing pure happiness. Is this awesome?

...

"Kindof... That's pretty lame actually. On second thought I'd rather be the whale; at least that way I could explore the ocean for a while.

"Let's try again. Wizard: maximize awesomeness."

Meditate on this: A wizard has turned himself into a superintelligent god, and is squeezing as much awesomeness out of the universe as it could possibly support. This may include whales and starships and parties and jupiter brains and friendship, but only if they are awesome enough. Is this awesome?

...

"Well, yes, that is awesome."


What we just did there is called Applied Ethics. Applied ethics is about what is awesome and what is not. Parties with all your friends inside superintelligent starship-whales are awesome. ~666 children dying of hunger every hour is not.

(There is also normative ethics, which is about how to decide if something is awesome, and metaethics, which is about something or other that I can't quite figure out. I'll tell you right now that those terms are not on the exam.)

"Wait a minute!" you cry, "What is this awesomeness stuff? I thought ethics was about what is good and right."

I'm glad you asked. I think "awesomeness" is what we should be talking about when we talk about morality. Why do I think this?

  1. "Awesome" is not a philosophical landmine. If someone encounters the word "right", all sorts of bad philosophy and connotations send them spinning off into the void. "Awesome", on the other hand, has no philosophical respectability, hence no philosophical baggage.

  2. "Awesome" is vague enough to capture all your moral intuition by the well-known mechanisms behind fake utility functions, and meaningless enough that this is no problem. If you think "happiness" is the stuff, you might get confused and try to maximize actual happiness. If you think awesomeness is the stuff, it is much harder to screw it up.

  3. If you do manage to actually implement "awesomeness" as a maximization criteria, the results will be actually good. That is, "awesome" already refers to the same things "good" is supposed to refer to.

  4. "Awesome" does not refer to anything else. You think you can just redefine words, but you can't, and this causes all sorts of trouble for people who overload "happiness", "utility", etc.

  5. You already know that you know how to compute "Awesomeness", and it doesn't feel like it has a mysterious essence that you need to study to discover. Instead it brings to mind concrete things like starship-whale math-parties and not-starving children, which is what we want anyways. You are already enabled to take joy in the merely awesome.

  6. "Awesome" is implicitly consequentialist. "Is this awesome?" engages you to think of the value of a possible world, as opposed to "Is this right?" which engages to to think of virtues and rules. (Those things can be awesome sometimes, though.)

I find that the above is true about me, and is nearly all I need to know about morality. It handily inoculates against the usual confusions, and sets me in the right direction to make my life and the world more awesome. It may work for you too.

I would append the additional facts that if you wrote it out, the dynamic procedure to compute awesomeness would be hellishly complex, and that right now, it is only implicitly encoded in human brains, and no where else. Also, if the great procedure to compute awesomeness is not preserved, the future will not be awesome. Period.

Also, it's important to note that what you think of as awesome can be changed by considering things from different angles and being exposed to different arguments. That is, the procedure to compute awesomeness is dynamic and created already in motion.

If we still insist on being confused, or if we're just curious, or if we need to actually build a wizard to turn the universe into an awesome place (though we can leave that to the experts), then we can see the metaethics sequence for the full argument, details, and finer points. I think the best post (and the one to read if only one) is joy in the merely good.

Comments (436)

Comment author: Wei_Dai 06 January 2013 08:36:01AM 35 points [-]

You already know that you know how to compute "Awesomeness", and it doesn't feel like it has a mysterious essence that you need to study to discover.

I wish! Both metaethics and normative ethics are still mysterious and confusing to me (despite having read Eliezer's sequence). Here's a sample of problems I'm faced with, none of which seem to be helped by replacing the word "right" with "awesome": 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9. I'm concerned this post might make a lot of people feel more clarity than they actually possess, and more importantly and unfortunately from my perspective, less inclined to look into the problems that continue to puzzle me.

Comment author: Sarokrae 06 January 2013 07:09:12PM *  5 points [-]

I'd just like to say that although I don't have anything to add, there are all excellent questions and I don't think people are considering questions like these enough. (Didn't feel like an upvote was sufficient endorsement for everything in that comment!)

Comment author: CronoDAS 05 January 2013 07:27:21AM 22 points [-]

Is it "awesome" to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of the women?

Is it "awesome" to be the one who gets crushed?

Comment author: aleksiL 05 January 2013 02:53:23PM 5 points [-]

Given you have enemies you hate deeply enough? Yes.

Having such enemies in the first place? Definitely not.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 05 January 2013 03:31:00PM 7 points [-]

Having such enemies in the first place? Definitely not.

There are entire cultural systems of tracking prestige based around having such enemies; the vestiges of them survive today as modern "macho" culture. Having enemies to crush mercilessly, and then doing so, is an excellent way to signal power to third parties.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2013 07:40:55AM *  4 points [-]

Maybe. (Though Conan would disagree. I'm sure we could have a nice discussion/battle about it.) I think the balance of awesomeness does come out against it. As awesome as it is to crush your enemies, I don't really like people getting hurt.

I notice that using "awesomeness" gives a different answer (more ambiguous) than "right" or "good" in this case. I think this is a win because the awesomeness criteria is forcing me to actually evaluate whether it is awesome, instead of just trying to signal.

Is it "awesome" to be the one who gets crushed?

No.

Comment author: CronoDAS 05 January 2013 09:05:23AM *  7 points [-]

I would have said "hell yes!" to the first one. At least it's awesome for you... but not so much for the people you're crushing. As Mel Brooks said, it's good to be the king - having power is awesome, but being subject to someone else's power generally isn't.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 13 January 2013 02:59:04AM 17 points [-]

So it seems to me that the positive responses to this post have largely been of the form "hey, this is a useful intuition pump!" and the negative responses to this post have largely been of the form "hey, this is a problematic theory of morality." For what it's worth, my response was in the former camp, so I'd like to say a little more in its defense.

One useful thing that using the word "awesome" instead of the word "moral" accomplishes is that it redefines the search space of moral decisions. The archetypal members of the category "moral decisions" involve decisions like whether to kill, whether to steal, or whether to lie. But using the word "awesome" makes it easier to realize that a much larger class of decisions can be thought of as moral decisions, such as what kind of career to aim for.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 March 2013 05:23:46PM 3 points [-]

whether to kill, whether to steal, or whether to lie

With the archetypal answers being "no". Perhaps the word "morality" cues proscriptive, inhibitory, avoidance thoughts for you, while awesomeness cues prescriptive, excitatory, attractive ones.

Comment author: lukeprog 13 January 2013 07:49:39AM 0 points [-]

A good point.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2013 10:49:28PM *  16 points [-]

Awesome and moral clearly have overlap. How much?

There's a humorous, satirical news story produced by The Onion, where the US Supreme Court rules that the death penalty is "totally badass". And it is, even though badass-ness is not a criteria to decide the death penalty's legality.

Similarly, awesomeness makes me think of vengeance. Though some vengeance is disproportionate with the initial offense, and thus not so awesome, vengeance seems on the whole to have that aura of glorious achievement that you'd find at the climax of an action / adventure film. And yet that doesn't really match my ideas of morality, though maybe I don't feel strongly positively enough for the restoration of justice.

The idea that vengeance is awesome but not moral might be an artifact of looking at it from the victor's side vs target's side. So maybe we should distinguish between awesome experiences and awesome futures / histories / worlds.

But those were just the first distinctions between morality and awesomeness I thought of while reading. I'm probably missing a lot of stuff, since morality and awesomeness are both big, complicated things. They're probably too big to think about all at once in detail, much less retrieve on a whim. Are there lists of of moral and/or awesome stuff we can look at to better define their overlap?

Schwartz is a psychologist who came up with 10 factors of culturally universal values. I'd say the factors of power, achievement, pleasure, excitement, self-direction, and tradition sound like things you'd find in awesome worlds, while pleasure, universalism, benevolence, conformity, and security sounds like things you find in worlds that are moral but not as awesome. Lovely and boring lives worth living. I included pleasure in both worlds, because that's a hard one to skip on in valuable futures. I wonder how good of a weirdtopia someone could write that didn't involve pleasure.

Anyway, that's less haphazard, but still crude analysis. I mean, some tradition looks like narrative myths and impressive ceremonies, which are awesome, and some tradition looks like shaming people for being sexually abused, which is not awesome. So "tradition" doesn't cut at the joints of awesome vs moral.

Is there a more fine grained list?

43 things is a popular website where people can list their goals, keep track of their progress, talk about why they failed, things like that. It's probably biased toward far-mode endorsements, and misses out on a lot of aesthetics which aren't neatly expressible as goal content, but it's still an interesting source of data on morality and awesomeness. The developers of 43 things have a blog, where they do shallow statistical analysis, like listing top habit goals, but the lists are very short and have a lot of overlap.

"A Hierarchical Taxonomy of Human Goals" (Chulef+ 2001) lists 138 unique goals derived from psychological literature and 30 goal clusters.

If you look through the list, you'll see a bunch of goals that start with "being". Being ambitious, responsible, respected, etc. Also some appearance ones like "looking fit". I think its fair to say that human goal content includes a fair bit of virtuousness, and that we could make a virtue theory of awesomeness just as much as a virtue theory of morality (though it might be too narrow a theory).

Sorting the big list turns out to be pretty hard, because the goals are a mix of awesomeness, boring morality, and other things. Like "Living close to family" initially sounds like a boring moral thing, but it sounds way cooler when they're riding mechanical rocket dinosaurs with you and helping you take down the Dark Evil's super weapon. Or even just "being a good parent". That doesn't sound as exciting as rocket dinosaurs, but neither can I quite bring myself to say that being a good parent is not totally awesome.

I did start sorting though. One thing that stood out is that awesome goals are more often about seeking and boring moral goals are more often about having. But that's going off what I had when I accidentally closed the document unsaved, so small sample bias. I think I might have drifted back toward thinking about awesome experiences instead of awesome futures too. Or even just features of a high status life. And status clearly isn't equivalent with morality. Oops.

In summary, I still really don't know whether awesome futures are the same as moral futures, or whether awesome moral futures are the same as valuable ones.

--

This comment is stupid. Morality is usually used to describe actions, not experiences or world states or histories. Calling awesomeness the same as morality is a type mismatch. Also I put universalism in the boring category, even though I had just said that justice-y vengeance is awesome. And I said goals on 43 things are biased to far mode, which they're not if you just look at them (neither are they near mode), and it doesn't matter either way because I didn't do anything with 43 things other than name drop it, like that stupid Onion sketch. And why did I bring up goal content at all? Goals are the products of valuation thought processes, not the constituents. We have psychology and neuroscience; we can just look at how awesomeness feelings work instead of imaging situations associated with goals and decided, "hrm, yes, trench coats definitely sound awesome, I wonder what that tells me about morality". And goals aren't all that interesting for characterizing human values that aren't moral ones, in that specific, social sense that Haidt talks about. Like I'm pretty sure not being horribly burned by fire is a common human value, and yet no one on 43 things wrote about it, and it's only weakly implicit in Schwartz' value taxonomy with the pleasure and security factors. And yet not burning people alive is probably a more important thing to ensure in the design of humanity's future than making sure people can stay with their families or have high self esteem or have math parties.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 06 January 2013 01:28:01PM 2 points [-]

Heinlein's The Rolling Stones has a very elegant balance of home and adventure. The family lives in a space ship.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 07 January 2013 03:46:15PM 1 point [-]

There's a humorous, satirical news story produced by The Onion, where the US Supreme Court rules that the death penalty is "totally badass". And it is, even though badass-ness is not a criteria to decide the death penalty's legality.

As badass as shooting a fish in a barrel. Which is to say, no, not really.

Comment author: khafra 10 January 2013 01:29:55PM 6 points [-]

Not "badass" in the sense of jumping a motorcycle into a helicopter, bailing at the last moment, and landing safely in a rooftop swimming pool. But badass in the sense of atavistic, ceremonial, conducive to a kind of gravitas. I'm pretty sure there are more executions in movies than wasting-away-for-70-years-in-prison.

Comment author: nshepperd 05 January 2013 04:30:25PM 12 points [-]

Thank you. For a short summary of the whole situation, this is fantastically non-confused and seems like a good intuition pump.

Comment author: summerstay 09 January 2013 06:04:13PM 11 points [-]

Great! This means that in order to develop an AI with a proper moral foundation, we just need to reduce the following statements of ethical guidance to predicate logic, and we'll be all set: 1. Be excellent to each other. 2. Party on, dudes!

Comment author: BerryPick6 09 January 2013 06:49:48PM 3 points [-]

Is the first time that movie's ever been mentioned in the context of this site? Well done.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 05 January 2013 05:50:48AM *  8 points [-]

I think "awesome" implies that something is extraordinary. I would hope you'd continue to enjoy parties with all your friends inside superintelligent starship-whales, but eventually you'd get used to them unless more awesomeness got added.

Whether everyone and every moment can be awesome-- by their standards, not ours-- is a worthwhile question. Even if the answer is 'no', how close can you get?

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 06 January 2013 05:36:15PM *  34 points [-]

Morality needs a concept of awfulness as well as awesomeness. In the depths of hell, good things are not an option and therefore not a consideration, but there are still choices to be made.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 January 2013 01:37:26PM 11 points [-]

In the depths of hell, good things are not an option and therefore not a consideration, but there are still choices to be made.

Gloomiest sentence of 2013 so far. Upvoted.

Comment author: MugaSofer 07 January 2013 08:23:29PM 3 points [-]

"Least not-awesome choice" is isomorphic to "most awesome choice".

Curiously, I like everything about your comment but this, it's central point. Indeed, a concept of negative utility is probably useful; but this is not why.

Comment author: Decius 08 January 2013 05:51:57AM 10 points [-]

I think that 'awesome' loses a lot of value when you are forced to make the statement "Watching lot of people die was the most awesome choice I had, because any intervention would have added victims without saving anyone."

I propose 'lame' and 'bummer' as antonyms for 'awesome'. Instead of trying to figure out the most awesome of a series of bad options, we can discuss the least lame.

Comment author: JamesAndrix 15 January 2013 09:35:46PM 3 points [-]

Sucks less sucks less.

Comment author: Decius 15 January 2013 11:12:56PM 1 point [-]

What's the adjectival form of suck?

Comment author: BerryPick6 15 January 2013 11:18:28PM *  1 point [-]

Sucky. As in: "That movie was really sucky."

ETA: It's even in the dictionary!

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 15 January 2013 11:18:03PM 1 point [-]

Sucky. (It's kind of sucky, but oh well.)

Comment author: [deleted] 06 January 2013 09:04:34PM 31 points [-]

[META] Why is this so heavily upvoted? Does that indicate actual value to LW, or just a majority of lurking septemberites captivated by cute pixel art?

It was just hacked out in a couple of hours to organize my thoughts for the meetup. It has little justification for anything, very little coherent overarching structure, and it's not even really serious. It's only 90% true, with many bugs. Very much a worse-is-better sort of post.

Now it's promoted with 50-something upvotes. I notice that I would not predict this, and feel the need to update.

What should I (we) learn from this?

  • Am I underestimating the value of a given post-idea? (i.e. should we all err on the side of writing more?)

  • Are structure, seriousness, watertightness and such are trumped by fun and clarity? Is it safe to run with this? This could save a lot of work.

  • Are people just really interested in morality, or re-framing of problems, or well-linked integration posts?

Comment author: Mass_Driver 08 January 2013 12:42:29AM 23 points [-]

Given at least moderate quality, upvotes correlate much more tightly with accessibility / scope of audience than quality of writing. Remember, the article score isn't an average of hundreds of scalar ratings -- it's the sum of thousands of ratings of [-1, 0, +1] -- and the default rating of anyone who doesn't see, doesn't care about, or doesn't understand the thrust of a post is 0. If you get a high score, that says more about how many people bothered to process your post than about how many people thought it was the best post ever.

Comment author: khafra 10 January 2013 01:19:15PM 4 points [-]

Yes, to counter this effect I tend to upvote the math-heavy decision theory posts and comment chains if I have even the slightest idea what's going on, and the Vladimirs seem to think it's not stupid.

Comment author: Mass_Driver 25 January 2013 09:58:27PM 2 points [-]

Ironically, this is my most-upvoted comment in several months.

Comment author: RobbBB 06 January 2013 11:02:38PM *  36 points [-]
  1. Because you make few assertions of substance, there is a lot of empty space (where people, depending on their mood, may insert either unrealistically charitable or unrealistically uncharitable reconstructions of reasoning) and not a lot of specific content for anyone to disagree with. In contrast, if I make 10 very concrete and substantive suggestions in a post, and most people like 9 of them but hate the 10th, that could make them very reluctant to upvote the post as a whole, lest their vote be taken as a blanket endorsement for every claim.

  2. Because the post is vague and humorous, people leave it feeling vaguely happy and not in a mood to pick it apart. Expressing this vague happiness as an upvote reifies it and makes it more intense. People like 'liking' things they like.

  3. The post is actually useful, as a way of popularizing some deeper and more substantive meta-ethical and practical points. Some LessWrongers may be tired of endlessly arguing over which theory is most ideal, and instead hunger for better popularizations and summaries of the extant philosophical progress we've already made, so that we can start peddling those views to the masses. They may view your post as an important step in that Voltairean process, even if it doesn't advance the distinct project of constructing the substance-for-future-popularization in the first place.

  4. Meta-ethics is hard. There are very few easy answers, and there's a lot of disagreement. Uncertainty and disagreement, and in general lack of closure, create a lot of unpleasant dissonance. Your article helps us pretend that we can ignore those problems, which alleviates the dissonance and makes us feel better. This would help explain why applause-lighting posts in areas like meta-ethics or the hard problem of consciousness see better results than applause-lighting posts in areas where substantive progress is easier.

  5. The post invites people to oversimplify their utility calculations via the simple dichotomy 'is it awesome, or isn't it?'. Whether or not your post is useful, informative, insightful ,etc., it is quite clearly 'awesome,' as the word is ordinarily used. So your post encourages people to simplify their evaluation procedure in a way that favors the post itself.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 January 2013 01:39:12PM 8 points [-]

I have typically been awful at predicting which parts of HPMOR people would most enjoy. I suggest relaxing and enjoying the hedons.

Comment author: Kawoomba 06 January 2013 10:33:26PM 7 points [-]

Are structure, seriousness, watertightness and such are trumped by fun and clarity? Is it safe to run with this? This could save a lot of work.

I DUNT KNOW LETS TRY

It's not necessarily that a highly upvoted post is deemed better on average, each individual still only casts one vote. The trichotomy of "downvote / no vote / upvote" doesn't provide nuanced feedback, and while you'd think it all equals out with a large number of votes, that's not so because of a) modifying visibility by means secondary to the content of the post, b) capturing readers' interest early to get them to vote in the first place and c) various distributions of opinions about your post all projecting onto potentially the same voting score (e.g. strong likes + strong dislikes equalling the score of general indifference), all three of which can occur independently of the post's real content.

The visibility was increased with the promotion of your post. While you did need initial upvotes to support that promotion, once achieved there's no stopping the chain reaction: People want to check out that highly rated top post, they expect to see good content and often automatically steelman / gloss over your weaker points. Then there's a kind of implied peer pressure similar to Ash's conformity experiments; you see a highly upvoted post, then monkey see monkey do kicks in, at least skewing your heuristics.

Lastly people you keep invested until the end of your post are more likely to upvote than downvote, and your pixel art does a good job of capturing attention, the opening scene of a movie is crucial. The lower the entry barrier into a post, the more people will tag along. A lesson well internalized by television. Compare the vote counts of some AIXI related posts and yours.

You are also called nyan_sandwich, have a good reputation on this site (AFAICT), yet provide us with some guilty pleasures (of an easy-to-parse comfort-food-for-thought post, talk about nomen est omen, nom nom). In short, you covered all your populist bases. They are all belong to you.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 January 2013 01:40:55AM *  2 points [-]

The visibility was increased with the promotion of your post.

I don't think it was promoted until it had >30, so maybe that helped a bit, but I have another visibility explanation:

I tend to stick around in my posts and obsessively reply to every comment and cherish every upvote, which means it gets a lot of visibility in the "recent comments" section. My posts tend to have lots of comments, and I think it's largely me trying to get the last word on everything. (until I get swamped and give up)

It is kind of odd that unpromoted posts in main have strictly less visibility than posts in discussion...

each individual still only casts one vote.
In short, you covered all your populist bases.

This is a good explanation. I get it now I think. Now the question is if we should be doing more of that?

EDIT: also, what does this mean:

talk about nomen est omen, nom nom

Comment author: DaFranker 07 January 2013 03:30:54PM 2 points [-]

EDIT: also, what does this mean:

talk about nomen est omen, nom nom

Basically, name causes behavior, as far as I can tell. Your nickname is indeed very aptronymical (?) to providing a quick and easy lunch for the hungry mind in a humorous or good-feeling manner.

Comment author: yew 07 January 2013 09:31:10PM *  5 points [-]

It's an interesting perspective and it presents previous thinking on the subject in a more accessible manner.

Hence, one upvote. I don't know that it's worth sixty-three upvotes (I don't know that it's not), but I didn't upvote it sixty-three times. Also, I see from the comments that it's encouraged some interesting conversations (and perhaps some reading of the meta-ethics sequence, which I think is actually fairly well written if a little dense).

In other words, congratulations on writing something engaging! It's harder than it looks.

Comment author: JoachimSchipper 07 January 2013 01:31:37PM 5 points [-]

For me, high (insight + fun) per (time + effort).

Comment author: BerryPick6 06 January 2013 09:19:42PM 5 points [-]

My own guess, based on nothing much other than a hunch: Morality as Awesomeness sounds simple and easy to do. It also sounds fun and light, unlike many of the other Ethical posts on LW. People have responded positively to this change of pace.

Comment author: shminux 06 January 2013 11:01:11PM *  12 points [-]

As one of the upvoters, here is my thought process, as far as I recall it:

  1. WTF?!! What does it even mean?

  2. Wait, this kind of makes sense intuitively.

  3. Hey, every example I can try actually works. I wonder why.

  4. OK, so the OP suggests awesomeness as an overriding single intuitive terminal value. What does he mean by "intuitive"?

  5. It seems clear from the comments that any attempt to unpack "awesome" eventually fails on some example, while the general concept of perceived awesomeness doesn't.

  6. He must be onto something.

  7. Oh, and his approach is clearly awesome, so the post is self-consistent.

  8. Gotta upvote!

  9. Drat, I wish I made it to the meetup where he presented it!

Comment author: [deleted] 07 January 2013 01:30:06AM 6 points [-]

It seems clear from the comments that any attempt to unpack "awesome" eventually fails on some example, why the general concept of perceived awesomeness doesn't.

Totally. Hence the link to fake utility functions. I could have made this clearer; you're not really supposed to unpack it, just use it as a rough pointer to your built-in moral intuitions. "oh that's all there is to it".

Drat, I wish I made it to the meetup where he presented it!

Don't worry. I basically just went over this post, then went over "joy in the merely good". We also discussed a bit, but the shield against useless philosophy provided by using "awesome" instead of "good" only lasted so long...

That said, it would have been nice to have you and your ideas there.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 January 2013 11:07:05AM 3 points [-]

I upvoted it because I loved what you did. (I did feel it was, er... awesome, but before reading that comment I couldn't have put it down in words.)

Comment author: jooyous 06 January 2013 09:35:53PM *  3 points [-]

I think

  • a community in which people have a good idea but err on the side of not writing it up will tend toward a community in which people err on the of side of not bothering to flesh out their ideas?

  • fun and clarity are good starting points for structure, seriousness and watertightness? Picking out the bugs feels like a useful exercise for me, having just read the bit of the sequence talking about the impact of language.

I thought it was fun and clear and I liked the cute whale, but also it made me think. ^_^

Comment author: Ritalin 07 January 2013 09:55:07PM 11 points [-]

Karma votes on this site are fickle, superficial, and reward percieved humour and wit much more than they do hard work and local unconventionality; you're allowed to be unconventional to the world-at-large, even encouraged to, if it's conventional in LW; the reverse is not encouraged.

Your work was both novel and completely in line with what is popular here, and so it thrived. Try to present a novel perspective arguing against things that are unanymously liked yet culture-specific, such as sex or alcohol or sarcasm or Twitter or market economies as automatic optimizers, and you might not fare as well.

You can pick up on those trends by following the Twitter accounts of notable LWers, watch them pat each other on the back for expressing beliefs that signal their belonging to the tribe, and mimick them for easy karma, which you can stock reserves of for the times where you feel absolutely compelled to take a stand for an unpopular idea.

This problem is endemic of Karma systems and makes LW no worse than any other community. It's just that one would expect them to hold themselves to a higher standard.

Awesome post, BTW. Nice brain-hacking.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 January 2013 12:05:52AM 5 points [-]

Yes, humour tends to be upvoted a lot, but it's just not true that you can never get good karma by arguing against the LW majority position. For example, the most upvoted top-level post ever expresses scepticism about the Singularity Institute.

Comment author: Kindly 07 January 2013 10:59:33PM 1 point [-]

It's just that one would expect them to hold themselves to a higher standard.

I notice that you're discussing what "they" do on LW. Not that I can honestly object; I'm often tempted to do so myself. It really helps when trying to draw the line between my own ideas, and all those crazy ideas everyone else here has.

But I think we are both actually fairly typical LWers, which means that it would be more correct to say something like "It's just that one would expect us to hold ourselves to a higher standard". This is a very different thought somehow, more than one would expect from a mere pronoun substitution.

Comment author: Ritalin 09 January 2013 12:11:21PM 1 point [-]

"Them" as in "the rest of the community, excepting the exceptions". I hold myself to those standards just fine, and there may well be others who do.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 January 2013 11:54:18PM 1 point [-]

Relatedly, I often find replacing "one would expect" with "I expect" has similar effects.
Especially when it turns out the latter isn't true.

Comment author: Raemon 06 January 2013 10:48:06PM *  7 points [-]

My impression of this post (which may not be evident from my comments) went something like this:

1) Hah. That's a really funny opening.
2) Oh, this is really interesting and potentially useful, AND really funny, which is a really good combination for articles one the internet.
3) How would I apply this idea to my life?
4) *think about it a bit, and read some comments, think some more *
5) Wait a second, this idea actually isn't nearly as useful as it seemed at first.
5a) To the extent that it's true, it's only the first thesis statement of a lengthy examination of the actual issue
5b) The rest of the sequence this would need to herald to be truly useful is not guaranteed to be nearly as fun
5c) Upon reflection, while "awesome" does capture elements of "good" that would be obscured by "good's" baggage, "awesome" also fails to capture some of the intended value.
5d) This post is still useful, but not nearly as useful as my initial positive reaction indicates
5e) I am now dramatically more interested in the subject of how interesting this post seemed vs how interesting it actually was and what this says about the internet and people and ideas, then about the content of the article.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 January 2013 01:54:40AM 2 points [-]

To the extent that it's true, it's only the first thesis statement of a lengthy examination of the actual issue

The rest of the sequence this would need to herald to be truly useful is not guaranteed to be nearly as fun

Yep. It's intended as an introduction to the long and not-very-exciting metaethics sequence.

How would I apply this idea to my life?

Wait a second, this idea actually isn't nearly as useful as it seemed at first.

Yeah, it tends to melt down under examination. (because "awesome" is a fake utility function, as per point 2). The point was not to give a bulletproof morality procedure, but to just reframe the issue in a way that bypasses the usual confusion and cached thoughts.

So I wouldn't expect it to be useful to people who have their metaethical shit together (which you seem to, judging by the content of your rituals). It was explicitly aimed at people in my meetup who were confused and intimidated by the seeming mysteriousness of morality.

I am now dramatically more interested in the subject of how interesting this post seemed vs how interesting it actually was and what this says about the internet and people and ideas, then about the content of the article.

Yes the implications of this are very interesting.

Comment author: abramdemski 08 January 2013 04:50:58AM 2 points [-]

Am I underestimating the value of a given post-idea? (i.e. should we all err on the side of writing more?)

I would tentatively advocate this (especially since there is already a system in place for filtering content into 'promoted' material for those who want a slower stream). More writing => more good writing.

Comment author: Peterdjones 08 January 2013 12:12:19AM *  -2 points [-]

Why is this so heavily upvoted?

LW is broken. Aspiring rationalistis should welcom argument contrary to their biases, but actually downvote it. Aspiring rationalists should not welcome pandering, dumbed-down ideas that don't really solve problems or challenge them, but do.

Comment author: MugaSofer 08 January 2013 11:41:15AM 4 points [-]

Have you considered the possibiltiy that some people actually found this useful?

Comment author: Rubix 11 January 2013 08:46:18PM *  6 points [-]

"Morality is awesome", as a statement, scans like "consent is sexy" to me. Neither of these statements are true enough to be useful except as signalling or a personal goal ("I would like to find X thing I believe to be moral more awesome, so as to hack my brain to be more moral").

In some cases of assessing morality/awesomeness or consent/sexiness correlation, one would sometimes have to lie about their awesomeness/sexiness preferences, and ignore those preferences in order to be a Perfectly Moral Good Individual who does not Like Evil Things.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 January 2013 09:06:23PM 4 points [-]

"Morality is awesome", as a statement, scans like "consent is sexy" to me.

It was secretly meant to be parsed the other way: "awesome is morality". Sorry to confuse.

It's not about signalling, it's supposed to be an entirely personal thing.

It's not about hacking your brain to find your current conception of morality more awesome either. It's about flushing out your current conception of morality and rebuilding it from intuition without interference from Deep Wisdom or philosophical cached thoughts.

In some cases of assessing ... one would sometimes have to lie ...in order to be a Perfectly Moral Good Individual who does not Like Evil Things.

I assume the capitals are about signaling "goodness". Sometimes one will have to lie about what is actually moral, in order to appear "moral". The awesomeness basis is orthogonal to this, except that it seems to make the difference between what is actually good and "morality" more explicit.

Comment author: Rubix 11 January 2013 09:30:24PM *  2 points [-]

I assume the capitals are about signaling "goodness"

I use Meaningful Initial Caps to communicate tone, but recognize that it's nonstandard. Sorry for any confusion.

So as far as I can tell, you're saying that "awesomeness" is a good basis for noticing what one's brain currently considers moral, so it can then rebuild its definitions from there.

To extend the metaphor, "sexiness is (perceived by the intuitive parts of your brain, absent intervention from moralizing or abstract-cognition parts, as) consent" is a good thing to pay attention to, so you can know what that part of you actually cares about, which gives you new information that isn't simply from choosing a side on the "Sexiness is about evopsych and golden ratios and trading meat for sex!" versus "Sexiness is about communication and queer theory praxis and bucking stereotypes!" battle.

What I'm curious about is:

rebuilding it from intuition without interference from Deep Wisdom or philosophical cached thoughts.

What, then, do you rebuild your current conception of morality from? "Blowing up people, when I have vague evidence that they're mooks of the Forces of Evil, by the dozens, is a bad idea, even though it seems awesome" seems like a philosophical cached thought to me. Do you think it's something else?

Counterfactual terrorism - "but those mooks may not be mooks!" - isn't a good tool for discerning actual bad ideas.

If I respond to "Consent is sexy!" by saying "But some of my brain doesn't think that!", noticing what those brainbits actually think, then change those brainbits to find sexy what I think of as "consent", I'm not in a very different situation from the person who's cheering blindly for consent being sexy. I just believe my premise more on the ground level, which will blind me to ways in which my preconceived notions of consent might suck.

In other words, both my intuitive models of awesomeness and my explicit models of morality might be lame in many invisible ways. What then?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 05 January 2013 12:24:24PM 37 points [-]

(Imagines going to the Cambridge Center for the Study of Awesome, located overlooking a gorgeous flowering canyon, inside a giant, dark castle in a remote area which you can only reach by piloting a mechanical T-Rex with rockets strapped to it. Inside, scientists with floor-length black leather lab coats are examining...)

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2013 05:10:11PM *  10 points [-]

I rest my case.

Comment author: CaptainBooshi 10 January 2013 07:19:46PM *  1 point [-]

Are you at all familiar with the webcomic The Adventures of Dr. McNinja? I was strongly reminded of the whole King Radical arc going on while reading your post, and even more so with Eliezer's comment about the Cambridge Center for the Study of Awesome. I basically just want to know if the parallels I see are real or entirely from my own pattern-matching.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 January 2013 02:35:48AM 1 point [-]

Not familiar at all.

Comment author: cousin_it 06 January 2013 11:36:45AM *  3 points [-]

So "awesome" now means making reality closer to fiction? What happened to your old posts about joy in the merely real, dragons vs zebras, and so on?

Comment author: ialdabaoth 06 January 2013 12:34:58PM 8 points [-]

I don't think that follows.

Rocket-boosted mechanical T-Rexes are possible; therefore, they are as "merely real" as anything else. The point of making life awesome is seeing the entire world as one vast game of Calvinball.

Think of the rocket-boosted mechanical T-Rex as a metaphor for indulging your inner child; you can replace it with anything you could imagine doing on a lark with infinite resources. The point of living in a Universe of Awesome is that you can wake up and say "dude, you know what would be awesome? A frikin metal T-Rex with rockets boosters!" And then you and your best friend spend 15 seconds air-guitaring before firing up the Maker and chunking out the parts and tools, then putting it together and flying it around. And then one of you turns to the other and says, "okay, that was awesome for like, five minutes. Now what?"

Comment author: BlueSun 07 January 2013 02:02:24PM 5 points [-]

I'm thinking of it more like Minecraft in real life. I want a castle with a secret staircase because it would be awesome. What I did was spend a day of awesomeness building it myself instead of downloading it and only having five minutes of awesomeness.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 07 January 2013 02:25:09PM 6 points [-]

right, hence the phrases "chunking out the parts and tools" and "putting it together".

I find woodworking and carpentry fun. However, I buy my lumber at Home Depot, rather than hiking out to the woods and felling trees myself, then painstakingly hewing and sanding them into planks.

Part of making the world more awesome is automating things enough that when you have an insanely awesome idea for a project, your starting point is fun rather than tedious. Since this is different for different people, the best solution is to have a system that can do it all for you, but that lets you do as much for yourself as you want.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 January 2013 04:00:08PM 4 points [-]

I've seen a suggestion that the reason cooking is a fairly common hobby these days is that a lot of the dreary parts (plucking chickens, hauling wood and drawing water, keeping an eye on your rice, pureeing, etc.) are handled by machines.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 11 January 2013 06:00:04PM 6 points [-]

Don't underestimate the importance of keeping a relatively constant temperature, also. Even simple dishes on an uneven flame require enormous attention to avoid burning.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 January 2013 03:20:56PM 1 point [-]

Actually that last description sounds like it would plateau really fast.

Comment author: MugaSofer 06 January 2013 11:37:23PM 2 points [-]

Just because a literal flying t-rex gets old faster than they expected, doesn't mean you couldn't have a great deal of fun in a world like that.

Of course, presumably self imposed challenges (eg videogames that don't just let you win) would be fairly commonplace.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 08 January 2013 07:15:11AM 2 points [-]

Empirically, that general type of thing is good for at least a week worth of awesome. http://www.burningman.com/

Comment author: ialdabaoth 06 January 2013 03:25:33PM *  2 points [-]

Fair enough, but I still think the "universe as a vast game of Calvinball" description still stands in principle. (Or if you want a less coloquial descriptor, check out Finite and Infinite Games ).

Comment author: Armok_GoB 05 January 2013 01:49:34PM 9 points [-]

This idea is awesome.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 05 January 2013 05:44:35AM 9 points [-]

There is also normative ethics, which is about how to decide if something is awesome, and metaethics, which is about something or other that I can't quite figure out.

Metaethics is about how to decide how to decide if something is awesome.

Comment author: TimS 05 January 2013 05:46:29AM *  5 points [-]

Metaethics is describing the properties of the kind of theory that is capable of deciding if something is awesome.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2013 05:47:28AM 1 point [-]

This is why I claim to not know what it is... Everybody gets confused.

Comment author: TimS 05 January 2013 05:50:18AM 6 points [-]

Is morality objective? Is morality universal? --> Metaethics.

When is lying wrong? When is stealing wrong? --> Ethics.

Comment author: nshepperd 05 January 2013 10:06:19PM *  2 points [-]

Meta-ethics is usually the process of thinking about awesomeness while getting confused by the facts that words feel like they have have platonic essences, and that the architecture of the human goal system isn't obvious and intuitive (things feel like they can be innately motivating). Good meta-ethics could be called dissolving those confusions. [Meta-ethics is best not practiced unless you're confident you can get it right, since getting it wrong can lead you to absurd conclusions.]

Comment author: dspeyer 05 January 2013 08:25:14AM *  15 points [-]

metaethics, which is about something or other that I can't quite figure out

Metaethics is about coping with people disagreeing about what is and is not awesome.

It happens after all. Some people think that copying art so that more people can experience it is awesome. Others think that it's so non-awesome that preventing the first group from doing it is awesome. Yet another group is indifferent to copying, but thinks the prevention is so non-awesome that preventing that is awesome. (This was the least mind-killing example I could think of. Please don't derail the discussion arguing it. The point is that there are nontrivial numbers of human beings in all three camps.)

We also observe that the vast majority of humans agree on some questions of awesomeness. Being part of a loving family: awesome! Killing everyone you meet whose height in millimeters is a prime number: not awesome! Maybe this is just an aspect of being human: sharing so much dna and history. Or maybe all these people are independently rediscovering some fundamental truth that no one can quite put their finger on, in much the same way that cultures around the world invented arithmetic long before Peano.

What can you do when you meet someone who disagrees with you and a lot is at stake? Well, there's always force. Or if you have some ideas about awesomeness in common, you can argue based on those. Is there another option? In practice, people do change their idea of awesomeness after talking to other people.

The "people" who disagree don't have to be separate beings. They can be subminds within a single human. The situation is pretty much the same (except you can't really use force).

Metaethics is that art of trying to deal with this. It hasn't gotten very far.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2013 08:32:50AM *  3 points [-]

This is a good summary of the metaethics problem.

I disagree with your conclusion. (It hasn't gotten very far). I think EY's metaethics sequence handles it quite nicely. Specifically joy in the merely good and the idea of morality as an abstract dynamic procedure encoded in human brains.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 10 January 2013 11:08:18PM *  20 points [-]

Whether to use "awesome" instead of "virtuous" is the question, not the answer. This is the question asked by Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil. If you've gotten to the point where you're set on using "awesome" instead of "good", you've already chosen your answer to most of the difficult questions.

The challenge to awesome theory is the same one it has been for 70 years: Posit a world in which Hitler conquered the world instead of shooting himself in his bunker. Explain how that Hitler was not awesome. Don't look at his outcomes and conclude they were not awesome because lots of innocent people died. Awesome doesn't care how many innocent people died. They were not awesome. They were pathetic, which is the opposite of awesome. Awesome means you build a space program to send a rocket to the moon instead of feeding the hungry. Awesome history is the stuff that happened that people will actually watch on the History Channel. Which is Hitler, Napoleon, and the Apollo program.

If you don't think Hitler was awesome, odds are very good that you are trying to smuggle in virtues and good-old-fashioned good, buried under an extra layer of obfuscation, by saying "I don't know exactly what awesome is, but someone that evil can't be awesome." Hitler was evil, not bad.

You think you can just redefine words, but you can't,

That's exactly right. Including "awesome". Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods are awesome. A God who will squish you like a bug if you dare not to worship him is awesome, awe-full, and awful.

If you think "happiness" is the stuff, you might get confused and try to maximize actual happiness. If you think awesomeness is the stuff, it is much harder to screw it up.

Saying that it's good because it's vague, because it's harder to screw up when you don't know what you're talking about, is contrary to the spirit of LessWrong.

That is, "awesome" already refers to the same things "good" is supposed to refer to.

Awesome already refers to the same things good is supposed to refer to, for those people who have already decided to use "awesome" instead of "good". The "Is this right?" question that invokes virtues and rules is not a confused notion of what is awesome. It's a different, incompatible view of what we "ought" to do.

Comment author: gwern 11 January 2013 06:51:36PM 5 points [-]

If you don't think Hitler was awesome, odds are very good that you are trying to smuggle in virtues and good-old-fashioned good, buried under an extra layer of obfuscation, by saying "I don't know exactly what awesome is, but someone that evil can't be awesome." Hitler was evil, not bad.

And that you probably haven't watched stuff like Triumph of the Will to understand why Nazi aesthetics and propaganda could be so effective.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 January 2013 02:34:37AM 5 points [-]

odds are very good that you are trying to smuggle in virtues and good-old-fashioned good, buried under an extra layer of obfuscation

Exactly right. In fact I do this explicitly, by invoking "fake utility functions" in point 2.

You think you can just redefine words, but you can't,

You're right I'm playing fast and loose a bit here. I guess my "morality is awesome" idea doesn't work for people who are in possession of the actual definition of awesome.

In that case, depending on whether you are being difficult or not, I recommend finding another vaguely good and approximately meaningless word that is free of philosophical connotations to stand in for "awesome", or just following the "if you are still confused" procedure (read metaethics).

Saying that it's good because it's vague, because it's harder to screw up when you don't know what you're talking about, is contrary to the spirit of LessWrong.

Perhaps. I certainly wouldn't endorse it in general. I have inside view reasons that it's a good idea (for me) in this particular case, though; I'm not just pulling a classic "I don't understand, therefore it will work". Have you seen the discussion here?

for those people who have already decided to use "awesome" instead of "good". The "Is this right?" question that invokes virtues and rules is not a confused notion of what is awesome. It's a different, incompatible view of what we "ought" to do.

I'm confused about what you are saying. Here you seem to be identifying consequentialism with "awesome", but above, you used similar phrasings and identified "awesome" with Space Hitler, which nearly everyone (including consequentialists) would generally agree was only good if you don't look at the details (like people getting killed).

Can you clarify?

Comment author: Vaniver 11 January 2013 03:56:06PM 3 points [-]

I'm confused about what you are saying.

Was Space Hitler awesome? Yes. Was Space Hitler good? No. If you say "morality is what is awesome," then you are either explicitly signing on to a morality in which the thing to be maximized is the glorious actions of supermen, not the petty happiness of the masses, or you are misusing the word "awesome."

Comment author: DaFranker 11 January 2013 04:23:17PM *  2 points [-]

Was Space Hitler awesome? Yes. Was Space Hitler good? No.

This doesn't seem to pose any kind of contradiction or problem for the "Morality is Awesome" statement, though I agree with you about the rest of your comment.

Is Space Hitler awesome? Yes. Is saving everyone from Space Hitler such that no harm is done to anyone even more awesome? Hell yes.

Remember, we're dealing with a potentially-infinite search space of yet-unknown properties with a superintelligence attempting to maximize total awesomeness within that space. You're going to find lots of Ninja-Robot-Pirate-BountyHunter-Jedi-Superheroes fighting off the hordes of Evil-Nazi-Mutant-Zombie-Alien-Viking-Spider-Henchmen, and winning.

And what's more awesome than a Ninja-Robot-Pirate-BountyHunter-Jedi-Superhero? Being one. And what's more awesome than being a Ninja-Robot-Pirate-BountyHunter-Jedi-Superhero? Being a billion of them!

Comment author: Vaniver 11 January 2013 04:33:09PM 3 points [-]

Is saving everyone from Space Hitler such that no harm is done to anyone even more awesome? Hell yes.

Suppose a disaster could be prevented by foresight, or narrowly averted by heroic action. Which one is more awesome? Which one is better?

Being a billion of them!

Tvtropes link: Really?

Comment author: JGWeissman 11 January 2013 04:45:37PM 3 points [-]

Suppose a disaster could be prevented by foresight, or narrowly averted by heroic action. Which one is more awesome? Which one is better?

Preventing disaster by foresight is more likely to work than narrow aversion by heroic action, so the the awesomeness of foresight working gets multiplied by a larger probability than the awesomeness of heroic action working when you decide to take one approach over the other. This advantage of the action that is more likely to work belongs in decision theory, not your utility function. Your utility function just says whether one approach is sufficiently more awesome than the other to overcome its decision theoretic disadvantage. This depends on the probabilities and awesomeness in the specific situation.

Comment author: DaFranker 11 January 2013 04:45:42PM *  2 points [-]

Tvtropes link: Really?

My numerous words are defeated by your single link. This analogy is irrelevant, but illustrates your point well.

Anyway, that's pretty much all I had to say. The initial argument I was responding to sounded weak, but your arguments now seem much stronger. They do, after all, single-handedly defeat an army of Ninja-Robot-... of those.

Comment author: jooyous 11 January 2013 04:51:16AM *  2 points [-]

Reading this comment thread motivated me to finally look this up -- the words "cheesy" and "corny" actually did originally have something to do with cheese and corn!

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 11 January 2013 03:38:25PM 8 points [-]

I sometimes get the impression that I am the only person who reads MoR who actually thinks MoR!Hermione is more awesome than MoR!Quirrell. Of course I have access to at least some info others don't, but still...

Comment author: [deleted] 11 January 2013 07:48:02PM 6 points [-]

Let's say they're different kinds of awesome to me. Overall, I think Quirrell is more awesome... until I remember Hermione is twelve.

Comment author: wedrifid 16 January 2013 08:32:34AM *  4 points [-]

I sometimes get the impression that I am the only person who reads MoR who actually thinks MoR!Hermione is more awesome than MoR!Quirrell.

Canon!Luna is more awesome than MoR!Hermione too.

However, a universe with MoR!Hermione in it is likely to be far more awesome than a universe with canon!Luna substituted in. MoR!Hermione is a heck of a lot more useful to have around for most purposes, including the protection of awesome things such as canon!Luna.

MoR!Quirrel certainly invokes "Fictional Awesomeness". That thing that makes many (including myself) think "Well he's just damn cool and I'm glad he exists in that fictional universe (which can't have any direct effect on me)". Like Darth Vader is way more awesome than Anakin Skywalker even though being a whiny brat is somewhat less dangerous than being a powerful, gratuitously evil Sith Lord. I personally distinguish this from the 'actual awesomeness' of the kind mentioned here. I'm not sure to what extent others consider the difference.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 11 January 2013 08:18:30PM 1 point [-]

I didn't, and still don't... but now I'm a little bit disturbed that I don't, and want to look a lot more closely at Hermione for ways she's awesome.

Comment author: Rubix 11 January 2013 08:32:37PM *  6 points [-]

Quirrell scans, to me, as more awesome along the "probably knows far more Secret Eldrich Lore than you" and "stereotype of a winner" axes, until I remember that Hermione is, canonically, also both of those things. (Eldrich Lore is something one can know, so she knows it. And she's more academically successful than anyone I've ever known in real life.)

So when I look more closely, the thing my brain is valuing is a script it follows where Hermione is both obviously unskillful about standard human things (feminism, kissing boys, Science Monogamy) and obviously cares about morality, to a degree that my brain thinks counts as weakness. When I pay attention, Quirrell is unskillful about tons of things as well, but he doesn't visibly acknowledge that he is/has been unskillful. He also may or may not care about ethics to a degree, but his Questionably Moral Snazzy Bad Guy archetype doesn't let him show this.

It does come around to Quirrell being more my stereotype of a winner, in a sense. Quirrell is more high-status than Hermione - when he does things that are cruel, wrong or stupid he hides it or recontextualizes it into something snazzy - but Hermione is more honorable than Quirrell. She confronts her mistakes and failings publicly, messily and head-on and grows as a person because of that. I think that's really awesome.

Comment author: Vaniver 11 January 2013 03:57:58PM 1 point [-]

Yeah, that sounds like either a miscalibrated sense of awe (i.e. very different priorities), or like a reaction to private information.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 11 January 2013 05:35:43PM 11 points [-]

Well, to a first approximation, on a moral level, Quirrell is who I try not to be and Hermione is who I wish I was, and on the level of intelligence, it's not possible for me to be viscerally impressed with either one's intellect since I strictly contain both. Ergo I find Hermione's choices more impressive than Quirrell's choices.

Comment author: Swimmer963 12 January 2013 02:28:53PM *  10 points [-]

Quirrel strikes me as the sort of character who is intended to be impressive. Pretty much all his charactaristics hit my "badass" buttons. The martial arts skills, the powerful magical field brushing at the edges of Harry's little one, etc. However, I wouldn't want to be like Quirrel, and I can't imagine being Quirrel-like and still at all like myself. Whereas Hermione impresses me in the sense of being almost like a version of myself that gets everything I try to be right and is better than me at everything I think matters. Hermione is more admirable to me than Quirrel, but my sense of awe is triggered more by badass-ness than admiration.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 January 2013 06:17:08PM 5 points [-]

This surprises me, but I'm not sure what I've mismodelled. To my mind, Hermione is trusting about moral rules in a way that I wouldn't have expected you to like that much, but perhaps it's just a trait that I don't like that much.

Harry seems more awesome to me because he has a strong drive to get to the bottom of things-- not the same thing as intelligence, though it might be a trait that wouldn't be as interesting in an unintelligent character. (Or would it be? I can't think of an author who's tried to portray that.)

Comment author: BerryPick6 11 January 2013 06:32:26PM 5 points [-]

Harry seems more awesome to me because he has a strong drive to get to the bottom of things-- not the same thing as intelligence, though it might be a trait that wouldn't be as interesting in an unintelligent character. (Or would it be? I can't think of an author who's tried to portray that.)

I would be fascinated to read a character who can Get Curious and think skeptically and reflectively about competing ideas, but is only of average intelligence.

Trying to model this character in my head has resulted in some sort of error though, so there's that...

Comment author: TheOtherDave 11 January 2013 07:53:48PM 6 points [-]

Arguably Watson is an attempt at this.

Comment author: deathpigeon 12 January 2013 01:09:28PM 1 point [-]

Except Watson was intended to be above average intelligence, but below Sherlock level intelligence, so he fails on the last account. He was very intelligent, just not as absurdly inelligent as Sherlock, so he appeared to be of average or lower intelligence.

Comment author: Swimmer963 12 January 2013 02:20:27PM 2 points [-]

I can imagine writing this character, because it's the way I feel a lot of the time... Knowing I read some important fact once but not being able retrieve it, lacking the working memory to do logic problems in my head and having to stop and pull out pen and paper, etc. I'm arguably of somewhat higher than average intelligence, but I'm quite familiar with the feeling of my brain not being good enough for what I want to do.

Comment author: Izeinwinter 12 January 2013 09:56:58AM 2 points [-]

Those personality traits are not just correlated with intelligence, they almost certainly cause it - thinking is to some degree a skill set, and innate curiosity + introspection + skepticism would result in constant deliberate practice. So those traits + average intelligence can only coexist if the character has recently undergone a major personality change, or suffered brain damage.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 January 2013 07:52:16PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 January 2013 06:54:09PM *  2 points [-]

The Millionaire Next Door may include a bunch of people who can think clearly without being able to handle a lot of complexity.

Comment author: Vaniver 11 January 2013 07:04:11PM 2 points [-]

Amazon link. The primary takeaway from the book is that high consumption and high wealth draw from the same resource pool, and so conflict.

In general, I wonder if this shows up as characters who see virtue as intuitive, rather than deliberative. Harry sometimes gets the answer right, but he has to think hard and avoid tripping over himself to get there; Hermione often gets the answer right from the start because she appears to have a good feel for her situation.

Moving back to wealth, and generalizing from my parents, it's not clear to me that they sat down one day and said "you know how we could become millionaires? Not spending a lot of money!" rather than having the "consume / save?" dial in their heads turned towards save, in part because "thrift => wealth" is an old, old association.

If you model intelligence differences as primarily working memory differences, it seems reasonable to me that high-WM people would be comfortable with nuance and low-WM people would be uncomfortable with it; the low-WM person might be able to compensate with external devices like writing things down, but it's not clear they can synthesize things as easily on paper as a high-WM person could do in their head (or as easily as the high-WM person using paper!).

Comment author: shminux 11 January 2013 07:04:51PM 1 point [-]

The Millionaire Nest Door

Maybe Next Door? Or am I missing something?

Comment author: Kawoomba 11 January 2013 08:03:35PM 0 points [-]

Time to taboo intelligence.

Comment author: shminux 11 January 2013 07:20:37PM *  3 points [-]

it's not possible for me to be viscerally impressed with either one's intellect since I strictly contain both

That's probably why. For many mere mortals like myself MoR!Quirrell is simply awesome: competent, unpredictable, in control, a level above everyone else. Whereas MoR!Hermione is, while clever and knowledgeable, too often a damsel in distress, and her thought process, decisions and actions are uniformly less impressive than those of Harry or Quirrell. Not sure if this is intentional or not. At this point I'm rooting for Quirrell to win. Maybe there will be an alternate ending which explores this scenario.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 11 January 2013 07:47:32PM 2 points [-]

Is this simply a case of rooting for whoever looks like they're going to win?

Comment author: shminux 11 January 2013 08:18:32PM 1 point [-]

You think that [I think that] Quirrell/Voldemort is going to win? O.O I wish. After all, what's the worst that can happen if he does?

Comment author: wedrifid 16 January 2013 07:37:22AM 1 point [-]

Quirrell is who I try not to be and Hermione is who I wish I was

Wait, all of her? Including the obnoxious controlling parts?

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 11 January 2013 08:13:22PM *  3 points [-]

Upvoted; whatever its relationship to what the OP actually meant, this is good.

Saying that it's good because it's vague, because it's harder to screw up when you don't know what you're talking about, is contrary to the spirit of LessWrong.

Reminding yourself of your confusion, and avoiding privileging hypotheses, by using vague terms as long as you remember that they're vague doesn't seem so bad.

Comment author: Ghatanathoah 11 January 2013 06:22:10AM *  2 points [-]

The challenge to awesome theory is the same one it has been for 70 years: Posit a world in which Hitler conquered the world instead of shooting himself in his bunker. Explain how that Hitler was not awesome. Don't look at his outcomes and conclude they were not awesome because lots of innocent people died. Awesome doesn't care how many innocent people died. They were not awesome. They were pathetic, which is the opposite of awesome.

Can't we resolve this simply by amending the statement to "Morality is awesome for everybody." Dying pathetically is not an awesome outcome for the people who had to do it. Arguing that innocent people were pathetic actually emphasizes the point. If Hitler's actions made tons of people pathetic instead of awesome then those actions were most certainly immoral.

Incidentally, I do not expect nyan_sandwich to retitle the OP based on my comment. I think that the "for everybody" part can probably just be implicit.

Comment author: MugaSofer 13 January 2013 09:05:36PM *  1 point [-]

Whether to use "awesome" instead of "virtuous" is the question, not the answer. This is the question asked by Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil.

Awesome doesn't care how many innocent people died. They were not awesome. They were pathetic, which is the opposite of awesome.

[...]

Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods are awesome. A God who will squish you like a bug if you dare not to worship him is awesome

[...]

Hitler was evil, not bad.

You appear to have invented your own highly specific meaning of "awesome", which appears synonymous with "effective". As such, "awesome" (in my experience generally used as a contentless expression of approval, more or less, with connotations of excitingness) is not fulfilling it's intended goal of intuition-pump for you. Poor you. Those of us who use "awesome" in the same way as nyan_sandwich, however, have no such problem.

If you don't think Hitler was awesome, odds are very good that you are trying to smuggle in virtues and good-old-fashioned good, buried under an extra layer of obfuscation

That is explicitly the goal here - to use the vague goodness of "awesome" as a hack to access moral intuitions more directly.

Comment author: TimS 11 January 2013 03:46:29PM *  1 point [-]

I think your post is aimed too high. Nyan is not trying to resolve the virtue ethics / deontology / consequentilist dispute.

Instead, he's trying to use vocabulary to break naive folks out of the good --> preferences --> good.

At that level of confusion, the distinction between good, virtue, or utility is not yet relevant. Only after people stop defining good in an essentially circular fashion is productive discussion of different moral theories even possible.

Attacking Nyan for presuming moral realism is fighting the hypothetical.

Comment author: Desrtopa 11 January 2013 06:21:25PM 1 point [-]

Don't look at his outcomes and conclude they were not awesome because lots of innocent people died. Awesome doesn't care how many innocent people died. They were not awesome. They were pathetic, which is the opposite of awesome. Awesome means you build a space program to send a rocket to the moon instead of feeding the hungry. Awesome history is the stuff that happened that people will actually watch on the History Channel. Which is Hitler, Napoleon, and the Apollo program.

I would say that the world being taken over by an evil dictator is a lot less awesome than the world being threatened by an evil dictator who's heroically defeated.

Comment author: deathpigeon 06 January 2013 11:11:46AM 3 points [-]

"Awesome" is implicitly consequentialist.

Not necessarily. If I tell a story of how I went white water rafting, and the person I'm talking to tells me that what I did was "awesome," is he or she really thinking of the consequences of my white water rafting? Probably not. Instead, he or she probably thought very little before declaring the white water rafting awesome. That's an inherent problem to using awesome with morality. Awesome is usually used without thought. If you determine morality based on awesomeness, then you are moralizing without thinking at all, which can often be a problem.

Comment author: Nominull 05 January 2013 05:39:00PM 3 points [-]

I dunno, I feel like judgments of awesomeness are heavily path-dependent and vary a lot from person to person. I don't hold out a lot of hope for the project of Coherent Extrapolated Volition, but I hold out even less for Coherent Extrapolated Awesomeness. So the vision of the future is people pushing back and forth, the chuunibyous trying to fill the world with dark magic rituals and the postmodernists wincing at their unawesome sincerity and trying to paint everything with as many layers of awesome irony as they can.

Also, from a personal perspective, I rather like quiet comfort, although I cannot really say it's "awesome". You can say, it doesn't matter what I like, it only matters what's awesome, but to hell with your fascist notions.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2013 06:08:44PM 5 points [-]

So the vision of the future is people pushing back and forth, the chuunibyous trying to fill the world with dark magic rituals and the postmodernists wincing at their unawesome sincerity and trying to paint everything with as many layers of awesome irony as they can.

This is the unextrapolated awesomeness. I think we would tend to agree on much more of what is awesome if we extrapolated.

Also, from a personal perspective, I rather like quiet comfort, although I cannot really say it's "awesome".

This is a serious bug. Non-exciting and comfortable can be awesome, even though the word doesn't bring it to mind. Thanks.

Comment author: ikrase 05 January 2013 05:08:33AM 8 points [-]

I... approve of this for nonexperts and nonAI purposes. This might actually be pretty cool.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 05 January 2013 05:23:50AM 4 points [-]

I frankly hope it represents the future of LessWrong.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2013 05:33:04AM 5 points [-]

Interesting rephrasing of morality...but would it still hold if I asked you to taboo "awesome"?

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2013 05:42:56AM 23 points [-]

No.

If I taboo "awesome" directly, I'd miss something. (complexity of value)

The point of taboo is usually to remove a problematic concept that has too much attached confusion, or to look inside a black box.

The point of saying "Awesome" is actually the opposite: it was deliberately chosen for it's lack of meaning (points 1 and 4), and to wrap up everything we know about morality (that we go insane if we look at at the wrong angle) into a convenient black box that we don't look inside, but works anyway (point 2,3,5).

But again,

If we still insist on being confused, or if we're just curious, ... then we can see the metaethics sequence for the full argument, details, and finer points.

In other words "taboo awesome" is a redirect to the metaethics sequence.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 05 January 2013 12:06:14PM 14 points [-]

This is interesting. Can we come up with a punchy name for good uses of "reverse tabooing"?

One reason I particularly like the choice of the word "awesome," which is closely related to and maybe just a rephrasing of your first point, is that it is much less likely to trigger redirects to cached thoughts that sound deep. Moreover, since "awesome" is not itself a word that sounds deep, talking about morality using the language of awesomeness inoculates against the trying-to-sound-deep failure mode.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 January 2013 03:44:45AM 11 points [-]

"blackboxing"?

As in "I blackedboxed metaethics by using the word 'awesome'".

Comment author: [deleted] 09 January 2013 04:02:37AM 2 points [-]

Nice, I wish I could blackbox in newcomb's problem (like eliezer does).

Comment author: MixedNuts 05 January 2013 07:44:04PM 4 points [-]

Isn't what "naming" means in the first place?

Comment author: AspiringRationalist 06 January 2013 04:15:55AM 5 points [-]

"Reverse tabooing" seems like a fine phrase. It's at least somewhat clear what it means, and it doesn't come pre-loaded with distracting connotations. I think it would be difficult to improve upon it.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 05 January 2013 12:18:24PM *  5 points [-]

Can we come up with a punchy name for good uses of "reverse tabooing"?

How about "Plancheting"?

A 'planchet' is a blank coin, ready to be minted - which seems analogous to what's being done with these words (and has the delightful parallelization of metaphor with "coining a phrase").

Comment author: jsteinhardt 05 January 2013 06:31:05PM 6 points [-]

The downside of this is that most people won't know what "planchet" means. The advantage of "taboo" is it's already intuitive what is meant when you here it.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 05 January 2013 06:32:10PM 3 points [-]

That's a good point.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2013 06:10:49AM 6 points [-]

Heh, good point(s) there. I never thought removing meaning would actually make an argument clearer, but somehow it did.

Comment author: TimS 05 January 2013 05:02:19AM 5 points [-]

"Awesome" is implicitly consequentialist.

Where did the idea come from that only consequentialists thought about consequences? If I'm a deontologist, and I think the rules include "Don't murder," I'm still allowed to notice that a common consequence of pointing a loaded gun at a person and pulling the trigger is "murder."

Don't consequentialists think that only consequences matter?

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2013 05:08:12AM *  4 points [-]

Don't consequentialists think that only consequences matter?

That's the idea.

EDIT:

If I'm a deontologist, and I think the rules include "Don't murder," I'm still allowed to notice that a common consequence of pointing a loaded gun at a person and pulling the trigger is "murder."

If you follow this line of reasoning as far as it goes, I think you find that there isn't really any good reason to distinguish "I caused this" and "I failed to prevent this". In other words, as soon as you allow some consequentialism into your moral philosophy, it takes over the whole thing. I think...

Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 06 January 2013 08:39:47AM 3 points [-]

Let's use examples to tease apart the difference.

A consequentialist says: "Death is bad. Person A could have donated their income and saved that child, but they didn't. The consequence was death. Person B killed a child with a gunshot. The consequence was death. These two situations are equivalent."

The deontologist says "It was not the duty of person A to save a stranger-child. However, it is the duty of every person not to murder children. Person B is worse than person A, because he did not do his duty."

The virtue ethicist says - "By his actions, we deduce that Person A is either unaware of the good he could have done, or or he lacks the willpower, or he lacks the goodness to save the child. We deduce that person B is dangerous, impulsive, and should be locked up."

I think the crux of the divide is that virtue and deontological ethics are focused with evaluating whether an agent's actions were right or wrong, whereas consequentialist ethics is focused on creating the most favorable final outcome.

Personally, I use virtue ethics for evaluating whether my or another's action was right or wrong, and use consequentialism when deciding which action to take.

Comment author: AlexSchell 05 January 2013 05:55:33AM 2 points [-]

While my personal values tend to align with the traditional consequentialism you affirm (e.g. denial of the doctrine of double effect), note that caring solely about "consequences" (states of the four-dimensional spacetime worm that is the universe) does not exclude caring about right or wrong actions. The "means" as well as the "ends" are part of the worldstates you have preferences over, though non-timeless talk of "consequences" obscures this. So you're far too quick to get the standard consequentialist norms out of your approach to morality.

Comment author: TimS 05 January 2013 05:43:43AM *  3 points [-]

There's something screwy going on in your reasoning. Imagine the following closing argument at a murder trial:

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I am legally and morally innocent of the crime. Yes, I wanted to kill John. Yes, I pointed the gun at him. Yes, I pulled the trigger. Yes, John is dead. But we are all deontologists, and thus we don't think about consequences when we do moral reasoning - so you must find me not guilty of murdering John.

Edit 1/11: Because it isn't clear: No reasonable deontologist would find this reasoning persuasive. nyan is at risk of strawmanning the opposing position - see our further conversation below.

Comment author: BerryPick6 11 January 2013 11:11:09AM 1 point [-]

This is a result of screwy reasoning within Deontology, not within nyan_sandwich's post.

Comment author: Decius 11 January 2013 08:30:56AM 1 point [-]

Sounds like a shoe-in for an insanity plea...

Comment author: Alicorn 11 January 2013 06:41:35PM 4 points [-]

I upvoted this post because it was clear, interesting, and relatively novel, but I'm concerned that it could tend to lead to what I'm going to call "narrative bias" even though I think that already means something.

Imagine someone who's living a fairly mediocre life. Then, they get attacked - mugged or something. This isn't fun for them, but they acquire a wicked keen scar, lots of support from their friends, and a Nemesis who gives them Purpose in Life. They spend a long time hunting their nemesis, acquiring skills to do so, etc. etc., and eventually there is a kickass showdown where the nemesis - fairly old by this point, wasn't going to last long even absent violence - is taken down.

Or, for a simpler case: the death of Batman's parents. Batman's parents' death was not particularly awesome, but Batman got really awesome as a result.

It is not moral to attack mediocre people or orphan impressionable rich children, regardless.

I dunno, maybe this is just me complaining about consequentialism-in-general again with a different vocabulary.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 January 2013 06:49:55PM 7 points [-]

Or, for a simpler case: the death of Batman's parents. Batman's parents' death was not particularly awesome, but Batman got really awesome as a result.

It is not moral to attack mediocre people or orphan impressionable rich children, regardless.

If it reliably resulted in more superheros and nobel-proze winners and such, I think it would be awesome (and moral) to traumatize kids.

If it's not reliable, and only some crazy black swan, then not.

I dunno, maybe this is just me complaining about consequentialism-in-general again with a different vocabulary.

This does seem to be the substance of your example.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 11 January 2013 11:54:18PM 4 points [-]

If it reliably resulted in more superheros and nobel-proze winners and such, I think it would be awesome (and moral) to traumatize kids.

Agreed. Most people already agree that it is moral to force kids to go to school for years, which can be a traumatizing experience for some, and school is not even all that reliable at producing what it claims to want to produce, namely productive members of society.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 11 January 2013 07:52:01PM 3 points [-]

I dunno, maybe this is just me complaining about consequentialism-in-general again with a different vocabulary.

(nods) I think so. Supposing that Bruce Wayne being Batman is a good thing, and supposing that his parents being killed was indispensible to him becoming Batman, then a consequentialist should endorse his parents having been killed. (Of course, we might ask why on earth we're supposing those things, but that's a different question.)

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 11 January 2013 08:15:21PM 3 points [-]

Supposing that Bruce Wayne being Batman is a good thing, and supposing that his parents being killed was indispensible to him becoming Batman, then a consequentialist should endorse his parents having been killed.

Disagree. P(parents killed | becoming like Batman) being high doesn't imply that P(becoming like Batman | parents killed) is high.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 11 January 2013 08:46:28PM 3 points [-]

I agree with your assertion, but I suspect we're talking past each other, probably because I was cryptic.

Let me unpack a little, and see if you still disagree.

There's 30-year-old Bruce over there, and we have established (somehow) that he is Batman, that this is a good thing, and that it would not have happened had his parents not been killed. (Further, we have established (somehow) that his parents' continued survival would not have been an even better thing.)

And the question arises, was it a good thing that his parents were killed? (Not, "could we have known at the time that it was a good thing", merely "was it, in retrospect, a good thing?")

I'm saying a consequentialist answers "yes."

If your disagreement still applies, then I haven't followed your reasoning, and would appreciate it if you unpacked it for me.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 11 January 2013 08:52:02PM *  4 points [-]

As a consequentialist, I think the only good reason to judge past actions is to help make future decisions, so to me the question "was it a good thing that his parents were killed?" cashes out to "should we adopt a general policy of killing people's parents?" and the answer is no. (I think Alicorn agrees with me.)

It seems to me like a bad idea to judge past actions on the basis of their observed results; this leaves you too susceptible to survivorship bias. Past actions should be judged on the basis of their expected results. If I adopt a bad investment strategy but end up making a lot of money anyway, that doesn't imply that my investment strategy was a good idea.

Comment author: Kevin 06 January 2013 02:56:20AM 2 points [-]

I like the word awesome a lot, but as a particular useful word in English have noticed it becoming very overused of late.

Awesome decomposes to full of awe, or inspiring of awe. Wondersome, full of wonder or inspiring of wonder, seems like it would be similarly useful.

Can anyone coin relevant neologisms?

Comment author: ialdabaoth 06 January 2013 03:22:47AM *  3 points [-]

The canonical english word is "Wonderful", not "Wondersome".

Comment author: shminux 05 January 2013 09:01:48PM 2 points [-]

I so wanted to come up with an objection or a counter-argument, after all, the whole premise is silly on the face of it. But instead I only recall an old commercial for something, which goes something like "Don't fight awesome. It will only make it awesomer!". Can't find a link, though.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 05 January 2013 05:24:43AM 2 points [-]

Rewrite for front page.

Comment author: noeticthoughts 08 January 2013 01:55:41PM *  4 points [-]

IMHO I think this awesomeness equating with morality is very wrong. Say those soldiers who shot down a number of innocent civilians, check the vid, it was pretty awesome for them. When it obviously isn't awesome to others. Perhaps we have to respect some universal agreed upon boundaries withing giving exceptions.

Comment author: Desrtopa 06 January 2013 12:53:28AM 3 points [-]

You know, I'm not sure that I'd rather be turned into a whale than orgasmium. In fact, I'm not really sure that I'd rather be an unmodified human than be turned into orgasmium, but I don't lean towards orgasmium as the most awesome thing I could possibly be.

Comment author: jooyous 06 January 2013 01:39:47AM 8 points [-]

I think I'd be sad to turn into orgasmium without having been a whale first. :(

Comment author: wedrifid 05 January 2013 05:52:31AM 3 points [-]

"Awesome" does not refer to anything else.

Except, you know, the original literal meaning. The one that is means "able to cause the experience of awe".

Extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.

Things that cause awe may also be awesome/excellent/great/cool but it isn't the same thing.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2013 06:02:36AM *  6 points [-]

Shhhhhh; that's a basilisk.

I'll leave it as is, and hope no one tries to maximize literal "awe-causingness". I think the explanation and implication is robust enough to prevent any funny business like that.

Comment author: wedrifid 05 January 2013 08:15:48AM 7 points [-]

Shhhhhh; that's a basilisk.

F'rinstance.

I'll leave it as is, and hope no one tries to maximize literal "awe-causingness". I think the explanation and implication is robust enough to prevent any funny business like that.

You nailed it. This post is exactly what is needed to cut away all the bullshit that gets thrown in to morality and ethics.

Comment author: Peterdjones 05 January 2013 04:12:37PM -1 points [-]

Where I come from, it connotes "I'm an idiot". Exrpessing such a high degree of approbation about antyhing is seen as sign of mental feebleness.

Comment author: ctl 06 January 2013 07:04:24AM 3 points [-]

This may be a minor nit, but... is this forum collectively anti-orgasmium, now?

Because being orgasmium is by definition more pleasant than not being orgasmium. Refusing to become orgasmium is a hedonistic utilitarian mistake, full stop.[1] (Well, that's not actually true, since as a human you can make other people happier, and as orgasmium you presumably cannot. But it is at least on average a mistake to refuse to become orgasmium; I would argue that it is virtually always a mistake.)

[1] We're all hedonistic utilitarians, right?

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 06 January 2013 07:40:22AM 19 points [-]

[1] We're all hedonistic utilitarians, right?

... no?

http://lesswrong.com/lw/lb/notforthesakeofhappinessalone/

Comment author: Alicorn 06 January 2013 07:09:10PM 12 points [-]

We're all hedonistic utilitarians, right?

No. Most of us are preferentists or similar. Some of us are not consequentialists at all.

Comment author: MugaSofer 06 January 2013 10:49:13PM 3 points [-]

is this forum collectively anti-orgasmium, now?

For as long as I've been here, which admittedly isn't all that long.

Because being orgasmium is by definition more pleasant than not being orgasmium. Refusing to become orgasmium is a hedonistic utilitarian mistake, full stop.[1]

[1] We're all hedonistic utilitarians, right?

Here's your problem.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 January 2013 04:56:10PM 2 points [-]

We're all hedonistic utilitarians, right?

No thanks. Awesomeness is more complex than can be achieved with wireheading.

Comment author: Raemon 06 January 2013 05:21:13PM 1 point [-]

I'm anti-orgasmium, but not necessarily anti-experience-machine. I'm approximately a median-preference utilitarian. (This is more descriptive than normative)

Comment author: pleeppleep 05 January 2013 05:52:51PM 1 point [-]

Good post, but I can easily imagine awesome ways to starve hundreds of children.

"Awesome" to me means impressive and exciting in a pleasant manner. You seem to use it to mean desirable. If morality just means desirability, then there's no reasons to use the word morality. I think that for morality to have any use, it has to be a component of desirability, but not interchangeable with it.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 January 2013 06:12:34PM 4 points [-]

You are right that it shouldn't directly be that which is desirable. I guess there is a bug in the OP explanation in that "awesome" does not automatically feel like it should be outside yourself.

The excitingness connotation is a bug.

Comment author: jooyous 06 January 2013 04:48:57AM 4 points [-]

There's a question in OkCupid that asks "In some sense, wouldn't nuclear war be exciting?" which [I immediately answered no and rated everyone who said yes as completely undateable] I think falls into this same class of bug, but I can't quite put my finger on how to describe it.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 06 January 2013 04:59:13AM *  10 points [-]

"In some sense, wouldn't nuclear war be exciting?"

In some sense, it probably would, it's just a sense that doesn't have any weight to speak of in deciding whether a nuclear war is a good idea. Even reliably settled arguments are not one-sided; there are usually considerations aligned against even the most obviously right decisions, and denying the existence or correctness of such considerations damages one's epistemic rationality.

Comment author: jooyous 06 January 2013 05:35:30AM *  2 points [-]

I agree, but I'm really confused about the how the creators of that website intended for the question to help in deciding whether a user should date a certain individual. I wouldn't be able to tell if they answered "yes" because "Yay! Explosions!" and completely disregarded human deaths, or if they were saying "Indeed, there exists a sense in which nuclear war would create more excitement than a lack of one."

I feel like "excitement" carries a positive connotation, particularly in American culture, which makes me uneasy about any "yes" answers. :(

Comment author: satt 07 January 2013 07:08:28PM 3 points [-]

I'm really confused about the how the creators of that website intended for the question to help in deciding whether a user should date a certain individual. I wouldn't be able to tell if they answered "yes" because [...] or if they were saying [...]

I think this is a stock trick personality tests use: give test-takers a question where the denotation & connotation conflict; see how each test-taker resolves the conflict; people who resolve it in the same way (i.e. give the same answer) are presumably more similar in personality/weltanschauung than people who resolve it differently.

Comment author: DaFranker 07 January 2013 07:47:02PM *  5 points [-]

This seemed obvious to me. The problem is the lack of "meta" options; where's the hidden checkbox for people who saw all six possible chains of reasoning, analyzed each of them, have probabilistic answers on four of those, along with an objection to the premises of the fifth and want to scream at the sixth for its stupidity? (bogus example)

Some of us don't like limiting ourselves to only one possible interpretation of a statement or question. Some of us consider at least four different interpretations by default as a matter of convenience, and only then afterwards settle on the one most likely to have been "intended" within context.

This behavior is the one I prefer, not the behavior of automatically resolving to one specific preferred interpretation without noticing the others. The particular example question, like so many others on that site, provides no means of distinguishing between these behaviors, other than a very time-consuming reading of all the comments (which also requires time investment from the question-answerer by writing a comment in explanation, but this in turn requires a specific response, which partly defeats the point of going meta).

Other websites sometimes sidestep the issue entirely by first testing for traits that have these effects and often outright rejecting those (potential members) that would "question" the questions, thereby pre-filtering members for compatibility with their testing methodologies.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 January 2013 04:04:37PM 2 points [-]

It seems to me that people who argue with questionnaires might have a good bit in common with each other, and likewise for people who don't argue with questionnaires.

A crude approach would be to just match up people by the number of questions they argue with and the amount they write. It would be more sophisticated to just let people see each other's comments on the questionnaire.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 January 2013 07:17:56PM 2 points [-]

where's the hidden checkbox for people who saw all six possible chains of reasoning, analyzed each of them, have probabilistic answers on four of those, along with an objection to the premises of the fifth and want to scream at the sixth for its stupidity?

You picked the answer among the first four for which your probabilistic answer is highest, mark all the first four answers as acceptable in a potential date, and explain your reasoning in the comment section.

Comment author: DaFranker 08 January 2013 07:51:40PM *  2 points [-]

Oh, no, I think you misunderstand what parts of the question-problem I was talking about. To better characterize the bogus example, let's flesh it out a bit:


Q: Which is healthier?
( ) Bleggs
( ) Rubes
( ) Both
( ) Neither

Now obviously, the first four chains of reasoning go as follow:

In most specific cases, presented an arbitrary thought-experiment-style choice of being handed a blegg or a rube, neither is good. Owning either a Blegg or a Rube will make you less physically healthy. So among the four options, "Neither" is clearly better. This is pretty certain, though some crack scientists do claim conclusive evidence that owning both at the same time can be healthy. But I don't put much faith in their suspicious results.

"But!", screams the more logically-minded, "the question isn't about which of the four choices presented is better - it's clear that the fourth option is intended to mean 'neither bleggs nor rubes are healthier', not that you should pick neither. So the thought experiment implied means you have to pick one of the two, and in that case Bleggs are clearly marginally better!" Okay, fine. So Bleggs are most likely healthier if you have to choose one of the two - they're unlikely to be equally unhealthy or healthy, after all.

But let's take a step back for a moment. If you look at the grand scheme of things, at a macro scale, Rubes do reduce the total amount of Bleggs and Rubes, because each Rube will destroy at least five Bleggs. So in the grand scheme of things, having Rubes is healthier than having Bleggs, if we can't attack the source! Clearly, both of the previous chains of reasoning are too narrow-minded and don't think of the big picture. On a large scale, the Rubes are indeed healthier-per-unit than the Bleggs. Probably.

Ah, but what if it is implied that this is an all-or-nothing paradigm, and what if others interpret it this way? Then, obviously, the complete absence of both Bleggs and Rubes would be a Very Bad Thing™, since we require Bleggs and Rubes to produce Tormogluts, a necessary component of modern human prosperity! Thus, both are (probably) healthier than only having one or the other (and obviously better than neither).

...

On the other hand, Bleggs and Rubes are unnatural, unsustainable in the long term, and we will soon need to research new ways to produce Tormogluts. Most people who see you advocating for them will automatically match you as The Enemy, so you should pick "Neither", even though that's not what the question implies. But this is a shitty situation, and if someone reading my answer to this question interprets it this way, I don't care to befriend them anyway. So I reject this answer.

And let's not even think of what the Kurgle fanatics have to say about this question. The horror.


Assuming all of the above went through your mind in a few seconds very rapidly when you first read the question... what answer do you choose? Do you also put a preference filter for other people's answers? Just choosing the higher or most confident probability from the above isn't going to cut it if this question matters to you a lot.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 January 2013 11:24:20PM *  6 points [-]

I used to pick the “least bad” answer in such cases, but then I decided to clear all my previous answers, and now when I see a question to which the answer I wish I could give is “Mu” or “ADBOC” or “Taboo $word” or “Avada Ked--[oh right, new censorship policy, sorry]”, I just skip it.

Comment author: jooyous 07 January 2013 08:11:06PM 2 points [-]

Yep, that's the reasoning I followed in the earlier comment. A person who saw all six possible chains would decide the question wasn't useful and would refuse to answer it, hopefully. ^_^

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 06 January 2013 05:46:17AM *  2 points [-]

I feel like "excitement" carries a positive connotation ... which makes me uneasy about any "yes" answers.

That's the point: you should (in particular) be comfortable with entertaining arguments for horrible things that carry positive connotations (just don't get carried away :-). The correctness of these arguments won't in general depend on whether their connotations align with those of the decisions reached upon considering all relevant arguments.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 January 2013 07:09:56PM *  1 point [-]

I'm really confused about the how the creators of that website intended for the question to help in deciding whether a user should date a certain individual.

It's up to the users: you have to both provide your own answer and decide which answers you would consider acceptable in a potential match (and specify how much of a big deal would it be for a potential match to pick a different answer). If you want to provide your answer but don't want to discriminate potential matches based on their answers, you can mark all possible answers as acceptable or equivalently mark the question as irrelevant. (And many of the questions are written by users of the site, rather than by its creators; I don't remember whether the one about nuclear war is.)

The matching algorithm is described here. (Its unBayesianity makes me cringe -- the rarer a particular answer to a particular question is, the larger the effect of someone picking that answer ought to be -- but still.)

Comment author: jooyous 08 January 2013 10:08:01PM *  1 point [-]

I wish you could condition on whether the user ignored the question or not, but I don't think you can. Also, I'm pretty sure the nuclear war one wasn't a user question.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 January 2013 07:30:22PM 3 points [-]

That's not even the worst one: “Which is worse: starving children or abused animals?” with possible answers “Starving children”, “Abused animals”, “Neither, both are good” and “Neither, they are equally bad.” I'm curious to know whether there's actually somebody who picks “Neither, both are good.”

Comment author: RichardKennaway 07 January 2013 01:45:25PM 2 points [-]

“There is nothing so exhilarating in all the world as being shot at with no result.”

Attributed, in various forms, to Winston Churchill. What war is, is intense. Soldiers who have seen combat duty often miss it in peacetime, or in civilian life. In Britain after the second World War, even many civilians found the peace a bit of a let down.

So yes, in a very ordinary sense, nuclear war would be exciting, especially if you survive it.

Imagine you have the superpower: Movie Hero. You are guaranteed to escape from all situations, however dire, and whatever extremity of privation and suffering you may have to go through (but you will have to go through it) in the process of clawing your way to the Happy Ending. You also get a chance to play a pivotal role in whatever world crisis forces itself on you. How would you then feel about seeing the world slide towards imminent nuclear war?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 January 2013 02:43:50PM 2 points [-]

How would you then feel about seeing the world slide towards imminent nuclear war?

Pretty miserable.

Comment author: aleksiL 06 January 2013 09:09:18AM *  2 points [-]

Wouldn't the failure to acknowledge all the excitement nuclear war would cause be an example of the horns effect?

I immediately answered no and rated everyone who said yes as completely undateable

I can understand answering no for emotional or political reasons, but rating the epistemically correct answer as undateable? That's... a good reason for me to answer such questions honestly, actually.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 January 2013 11:18:32AM 3 points [-]

The excitingness connotation is a bug.

I dunno -- it has the very nice (IMO) side effect of automagically importing Fun Theory into ethics.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 05 January 2013 08:16:33AM 1 point [-]

Great! I really like this.

Comment author: seanwelsh77 01 May 2013 12:11:47AM 0 points [-]

According to Leibniz, this is the most awesome of all possible worlds.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 01 May 2013 02:58:32AM *  6 points [-]

(This is not a good characterization of Leibniz's actual conceptual system, for what it's worth;---the arguments that this is the "best of all possible worlds" are quite technical and come from the sort of intuitions that would later inspire algorithmic information theory; certainly neither blind optimism nor psychologically contingent enthusiasm about life's bounties were motivating the arguments. Crucially, "best" or similar, unlike "awesome", is potentially philosophically simple (in the sense of algorithmic information theory), which is necessary for Leibniz's arguments to go through. (This comment is directed more at the general readership than the author of the comment I'm replying to.))

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 May 2013 02:25:53AM 5 points [-]

Falsified by diarrhea. Next!

Comment author: mare-of-night 01 May 2013 12:31:00AM 2 points [-]

I don't agree with Leibniz, but I do find his "best of all possible worlds" concept really useful for talking about what utilitarians try to do.

Comment author: MinibearRex 18 January 2013 09:58:29PM 1 point [-]

I tend to use the word fun.

Comment author: hankx7787 17 January 2013 12:36:45PM *  1 point [-]

I'm sorry, this is all I could think about the whole time reading your post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3b1iwLIMmRQ

Seriously though, this terminology has been employed by Starglider in SL4 circles for ages. His explanation of a positive Singularity would be something like, "Everything gets really, really awesome really really fast." I do think it's a great word, despite the negative connotations.

Comment author: Kawoomba 08 January 2013 05:17:49PM 1 point [-]

In a world of hardship and mediocrity (hopefully not yours), even when implementing "degree of awesomeness" on a scale, it may be a bit of a stretch going "Hey, this cubicle job is more awesome than that cubicle job! ... twitching smile, furtive glances around", or even "Awesome, another ration of rice from USAID, that means I may survive yet another day! :-))"