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buybuydandavis comments on Lotteries: A Waste of Hope - Less Wrong

28 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 13 April 2007 05:36AM

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Comment author: buybuydandavis 18 September 2012 08:32:18AM *  0 points [-]

Unsurprisingly, many people don't realize that a numerical calculation of expected utility ought to override or replace their imprecise financial instincts, and instead treat the calculation as merely one argument to be balanced against their pleasant anticipations—

The process of overcoming bias requires (1) first noticing the bias, (2) analyzing the bias in detail, (3) deciding that the bias is bad, (4) figuring out a workaround, and then (5) implementing it.

EY is just wrong in one respect. People enjoy pleasant anticipations. It's perfectly instrumentally rational to weigh that value against the expected financial loss of the lottery ticket. In fact, one could say that the purchase of a lottery ticket is using an epistemically limiting cognitive bias for instrumental gain - the fact that my mind really doesn't feel 1 in 100 million differently than 1 in 10 million or maybe 1 in 10000 allows the anticipated gain to far outstrip the epistemically actual gain, making the bet worthwhile.

Where I do agree with him is the waste of misplaced hope. That hope for the lottery win, and the attending riches leads to actions which provide no incremental real gains. Probably better, if you're going to indulge in epistemically unfounded hopes, to attach them to actions that actually do have some benefit in themselves. Picture yourself wildly overachieving on some goal that you're actually working toward, or would like to work toward. Pick empowering delusions. Whether such delusions are in fact empowering is an empirical question, but I definitely don't see the lottery win delusion as empowering.

Comment author: khafra 18 September 2012 04:47:17PM 0 points [-]

On the other hand, if visualizing winning the lottery does no harm to your actual goals, it may be better than visualizing success at your actual goals.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 18 September 2012 06:53:28PM 0 points [-]

My second point was about opportunity cost - the time you spend on dreams that do no harm is time that could be spent on dreams that provide some benefit.