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michael_vassar 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: michael_vassar 13 April 2007 03:57:29PM 6 points [-]

I think that the problem with the lottery as entertainment is that it is only entertaining due to your cognitive deficiencies. If a person understood how likely winning actually was, playing wouldn't help them to dream of riches. OTOH, many (most?) people also take pleasure in pure conformity. I suspect that most occasional lottery players are in this class. They enjoy buying the tickets because they know that many other people buy them and therefore that buying lottery tickets is "fun". In most cultures, though possibly not in the contemporary culture of young Americans, this preference seems likely to be stable under reflection.

My feeling that it is appalling is thus simply the result of clashing utility functions and due to the tyrannical term in my utility function that values others valuing what I do and not valuing what I don't independent of any instrumental value to my other goals. Reflection suggests that there is also an opposing "diversity favoring" term in my utility function, and that the activation of these terms is significantly determined by my own drives towards cultural conformity, which when examined activate other terms indirectly and weakly condemning themselves but offering no alternatives other than by pointing weakly at some thus far unexamined region of concept-space. What a mess! The more one looks at one's mind the more miraculous it seems that the whole thing works as well as it does as often as it does.

Anyway, I can satisfy my inner tyrant for now by suggesting that it summon up out-group disdain at purchasers of diamond wedding rings rather than those of lottery tickets. The social externalities of the former behavior are larger, the underlying bias-hack less sophisticated and more overtly malevolent, and the socio-economic status of the condescended group more satisfyingly close to my own.