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Patrick_(orthonormal) comments on Zut Allais! - Less Wrong

23 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 January 2008 03:18AM

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Comment author: Patrick_(orthonormal) 20 January 2008 09:15:08PM 4 points [-]

How do the commenters who justify the usual decisions in the face of certainty and uncertainty with respect to gain and loss account for this part of the post?

There are various other games you can also play with certainty effects. For example, if you offer someone a certainty of $400, or an 80% probability of $500 and a 20% probability of $300, they'll usually take the $400. But if you ask people to imagine themselves $500 richer, and ask if they would prefer a certain loss of $100 or a 20% chance of losing $200, they'll usually take the chance of losing $200. Same probability distribution over outcomes, different descriptions, different choices.

Assuming that this experiment has actually been validated, there's hardly a clearer example of obvious bias than a person's decision on the exact same circumstance being determined by whether it's described as certain vs. uncertain gain or certain vs. uncertain loss.

And Eliezer, I have to compliment your writing skills: when faced with people positing a utility of certainty, the first thing that came to my mind was the irrational scale invariance such a concept must have if it fulfills the stated role. But if you'd just stated that, people would have argued to Judgment Day on nuances of the idea, trying to salvage it. Instead, you undercut the counterargument with a concrete reductio ad absurdum, replacing $24,000 with 24,000 lives- which you realized would make your interlocutors uncomfortable about making an incorrect decision for the sake of a state of mind. You seem to have applied a vital principle: we generally change our minds not when a good argument is presented to us, but when it makes us uncomfortable by showing how our existing intuitions conflict.

If and when you publish a book, if the writing is of this quality, I'll recommend it to the heavens.