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My Childhood Death Spiral

23 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 September 2008 03:42AM

Followup toAffective Death Spirals, My Wild and Reckless Youth

My parents always used to downplay the value of intelligence.  And play up the value of—effort, as recommended by the latest research?  No, not effort.  Experience.  A nicely unattainable hammer with which to smack down a bright young child, to be sure.  That was what my parents told me when I questioned the Jewish religion, for example.  I tried laying out an argument, and I was told something along the lines of:  "Logic has limits, you'll understand when you're older that experience is the important thing, and then you'll see the truth of Judaism."  I didn't try again.  I made one attempt to question Judaism in school, got slapped down, didn't try again.  I've never been a slow learner.

Whenever my parents were doing something ill-advised, it was always, "We know better because we have more experience.  You'll understand when you're older: maturity and wisdom is more important than intelligence."

If this was an attempt to focus the young Eliezer on intelligence uber alles, it was the most wildly successful example of reverse psychology I've ever heard of.

But my parents aren't that cunning, and the results weren't exactly positive.

For a long time, I thought that the moral of this story was that experience was no match for sheer raw native intelligence.  It wasn't until a lot later, in my twenties, that I looked back and realized that I couldn't possibly have been more intelligent than my parents before puberty, with my brain not even fully developed.  At age eleven, when I was already nearly a full-blown atheist, I could not have defeated my parents in any fair contest of mind.  My SAT scores were high for an 11-year-old, but they wouldn't have beaten my parents' SAT scores in full adulthood.  In a fair fight, my parents' intelligence and experience could have stomped any prepubescent child flat.  It was dysrationalia that did them in; they used their intelligence only to defeat itself.

But that understanding came much later, when my intelligence had processed and distilled many more years of experience. 

The moral I derived when I was young, was that anyone who downplayed the value of intelligence didn't understand intelligence at all.  My own intelligence had affected every aspect of my life and mind and personality; that was massively obvious, seen at a backward glance.  "Intelligence has nothing to do with wisdom or being a good person"—oh, and does self-awareness have nothing to do with wisdom, or being a good person?  Modeling yourself takes intelligence.  For one thing, it takes enough intelligence to learn evolutionary psychology.

We are the cards we are dealt, and intelligence is the unfairest of all those cards.  More unfair than wealth or health or home country, unfairer than your happiness set-point.  People have difficulty accepting that life can be that unfair, it's not a happy thought.  "Intelligence isn't as important as X" is one way of turning away from the unfairness, refusing to deal with it, thinking a happier thought instead.  It's a temptation, both to those dealt poor cards, and to those dealt good ones.  Just as downplaying the importance of money is a temptation both to the poor and to the rich.

But the young Eliezer was a transhumanist.  Giving away IQ points was going to take more work than if I'd just been born with extra money.  But it was a fixable problem, to be faced up to squarely, and fixed.  Even if it took my whole life.  "The strong exist to serve the weak," wrote the young Eliezer, "and can only discharge that duty by making others equally strong."  I was annoyed with the Randian and Nietszchean trends in SF, and as you may have grasped, the young Eliezer had a tendency to take things too far in the other direction.  No one exists only to serve.  But I tried, and I don't regret that.  If you call that teenage folly, it's rare to see adult wisdom doing better.

Everyone needed more intelligence.  Including me, I was careful to pronounce.  Be it far from me to declare a new world order with myself on top—that was what a stereotyped science fiction villain would do, or worse, a typical teenager, and I would never have allowed myself to be so cliched.  No, everyone needed to be smarter.  We were all in the same boat:  A fine, uplifting thought.

Eliezer1995 had read his science fiction.  He had morals, and ethics, and could see the more obvious traps.  No screeds on Homo novis for him.  No line drawn between himself and others.  No elaborate philosophy to put himself at the top of the heap.  It was too obvious a failure mode.  Yes, he was very careful to call himself stupid too, and never claim moral superiority.  Well, and I don't see it so differently now, though I no longer make such a dramatic production out of my ethics.  (Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I'm tougher about when I allow myself a moment of self-congratulation.)

I say all this to emphasize that Eliezer1995 wasn't so undignified as to fail in any obvious way.

And then Eliezer1996 encountered the concept of the Singularity.  Was it a thunderbolt of revelation?  Did I jump out of my chair and shout "Eurisko!"?  Nah.  I wasn't that much of a drama queen.  It was just massively obvious in retrospect that smarter-than-human intelligence was going to change the future more fundamentally than any mere material science.  And I knew at once that this was what I would be doing with the rest of my life, creating the Singularity.  Not nanotechnology like I'd thought when I was eleven years old; nanotech would only be a tool brought forth of intelligence.  Why, intelligence was even more powerful, an even greater blessing, than I'd realized before.

Was this a happy death spiral?  As it turned out later, yes: that is, it led to the adoption even of false happy beliefs about intelligence.  Perhaps you could draw the line at the point where I started believing that surely the lightspeed limit would be no barrier to superintelligence.  (It's not unthinkable, but I wouldn't bet on it.)

But the real wrong turn came later, at the point where someone said, "Hey, how do you know that superintelligence will be moral?  Intelligence has nothing to do with being a good person, you know—that's what we call wisdom, young prodigy."

And lo, it seemed obvious to the young Eliezer, that this was mere denial.  Certainly, his own painstakingly constructed code of ethics had been put together using his intelligence and resting on his intelligence as a base.  Any fool could see that intelligence had a great deal to do with ethics, morality, and wisdom; just try explaining the Prisoner's Dilemma to a chimpanzee, right?

Surely, then, superintelligence would necessarily imply supermorality.

Thus is it said:  "Parents do all the things they tell their children not to do, which is how they know not to do them."  To be continued, hopefully tomorrow.

Post Scriptum:  How my views on intelligence have changed since then... let's see:  When I think of poor hands dealt to humans, these days, I think first of death and old age.  Everyone's got to have some intelligence level or other, and the important thing from a fun-theoretical perspective is that it should ought to increase over time, not decrease like now.  Isn't that a clever way of feeling better?  But I don't work so hard now at downplaying my own intelligence, because that's just another way of calling attention to it.  I'm smart for a human, if the topic should arise, and how I feel about that is my own business.  The part about intelligence being the lever that lifts worlds is the same.  Except that intelligence has become less mysterious unto me, so that I now more clearly see intelligence as something embedded within physics.  Superintelligences may go FTL if it happens to be permitted by the true physical laws, and if not, then not.

 

Part of the sequence Yudkowsky's Coming of Age

Next post: "My Best and Worst Mistake"

(start of sequence)

Comments (106)

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Comment author: TGGP4 15 September 2008 04:24:10AM 26 points [-]

"Surely, then, superintelligence would necessarily imply supermorality" Thought the cow, as a bolt plunged into its brain.

Comment author: Dmytry 01 April 2012 05:04:24PM *  1 point [-]

What will the cloned cow muscle cells think about the issue?

edit: I think you guys here over-focus on rational decision making and forget that what sets us apart from animals, in terms of intelligence, is our ability to invent solutions and solve problems. Including the problems like 'how to have a steak without killing a cow'. It's just that we as species are barely capable of invention, and so it takes us a great time to get there. There's no doubt that killing cows like we do now will be outlawed after we find another way to have the steak.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 April 2012 06:13:13PM 2 points [-]

There's no doubt that killing cows like we do now will be outlawed after we find another way to have the steak.

Perhaps. Which will likely lead to fewer cows in existence than we have now, since killing cows the way we kill other animals (e.g., by building on their habitats) probably won't be.

Comment author: Dmytry 01 April 2012 06:15:17PM *  2 points [-]

It's not due to our great intelligence, that we are stuck on this mud ball having to wipe out the things we like for the things we like more.

Comment author: Blueberry 01 April 2012 07:46:52PM 0 points [-]

I suspect you overestimate how much most people like cows...

Comment author: Dmytry 01 April 2012 08:43:46PM *  2 points [-]

You'll like the cows when there's vat grown steak and we make the ads for it :) . (I do some CGI for advertising).

Comment author: Blueberry 01 April 2012 07:45:52PM 3 points [-]

There's no doubt that killing cows like we do now will be outlawed after we find another way to have the steak.

No doubt at all? I'd put money on this being wrong. Why would it be outlawed?

Including the problems like 'how to have a steak without killing a cow'.

I'm not sure that's the relevant problem. The more important problem is "how can we get more and better steaks cheaper?"

Comment author: Dmytry 01 April 2012 08:00:36PM *  2 points [-]

No doubt at all? I'd put money on this being wrong. Why would it be outlawed?

There are various laws on treatment of animals already. Ineffective and poorly adhered to, but there are.

I'm not sure that's the relevant problem. The more important problem is "how can we get more and better steaks cheaper?"

Yet more important problem is how we make the most profit. Once there's notable grown-in-a-vat steak industry, you can be sure that the ethics of killing cows will be explained to you via fairly effective advertising. Especially if it costs somewhat more and consequently brings better income for same % markup.

Comment author: Blueberry 02 April 2012 08:07:51AM -1 points [-]

I don't want to eat anything steaklike unless it came from a real, mooing, cow. I don't care how it's killed.

I'm worried I'm overestimating my resistance to advertising, so I'm hereby precommitting to this in writing.

Comment author: TraderJoe 02 April 2012 08:38:14AM *  2 points [-]

[comment deleted]

Comment author: Blueberry 02 April 2012 08:46:27AM 0 points [-]

Precommiting is useful in many situations, one being where you want to make sure you do something in the future when you know something might change your mind. In Cialdini's "Influence," for instance, he discusses how saying in public "I am not going to smoke another cigarette" is helpful in quitting smoking.

If you think you might change your mind, then surely you would want to have the freedom to do so?

The whole point is that I want to remove that freedom. I don't want the option of changing my mind.

Another classic example is the general who burned his ships upon landing so there would be no option to retreat, to make his soldiers fight harder.

Comment author: Dmytry 02 April 2012 08:53:30AM *  2 points [-]

I think you overestimate how much you'll care about this post in few years.

On top of this - see, you are acting in a mildly self destructive manner. The vat grown steak can be considerably safer, or taste better, but you pre-commit anyway without even tasting it. Clearly this pre-commitment not to maximize the utility in the future, is a net expected loss of utility.

That's the issue. Evil is generally self destructive, the more evil, the more self destructive it is. I believe that's in part because it is hard to define self in such a way that the evil is only hurting the others like you but not self, future self, parts of self, etc. That's just not easy to define, and not easy to process. Take extreme example, psychopaths. They are very self destructive. They do things on spur of the moment at expense of their future selves - perfectly rational selfish action as the future selves are to some extent different people - but not effective for an agent. There is not much more reason to care about future yourself, than to care about anyone else.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 02 April 2012 08:55:13AM 5 points [-]

I don't want to eat anything steaklike unless it came from a real, mooing, cow.

Why?

Comment author: jsalvati 15 September 2008 04:50:14AM 2 points [-]

Excellent analogy TGGP. (and I say that as a meat eater)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 September 2008 05:03:39AM 14 points [-]

Now see, that's exactly the sort of comment that led the young Eliezer to associate criticism of the intelligence-morality link with bad surface analogies. An easy enough monster-argument to slay, but I didn't do quite as well on reconstructing the corpse into something scarier.

Comment author: JimmyH 15 September 2008 06:57:02AM 11 points [-]

Then why don't you go ahead and slay it? I share your dislike for surface analogies, but it seems like this one runs deeper.

Although the cow doesn't have the intelligence to form that thought, the point is that the hypothetical cow thinks "It takes intelligence to increase my utility function, therefore intelligence much greater than mine must lead to greater increases in my utility". It turns out that the cow is wrong, and a counterexample is us. There are supercow intelligences running around, but they kill and eat cows which is presumably not something the cow wants.

If you get the exact same argument out of a human brain, it's just as invalid, though (thankfully) there isn't any real life example to point to.

The deep connection is the same; there is more than one possible utility function.

Comment author: Paul_Crowley2 15 September 2008 08:05:36AM 4 points [-]

I like "we are the cards we are dealt", which expresses nicely a problem with common ideas of blame and credit. I disagree that intelligence is the unfairest card of all - I think that a relatively dim person born into affluence in the USA has a much better time of it than a smart person born into poverty in the Congo.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 28 August 2012 01:27:59PM 6 points [-]

Notice the number of cards you had to change to balance the intelligence card.

Comment author: Ori 15 September 2008 08:09:50AM 2 points [-]

It would be interesting to read a post that describes how a future society would look like if everyone was given the ability of todays top 2% regarding IQ. What would happen, implications, economic output, happiness and so on.

Comment author: Ben_Jones 15 September 2008 08:28:08AM 0 points [-]

a relatively dim person born into affluence in the USA has a much better time of it than a smart person born into poverty in the Congo.

Taboo 'better'. I wouldn't swap one IQ point for all the silver spoons in the world.

Comment author: idlewire 14 July 2009 09:10:27PM 20 points [-]

You wouldn't give up one IQ point for say 10 million dollars? It would be a painful decision, but I'm convinced I could have a much better effect on the world with a massive financial head start at only the slightest detriment of my intelligence. A large enough sum of money would afford me the chance to stop working and study and research the rest of my life, probably leading me to be more intelligent in the long run. Right now, I have to waste away my time with a superior level of intelligence just pay for food, shelter and student loans.

Comment author: Alicorn 14 July 2009 09:20:54PM *  16 points [-]

Agreed. A lot of what we call intelligence is really speed - both in the short run (how long it takes you to add two numbers in your head, for instance) and in the longer run (how long it takes you to accomplish your ambitious projects). Ten million dollars would free up so much time and let you fake so much long-term speed that it would almost certainly be a gain if you got it for one IQ point. Not that anyone's actually offering this trade.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 February 2012 03:25:25PM *  9 points [-]

You wouldn't give up one IQ point for say 10 million dollars?

Humans loose one point of IQ all the time and don't notice it. Cognitive decline with ageing, getting hit on the head, some medical conditions ect. Loosing 5 or 10 is however pretty noticeable.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 April 2012 12:21:29PM 5 points [-]

I suspect even moderate sleep deprivation or a mild headache can (temporarily) impair your cognitive abilities by more than 5 IQ points.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 April 2012 02:15:36PM 2 points [-]

I suspect even moderate sleep deprivation or a mild headache can (temporarily) impair your cognitive abilities by more than 5 IQ points.

I suspect you are right and if I recall correctly the sleep deprivation -> IQ loss relationship has even been quantized!

Comment author: Dmytry 01 April 2012 04:32:36PM *  2 points [-]

When I was in highschool, I tried to do physics 'olympiads'. The issue was, they were 2 hours from where I lived, and started 9am, and were marathon style (five frigging hours for 5..10 hard problems). So that's waking up 6:30, quickly having breakfast, then public transportation for 2 hours being wobbled around in train, subway, bus, and another train. I didn't do too great on those even though I did ace harder problems normally (e.g. in school). I think eating chocolate to make yourself more awake or drinking strong tea also did not work for me at all; later when I started working in software development I had enough time to see that this only impairs my performance further.

Comment author: Dmytry 01 April 2012 04:38:24PM *  2 points [-]

You wouldn't give up one IQ point for say 10 million dollars?

That depends to where in testing I would lose it (or actually, doesn't depend because 10 millions is such a huge sum). If it just makes me think a little slower then who the hell cares, i'll save more time by having 10 millions. Likewise, as we gradually get dumber, having 10 millions allows to spend time working on important stuff while younger, so the iq-hours spend on the work may be larger.

Comment author: Peterdjones 21 May 2011 01:06:55PM 0 points [-]

You think your IQ will benefit you in an environment without education? If so, is a high IQ benefiting anyone in those countries now?

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 21 May 2011 02:06:15PM 6 points [-]

Well I suppose the ones with really high intelligence are probably seeking ways to escape their countries.

e.g. those Nigerian princes who always seem to need my help to move their accounts abroad.

Comment author: Peterdjones 21 May 2011 02:18:07PM 0 points [-]

That's intelligence that could be spent on other things.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 21 May 2011 03:14:19PM 2 points [-]

I have heard that Nigeria actually has pretty good education but very bad job opportunities for educated people, which is the source of the scam artists.

Comment author: Paul_Crowley2 15 September 2008 08:51:49AM 6 points [-]

Don't think "silver spoons", think "clean drinking water".

Comment author: Tim_Tyler 15 September 2008 09:21:58AM 1 point [-]

In general, cows seem to do pretty well out of being eaten - there are now hundreds of millions of them on the planet. If only they could find a way of making themselves more tasty.

Comment author: TobyBartels 18 December 2012 11:33:45PM 1 point [-]

That depends on what you mean by ‘well’. Which of course is the heart of TGGP's point (right or wrong).

Comment author: Ben_Jones 15 September 2008 10:22:31AM 1 point [-]

Paul, fair point. I'd better say instead that granted a chance to grow up healthy and given a solid (!) education, I'd spend all my other pre-natal person-points on a nice high g. Or at least, I'd say that would make me about the most effective optimiser I could be.

Tim, I think you mean cow genes, rather than cows. Growing large slabs of meat in factories will be great for cow genes, but pretty disastrous for cows. Good for me though, as that's when I plan to jump right off the wagon and into a nice synthetic steak. Eliezer's right though; this has little bearing on what he's talking about.

I'd counter "Parents do all the things they tell their children not to do, which is how they know not to do them" with "Adolescents are inherently unlikely to take their parents' explicit advice, particularly when they think they can see a bigger picture." This would seem to fit with your story, Eliezer, and it certainly does with mine.

The things I really learnt from my parents' experience were the things they never made explicit by giving advice. They were rather the mistakes that I saw (and see) in them that they hadn't/haven't recognised or come to terms with. I largely ignored their advice, and wouldn't really change that if I could. Mistakes are far more informative than advice.

Comment author: mindful 15 September 2008 12:17:17PM 0 points [-]

Can't wait for the sequel.

Comment author: billswift 15 September 2008 12:40:39PM 0 points [-]

Ori, in the meantime you might try the old Poul Anderson novel, "Brain Wave".

Comment author: Sean_C. 15 September 2008 01:28:09PM 0 points [-]

Warren Buffet uses the 'birth points' idea ("Ovarian Lottery" in his terminology) in a great thought experiment for developing his morality and ethics.

http://rationalangle.blogspot.com/2007/12/warren-buffett-and-hillary-clinton-at.html

At the end he puts a political slant on it, but I've read other instances where he puts it into larger terms.

Comment author: retired_urologist 15 September 2008 01:28:15PM 0 points [-]

... if everyone was given the ability of todays top 2% regarding IQ. What would happen, implications, economic output, happiness and so on.

This doesn't seem outlandish. In my former field, advances in gene therapy have been able (in animal models) to improve the function of tissues. Observations such as: the association of autosomal recessive and low-penetrance dominant mutations in Ashkenazim with high intelligence. Without at least heterozygosity for the health disorders associated with the mutations, Ashkenazim are no more intelligent, in the aggregate, than non-Ashkenazy Jews. See here and here. It seems reasonable that the genetic pattern of this disease/intelligence relationship will be known, the ethical concerns addressed, and a method for cognitive enhancement available to all, perhaps sooner rather than later. So much the better if it were to be effective in adults! Please correct me if I have misunderstood this concept.

Comment author: Carl_Shulman 15 September 2008 03:45:33PM 2 points [-]

"Without at least heterozygosity for the health disorders associated with the mutations, Ashkenazim are no more intelligent, in the aggregate, than non-Ashkenazy Jews."

Retired, you're wrong. The largest hypothesized effects of the disease alleles would be only a small fraction of the Ashkenazim advantage: they just aren't frequent enough. If you had a selective pressure for IQ, then it would affect all IQ-influencing alleles, reducing the frequency of rare variants with negative effects (Ashkenazi have lower rates of IQ-reducing PKU alleles), changing the distribution of allleles responsible for normal variation, etc. The Ashkenazi genetic diseases just happen to be visible because of their medical consequences. For instance, there may also be alleles that cause miscarriage (reducing parental fertility) or disrupt implantation in homozygotes but boost cognition, and we wouldn't know.

Comment author: Andy_the_Programmer 15 September 2008 04:01:59PM 0 points [-]

Ori: It seems to me that what you're describing has already been approximated, due to the filtering effects of certain job markets and employers. Look to Seattle's Eastside, or Silicon Valley. I've never been to the latter, but the former is a lot like heaven, except that the streets aren't slated to be paved with gold until 2014. (Planning takes time.)

Comment author: Lara_Foster 15 September 2008 04:38:47PM 0 points [-]

I'm uncertain whether Eliezer-1995 was equating intelligence with the ability to self-optimize for utility (ie intelligence = optimization power) or if he was equating intelligence with utility (intelligence is great in and of itself). I would agree with Crowly that intelligence is just one of many factors influencing the utility an individual gets from his/her existence. There are also multiple kinds of intelligence. Someone with very high interpersonal intelligence and many deep relationships but abyssmal math skills may not want to trade places with the 200 IQ point math wiz who's never had a girlfriend and is still trying to compute the ultimate 'girlfriend maximizing utility equation". Just saying...

Anyone want to provide links to studies correlating IQ, ability, and intelligences in various areas with life-satisfaction? I'd hypothesize that people with slightly above average math/verbal IQs and very above average interpersonal skills probably rank highest on life-satisfaction scales.

Unless, of coures, Eliezer-1995 didn't think utility could really be measured by life satisfaction, and by his methods of utility calculation, Intelligence beats out all else. I'd be interested in knowing what utility meant to him under this circumstance.

Comment author: retired_urologist 15 September 2008 05:19:55PM 1 point [-]

Thank you, Carl Shulman, for correcting my misinformation. It's difficult for one to know which references are reliable, when one is not in the field.

@Carl Shulman: The largest hypothesized effects of the disease alleles would be only a small fraction of the Ashkenazim advantage: they just aren't frequent enough.

Dr. Bostrom cites this paper (so I considered it might be reliable) in his treatise on cognitive enhancement: "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence" by Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, Henry Harpending. Speaking of the incidence of of the Ashkenazim mutations, they state: "the probability of having at least one allele from these disorders is 59%.". As I understand it, these disorders are exceedingly rare in non-Ashkenazim. Are these authors simply incorrect, or did you mean that a 59% incidence just isn't frequent enough? That incidence is very close to the intelligence distribution I read between mutated and non-mutated Ashkenazim. Coincidence? Or already discredited?

Comment author: Scott_Aaronson2 15 September 2008 05:50:12PM 1 point [-]

We are the cards we are dealt, and intelligence is the unfairest of all those cards.

I completely agree with that statement, though my interpretation of it might be the opposite of Eliezer's. From The Simpsons:

Lisa: Dad, as intelligence goes up, happiness often goes down. In fact, I made a graph! [She holds up a decreasing, concave upward graph on axes marked "intelligence" and "happiness"] Lisa: [sadly] I make a lot of graphs.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 September 2008 06:16:41PM 1 point [-]

Dear Scott Aaronson:

Pffft.

Let me know if you do not find this argument convincing, and I will expand on it somewhat.

Lara, Eliezer-1995 is pre-Bayesian-enlightenment so he wouldn't have spent a lot of time talking about "utility". But yes, intelligence was a terminal value to him.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 31 May 2015 02:30:35PM -2 points [-]

I found Dr Aaronson's comment to be wise and witty, whereas Mr YudKowsky's response was....pfffffft.

Comment author: Lara_Foster2 15 September 2008 06:52:28PM 1 point [-]

As long as you are sharing your development with us, I'd be curious to know why the young Eliezer valued intelligence so highly as to make it a terminal value. He must have enjoyed what he thought was 'intelligence' tremendously, and seen that people who did not share in this intelligence, did not share in his enjoyment and felt sorry for them. Moreover, he must not have been jealous of any enjoyments his less intelligent brethren seemed to partake in that he did not. He probably also did some sort of correlative analysis observing people he considered having more and less intelligence and determined the mores were betteroff than the morons. What traits would he have used to establish this correlation?

Heck- not having experienced qualitatively what young Eliezer did, I can't be certain he's not right about how great it is to be that smart. But that argument can go in any direction. I was quite a busy teen myself, and I'm not so sure I'd trade my ups for a few more IQ points.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 31 May 2015 02:49:06PM -1 points [-]

I'd be curious to know why the young Eliezer valued intelligence so highly as to make it a terminal value.

Who doesn't decide that their best feature 8s the Most Valuable Value?

Comment author: Scott_Aaronson2 15 September 2008 06:56:13PM 0 points [-]

Eliezer, I don't think there's a necessary tradeoff between intelligence (the academic rather than interpersonal kind) and happiness at the far nerd end of the spectrum---just that the way society is currently organized, it seems to be both true and common knowledge that there is (cf. Lara Foster's comment). Though despite the temptation, I can't justify dwelling on this phenomenon for too long---any more than on physical appearance, parental wealth, or any other aspect of our lives that we might love to "choose wisely" but can't. Unlike many other accidents of birth, one could even regard this one as "cosmically justified" if one saw intelligence as having a value of its own, independent from happiness. If you disagree, then yes, I might need a better argument than Pfffft.

Comment author: michael_vassar3 15 September 2008 07:03:04PM 1 point [-]

Retired: 59% of the population having alleles that boost IQ by <10 pts only accounts for part of the gap, and most of the alleles probably have effects substantially <10pts (ITD, at about 10pts, is probably the largest effect). Also, what sort of selective pressures would produce only costly alleles of large effect without boosting the frequencies of cheap alleles of small effect? Actually, that's my main problem with the Cochran Harpending hypothesis. The impact from the large alleles seems too large compared to the total advantage. Pressure sufficient to boost their concentrations to the observed levels should have boosted average IQ further. Something seems to be going on, but its not clear what. My best guess is some mix of a genetic bottleneck and noise boosting their starting population and the selection being from some trait other than 'g' which is much more enhanced by the alleles in question than 'g' is and which correlates with 'g'. The personality trait Openness would be a good candidate for such a trait. Personality trait measures are by self-report, so their real impact and variance are much larger than tests indicate. I wonder if some objective measure of Openness would show huge Ashkenazi differences and huge effects for the alleles in question. Does anyone know of any proposed method for measuring this? You could regress Openness from a function of grades (which it doesn't boost) and years of schooling (which it does, but which normally correlates with grades).

Lara, Scott: Surely interpersonal utility calculations are always dubious but become much more so when comparing people of greatly differing intelligence. If no altruistic considerations applied, how much money (or other utility-bearing fruit) would you demand (or pay Scott) to take a drug which lowered your IQ by x pts? How relevant is the endowment effect to this decision, e.g. how much would you pay to correct existing brain damage which depresses your IQ by x pts? Actually, lets replace IQ with hypothetical cognitive dimension with the sort of associated correlations that accompany IQ differences near the average, or near the lowest level that you can relate to if average is too low.

As an altruistic GURPS character, I'd probably dump a point of intelligence into single minded and some reaction modifiers, especially reputation. As a selfish GURPS character I definitely wouldn't be tempted by any other "realistic" point sink (gadgeteer isn't realistic).

Comment author: Carl_Shulman 15 September 2008 07:18:58PM 0 points [-]

Retired,

59% frequency isn't enough to explain the size of measured IQ differences between Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi populations. This is off-topic, so let's take it to email.

Comment author: retired_urologist 15 September 2008 07:43:41PM 0 points [-]

@Carl Shulman:

Thanks Carl. Now I understand. See Teacher's Password.

Comment author: Caledonian2 15 September 2008 07:43:58PM 0 points [-]

Taboo 'better'. I wouldn't swap one IQ point for all the silver spoons in the world.

Possession of that much silver would be a much more potent instrument than a single IQ point for almost any goal I can conceive of, and for any of the 'realistic' goals I can consider.

Even valuing one's self-function highly, I'd say that turning down all of the world's silver spoons for a single IQ point is a poor decision.

If we don't take your statement literally, then you're even wronger than before. By the world's standards, there are countless 'silver spoons' that have a profound effect on neurological development and achievement in learning -- giving up the things that are luxuries by the world's standards would cost you far more than a single point of IQ. Quality nutrition alone, regardless of other factors, is responsible for far more than that.

Comment author: Lara_Foster2 15 September 2008 08:31:04PM 0 points [-]

Michael, Your question is very ill-defined. I regularly partake in a drug that lowers my IQ in exchange for other utility... It's called alcohol. If you are talking about permanent IQ reductions, I would need to have some sense of what losing one IQ point felt like before I could evaluate a trade. Is it like taking one shot? Would I even notice it missing?

Many psychotropic drugs, especially antipsychotics, 'slow' down the people that take them and thus could be associated with lowering IQ, yet many people choose to take them and lower their IQ for the utility gained by not hearing demonic voices or being allowed to leave a mental institution.

Comment author: Scott_Aaronson2 15 September 2008 08:31:42PM 3 points [-]

how much money (or other utility-bearing fruit) would you demand (or pay Scott) to take a drug which lowered your IQ by x pts?

Here's the funny thing: given who I am now, I would not pay to have my IQ lowered, and indeed would pay good money to avoid having it lowered, or even to have it raised. But I would also pay to have been, since early childhood, the sort of person who didn't have such an intelligence-centric set of priorities. I'm not transitive in my preferences; I don't want to want what I want.

Comment author: Lara_Foster2 15 September 2008 08:54:11PM 0 points [-]

Interesting, Scott. What priorities do the intelligence-centric type have that make you unhappy? Though I might not necessarily fit into this group, I am confident that I am of above-average intelligence, and I do not believe my litany of worldly woes are attributable to that, so much as to specific personality traits independent of intelligence.

Comment author: Aleksei_Riikonen 15 September 2008 09:26:19PM 2 points [-]

In his comment to Scott Aaronson, Eliezer seems skeptical of extreme intelligence being detrimental to happiness. It is however my understanding that statistics favor Scott's view.

Such statistical data are discussed in this article:

http://www.prometheussociety.org/articles/Outsiders.html

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 September 2008 09:33:54PM 13 points [-]

Lara: I regularly partake in a drug that lowers my IQ in exchange for other utility... It's called alcohol.

You've just summarized my complete refusal of all alcoholic beverages better than I ever could. I try not to be too annoying about it, but I really do find the stuff quite horrifying.

Scott: Here's the funny thing: given who I am now, I would not pay to have my IQ lowered, and indeed would pay good money to avoid having it lowered, or even to have it raised. But I would also pay to have been, since early childhood, the sort of person who didn't have such an intelligence-centric set of priorities. I'm not transitive in my preferences; I don't want to want what I want.

How much would you pay to retain your present intelligence, but be born into a world where that intelligence was average? I've never regretted being smart, but I sometimes wish I wasn't smarter. I think that's at least 50% of what people who complain about being smart are really complaining about.

But I try not to complain about that either - it seems like whining, considering all the people who would commit murder to swap places with me. We all have our own troubles and they aren't any less troubling just because other people have troubles too. But I wouldn't want to swap places with those people who want to swap places with me. The grass is greener on this side of the fence.

I don't have a problem, my environment has a problem.

Comment author: Scott_Aaronson2 15 September 2008 10:36:24PM 6 points [-]

Lara: As far as I can tell, there are four basic problems.

First, if adults constantly praise and reward you for solving math problems, writing stories, and so on, then you aren't forced to develop interpersonal skills to the same extent most kids are. You have a separate source of self-worth, and it may be too late that you realize that source isn't enough. (Incidentally, the sort of interpersonal skills I'm talking about often get conflated with caring for others' welfare, which then leads to moral condemnation of nerds as egotistical and aloof. But the two qualities seem completely unrelated to me. As often as not, those who are most skilled at convincing others to go along with them also care about others the least.) Of course, the same might in principle be true for any unusual talent, including musical or athletic talent---except that the latter are understood and rewarded by one's peer group in a way that intellectual skills aren't.

Second, math, physics, and so on can simply be fun, independently of whatever self-worth one derives from them. In this they're no different from tennis or basket weaving or any other activity that some people enjoy. The trouble, again, is that while math and physics are reasonably well-rewarded economically, they're not rewarded socially. And therefore, deriving pleasure from them can have the same sorts of social implications as deriving pleasure from heroin.

Third, even if you manage to overcome these handicaps, other people won't know you have, and will be guided by the reigning stereotypes. They might decide before talking to you that you couldn't possibly have anything in common with them. Naturally, this sort of thing can be overcome given enough social skill, but it's another obstacle.

The fourth problem is specific to technical fields (rather than literary ones), and is just the well-known gender imbalance in those fields.

Given all of this, what's surprising is not that so many "intelligence-centric types" are unhappy, but rather that in spite of it many manage to live reasonably happy lives. That's the interesting part! :-)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 September 2008 10:42:50PM 4 points [-]

Scott, all your problems are problems of being smarter, not problems of being smart.

Comment author: Scott_Aaronson2 15 September 2008 10:47:33PM 2 points [-]

I don't have a problem, my environment has a problem.

Eliezer, I'm in complete sympathy with that attitude. I've had only limited success so far at nerdifying the rest of the world, but I'll keep at it!

Comment author: Carl_Shulman 16 September 2008 12:02:58AM 0 points [-]

"Here's the funny thing: given who I am now, I would not pay to have my IQ lowered, and indeed would pay good money to avoid having it lowered, or even to have it raised. But I would also pay to have been, since early childhood, the sort of person who didn't have such an intelligence-centric set of priorities. I'm not transitive in my preferences; I don't want to want what I want."

Scott,

Does this mean that you would take a pill that transferred your neurotransmitter reward responses and so forth to less brainy activities? Assume that it would also transfer your relative skill levels to the new activities, that your friends (old and new) would be compatible with the activities, etc.

Comment author: Scott_Aaronson2 16 September 2008 12:34:46AM 0 points [-]

Carl: I'm not sure, but I'd certainly try such a pill were the effects reversible.

Comment author: Jordan_Fisher 16 September 2008 01:25:26AM 0 points [-]

There are certain diseases which cause 'brain fog' that could give insight into trade offs of gaining/losing intelligence. I'm cold (literally, often less than 96 degrees) and it effects my cognition at times. The drop in IQ is probably much greater than 1 point. Personally I would do anything short of violence to prevent it.

Interestingly certain quantities of alcohol seem to increase my intelligence, mostly in areas I normally suffer in (like word recall, especially in a foreign language).

Comment author: Lara_Foster 16 September 2008 02:01:06AM 0 points [-]

Scott: "You have a separate source of self-worth, and it may be too late that you realize that source isn't enough."

Interesting theory of why intelligence might have a negative correlation with interpersonal skills, though it seems like a 'just so story' to me, and I would want more evidence. Here are some alternatives: 'Intelligent children find the games and small-talk of others their own age boring and thus do not engage with them.' 'Stupid children do not understand what intelligent children are trying to tell them or play with them, and thus ignore or shun them.' In both of these circumstances, the solution is to socialize intelligent children with each other or with an older group in general. I had a horrible time in grade school, but I socialized with older children and adults and I turned out alright (well, I think so). I suppose without *any* socialization, a child will not learn how to interpret facial expressions, intonations, and general emotional posturing of others. I'm not certain that this can't be learned with some effort later in life, though it might not come as naturally. Still, it would seem worth the effort.

Comment author: hurlyburly 16 September 2008 02:02:42AM 0 points [-]

Regarding alcohol and lowering of IQ, am I correct in assuming that we are talking here about the temporary negative effects on cognitive ability of occasionally imbibing alcohol in moderation? Or are there studies I'm unaware of that show that occasional alcohol use has an adverse and permanent effect on cognitive ability?

If we're talking about the former, I'd be curious if those who are so vehemently anti-alcohol under all circumstances and with no exceptions are consistent in their application of the rule that anything that temporarily decreases cognitive ability should be avoided in all cases. I'd be willing to bet that there is something of a cognitive refractory period after having sex, so these people would presumably avoid sex entirely (if they can do so without other negative effects), they would be obsessive about never eating so much food that it might leave them momentarily feeling bloated and less intellectally capable as a result, they would avoid concert music of every form if like me they sometimes hear the music internally for days afterward with such vividity that it can be very distracting (and thus equivalent to a small cognitive impairment), etc.

Comment author: Z._M._Davis 16 September 2008 02:24:27AM 0 points [-]

Ori: "It would be interesting to read a post"

It's only a story (intended to illustrate a completely unrelated point), but do see "That Alien Message."

"that describes how a future society would look like if everyone was given the ability of todays top 2% regarding IQ. What would happen, implications, economic output, happiness and so on."

If you mean shifting the entire bell curve two sigmas to the right, I'll say we can't know in detail because the Singularity would happen soon afterwards. If you mean repealing the central limit theorem and pegging everyone at IQ 131--well, that's a much harder question, because you're changing the mean and eliminating the variance: to the extent that progress depends on rare genius, we could end up worse off in some ways.

Comment author: Richard_Hollerith2 16 September 2008 02:46:29AM 1 point [-]

My best guess is . . . the selection [pressure on 'g' in Ashkenazim] being from some trait other than 'g' which is much more enhanced by the alleles in question than 'g' is and which correlates with 'g'. The personality trait Openness would be a good candidate for such a trait.

Interesting conjecture, Michael Vassar. A very salient characteristic of younger Eliezer's writings is great openness -- about things like his history and his internal thought processes. I have been trying to be more open, except when I talk to Muggles, in which case I have been trying to be more circumspect in my speech and not to volunteer negative information about myself.

Comment author: epwripi2 16 September 2008 02:54:14AM 1 point [-]

Rather strangely, all the intelligent people here seem to be talking about "intelligence" as if it could be measured by points on some linear scale. It probably varies with age, time, mood, etc. even for a single person. And there is hardly any good definition of what it is to begin with.

Comment author: steven 16 September 2008 11:45:17AM 1 point [-]

Richard, Openness means with respect to things (ideas/experiences) going in, not things going out.

Comment author: Richard_Hollerith2 16 September 2008 02:12:59PM 0 points [-]

Ah, now I see. Thanks for speaking up, steven.

Comment author: Andy_the_Programmer 16 September 2008 02:50:23PM 2 points [-]

epwripi: This might sound cockier than I mean it to, but really, I tire of such assertions. I know what intelligence is, and I suspect many here do as well. Plenty of good definitions have been put forth, but somebody is always going to have a nitpick because it doesn't include their favorite metaphor, and there are always going to be people who don't want it to be defined. It can certainly be quantified roughly and relatively, at the least (though "points on a linear scale" may be tending towards a strawman extreme), and when people speak of an individual's intelligence, it's implied that they're talking about a certain time, or an average over time. It's trivial to point out that individuals can be consistent and inconsistent. It's the same with athletic ability.

Comment author: Lara_Foster2 16 September 2008 05:17:01PM 1 point [-]

Sorry, this I realize is entirely off topic. Where should I move the discussion to? Ppl can take it to email with me if they like (cingulate2000@gmail.com).

Hmm... musing again on the psycho-social development of children and the role of adult approval. Scott suggested that being rewarded by adults for academic development may have impeded his social development.

I wonder if there are any social psychology studies in which a child is chosen at random to be favored by an adult authority figure, an what happens to that child's interactions with peers, and self perception. I wonder if gender has been used as a variable. Anyone have any references?

Personally, I have long asserted that the main reason I put any effort into school was to gain the approval and attention of my male teachers. My mother pointed out that I loved all my male teachers and usually despised the female ones, and thus did much better under male tutelage, even switching me into a male teacher's classroom in 4th grade after a 'personality conflict' with a female one. Now, for a woman, learning how to gain the approval of male authority figures is a transitive skill from childhood to adulthood... The girls at the lab I worked at in Germany joked that I was 'Herr Doctors kleine Freundin,' because he showed a disproportionately great interest in my relatively unremarkable project and would always pop into my room to chat (an apparently aberrant behavior for this very serious man).

Now, for boys, learning how best to get the approval of female authority figures doesn't seem to translate into adulthood. Maybe there is a subtle sexual tension between young female students and their male teachers (hence crushes and the like) but not for boys and their female teachers, who they might view more like mommies than girlfriends. Thus, at some point boys are going to need to break away from the adult-approval schematic if they are to be romantically successful and not turn into man-children. The psycho-social-sexual development of children seems very interesting to me, and I would be very grateful to be directed to some thoughtful literature and/or studies on the topic.

Comment author: epwripi2 17 September 2008 04:00:40AM 1 point [-]

andy, I understand what you say, but I was not referring to the entire discussion in my comment. I posted it impulsively after reading some specific comments that seemed to rather seriously discuss the hypothetical merits of one point of IQ and such. I only meant that it is pointless to discuss it as if everything is so precise and quantifiable, forgetting the fact that the concept itself is hazy (even though, as everyone knows, you can roughly categorize people as being more intelligent/less intelligent when the differences are very clear)

Comment author: Recovering_irrationalist 21 September 2008 02:22:23PM 0 points [-]

If there is that 'g'/unhappiness correlation, maybe the causality is: unhappiness->'g'. The overly happy, seeing less problems, get less problem solving practice, whereas a tendency to be analytical could boost 'g' over a lifetime, though perhaps not effective intelligence.

I wouldn't expect this to apply to most readers, who get particular pleasure from solving intelligent problems. Think general population.

Comment author: Alexei_Turchin 21 September 2008 06:09:41PM 0 points [-]

Difference between "expirience" and "intelligence" is the difference between aproahes of Google and SIAI.

First gives instant results and grow lineary. Second will give no result until some treshold will be passed.

Expirience could gave better prediction in complex situation then pure inteligence without knowleghe

Comment author: Swimmer963 10 April 2011 04:31:26AM 5 points [-]

My own intelligence had affected every aspect of my life and mind and personality; that was massively obvious, seen at a backward glance.

Obviously you are a great deal smarter than I was as a child...and maybe more of a contrarian. I have a tendency to smooth conflicts over rather than attack them head-on, which probably makes it harder for me to be a rationalist, and most of what I experience is bumping up against the limits of my native intelligence: concepts I kind of understand, but which are too complex to hold in my working memory all at once so I can really look at them, or music that sounds amazing, but which is too complex for me to break it down and figure out how to replicate the effect, or my struggles with learning computer programming. (I didn't struggle relative to other people, but subjectively I felt like it was difficult and frustrating.) If I could take a pill to increase my working memory (which is below average), ability to consolidate to long-term (probably above average but always room for improvement) or spatial skills and ability to grasp concepts at a glance, I would likely choose that over any kind of physical enhancement. It's really annoying to be more curious than intelligent...I'm acutely aware that I don't understand most of quantum mechanics (or a dozen other fascinating fields) and probably never will, because understanding would require years of dedicated studying.

Comment author: wallowinmaya 16 May 2011 01:37:19PM 3 points [-]

It's really annoying to be more curious than intelligent...I'm acutely aware that I don't understand most of quantum mechanics (or a dozen other fascinating fields) and probably never will, because understanding would require years of dedicated studying.

Puh, I've always felt I was alone in that I think that quantum physics is one of the most interesting topics in the world and that I'm too dumb to grok it. All people I know, who are too stupid to understand quantum mechanics, say things like " Oh, physics is not important, I rather read Hegel" or " The mind is irreducible and feelings, poetry and art are far more essential!". IMO many people hate or reject science since they don't want to acknowledge their own intellectual inferiority, which is particularly apparent in fields like math or physics. Whereas every mildly intelligent person can discuss Nietzsche, Schopenhauer etc. ( I admit that these guys indeed have some important things to say.) , and it feels so good to utter seemingly deep, vague, not falsifiable gibberish, because nobody can say that you've made a mistake. Hm, I guess this rant is already off-topic, and ceteris paribus it is good to read some philosophy but it really frustrates me that so many people find science boring, I simply do not understand this attitude...

Comment author: Swimmer963 16 May 2011 02:00:10PM 1 point [-]

Whereas every mildly intelligent person can discuss Nietzsche, Schopenhauer etc. ( I admit that these guys indeed have some important things to say.) , and it feels so good to utter seemingly deep, vague, not falsifiable gibberish, because nobody can say that you've made a mistake.

Actually I find that I almost never understand philosophy. I occasionally find phrases clever, or see analogies that make me see ideas in a new light, but a lot of philosophy is so abstract that I feel lost in it. I guess I think very concretely. The parts of math and science that are concrete are easy for me (and fascinating) and I think that's what I like about science; ultimately, it's always grounded in something concrete. When I really grasp a piece of pure math, it feels concrete to me in that it's obviously true and couldn't be otherwise, and I pretty much always understood my high school science classes on this level, but with the reading I do in my spare time, often I don't understand the math on a deep enough level for it to seem concrete. So I feel confused.

Comment author: wallowinmaya 16 May 2011 02:57:33PM 1 point [-]

Actually I find that I almost never understand philosophy.

IMO most philosophers don't understand the stuff they write themself... Which philosophy do you have in mind? I'm from Germany so many of my friends are fans of Heidegger, Sartre, Hegel or some other continental or postmodern philosopher. You know, I don't claim to understand what these folks are talking about. But it's probably because most continental philosophers are kinda crazy, not because I'm stupid. In contrast to this I don't understand QM or AI, simply because it's too complicated, not because it's gibberish. Well, it could be that e.g. Heidegger is simply too intelligent and complicated for guys like me, but this hypothesis appears to be rather improbable after you actually read some lines of this dude. But if we are talking about, say, Dennett, then the situation is different...

Comment author: Swimmer963 16 May 2011 03:01:17PM 0 points [-]

I'm not actually sure. The only philosophy I've read is as it relates to moral theories (for school) or other mandatory classes, and LW posts. The former I was able to pass exams on, although I did badly on the essay because my point was 'unclear' (because my understanding was unclear, probably).

Comment author: Peterdjones 21 May 2011 01:51:47PM *  0 points [-]

...[people I] know, who are too stupid to understand quantum mechanics, say things like " Oh, physics is not important, I rather read Hegel" or " The mind is irreducible and feelings, poetry and art are far more essential!".

And is there some equal-and-opposite process whereby smart science type tend to reject philosophy in favour of the short cuts that Moral are Preferences and the Mind is the Information Processing...perhaps because it outside their comfort zone.

Comment author: wallowinmaya 21 May 2011 02:29:53PM 1 point [-]

I can't speak for others, but I would find it pretty awesome to have a soul or absolute, objective morality! I don't reject most of philosophy because it's not in my "comfort zone", actually I find philosophy more fun than science and philosophy suits my talents. To my disappointment I discovered that most of philosophy is useless, vague or merely false. But of course there are some guys who merely reject philosophy and prefer, e.g. physics, because they are good at maths and bad at the "fine arts".

Comment author: handoflixue 21 May 2011 08:06:11AM 1 point [-]

"We are the cards we are dealt, and intelligence is the unfairest of all those cards. More unfair than wealth or health or home country, unfairer than your happiness set-point. "

I hope you were just exaggerating to make a point ^^; Otherwise this comes off as a fairly privileged comment that assumes a lot about how fair the world is when it comes to wealth, health, and country...

I suppose we could taboo "intelligence" and see if we really disagree, but you've already excluded health and wealth so I suspect we really do have approximately similar ideas in mind. Certainly, it seems a not uncommon tendency to put raw intelligence on a shrine in rationalist communities, but I'm still surprised to see it here, and especially from you.

Whether you were exaggerating or not, though, thank you for saying it, because I'm finally, finally free of that meme myself now :)

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 21 May 2011 08:23:33AM 2 points [-]

Re-reading the text, I'm not actually sure where I got this, but last time I read this I parsed that bit as referring to how intelligence and rationality affect so many different aspects of life, and often in a multiplicative or exponential rather than additive way - if person A is 10 IQ points smarter than person B, person A might be able to learn twice as many useful, relevant concepts, and gain 10 or 100 times as much utility from the same situation by applying those concepts. It doesn't imply that A is a better person than B by any other metric, but intelligence has that potential in a way that health or home country or happiness set point mostly don't.

Comment author: wedrifid 21 May 2011 02:37:44PM 1 point [-]

but intelligence has that potential in a way that health or home country or happiness set point mostly don't.

Home country grants a potential in a way that the others mostly do not too. I would argue a far more useful one.

Comment author: handoflixue 21 May 2011 04:35:20PM 3 points [-]

Hmmmm, I've never really seen a suggestion that the actual, applied benefits from intelligence scale exponentially like that. Certainly, I don't think I know a thousand times as much as the average person, nor get a thousand times as much utility from my intelligence. I'm not sure I could even comfortably agree to a ten-fold increase, unless we bias in favour of my knowledge (which happens to be science and math) rather than sports trivia and how to fix a car.

A common thread here is that the bar to actually win because of rationality, because of applied intelligence, is really absurdly high. Looking at the world, people with an IQ of 130 or 160 may have an advantage in a few areas, but "winning at life" really doesn't seem to be one of them. By contrast, wealth, health, and even birth country all seem to be very, very powerful metrics for winning at life.

I suppose if I assume intelligence is a really really crappy source of utility, this could actually be true! But at that point, it's such a minimal factor in the whole of my life, that I'm not sure why I'd be so put out to be dealt a bad hand there :)

That said, I have as of last night begun to suspect that this may very well be true, that we seriously, seriously over estimate how intelligent we really are, and how much it really affects our lives.

Comment author: benelliott 21 May 2011 05:15:23PM 1 point [-]

Looking at the world, people with an IQ of 130 or 160 may have an advantage in a few areas, but "winning at life" really doesn't seem to be one of them.

I suspect you will find a correlation between the two. Certainly, if you examined the world's 100 richest people I would be very surprised if the average IQ wasn't well above 100. The question is, why does intelligence not reliably lead to winning.

Comment author: handoflixue 21 May 2011 05:33:14PM 2 points [-]

I'd suggest that the people on top are the ones who are on top of all metrics: Healthy, Rich, born to an affluent country, and intelligent.

This is because, even if intelligence only makes up 1% of your "winning at life" skill, it still gives you a 1% edge over those who are merely healthy, rich, and born to an affluent country.

The research I've seen suggests intelligence does nothing for happiness, that national IQ seems to influence national wealth, but that individual IQ doesn't really influence individual wealth. I'll admit I've not seen anything on IQ vs health. does a quick Google search Well, alright, apparently IQ does positively correlate with life expectancy :)

Still, I haven't seen a lot of evidence that a high IQ correlates with success/winning. Success->High IQ is a different correlation, and can be explained by other causes, as I pointed out above :)

Comment author: benelliott 21 May 2011 05:49:34PM 2 points [-]

but that individual IQ doesn't really influence individual wealth

Really!

Can you link me to the data you have for this. It seem so counter-intuitive that I'm tempted to defy the data. It seems to me there are so many mechanisms by which an intelligence advantage turns into a wealth advantage. Ignoring billionaire businessmen as a tiny proportion of the population, what about doctors or lawyers, those both require above average intelligence (I think) and pay better than the average job.

Is there really no correlation!?

Comment author: handoflixue 21 May 2011 07:32:51PM *  2 points [-]

http://www.halfsigma.com/2006/06/high_iq_does_no.html and http://www.halfsigma.com/2006/07/higher_intellig.html were the posts I checked to confirm the cached belief, and provide significantly more detailed and nuanced claims. The short version is that education, not intelligence, influences wealth; intelligence does seem to give one an edge in getting that education, but certainly an education isn't outside the reach of the average person.

Edit: Just my personal two cents, but having gone through the job searching and raise process a lot, I'd agree that there's very few companies that actually hire/promote based on intelligence/performance. One's ability to look credible and impressive on an interview is far more important, and it's quite easy to do that with a lower IQ. So, while I'd expect that intelligence would correlate with wealth in a perfect spherical society, it makes sense to me why there's a much less significant correlation in our actual, existing society.

Comment author: Peterdjones 21 May 2011 07:43:02PM *  1 point [-]

Winning at what? Maybe highly intelligent people are happy in unremunerative occupations such as writing or academia. Since they are smarter than us, they might well be right.

Case in Point

Comment author: EStokes 21 May 2011 08:23:42AM 0 points [-]

Well, health, wealth, and location are all things that usually can be fixed or improved in some way. Intelligence is pretty much set though, which makes it more unfair on average.

Comment author: handoflixue 21 May 2011 04:26:39PM 1 point [-]

Well, health, wealth, and location are all things that usually can be fixed or improved in some way.

I'd agree that they can sometimes be fixed, but I don't think I'd say usually. That might be true here in the "civilised" world, but thousands die from entirely preventable diseases like malaria (apparently 881,000 people a year! source)

So, the thing about health and wealth, is that once you have enough of ithem you can leverage that to help preserve it - once you're healthy enough to live to adulthood, you can take responsibility for your life and build a fiscal empire. Once you're wealthy enough, you can afford a few health issues.

I don't see anything that suggests that the actual, practical gains from intelligence are of a different nature. You might not be able to improve your IQ, your raw cognitive speed, although even that seems a questionable assumption. Certainly, though, you can learn a vast set of skills that improves your "applied" or "functional" intelligence. And, just like health and wealth, the people who already have an advantage, get an exponentially larger advantage because they can take advantage of resources like a university or LessWrong.

Comment author: EStokes 21 May 2011 06:13:24PM *  0 points [-]

I agree that they're all very unfair, and I take back what I said about "usually". However, I still think intelligence (IQ, not functional intelligence) is the most unfair because one isn't going to be able to change it.

Comment author: wedrifid 21 May 2011 07:47:00PM *  0 points [-]

I agree that they're all very unfair, and I take back what I said about "usually". However, I still think intelligence (IQ, not functional intelligence) is the most unfair because one isn't going to be able to change it.

People who die from malaria or starvation in third world countries don't tend to live through intelligence explosions, either in corpsicle or meat sack forms.

Comment author: EStokes 22 May 2011 04:12:39PM *  0 points [-]

That is unfair. I think we're talking around eachother though, because I'm not trying to say that intelligence has the most unfair consequences, I meant that one can't change it no matter how much one wants to or needs to or whatnot. Yes, the other ones can't always be changed, but on average intelligence is the most unchangeable .

Comment author: [deleted] 01 April 2012 12:18:38PM 0 points [-]

<nitpick>novus not novis</nitpick>

Comment author: ialdabaoth 23 October 2012 10:23:05PM 6 points [-]

When I think of poor hands dealt to humans, these days, I think first of death and old age. Everyone's got to have some intelligence level or other, and the important thing from a fun-theoretical perspective is that it should ought to increase over time, not decrease like now.

This is a really important point, and I want to make certain that I get it right - especially to you personally, Mr. Yudkowsky, since you seem like someone with a higher-than-epsilon chance of actually doing something about all of this.

Solve people's lack of motivation and expertise for self-improvement before you handle our old age and death, please. Please.

Because, speaking as someone caught deep in the throes of a flawed optimization loop, the prospect of being caught in such a loop for centuries is terrifying.

Just as initial conditions are hideously unfair, life-paths are also hideously unfair, and the universe does not owe anyone the capacity, let alone the opportunity, to achieve meaning and purpose and happiness in their life.

And I don't know about others, but being condemned to an eternity as myself, damned to struggle futilely to achieve some understanding or purpose that will always be one level higher than I can reach, seems far, far worse than simply recycling my constituent hardware, freeing up my clock cycles, and letting something else take my place. Given the utterly unfair, stochastic nature of the universe, maybe it will be something better. But if it isn't, at least it won't have to suffer with its inadequacy forever, either.

Don't get my doom-and-gloom wrong, though - I would love to be immortal, and free, and capable of pursuing happiness. But I am terrified that, in my current mental configuration, immortality would simply mean an eternity of self-inflicted suffering. And I am most certainly not alone in this fear.

Keep working on your Series here - they're insightful and important, and they're the first thing I've heard in almost 20 years that doesn't sound like utter bullshit - and keep your fire to save the world, because that fire is the one thing in the universe worth protecting - but remember that some parts of the world may not be better off saved, if you can't heal them first.

Comment author: gwern 23 October 2012 10:57:46PM 6 points [-]

I disagree with the fundamental premise here. I would much rather be immortal and stuck in an akratic loop for a few centuries - because a few centuries is very finite and I'll still be alive at the end.

While even if I become absurdly productive and self-controlled, I will still die like a dog of disease & decay in the likely event there is no Singularity and SENS fails.

Remember Steve Jobs: he used all the cutting-edge treatments and even used his billions to buy his way to the head of the transplant line - and died anyway.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 24 October 2012 03:21:49AM 5 points [-]

Akrasia doesn't begin to describe the problem. I'm going to quote a line from HPMoR that resonated strongly with me:

"You could call it heroic responsibility, maybe," Harry Potter said. "Not like the usual sort. It means that whatever happens, no matter what, it's always your fault. Even if you tell Professor McGonagall, she's not responsible for what happens, you are. Following the school rules isn't an excuse, someone else being in charge isn't an excuse, even trying your best isn't an excuse. There just aren't any excuses, you've got to get the job done no matter what."

I get heroic responsibility. I've felt it in my gut since I was five. When I was 13, and it finally dawned on me that everyone around me was miserable and terrified and angry because the God they were praying to wasn't listening, my immediate resolution was to abandon worshipping him, and attempt to become a better God myself.

But, some of us aren't as smart as others, or as charismatic, or as willful, or as physically or mentally strong or resilient. We hear the call, but we don't have what it takes to answer it properly.

And that's our fault, too.

And we can't just stop listening. Not knowing that people need saving isn't any more of an excuse than not being strong enough to save them. Re-wiring your mind to not feel the crushing need to save them is ALSO a cop-out.

So... yeah. And lest anyone think I'm trying to be self-congratulatory here about my "superior morality", please understand that I am most assuredly not doing it right - this is a bug, not a feature.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 October 2012 08:09:52AM 2 points [-]

Remember Steve Jobs: he used all the cutting-edge treatments and even used his billions to buy his way to the head of the transplant line

Well...

Comment author: RichardKennaway 24 October 2012 09:52:58AM -2 points [-]

I disagree with the fundamental premise here. I would much rather be immortal and stuck in an akratic loop for a few centuries - because a few centuries is very finite and I'll still be alive at the end.

Meanwhile, all the immortals with a greater sense of urgency about things have outstripped your ability to ever catch up.

I don't think a longer life is a good reason for taking things easier.

Comment author: nshepperd 24 October 2012 10:46:25AM 1 point [-]

I think you misread. The choice is between fixing akrasia now, and getting immortality now. If you go for curing akrasia, you'll probably die before immortality gets done, even if you do get to enjoy the benefits of being insanely effective in the meantime. Whereas if you first make sure to not die, you can fix your akrasia later, and then be insanely effective for the rest of however long your new lifespan is.

I'd certainly take an unlimited lifespan plus akrasia-cure-300-years-later over normal human lifespan + akrasia-cure-now.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 24 October 2012 11:12:46AM 1 point [-]

The choice is between fixing akrasia now, and getting immortality now.

By the Rule of Comparative Advantage, on a planet of billions of people, both can be worked on at once. Since Eliezer -- the person originally addressed -- is not a biologist, there's nothing he's likely to be able to do about senescence, beyond convincing other people that curing death would be great and hoping they come up with something. Fixing akrasia, though, is something that there is at yet no specialised knowledge about, so he has about as much chance as anyone of similar smarts.

Whereas if you first make sure to not die

Ok, that's my New Year Resolution: don't die. Sorted!

I'd certainly take an unlimited lifespan plus akrasia-cure-300-years-later over normal human lifespan + akrasia-cure-now.

I'd take all of it right now. And a pony. (Yes, I'm rejecting the hypothetical. I do that.)

Comment author: nshepperd 24 October 2012 11:35:07AM -1 points [-]

Well done, you missed the point.