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Eliezer_Yudkowsky comments on That Tiny Note of Discord - Less Wrong

17 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 September 2008 06:02AM

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Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 September 2008 07:12:40PM 4 points [-]

Valter: Mind projection fallacy. It seemed like right actions had an inherent indescribable rightness about them, and that this was just a fact like any other fact. Eliezer_1999 didn't think a human could unravel that mystery and so he didn't try - that is, he felt the same way about the ineffable rightness of right, as many philosophers talk about qualia and the indescribable redness of red. Those philosophers talking mysteriously helped legitimize the mistake for him, unfortunately. But see also the previous posts in this thread.

The truth is only one, but there can be a thousand mistakes, and so different people's mistakes need not seem compelling to each other.

Tom, the rule is not that broadcasting your thoughts shouldn't offend anyone, but that it should give no justifiable complaint against you.


My inner Hanson asks whether you can vividly remember that youthful sense of being absolutely, ineluctably right and correct in your assertions about things like this. It sounds as though maybe you can't - particularly when you talk about yourself in the third person.

I'm not sure I did have such a youthful sense. I think I was adopting an attitude of sober scientific modesty to myself, and then nonetheless I would quietly talk of "proven beyond a reasonable doubt", and go on and make a mistake. I have seen the same behavior many times in others, who don't may not shout like classic teenagers, but this only amounts to their not admitting to themselves that they have in effect staked their life on a single possibility - so that they cannot even see their own degree of confidence. So the lesson I learn is not to congratulate myself on humility unless I really do have doubts and not just dutiful doubts, and I am preparing for those doubts and have fallback plans for them... this is covered under "The Proper Use of Doubt" and "The Proper Use of Humility", because how not to fake doubt and humility to yourself is a long discussion.

But don't think that any Eliezer was ever a classic teenager. He knew what a teenager was from the beginning, and avoided it. But to avoid the usual mistakes takes only a warning plus a relatively small amount of ability. This just leads to more original and creative mistakes that you weren't warned against, unless you hit a very high standard of precision indeed.

Of course you are correct that memory can't be trusted; this is demonstrated in many experiments. Memory fades, and then is recreated anew with each recollection. It seems that since I don't trust my memory, I don't remember a lot of the things that other people claim to remember. But if the memories that I can recall seem like foreign things now, that does seem to justify some degree of speaking in the third person - though my past memories to this self are a strange mix of total familiarity and alienness.

To move forward, you have to strike a balance between dismissing your past self out of hand - "Oh, teenagers will be teenagers, but I'm an adult now," said by someone who still falls prey to a different sort of peer pressure - versus identifying with your past self to a degree that averts Tsuyoku Naritai; to the point where it becomes a mere confession of sins, and not your determination to become a different person who sins less. You want to be able to declare yourself a different and improved person, but only after meeting some standard that forces you to put in genuine work on improvement.

One of the lessons here is that doing difficult things is largely about holding yourself to a high enough standard to force yourself to do real work on them; this is usually much higher than what we would instinctively take to ourselves as proof of having made an effort, since almost any effort will do for that.