Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Awww, a Zebra

23 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 October 2008 01:28AM

This image recently showed up on Flickr (original is nicer):

Zebra_4

With the caption:

"Alas for those who turn their eyes from zebras and dream of dragons!  If we cannot learn to take joy in the merely real, our lives shall be empty indeed." —Eliezer S. Yudkowsky.

"Awww!", I said, and called over my girlfriend over to look.

"Awww!", she said, and then looked at me, and said,  "I think you need to take your own advice!"

Me:  "But I'm looking at the zebra!"
Her:  "On a computer!"
Me:  (Turns away, hides face.)
Her:  "Have you ever even seen a zebra in real life?"
Me:  "Yes!  Yes, I have!  My parents took me to Lincoln Park Zoo!  ...man, I hated that place."

 

Part of the Joy in the Merely Real subsequence of Reductionism

Next post: "Hand vs. Fingers"

Previous post: "Initiation Ceremony"

Comments (50)

Sort By: Old
Comment author: Anonymous44 01 October 2008 02:11:08AM 9 points [-]

"Alas, for those who turn their eyes from dragons and dream of zebras! If we cannot take joy in the merely fantasy, our lives shall be empty indeed." - Eliezer S. Yudkowsky, in a parallel universe.

I never expected a post from Overcoming Bias as informal as a picture with commentary from flickr.com. (But I suppose that's a fact about my own state of poor calibration).

Comment author: [deleted] 04 November 2012 03:31:17PM 1 point [-]

Laughing out loud right now.

Comment author: Lara_Foster2 01 October 2008 02:30:48AM 1 point [-]

Ohhhh... oh so many things I could substitute for the word 'Zebra'....

Comment author: Tiiba3 01 October 2008 03:36:12AM 10 points [-]

Well, a picture of a zebra is real.

And you'll probably agree that the merely real is, in some ways, in need of improvement, which is the whole point of transhumanism.

Comment author: l 01 October 2008 03:36:12AM 7 points [-]

I didn't know Eliezer had a girlfriend, how can you justify spending resources on that sort of thing?

Not an attack though, you probably have a good reason, I just can't figure out what it is.

Comment author: Aspiring_Vulcan 01 October 2008 03:58:03AM 17 points [-]

I didn't know Eliezer had a girlfriend, how can you justify spending resources on that sort of thing?

Not an attack though, you probably have a good reason, I just can't figure out what it is.

Was this written in jest? It's hilarious.

Comment author: Nominull3 01 October 2008 04:13:12AM 6 points [-]

No time for love, we've got a world to save!

...or so the theory runs.

Comment author: pnrjulius 09 April 2012 06:24:24AM 17 points [-]

This does not seem like an evolutionarily stable strategy.

Comment author: Nominull3 01 October 2008 04:14:26AM 0 points [-]

Now that I think about it I seem to recall seeing a clever excuse for indulging in the pleasures of the flesh that Eliezer had written. Can't remember where off the top of my head, though...

Comment author: Doug_S. 01 October 2008 06:13:22AM 6 points [-]

[missing the point] I like cats better. [/missing the point]

Comment author: Eli's_other_project 01 October 2008 06:20:14AM 4 points [-]

*gasp* Hasn't Eli been working only on his mind-children? Can we expect another permutation of the superior genes that brought us so much awesomeness in the form of Eli?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 October 2008 06:36:50AM 0 points [-]

Can we expect another permutation of the superior genes that brought us so much awesomeness in the form of Eli?

No.

Comment author: gwern 02 December 2011 05:28:33PM 13 points [-]

Is this for intrinsic or simply instrumental reasons? For example, how much of your time would being a sperm donor have to take up before you would decline to do it?

Comment author: Gurkenglas 19 May 2014 04:22:25PM 0 points [-]

Intelligence is roughly a function of genetics and some conglomeration of upbringing and chance. If you are looking for the human with the best genetics, picking from the most intelligent humans you can find is therefore not the optimal way to go.

Comment author: gwern 19 May 2014 10:25:38PM *  5 points [-]

Intelligence is roughly a function of genetics and some conglomeration of upbringing and chance.

Yes.

If you are looking for the human with the best genetics, picking from the most intelligent humans you can find is therefore not the optimal way to go.

No...? If scores on an IQ test are a joint product of genes & environment, then selecting the top scorer on an IQ test and using their genes will produce offspring with the highest scores on average compared to picking at random from the lower-scorers. To do better you'll need additional information we don't have (eg at the moment, no one can sequence a genome and extract an accurate predicted intelligence).

Comment author: TheOtherDave 19 May 2014 10:52:39PM 4 points [-]

Somewhat tangentially... couldn't you do better by identifying IQ-inhibiting and IQ-enhancing environmental factors and weighting IQ scores based on those factors? If Sam's IQ is 5% lower than Pat's but Sam has lived in an environment 5x worse for developing IQ, if I'm interested in genetics it seems I'd do better with Sam.

Comment author: gwern 19 May 2014 11:24:09PM *  4 points [-]

You'd need to know the elasticity of intelligence and environments (5x on what scale? And does -5% really indicate outperformance on the genetics side?), which I'm not actually sure we know, and much of the 'environment' contribution is nonshared - immeasurable, random, we don't know what it is. But hypothetically, you could do slightly better by trying to measure environment & control for it, yeah.

Comment author: Vaniver 21 May 2014 08:50:24PM 1 point [-]

To do better you'll need additional information we don't have (eg at the moment, no one can sequence a genome and extract an accurate predicted intelligence).

Actually, we could get some information that would help here- IQ up the ancestral tree. The correlation between grandparent and grandchild IQ is higher than one would expect from stacking two independent parent-child relationships.

Comment author: gwern 05 August 2014 09:45:28PM *  1 point [-]

Yes. I'm not sure how much they'd add; I ran into an interesting observation about this with regard to estimating cows' milk production based on their relatives and on SNPs, where the comparison runs the other direction:

The R^2 values were converted to realized reliabilities by dividing by mean reliability of 2008 daughter deviations and then adding the difference between published and observed reliabilities of 2003 parent averages. When averaged across all traits, combined genomic predictions had realized reliabilities that were 23% greater than reliabilities of parent averages (50 vs. 27%), and gains in information were equivalent to 11 additional daughter records.

So if an old SNP chip can add that much information in terms of family records, the family can't matter that much.

Comment author: Ben_Wraith3 01 October 2008 07:01:56AM 0 points [-]

Aspiring Vulcan: I didn't think it was written in jest, it seems like a legitimate question to me. It definitely seems plausible that having a girlfriend would have some benefits that would help Eli save the world, but how to justify spending time and resources on a girlfriend that could be spent on other things is a good question nonetheless.

Comment author: Vizikahn2 01 October 2008 08:22:37AM 4 points [-]

Alas for those who turn their eyes from ladies and google themselves.

Comment author: retired_urologist 01 October 2008 01:10:03PM 1 point [-]

In medicine, the concept "zebra" represents a strange, unlikely condition or diagnosis, usually to be avoided or considered on a lower tier, iterated thus: When one hears hoofbeats, one should think of horses rather than zebras. Spending too much time chasing zebras detracts from making the diagnosis of "horse". Coincidence? Or just another example of the medical field's poor thought process?

Comment author: jkaufman 10 November 2010 05:28:17PM 9 points [-]

The medical advice you're relating sounds quite reasonable. It's saying to consider base rates when making a diagnosis. If P(hoofbeats|horse) is the same as P(hoofbeats|zebra) but P(horse) >> P(zebra), then P(horse|hoofbeats) >> P(zebra|hoofbeats).

Comment author: bigjeff5 03 February 2011 12:39:57AM 1 point [-]

It probably isn't very good advice if you're practicing medicine on the savanna though. There, if you hear hoofbeats, it's probably a zebra!

Comment author: Cyan2 01 October 2008 01:24:29PM 3 points [-]

Science: Best Sans Booty.

Schrรถdinger disagreed. (So did Einstein... and Feynman... I could mention Kinsey, but that would be cheating, I supppose.)

Comment author: control_master 01 October 2008 04:27:09PM 19 points [-]

It's not just about spending resources - In my experience, having a girlfriend makes you dangerously comfortable with being a mere human, whereas bitter loneliness makes you see the necessity of achieving incorporeal modes of existence much more clearly.

(this comment will be remembered as a significant milestone in singularitarian demographics)

Comment author: TGGP4 01 October 2008 09:16:33PM 0 points [-]

Against Cyan I refer to James Watson and some nifty graphs.

Comment author: Oppenheimer 02 October 2008 02:08:06AM 1 point [-]

I need physics more than friends. I place more importance on my studies than myself. I often go long periods without social contact outside of my professional colleagues, and at times even long periods without food or rest.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 October 2008 06:51:35AM 35 points [-]

Her: "Pass me the laptop, I want to see if there were any comments on that post."

Me: "No, you don't. They're pretty awful."

(Girlfriend looks.)

Her: "That's awful."

Me: "Yep."

Comment author: Tiiba2 02 October 2008 08:36:14AM 3 points [-]

My fears:

1. Paperclip AI 2. People I know IRL catching me reading something embarrassing on the Internet 3. Nuclear war 4. The zombie under my bed

Comment author: Richard_Hollerith2 02 October 2008 10:06:29AM 3 points [-]

They're still pretty awful, IMHO.

Comment author: Aron 02 October 2008 10:24:23AM 3 points [-]

Strong AI doesn't have to be the only thing that's really frikkin' hard.

Comment author: SL5 02 October 2008 10:59:53AM 1 point [-]

Through his cerebrations Eliezer appears to have attracted the Cream of the Singularitarian Crop here, who are now Collectively Disappointed.

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 02 October 2008 11:14:11AM 26 points [-]

l, Aww, Ben_Wraith:

While I appreciate the effort toward optimal decision-making, surely there is some way to contribute without invading Eliezer's personal life?

Can you picture anyone doing peak creative work while trying to justify every ounce of their resource use? To others or to themselves? Eliezer presumably knows he doesn't need to do that, but... threads like this can't help his or others' morale. And morale is a precious resource.

Group efforts in general, and particularly philanthropic efforts, devolve too easily into shows of self-sacrifice. After all, sacrifice takes less effort in many ways, and it looks like trying . If we want to create a positive singularity, we'll need to make our project fun, we'll need to make the actual useful work attractive, we'll need to get people aim for achievement (not for an appearance of "using all their resources"), and we'll to make it something that real people want to join and don't burn out at.

It isn't only Eliezer who can help, by the way. If nothing else, you can help the effort get money; some of those willing and able able to do FAI research are spending their time raising money, right now, for lack of other ways to get money. If you find a way to gather money for the effort, more research will be done and the chances of a positive singularity will improve. There are other possibilities for helping, too. If you're concerned about the future, perhaps take a look at what you have, who you know, and what you might do? Creating a positive singularity can be a lot of fun.

Comment author: johnsonmx 30 September 2012 10:15:58PM 0 points [-]

I think the first 3/4ths are very well stated. I couldn't agree more.

On the last bit, my personal intuition is there are plenty of things people can do for FAI research beyond raising money. Moreover, such intangibles are likely often more important to the cause of FAI than cash.

(Also, the argument that "some of those willing and able able to do FAI research are spending their time raising money, right now, for lack of other ways to get money" may be undermined by the paragraph above it; e.g., I'd rather be thinking about FAI than raising money for others to think about FAI.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 October 2008 11:27:14AM 14 points [-]

And with that, I'll close the thread. I may be mistaken, but I don't think this is what most of our readership comes here to read.

Note that the authors "SL5", "Reprogrammed goal system", "Baseline singularitarian", "Singularity sooner, fun later", "Awww, a girlfriend > Singularity", "Oppenheimer", and "Eli's other project" all seem to be the same person based on IP.

Comment author: bogus 11 October 2009 10:09:31PM *  14 points [-]

Interestingly, I've read that young Chinese do treat zebras as near-mythical creatures: they're referred to as "cǎo ní mǎ" (i.e. "grass-mud horses") and there's a lot of fantasy literature about them, much of it with political overtones. In contrast, dragons are little more than cultural and decorative symbols--although conversely, Chinese dragons do appear in some Western fantasy stories.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 September 2011 04:53:37PM *  2 points [-]

I think you might have been misinformed about this translation..

edit: you're mostly right but it's not a zebra.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 September 2011 04:57:21PM 4 points [-]

I don't even know who's pranking whom here.

Comment author: rkyeun 30 September 2012 06:51:57PM *  2 points [-]

If there is a better way to see a merely real zebra than to have the photons strike a surface, their patterns be stored, and transmitted to my brain, which cross-relates it to every fact about zebras, their behavior, habitat, physiology, and personality on my internal map of a zebra, then I don't know it and can't experience it, since that's what happens when I am in fact actually there, as well as what happens when I look at a picture that someone who was actually there shares with me.

Comment author: johnsonmx 30 September 2012 10:20:15PM 4 points [-]

You probably get a much richer sensation of zebra-ness under some conditions (being there, touching the zebra, smelling the zebra, seeing it move) than just seeing a picture of one on flickr. Experiencing zebra-ness isn't a binary value, and some types of exposures will tend to commandeer many more neurons than others.

Comment author: Alex_Arendar 30 November 2015 01:50:56PM 0 points [-]

Do all zebras have the same (withing some accuracy range) ratio of black to white, btw?