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[SEQ RERUN] Lotteries: A Waste of Hope

3 Post author: badger 30 May 2011 03:13PM

Today's post, Lotteries: A Waste of Hope was originally published on April 13, 2007. A summary (from the LW wiki):

Some defend lottery-ticket buying as a rational purchase of fantasy — paying a dollar for a day's worth of pleasant anticipation. But then your valuable brain is occupied with a fantasy whose real probability is nearly zero, investing emotional energy. Without the lottery, people might fantasize about things to actually do, which then might lead to making the fantasy a reality. To work around a bias, you must first notice it, analyze it, and decide that it is bad. Many people, such as the lottery advocates above, often fail to complete the third step.


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This post is part of a series rerunning Eliezer Yudkowsky's old posts so those interested can (re-)read and discuss them. The previous post was Priors as Mathematical Objects, and you can use the sequence_reruns tag or rss feed to follow the rest of the series.

Sequence reruns are a community-driven effort. You can participate by re-reading the sequence post, discussing it, posting the next day's sequence reruns post, summarizing forthcoming articles on the wiki, or creating exercises. Go here for more details, or to discuss the Sequence Reruns.

Comments (9)

Comment author: AlexM 01 June 2011 07:35:52AM 2 points [-]

Buying lottery ticket as a purchase of fantasy is irrational - fantasy is for free. You can dream about being a millionaire without spending money on tiny scrap of paper :P

Comment author: XiXiDu 30 May 2011 04:52:30PM *  5 points [-]

Some defend masturbation as a rational pursuit of pleasure — a bit of handwork for a minute worth of pleasant anticipation. But then your valuable hand is occupied with a fantasy, investing emotional energy. Without masturbation, people might fantasize about things to actually do, which then might lead to making the fantasy a reality.

Unsurprisingly, many people don't realize that a numerical calculation of expected utility ought to override or replace their desires, and instead treat the calculation not as natural law, but as mere calculation - something that has nothing to do with human values, since it's made up of mere squiggles on paper, instead of what we really want.

Comment author: MixedNuts 31 May 2011 11:59:38AM 2 points [-]

Waste of hope, not of time. You usually reach the desired outcome, unlike with lotteries.

If you play a slot machine and immediately know if you've won, you can go and invest hope in something else. It's just fun and I occasionally do it. If you spend a week (every week) waiting for lottery numbers, you've lost a week of hope. Being unable to use your hand for a week would be quite problematic as well.

That said, I'm totally going to take Kevin's suggestion.

Comment author: XiXiDu 31 May 2011 02:29:15PM 0 points [-]

Waste of hope, not of time. You usually reach the desired outcome, unlike with lotteries.

The point is that the desired outcome of masturbation is not to have sexual intercourse with an actual human being, or to actually make babies. The desired outcome of masturbation is not to have an orgasm either, it is merely part of a more complex desire and the result of the process. You masturbate to satisfy your fantasies in a certain way. Maybe because you can't get a partner for some reason, your girlfriend isn't in the mood or doesn't share certain fantasies.

The point of playing the lottery is not to become a millionaire. The point of playing the lottery is similar to the point of downloading porn. Telling someone not to download porn because they could use that bandwidth to actually sign up on a dating-site misses the whole point. Those are two different things. It's like telling someone not to ride a roller coaster and to instead put themselves into some actual danger.

And even if your reason for playing the lottery is to become a millionaire, it means to become a millionaire in a certain way. You can assign arbitrary amounts of utility to becoming a millionaire by means of playing the lottery.

Comment author: Kevin 31 May 2011 11:47:25AM 0 points [-]

What about fantasizing about things to actually do while masturbating?!?!

Comment author: mutterc 01 June 2011 12:55:25AM 1 point [-]

Lately I fantasize about telling my wife I have to work late, sneaking off to a motel, and sleeping.

Comment author: wedrifid 31 May 2011 11:55:28AM 0 points [-]

What about fantasizing about things to actually do while masturbating?!?!

Do you find that to be an effective way to motivate yourself?

Comment author: Kevin 31 May 2011 12:35:04PM 0 points [-]

No.

Comment author: beriukay 02 June 2011 10:02:40AM 1 point [-]

When life gives you lemons, don't make lemonade. Make life take back the lemons back! Get mad! I don't want your damn lemons! What the hell are these?! Demand to see life's manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am? I'm the man who's gonna burn your house down! WITH THE LEMONS! I'm gonna get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that BURNS YOUR HOUSE DOWN!

I don't know the link between Eliezer and Cave Johnson, but if there's still time, we need to tell Cave to spend more time on making GladOS friendly, and less time on guns that let us scratch our own backs.