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Comment author: CronoDAS 05 April 2010 02:15:30AM 1 point [-]

Yeah, that's not a spoiler any more than "Obi-Wan Kenobi is a Jedi" is a spoiler.

Comment author: DonGeddis 05 April 2010 08:14:43PM 9 points [-]

A "Jedi"? Obi-Wan Kenobi?

I wonder if you mean old Ben Kenobi. I don't know anyone named Obi-Wan, but old Ben lives out beyond the dune sea. He's kind of a strange old hermit.

In response to comment by Alicorn on Let There Be Light
Comment author: Roko 18 March 2010 08:25:02PM *  1 point [-]

"They want me to de-bias in ways such that that, had the biases not been productive in the ancestral environment, I'd already be de-biased!"

Good point.

I think this is a case for Ord and Bostrom's "Wisdom of Nature" heuristic.

Many cognitive biases arise from an approximation - some cheap and dirty trick - that held true enough in our EEA, but doesn't now. For example, probability neglect, representativeness heuristic, short time horizon etc. These you want to debias.

Others arise from selective pressures that are very much alive and kicking. It seems that human social interaction has changed back to being more like the stone age in our modern society, except with much less murder. It seems to me that people very much play the same signalling games they used to play, and having positive self-beliefs seems like a good way to win at them.

The litany of Tarski is indeed a powerful principle, but this is exactly the kind of misuse of it that will cheapen it.

In response to comment by Roko on Let There Be Light
Comment author: DonGeddis 19 March 2010 11:27:32PM 3 points [-]

Bostrom and Sandberg (in your linked paper) suggest three reasons why we might want to change the design that evolution gave us:

  • Changed tradeoffs. We no longer live in the ancestral environment.
  • Value discordance. Evolution's goal may not match our own.
  • Evolutionary restrictions. We might have tools that were not available to evolution.

On #2, I'll note that evolution designed humans as temporary vessels, for the goal of propagating genes. Not, for example, for the goal of making you happy. You may prefer to hijack evolution's design, in service of your own goals, rather than in service of your gene's reproduction.

Lots of evolution's adaptations (including many of the biases we discuss) are good for the propagation of the genes, at the cost of being bad for the individual human who suffers the bias. A self-aware human may wish to choose to reverse that tradeoff.

In response to Living Luminously
Comment author: zemaj 17 March 2010 12:42:55PM 0 points [-]

Brilliant idea for a series! I spend a lot of time thinking about this; trying to understand my thoughts and consequently hack them.

It's really interesting how much variation there is in people's ability to comprehend the origin of thoughts. Also it's surprising how little control, or desire for control, some people have over their decisions. Certainly seems like something that can be learnt and changed over time. I've seen some significant improvements myself over the past 12 months without many exterior environmental changes.

The main hurdle I hit up against is confidence in my conclusions - introspection can't be scientific by definition. I find it really difficult to measure improvement over time. Definitely interested to see how you deal with this!

In response to comment by zemaj on Living Luminously
Comment author: DonGeddis 17 March 2010 08:26:07PM 6 points [-]

introspection can't be scientific by definition

What you observe via introspection, is not accessible to third parties, yes.

But you use those observations to build models of yourself. Those models can be made explicit and communicated to others. And they make predictions about your future behavior, so they can be tested.

Comment author: Jack 17 March 2010 06:20:32PM 3 points [-]

Once you've left out the pain I no longer think killing the baby is ethically permissible. And I don't see how knowing that people don't have souls alters my position.

Comment author: DonGeddis 17 March 2010 07:01:57PM 3 points [-]

Most people's moral gut reactions say that humans are very important, and everything else much less so. This argument is easier to make "objective" if humans are the only things with everlasting souls.

Once you get rid of souls, making the argument that humans have some special moral place in the world becomes much more difficult. It's probably an argument that is beyond the reach of the average person. After all, in the space of "things that one can construct out of atoms", humans and goldfish are very, very close.

Comment author: simplicio 17 March 2010 04:03:57AM *  31 points [-]

Once you've used atheism to eliminate a soul, and humans are "just" meat machines, and abortion is an ok if perhaps regrettable practice ...

Kudos to you for forthrightness. But em... no. Ok, first, it seems to me you've swept the ethics of infanticide under the rug of abortion, and left it there mostly unaddressed. Is an abortion an "ok if regrettable practice?" You've just assumed the answer is always yes, under any circumstances.

I personally say "definitely yes" before brain development (~12 weeks I think), "you need to talk to your doctor" between 12 and 24 weeks, and "not unless it's going to kill you" after 24 weeks (fully functioning brain). Anybody who knows more about development is welcome to contradict me, but those were the numbers I came up with a few years ago when I researched this.

If a baby/fetus has a mind, in my books it should be accorded rights - more and more so as it develops. I fail to see, moreover, where the dividing line ought to be in your view. Not to slippery-slope you but - why stop at infants?

*(Also note that this is a first-principles ethical argument which may have to be modified based on social expedience if it turns into policy. I don't want to encourage botched amateur abortions and cause extra harm. But those considerations are separate from the question of whether infants have worth in a moral sense.)

Once you've used atheism to eliminate a soul, and humans are "just" meat machines...

This gave me a nasty turn, because probably the most annoying idea religious people have is that if we're "just" chemicals, then nothing matters. One has to take pains to say that chemicals are just what we're made of. We have to be made out of something! :) And what we're made of has precisely zero moral significance (would we have more worth if we were made out of "spirit"?).

I mean, I could sit here all day and tell you about how you shouldn't read "Moby Dick," because it's just a bunch of meaningless pigment squiggles on compressed wood pulp. In a certain very trivial sense I am absolutely right - there is no "élan de Moby Dick" floating out in the aether somewhere independent of physical books. On the other hand I am totally missing the point.

Comment author: DonGeddis 17 March 2010 05:56:29PM 15 points [-]

Is an abortion an "ok if regrettable practice?" You've just assumed the answer is always yes, under any circumstances.

Sorry, you have a point that my test won't apply to every rationalist.

The contrast I meant was: if you look at the world population, and ask how many people believe in atheism, materialism, and that abortion is not morally wrong, you'll find a significant minority. (Perhaps you yourself are not in that group.)

But if you then try to add "believes that infanticide is not morally wrong", your subpopulation will drop to basically zero.

But, rationally, the gap between the first three beliefs, and the last one, is relatively small. Purely on the basis of rationality, you ought to expect a smaller dropoff than we in fact see. Hence, most people in the first group are avoiding the repugnant conclusion for non-rational reasons. (Or believing in the first three, for non-rational reasons.)

If you personally don't agree with the first three premises, then perhaps this test isn't accurate for you.

Comment author: CronoDAS 16 March 2010 11:20:27PM *  22 points [-]

Basically, this is a variant on the argument from marginal cases; infants don't differ from relatively intelligent nonhuman animals in capabilities, so they ought to have the same moral status. If it's okay to euthanize your dog, it should also be okay to euthanize your newborn.

(The most common use of the argument from marginal cases is to argue that animals deserve greater moral consideration, and not that some humans deserve less, but one man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens.)

Comment author: DonGeddis 17 March 2010 05:49:19PM 3 points [-]

Your parenthetical comment is the funniest thing I've read all day! The contrast with the seriousness of subject matter is exquisite. (You're of course right about the marginal cases thing too.)

Comment author: DonGeddis 16 March 2010 10:06:06PM 27 points [-]

Proposed litmus test: infanticide.

General cultural norms label this practice as horrific, and most people's gut reactions concur. But a good chunk of rationality is separating emotions from logic. Once you've used atheism to eliminate a soul, and humans are "just" meat machines, and abortion is an ok if perhaps regrettable practice ... well, scientifically, there just isn't all that much difference between a fetus a couple months before birth, and an infant a couple of months after.

This doesn't argue that infants have zero value, but instead that they should be treated more like property or perhaps like pets (rather than like adult citizens). Don't unnecessarily cause them to suffer, but on the other hand you can choose to euthanize your own, if you wish, with no criminal consequences.

Get one of your friends who claims to be a rationalist. See if they can argue passionately in favor of infanticide.

Comment author: taw 15 March 2010 03:46:47PM 3 points [-]

Here's explanation of my pro-ultra-behaviorist position.

First, I haven't seen any convincing evidence against ultra-behaviorism, but plenty against ultra-innatism. Look at Flynn effect for example. There's absolutely no way a universe in which ultra-innatism is true is compatible with Flynn effect. There has been so many drastic shifts in behavior without slightest shift in underlying genetic makeup of population - abandonment of violence, shift from large families and low offspring investment to small families and high offspring investment, shift from agricultural to urban lifestyle etc. - these are vastly greater than any of the proposed genetic variations. And not a single kind of proposed genetically-based behavioral variation had a convincing genetic marker found for it (yes, there are heredity studies on twins etc. but I find they highly unconvincing). So my estimate of the truth is far closer to ultra-behaviorist end than ultra-innatist end, so much closer than ultra-behaviorism might be a good "tl;dr" version, even if not 100% accurate.

And second, I find ultra-behaviorism instrumentally useful. Overestimating how much you can change your life leads to better outcomes than underestimating it and just giving up.

Comment author: DonGeddis 15 March 2010 11:55:17PM 4 points [-]

Do you have the same opinion about gender-linked "genetically-based behavioral variation"?

Not to open a can of worms here, but the pickup-artist (PUA) community is all about how the innate behavior of (generally heterosexual) men and women differ, in dating scenarios. And, in particular, how those real behaviors differ from the behavior that is taught and reinforced by society and culture.

You can have an opinion that all behavior is changeable, and that it is shaped by society and culture. But that would lead you to one model of how men and women act during dating. (In particular, to a mostly gender-neutral model.) The PUA community has a different model of human dating behavior ... and I would say that theirs is a good deal more accurate at predicting actual observed behavior in the field.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 14 March 2010 06:48:53PM 8 points [-]

I'm not sure whether it's that hard to game GDP, but I am sure that it just measures the money economy. If people need to spend more on repairing damage, or on something which is useless for them, then the GDP goes up just as if they were getting more of what they want.

Example of wheel-spinning: tax law becomes more complex. People need to spend more on help with their taxes, and possibly work longer hours to afford it. More economic activity, bur are their lives better?

Comment author: DonGeddis 15 March 2010 05:34:57PM 0 points [-]

You are correct, that not all activity recorded in GDP is welfare-enhancing. (Note that GDP also underreports some positive welfare activities.)

But that's not the important point. The important point is: does the difference between the GDP measure, and some more accurate measure, have any implications for economic policy? The answer seems to be no: attempts have been made to define more precise welfare-tracking measures of national welfare, and the result seems to be that they track GDP very closely, and that there is basically no implication for policy decisions.

(Perhaps try an analogy? To oversimplify, in dermatology there are millions of different infections you might get on your skin, but roughly speaking only a small handful of possible treatments. A good doctor doesn't attempt expensive diagnostics to figure out exactly what you have; the proper medical treatment is only to distinguish what general class of infection you have, so that the correct treatment can be applied from the small possibilities. Similarly, GDP is easy to measure, and results in pretty much the correct policy suggestions. Anecdotes of how it is not perfect, are only important in so far as they would imply different policy choices, when they usually don't.)

Comment author: DonGeddis 14 March 2010 05:40:01PM -2 points [-]

It's true that GDP is not identical to national welfare. And you can come up with anecdotes where some welfare measure isn't fully captured by GDP (both positive and negative).

But GDP is useful, because it is very hard to game. The examples in your "fetishism" link are very weak. Unlike the nails example, where we can all agree that the factory made the wrong choice for society, it is far from clear that the GDP examples resulted in the wrong policy, even if GDP is only an approximation for welfare.

GDP is not a good example of Goodhart's Law. It's nothing at all like the (broken) correlation between inflation and unemployment, which varies widely depending on policy choices.

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