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

Comment author: Erfeyah 26 July 2017 11:59:09PM *  0 points [-]

I believe that your distinctions instead of clarifying the concept of belief it has the opposite effect. Belief as a concept can signify:

  1. An embodied but not articulated attitude. In this sense a belief is only known when it is acted out.
  2. An articulated statement meant to describe the nature of a thing or to propose a certain course of action.

Although as a rationalist you tend to articulate your held beliefs and justify them within the rationalist methodology that does not qualify you, as far as I can see, to proclaim yourself the 'one true believer'. In addition an utterance of articulated belief does not constitute a guaranty that you will act accordingly. Only real action can prove whether you truly believe what you say. For this reason we can even conceive cases that a non-articulated but acted upon belief may be more 'real' than an articulated but not acted upon one.

Apart from this matter of consistency and sincerity we can examine the epistemological status of a belief that is derived by the rationalist methodology in contrast to a belief arrived by means of personal experience, cultural transmission, indoctrination etc. I have to admit that I am sceptical of the statement that you have a comprehensive model of the world based on Bayesian rationality and that you use it in every day life in all occasions. I would suggest an experiment. Try to articulate your full belief system by creating an actual graph. If your whole being is rationally articulated you should be able to achieve it and then observe for consistency of the graph with your behaviour. I, for once, have tried and realised that the majority of my beliefs (in the broad sense of the term) are embodied or/and unconscious with the conscious part (the intellect) constantly observing, analysing, articulating and feeding back.

Comment author: MrMind 03 July 2017 10:05:40AM *  1 point [-]

Maybe it's because I'm coming from a computer science background, but I'm thinking of computation as much more basic than that. Whether you're elaborating myths or reacting to the sight of a snake, your brain is performing calculations.
I think we agree that our values are deeply ingrained, although it's much more difficult to say exactly to what level(s). I do not agree that our values are selected through memetic adaptation, or at least that's only part of the story.

Comment author: Erfeyah 04 July 2017 05:12:06PM *  0 points [-]

I would be grateful if you can indulge my argument a bit further.

Maybe it's because I'm coming from a computer science background, but I'm thinking of computation as much more basic than that.

I think I clumsily gave the impression that I deny such computation. I was referring to computations that generate value presuppositions. Of course the brain is computing in multiple levels, whether we are conscious of it or not. In addition there seems to be evidence, of what may be called, an emergent proto-morality in animals that, if true, is completely biologically determined. Things become more complex when we have to deal with higher, more elaborated, values.

I've read a bit through the meta ethics sequence and it seems to me to be an attempt to generate fundamental values through computation. If it was successful some kind of implementation would indicate it and/or some biological structure would be identified, so I would assume this is all speculative. I have to admit that I didn't study the material in depth so please tell me if you have found that there are demonstrable results arising from it that I simply haven't understood.

So to sum up:

  • Your view is that there is an objective morality that is shared and encoded in the DNA (parts of it are even mathematical equilibria, such as cooperation in IPD). They are also subjective because since they are computation they exists only insofar our minds compute them, and outside of the common nucleus they can vary depending on the culture / life experiences / contingencies / etc.
  • My view is that your proposition of a biological encoding may be correct up to a certain (basic) level but many values are transmitted through, to use your terminology, mimetic adaptation. These are objective in the sense that they approximate deeper objective principles that allow for survival and flourishing. Subjective ideas can be crafted on top of these values and these may prove beneficial or not.

I do not agree that our values are selected through memetic adaptation, or at least that's only part of the story.

It seems to me that it is unquestionably part of the story. Play, as a built-in mimetic behaviour for transference of cultural schemas. Rituals and rites as part of all tribal societies. Stories as the means of transmiting values and as the basis of multiple (all?) civilisations including ours, so...

Am I missing something? What is the rational basis by which you choose to under emphasise the hypothesis regarding the cultural propagation through mimetic adaptation and stories?

In response to What is Wisdom?
Comment author: Erfeyah 02 July 2017 10:38:13AM *  2 points [-]

Unfortunately, we have not yet found a shortcut for developing this repository of experiences and the corresponding heuristics derived from it.

There is also the possibility that wisdom is not achieved through the intellect but through experience. Indeed this is what all the wisdom texts have said for thousand and thousand of years. That is why they use phrases like "He who tastes knows", "To ask about experience is absurd, because experience is the annihilation of speech" or "The way is through knowledge and practice, not through intellect and talk". I am not making a rational argument for the reality or not of this perspective but why would we use a different word (wisdom) if it is still rationality? And if you agree (and I think you do) that it is not rationality then your question "How do we amplify wisdom?" has been answered by the wise. People first study for years the teaching stories and other writings of the wisdom traditions in their modern form. Then some may, presumably, find a teacher that guides them through experiences to go further.

Increasing our capacity for intelligence and rationality without a corresponding increase in wisdom.. ..may be dangerous.

Exactly. It is my estimation as well that this is where we are. There are attempts to create a rational bridge to the wisdom traditions but the rationalists would have to stop calling anything that is not rationality 'magic' in a derogatory manner and study the material.

Comment author: blankcanvas 30 June 2017 08:38:51PM *  0 points [-]

I want to go into this full-time but I'm unfortunately looking at part-time work and full-time studies (60 h / week) which annoys me deeply, and I've never manged to do even 10 hours a week (conscientiousness in the 2nd percentile, yes 2% of people have less in conscientiousness and uhm neuroticism in the 80th percentile). I'm thinking about skipping my studies to the government-funded school, which bribes me very well, just working 20 h a week and doing Maps of Meaning etc, 40 h a week. I wrote about it more here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/p6l/open_thread_june_26_july_2_2017/dusd

I'm not your ordinary LWer, this is not my only account. If you are looking to make people buy into this who are hyperrational and IQ's in the 140's, I wasn't the targeted audience :).

Thanks for the advice by the way.

Comment author: Erfeyah 30 June 2017 09:37:38PM *  0 points [-]

I'm not your ordinary LWer, this is not my only account. If you are looking to make people buy into this who are hyperrational and IQ's in the 140's, I wasn't the targeted audience :).

I am not selling anything :) I enjoy discussing ideas and would not discriminate based on intelligence (at least beyond sufficient level). IQ is a useful measurement for the capacity of manipulation of abstractions but there is no evidence that it correlates with wisdom. Indeed, in my experience, I feel it can have adverse effects. As Peterson would put it "the intellect has the tendency to fall in love with its own creations".

Regarding your life dilemmas I do not know your circumstances but one thing I can tell you is that you are very young and there is absolutely no reason to feel so much pressure (if I read your state correctly). Your goal is clear. You need to complete your education. You have the funding for high school so take it seriously and go for it . Other goals such as the AGI one you can leave for later. Retain your flexibility as in 5 years you are not going to be the same person you are today. Identify an area of interest during the time you complete high school, be honest, patient and exercise humility for flexibility of mind. This is your time to learn so take the next years for learning and then you decide what your next step is. Don't put the cart before the horse.

Comment author: blankcanvas 30 June 2017 06:51:14PM *  1 point [-]

Unfortunately, I'm not a man who has this undetected prejudice, I've personally been delving into mysticism in the past through meditation. I am familiar with Jordan Peterson and have watched many of his lectures thanks to the YouTube algorithm, but I'm unsure what I have learned. Do you have any suggestion in what order to watch and learn from his lectures? I'm thinking Maps of Meaning 2017 - Personality 2017 - Biblical Series.

I've also tried reading his book recommendations, like Brave New World, rated at #1, but it doesn't really seem to captivate my attention, it feels more like a chore than anything. I suppose that's how I viewed the books after all, "I need to download this information into my brain so our AGI-system I might help create won't wipe us out".

Comment author: Erfeyah 30 June 2017 07:53:09PM *  0 points [-]

Yes, Maps of Meaning 2017 and Personality 2017 are the most advanced ones as they are actual university courses. Maps of Meaning in particular provides a great answer to your question regarding goals. I found people find them hard to understand but you are on LW so I would assume you like an intellectual challenge ;-)

The bible series is interesting in itself and a bit easier than the lectures but I found Maps of Meaning to be deeper (though harder to get through). I think people used to a more systematic, sequential type of thinking can get confused by his style as he is rapidly presenting patterns through examples in multiple levels.

If you have any objections or discussion points I have created a thread regarding his view of religion, myths etc. I am trying to engage the LW community as, after studying the material for a few months, my assessment is that the points he is making are really strong and would love some strong counter arguments.

Comment author: Manfred 29 June 2017 06:06:20PM 1 point [-]

I didn't say anything about an outside force guiding us. I am saying that if the structure of reality has characteristics in which certain moral values produce evolutionary successful outcomes, it follows that these moral values correspond to an objective evolutionary reality

I agree that this is a perfectly fine way to think of things. We may not disagree on any factual questions.

Here's a factual question some people get tripped up by: would any sufficiently intelligent being rediscover and be motivated by a morality that looks a lot like human morality? Like, suppose there was a race of aliens that evolved intelligence without knowing their kin - would we expect them to be motivated by filial love, once we explained it to them and gave them technology to track down their relatives? Would a superinntelligent AI never destroy humans, because superintelligence implies an understanding of the value of life?

Would it be OK to enslave half of humanity...

No. Why? Because I would prefer not. Isn't that all that can be sufficient to motivate my decision? A little glib, I know, but I really don't see this as a hard question.

When people say "what is right?, I always think of this as being like "by what standard would we act, if we could choose standards for ourselves?" rather than like "what does the external rightness-object say?"

We can think as if we're consulting the rightness-object when working cooperatively with other humans - it will make no difference. But when people disagree, the approximation breaks down, and it becomes counter-productive to think you have access to The Truth. When people disagree about the morality of abortion, it's not that (at least) one of them is factually mistaken about the rightness-object, they are disagreeing about which standard to use for acting.

Comment author: Erfeyah 29 June 2017 06:49:57PM *  0 points [-]

Here's a factual question some people get tripped up by: would any sufficiently intelligent being rediscover and be motivated by a morality that looks a lot like human morality?

Though tempting, I will resist answering this as it would only be speculation based on my current (certainly incomplete) understanding of reality. Who knows how many forms of mind exist in the universe.

Would a superinntelligent AI never destroy humans, because superintelligence implies an understanding of the value of life?

If by intelligence you mean human-like intelligence and if the AI is immortal or at least sufficiently long living it should extract the same moral principles (assuming that I am right and they are characteristics of reality). Apart from that your sentence uses the words 'understand' and 'value' which are connected to consciousness. Since we do not understand consciousness and the possibility of constructing it algorithmically is in doubt (to put it lightly) I would say that the AI will do whatever the conscious humans programmed it to do.

No. Why? Because I would prefer not. Isn't that all that can be sufficient to motivate my decision? A little glib, I know, but I really don't see this as a hard question.

No sorry, that is not sufficient. You have a reason and you need to dig deeper until you find your fundamental presuppositions. If you want to follow my line of thought that is...

Comment author: Manfred 29 June 2017 03:27:50PM 0 points [-]

Human morals, human preferences, and human ability to work to satisfy those morals and preferences on large scales, are all quite successful from an evolutionary perspective, and make use of elements seen other places in the animal kingdom. There's no necessity for any sort of outside force guiding human evolution, or any pre-existing thing it's trying to mimic, therefore we shouldn't presume one.

Let me give an analogy for why I think this doesn't remove meaning from things (it will also be helpful if you've read the article Fake Reductionism from the archives). We like to drink water, and think it's wet. Then we learn that water is made of molecules, which are made of atoms, etc, and in fact this idea of "water" is not fundamental within the laws of physics. Does this remove meaning from wetness, and from thirst?

Comment author: Erfeyah 29 June 2017 03:58:30PM 0 points [-]

There's no necessity for any sort of outside force guiding human evolution, or any pre-existing thing it's trying to mimic, therefore we shouldn't presume one.

I didn't say anything about an outside force guiding us. I am saying that if the structure of reality has characteristics in which certain moral values produce evolutionary successful outcomes, it follows that these moral values correspond to an objective evolutionary reality.

Does this remove meaning from wetness, and from thirst?

You are talking about meanings referring to what something is. But moral values are concerned with how we should act in the world. It is the old "ought from an is" issue. You can always drill in with horrific thought experiments concerning good and evil. For example:

Would it be OK to enslave half of humanity and use them as constantly tortured, self replicating, power supplies for the other half if we can find a system that would guaranty that they can never escape to threaten our own safety? If the system is efficient and you have no concept of good and evil why do you think that is wrong? Whatever your answer is try to ask why again until you reach the point where you get an "ought from an is" without a value presupposition.

Comment author: ChristianKl 29 June 2017 02:47:07PM 0 points [-]

There's some research that suggest that high socioeconomic status reduces compassion: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-wealth-reduces-compassion/

I also added a skeptics question: https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/38802/196

Comment author: Erfeyah 29 June 2017 03:33:03PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for sharing. I must admit, I am not convinced by the methods of measurement of such complex mental states but I do not properly understand the science either so.. Do share the result from stackexchange if you get an answer (can't find how to 'watch' the question).

Comment author: Viliam 29 June 2017 02:11:59PM *  0 points [-]

the idea that powerful people are there because they oppressed the less powerful seems to be a residue of Marxist ideology

The reality may be country-specific, or culture-specific. Whether more powerful people are more evil may be different in America, in Russia, in Saudi Arabia, etc.

And for status purposes, it's actually the perception that matters. If people believe that X correlates with Y, even if it is not true, displaying X is the way to signal Y.

in western societies successful people tend to be high in IQ and trait conscientiousness

Yep, in "western societies". I would say this could actually be the characteristic of "western societies". By which I mean, for the rest of the world this sounds incredibly naive (or a shameless hypocrisy). I believe it's actually true, statistically, for the record, but that came as a result of me interacting with people from western societies and noticing the cultural differences.

Also, notice the semantic shifts ("powerful" -> "successful"; "good" -> "high in IQ and trait conscientiousness"). Perhaps a typical entrepreneur is smart, conscientious, and good (or at least, not worse than an average citizen), that seems likely. What about a typical oligarch? You know, usually a former member of some secret service, who made his career on torturing innocent people, and who remains well connected after end of his active service, which probably means he still participates on some activities, most likely criminal. I would still say higher IQ and conscientiousness help here, but seems like a safe bet than most of these people are quite evil in the conventional meaning of the word.

Comment author: Erfeyah 29 June 2017 03:11:53PM *  1 point [-]

And for status purposes, it's actually the perception that matters. If people believe that X correlates with Y, even if it is not true, displaying X is the way to signal Y.

Yes, you are right!

I believe it's actually true, statistically, for the record, but that came as a result of me interacting with people from western societies and noticing the cultural differences.

I would still say higher IQ and conscientiousness help here, but seems like a safe bet than most of these people are quite evil in the conventional meaning of the word.

These are good points. And a very interesting observation about the semantic shifts. On further thought I would say that in a corrupt society the evil will be powerful while in a fair and good society the good. And of course in reality most cultures are a mixture. At the moment I believe it is impossible to be certain about what our (or any other) society is really like cause the interpretations are conflicted and the sources quality ambiguous. Plus intellectually we can not define the good in any absolute sense (though we kind of know its characteristics in some sense). In any case let's avoid a political discussion, or even one of specific moral particulars for now since the point of the thread is more general.

One thing I would like to bring up is that, to me, it seems that it is not a matter of signalling to others (though that can happen to). I would be quite confident that in interpersonal relationships people tend to value the 'good' if the community is even relatively healthy. I am talking about people and societies that act and strive for the good [1] while intellectually believing in moral relativism or something akin to that. Hence the performative contradiction. This is an internal contradiction that I believe stems from our rejection of traditional wisdom (in the intellectual but not in the performative level for now) and its result in an incoherent theory of being.


[1] Even propaganda basis its ideals to a (twisted) conception of good.

Comment author: Viliam 29 June 2017 09:56:30AM *  1 point [-]

Seems to me that most people understand the difference between good and evil, and most people prefer good to evil, but we have a fashion where good is considered low-status, so many people are ashamed to admit their preferences publicly.

It's probably some mix of signalling and counter-signalling. On the signalling side, powerful people are often evil, or at least indifferent towards good and evil. By pretending that I don't care about good, I am making myself appear more powerful. On the counter-signalling side, any (morally sane) idiot can say that good is better that evil; I display my sophistication by expressing a different opinion.

Comment author: Erfeyah 29 June 2017 10:35:42AM 0 points [-]

but we have a fashion where good is considered low-status,

I do not think that is true. There are exceptions of course but in general most people would say that they prefer someone that is truthful to a lier, honest to deceitful etc. and also despise malevolence.

powerful people are often evil or at least indifferent towards good and evil

That is also not really true as far as I can tell. Again, there are exceptions, but the idea that powerful people are there because they oppressed the less powerful seems to be a residue of Marxist ideology. Apparently studies have found that in western societies successful people tend to be high in IQ and trait conscientiousness. This just means that people are powerful and successful because they are intelligent and hard working..

Seems to me that most people understand the difference between good and evil

When you say understand you mean 'believe in' or 'intuitively understand' I assume? Cause rational assessment does not conclude so, as far as I can tell.

View more: Next