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Comment author: username2 22 July 2017 03:33:21PM 11 points [-]

This year is 5777 in the Hebrew calendar. So someone has been counting for roughly that long.

Nitpick (as it doesn't affect your general argument): What actually happened was at some point some king advisor or prophet applied some guesswork to oral history that bordered on myth (e.g. Noah living 950 years) and decided the world was created in 3761 BCE. This is, in fact, exactly the same logic used by creationists to date the Earth to be ~6000 years old. That's the origin of the Hebrew calendar. There hasn't been 5777 years of continuous counting. More like 3500, maybe.

Comment author: JenniferRM 25 July 2017 10:49:02PM *  1 point [-]

There are poorly documented rumors running around on the net that the Yorùbá have a religious system that contains a chronological system that says our year 2017 is the year 10,059.

This claim deserves scrutiny rather than trust, and might stretch the idea of a calendar a bit...

It is very hard to find formal academic writing on the subject... Reading around various websites and interpolating, it seems that the cultural group was split in two by the Nigeria/Benin border and so I think there may be no single coherent state power that might back the calendar out of unifying nationalist sentiment. Also they may have no native word for "calendar"? Also it is a lunar calendar of 364 days and the intercalary adjustments might not be systematic and it may have been pragmatically abandoned in favor of the system the international world has mostly been standardizing on...

Still, I personally am interested not only in old surviving institutions but also in things that function as edge cases. Straining words like "old" or "surviving" or "institution". The edge cases often help quite a bit to illustrate the optimization constraints and design pressures that go into very long running social practices :-)

Comment author: JenniferRM 25 July 2017 06:54:24AM *  1 point [-]

I suspect that you are leaping to the idea of "infinite regress" much too quickly, and also failing to look past it or try to simply "patch" the regress in a practical way when you say:

Evaluating the efficiency of a given prior distribution will be done over the course of several experiments, and hence requires a higher order prior distribution (a prior distribution over prior distributions). Infinite regress.

Consider the uses that the Dirichlet distribution is classically put to...

Basically, if you stack your distributions two or three (or heaven forbid four) layers deep, you will get a LOT of expressiveness and yet the number of steps up the abstraction hierarchy still can be counted with the fingers of one hand. Within only a few thousand experiments even the topmost of your distributions will probably start acquiring a bit of shape that usefully informs subsequent experiments.

Probably part of the reason you seem to give up at the first layer of recursion and just assume that it will recurse unproductively forever is that you're thinking in terms of some small number of slogans (axioms?) that can be culturally transmitted in language by relatively normal people engaging in typical speech patterns, perhaps reporting high church Experiments that took weeks or months or years to perform, and get reported in a peer reviewed journal and so on.

Rather than conceptually center this academic practice, perhaps it would make more sense to think of "beliefs" as huge catalogues of microfacts, often subverbal, and "experiments" as being performed by even normal humans on the time scales of milliseconds to minutes?

The remarkable magical thing about humans is not that we can construct epistemies, the remarkable thing is that humans can walk, make eye contact and learn things from it, feed ourselves, and pick up sticks to wave around in a semi-coordinated fashion. This requires enormous amounts of experimentation, and once you start trying to build them from scratch yourself you realize the models involved here are astonishing feats of cognitive engineering.

Formal academic science is hilariously slow by comparison to babies.

The problems formal intellectual processes solve is not the problem of figuring things out quickly and solidly, but rather (among other things) the problem of lots of people independently figuring out many of the same things in different orders with different terminology and ending up with the problem of Babel.

Praise be to Azathoth, for evolution already solved "being able to learn stuff pretty good" on its own and delivered this gift to each of us as a birthright. The thing left to us to to solve something like the "political economy of science". Credit assignment. Re-work. Economies of scale... (In light of social dynamics, Yvain's yearly predictions start to make a lot more sense.)

A useful keyword here is "social epistemology" and a good corpus of material is the early work of Kevin Zollman, including this overview defending the conceptual utility of social epistemology as a field.

Comment author: ImmortalRationalist 06 July 2017 11:42:28AM 0 points [-]

If you are a consequentialist, it's the exact same calculation you would use if happiness were your goal. Just with different criteria to determine what constitute "good" and "bad" world states.

Comment author: JenniferRM 06 July 2017 10:04:39PM *  3 points [-]

I think you're missing the thrust of my question.

I'm asking something more like "What if mental states are mostly a means of achieving worthwhile consequences, rather than being mostly the consequences that should be cared about in and for themselves?"

It is "consequences" either way.

But what might be called intrinsic hedonism would then be a consequentialism that puts the causal and moral stop sign at "how an action makes people feel" (mostly ignoring the results of the feelings (except to the degree that the feelings might cause other feelings via some series of second order side effects)).

An approach like this suggests that if people in general could reliably achieve an utterly passive and side effect free sort of bliss, that would be the end game... it would be an ideal stable outcome for people to collectively shoot for, and once it was attained the lack of side effects would keep it from being disrupted.

By contrast, hedonic instrumentalism (that I'm mostly advocating) would be a component of some larger consequentialism that is very concerned with what arises because of feelings (like what actions, with what results) and defers the core axiological question about the final value of various world states to a separate (likely independent) theory.

The position of hedonic instrumentalism is basically that happiness that causes behavior with bad results for the world is bad happiness. Happiness that causes behavior with good results in the world is good happiness. And happiness is arguably pointless if it is "sterile"... having no behavioral or world affecting consequences (though this depends on how much control we have over our actions and health via intermediaries other than by wireheading our affective subsystems). What does "good" mean here? That's a separate question.

Basically, the way I'm using the terms here: intrinsic hedonism is "an axiology", but hedonic instrumentalism treats affective states mostly as causal intermediates that lead to large scale adjustments to the world (though behavior) that can then be judged by some external axiology that pays attention to the whole world and the causal processes that deserve credit for bringing about the good world states.

You might break this down further, where perhaps "strong hedonic instrumentalism" is a claim that in actual practice, humans can (and already have, to some degree) come up with ways to make plans, follow the plans with action, and thereby produce huge amounts of good in the world, all without the need for very much "passion" as a neural/cognitive intermediate.

Then "weak hedonic instrumentalism" would be a claim that maybe such practices exist somewhere, or could exist if we searched for them really hard, and probably we should do that.

Then perhaps "skeptical hedonic instrumentalism" would be a claim that even if such practices don't exist and might not even be worth discovering, still it is the case that intrinsic hedonism is pretty weaksauce as far as axiologies go.

I would not currently say that I'm a strong hedonic instrumentalist, because I am not certain that the relevant mental practices exist as a factual matter... But also I'm just not very impressed by a moral theory that points to a little bit of tissue inside one or more skulls and says that the whole world can go to hell, so long as that neural tissue is in a "happy state".

Comment author: JenniferRM 05 July 2017 07:56:23AM 3 points [-]

What if happiness is not our goal?

Comment author: JenniferRM 17 June 2017 09:31:36AM *  3 points [-]

Three places similar ideas have occurred that spring to mind:

FIRST Suarez's pair of novels Daemon and Freedom(tm) are probably the most direct analogue, because it is a story of taking over the world via software, with an intensely practical focus.

The essential point for this discussion here and now is that prior to launching his system, the character who takes over the world first tests the quality of the goal state that he's aiming at by implementing it first as a real world MMORP. Then the takeover of the world proceeds via trigger-response software scripts running on the net, but causing events in the real world via: bribes, booby traps, contracted R&D, and video game like social engineering.

The MMORP start not only functions as his test bed for how he wants the world to work at the end... it also gives him starting cash, a suite of software tools for describing automated responses to human decisions, code to script the tactics of swarms of killer robots, and so on.

SECOND Nozick's Experience Machine thought experiment is remarkably similar to your thought experiment, and yet aimed at a totally different question.

Nozick was not wondering "can such a machine be described in detail and exist" (this was assumed) but rather "would people enter any such machine and thereby give up on some sort of atavistic connection to an unmediated substrate reality, and if not what does this mean about the axiological status of subjective experience as such?"

Personally I find the specifics of the machine to matter an enormous amount to how I feel about it... so much so that Nozick's thought experiment doesn't really work for me in its philosophically intended manner. There has been a lot of play with the concept in fiction that neighbors on the trope where the machine just gives you the experience of leaving the machine if you try to leave it. This is probably some kind of archetypal response to how disgusting it is in practice for people to be pure subjective hedonists?

THIRD Greg Egan's novel Diaspora has most of the human descended people living purely in and as software.

In the novel any common environment simulator and interface (which has hooks into the sensory processes of the software people) is referred to as a "scape" and many of the software people's political positions revolve around which kinds of scapes are better or worse for various reasons.

Konishi Polis produces a lot of mathematicians, and has a scape that supports "gestalt" (like vision) and "linear" (like speech or sound) but it does not support physical contact between avatars (their relative gestalt positions just ghost around and through each other) because physical contact seems sort of metaphysically coercive and unethical to them. By contrast Carter-Zimmerman produces the best physicists, and it has relatively high quality physics simulations built into their scape, because they think that high quality minds with powerful intuitions require that kind of low level physical experience embedded into their everyday cognitive routines. There are also flesh people (who think flesh gives them authenticity or something like that) and robots (who think "fake physics" is fake, even though having flesh bodies is too dangerous) and so on.

All of the choices matter personally to the people... but there is essentially no lock in, in the sense that people are forced to do one thing or another by an overarching controller that settles how things will work for everyone for all time.

If you want to emmigrate from Konishi to Carter Zimmerman you just change which server you're hosted on (for better latency) and either have mind surgery (to retrofit your soul with the necessary reflexes for navigating the new kind of scape) or else turn on a new layer of exoself (that makes your avatar in the new place move according to a translation scheme based on your home scape's equivalent reflexes).

If you want to, you can get a robot body instead (the physical world then becomes like a very very slow scape and you run into the question of whether to slow down your clocks and let all your friends and family race ahead mentally, or keep your clock at a normal speed and have the robot body be like a slow moving sculpture you direct to do new things over subjectively long periods of time). Some people are still implemented in flesh, but if they choose they can get scanned into software and run as a biology emulation. Becoming biologically based is the only transformation rarely performed because... uh... once you've been scanned (or been built from software from scratch) why would you do this?!

Interesting angles:

Suarez assumes physical coercion and exponential growth as the natural order, and is mostly interested in the details of these processes as implemented in real political/economic systems. He doesn't care about 200 years from now and he uses MMORP simulations as simply a testbed for practical engineering in intensely human domains.

Nozick wants to assume utopia, and often an objection is "who keeps the Experience Machine from breaking down?"

Egan's novel has cool posthuman world building, but the actual story revolves around the question of keeping the experience machine from breaking down... eventually stars explode or run down... so what should be done in the face of a seemingly inevitable point in time where there will be no good answer to the question of "how can we survive this new situation?"

In response to Bring up Genius
Comment author: JenniferRM 09 June 2017 07:28:10AM *  9 points [-]

I was really impressed by the chess curriculum in two ways:

Remember to let the child win most of the time.

The surprise I had here is that when my dad taught me chess when I was about 5, something that stands out in my memory is that he emphasized that he would always play to win, and if I won it would be a really victory, and if I lost I did not have a right to complain. I did not win much, but I really liked playing. I remember wanting to play more and him not having time, rather than having a problem with motivation.

Some tips for teaching chess to 4 or 5 years old children. First, I made a blank square divided into 8x8 little squares, with named rows and columns. I named a square, my daughter had to find it; then she named a square and I had to find it. Then we used the black-and-white version, and we were guessing the color of the named square without looking.

Then we introduced kings, in a "king vs king" combat; the task was to reach the opposing row of the board with your king. Then we added a pawn; the goal remained to reach the opposing row. After a month of playing, we introduced the queen, and the concept of checkmate. Later we gradually added the remaining pieces (knights were the most difficult).

Then we solved about thousand "checkmate in one move" puzzles. Then two moves, three moves, four moves. That took another 3 or 4 months. And only afterwards we started really playing against each other.

That is a really thoughtfully structured curriculum! Maybe it is a standard way to do it in some countries but all through my childhood when I taught people chess or saw it taught by others the basic process was just to explain the moves of all the pieces by demonstration and then just jump in. Rows? Columns? Notation? Endgames? That didn't come until way later.

Comment author: darius 02 June 2017 09:12:35PM *  2 points [-]

Small correction: Law's Order is by David Friedman, the middle generation. It's an excellent book.

I had a similar reaction to the sequences. Some books that influenced me the most as a teen in the 80s: the Feynman Lectures and Drexler's Engines of Creation. Feynman modeled scientific rationality, thinking for yourself, clarity about what you don't know or aren't explaining, being willing to tackle problems, ... it resists a summary. Drexler had many of the same virtues, plus thinking carefully and boldly about future technology and what we might need to do in advance to steer to an acceptable outcome. (I guess it's worth adding that seemingly a lot of people misread it as gung-ho promotion of the wonders of Tomorrowland that we could all look forward to by now, more like Kurzweil. For one sad consequence, Drexler seems to have become a much more guarded writer.)

Hofstadter influenced me too, and Egan and Szabo.

Comment author: JenniferRM 03 June 2017 05:22:18AM 1 point [-]

Thanks for the correction! I'll leave the Milton/David error in, so your correction reads naturally :-)

Comment author: JenniferRM 02 June 2017 06:02:03PM 0 points [-]

However, the conclusions are likely wrong, because it's rational for "sleeping" civilizations to still want to round up stars that might be ejected from galaxies, collect cosmic dust, and so on.

Stray thought this inspired: what if "rounding up the stars" is where galaxies come from in the first place?

Comment author: JenniferRM 02 June 2017 05:04:51PM 1 point [-]

I have a hunch that the Grue Bleen Problem for Reward Functions will start to become less complicated as "reward function inference" becomes more tractable.

At an aggregate level, the need to model preferences is already happening on a large scale via personalization of recommendation engines, and at a small scale it comes up with text interpretation (like reference co-resolution) in the paradigm where words are taken to be moves in a cooperative game where two communicating agents "want to pay attention to the same things" but also "want to pay attention to the things they already care about".

As practical methods for modeling human preferences evolve under engineering constraints, I suspect that it will become easier to talk about how these preferences change (or do not change) in very concrete ways.

Comment author: username2 01 June 2017 11:12:57PM 3 points [-]

Is there any book that had a bigger inpact on your life than the sequences ? What is it and why ?

Comment author: JenniferRM 02 June 2017 04:44:03PM *  9 points [-]

The sequences for me were like "yeah, but everyone smart already knows this stuff" and then I was more interested in the community and commenters from the golden era who were often slightly "crazy smart". However, when I try to imagine the effect the sequences had on people who had read less, and seek similar things in my own life, the first things that stands out is GEB.

Part of the value was in dissolving a bunch of youthful philosophical confusions about the relationship between meaningful artifacts (like word or programs or whatever) and the formal or semi-formal contexts that interpret and reveal their meaning within limits imposed by the Incompleteness Theorem.

Another chunk of the value was that GEB pointed to and paired with related books like Metamagical Themas (also by Hofstadter), The Night Is Large (by Gardner, who Hofstadter replaced at Scientific American), and Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies (about Hofstadter's grad student's projects).

In the same general vein, but probably more fun to read, Diaspora, Permutation City, and Kiln People seem like touchstones of novelistically concrete philosophy of mind to me. My understanding is that Diaspora and to a lesser extent Permutation City were highly influential for Eliezer as well.

Also, James Gleick has had a remarkable run of non-fiction books, better than the normal pop science stuff, at least for me. If I see a book of his on a shelf that I haven't read yet I'll buy it just based on his name.

Another book that stands out for me as highly influential, but separate from the LW/extropian memeplex, is Milton Friedman's Law's Order. Admittedly it isn't that far from the memeplex around here, given that it was written by Patri's grandfather.

In the same vein, Nick Szabo's blog archives are dense reading, but worth it. He is not exactly local, but was friends with Hal Finney and was widely suspected of being Satoshi.

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