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Comment author: KPier 17 March 2017 01:54:09AM 0 points [-]

I would live in this if it existed. Buying an apartment building or hotel seems like the most feasible version of this, and (based on very very minimal research) maybe not totally intractable; the price-per-unit on some hotels/apartments for sale is like $150,000, which is a whole lot less than the price of independently purchasing an SF apartment and a pretty reasonable monthly mortgage payment.

Comment author: riparianx 08 March 2015 07:16:05PM 5 points [-]

Thank you! I'll see if I can start compiling resources like this. If you think of any more, I'd appreciate it if you could message me.

Comment author: KPier 10 March 2015 04:54:48AM 3 points [-]

Brienne's Löb's Theorem Defeated My Social Anxiety deserves to be among your resources.

Comment author: Lumifer 03 October 2014 02:36:59PM 0 points [-]

It doesn't have to be well-known. Morally there's a threshold. Everyone who is trying to act morally is trying to ascertain where it should be

So, are you assuming moral realism? That moral threshold which "is", does it objectively exist? Is is the same for everyone, all times and all cultures?

This does not change the fact that, in fact, there's a place to put the threshold that balances the risk

Why do you think there is one specific place? That threshold depends on, among other things, risk tolerance. Are you saying that everyone does (or should have) the same risk tolerance?

Comment author: KPier 03 October 2014 06:50:10PM *  2 points [-]

I am not sure that we're communicating meaningfully here. I said that there's a place to set a threshold that weighs the expense against the lives. All that is required for this to be true is that we assign value to both money and lives. Where the threshold is depends on how much we value each, and obviously this will be different across situations, times, and cultures.

You're conflating a practical concern (which behaviors should society condemn?) and an ethical concern (how do we decide the relative value of money and lives?) which isn't even a particularly interesting ethical concern (governments have standard figures for the value of a human life; they'd need to have such to conduct any interventions at all.) And I am less certain than I was at the start of this conversation of what sort of answer you are even interested in.

Comment author: Lumifer 02 October 2014 02:48:08PM 2 points [-]

Assume there's a threshold at which sending the ship for repairs is morally obligatory.

Sorry, I am unwilling to assume any such thing. I would prefer a bit more realistic scenario where there is no well-known and universally accepted threshold. The condition of ships is uncertain, different people can give different estimates of that condition, and different people would choose different actions even on the basis of the same estimate.

In particular,

Mr. Doc looks at this probability and deems it acceptable (so, presumably, below our action threshold)

Mr.Doc has his own threshold which does not necessarily match yours or anyone else's or even whatever passes for the society's consensus.

Comment author: KPier 03 October 2014 04:30:37AM 6 points [-]

Sorry, I am unwilling to assume any such thing. I would prefer a bit more realistic scenario where there is no well-known and universally accepted threshold. The condition of ships is uncertain, different people can give different estimates of that condition, and different people would choose different actions even on the basis of the same estimate.

It doesn't have to be well-known. Morally there's a threshold. Everyone who is trying to act morally is trying to ascertain where it should be, and everyone who isn't acting morally is taking advantage of the uncertainty about where the threshold is to avoid spending money. That doesn't change that there is a threshold.

Consider doctors sending patients in for surgery after a cancer screening. It is hard to estimate whether someone has cancer, and different doctors might recommend different actions on the basis of the same estimate. This does not change the fact that, in fact, there's a place to put the threshold that balances the risk of sending in patients for unnecessary surgery and the risk of letting cancer spread. On any ethical question this threshold exists. We don't have to be certain about it to acknowledge that judging where it is and where cases fall with respect to it is basically always what we're doing.

Mr. Doc's actions are morally right to the extent he's right (given the evidence he could reasonably have acquired) about the threshold.

Comment author: Lumifer 01 October 2014 07:41:47PM *  7 points [-]

This post and the ensuing discussion led me to construct the following hypothetical scenario.

In the port there are three old ships which are magically exactly the same. One is owned by Mr.Grumpy, one is owned by Mr.Happy, and one is owned by Mr.Doc. The three ships are about to go on (yet another) transatlantic voyage and the owners are considering whether to send for a refit instead.

Mr.Grumpy is a worrywart and the question of his ship's seaworthiness has been at the forefront of his thoughts for a while. His imagination drew him awful pictures of his ship breaking up in the waves and more than once he woke up in cold sweat in the middle of the night. However Mr.Grumpy is capable of self-reflection and knows that he's prone to excessive worrying. He decides to compensate for his bias and is successful at manipulating his mind to quell his doubts. His ship sails off.

Mr.Happy is an optimist. He does not dwell on the possibilities of failure and is sure that concentrating on the positive is the right way to go. He is not reckless but understands that life includes risks and useless worrying just leads to ulcers and not much else. His ship sails off.

Mr.Doc is a nerd. He very carefully calculates the probability that his ship will not make it across the ocean this time. The probability is, of course, non-zero. He looks at this probability and deems it acceptable. His ship sails off.

And now I wonder what W.J.Clifford would say about Mr.Grumpy, Mr.Happy, and Mr.Doc. Is any of them guilty of anything? Are some more (or less) guilty than others?

Comment author: KPier 01 October 2014 11:28:23PM 7 points [-]

Assume there's a threshold at which sending the ship for repairs is morally obligatory (if we're utilitarians, that is the point at which the cost of the repairs is less than the probability*expected cost of the ship sinking, taking into account the lives aboard, but the threshold needn't be utilitarian for this to work.)

Let's say that the threshold is 5% - if there's more than a 5% chance the ship will go down, you should get it repaired.

Mr. Grumpy's thought process seems to be 'I alieve that my ship will sink, but this alief is harmful and I should avoid it'. He is morally justified in quelling his nightmares, but he'd be morally unjustified if in doing so he rationalized away his belief 'there's a 10% chance my ship will sink' to arrive at 'there's a 3% chance my ship will sink' and thereby did not do the repairs.

Likewise, it's great that Mr. Happy doesn't want to worry, but if you asked him to bet on the ship going down, what odds would he demand? If he thinks that the probability of his ship going down is greater than 5%, then he should have gotten it refitted. If he knows he has a bias toward neglecting negative events, and he knows that his estimate of 1% is probably the result of rationalization rather than reasoning, he should get someone else to estimate or he should correct his estimate for this known bias of his.

Mr. Doc looks at this probability and deems it acceptable (so, presumably, below our action threshold). He is not guilty of anything.

Comment author: Cyan 30 September 2014 09:09:43PM *  1 point [-]

He had doubts, he extinguished them, and that's what makes him guilty.

This is not the whole story. In the quote

He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts.

you're paying too much heed to the final clause and not enough to the clause that precedes it. The shipowner had doubts that, we are to understand, were reasonable on the available information. The key to the shipowner's... I prefer not to use the word "guilt", with its connotations of legal or celestial judgment -- let us say, blameworthiness, is that he allowed the way he desired the world to be to influence his assessment of the actual state of the world.

In your "optimistic fellow" scenario, the shipowner would be as blameworthy, but in that case, the blame would attach to his failure to give serious consideration to the doubts that had been expressed to him.

And going beyond what is in the passage, in my view, he would be equally blameworthy if the ship had survived the voyage! Shitty decision-making is shitty-decision-making, regardless of outcome. (This is part of why I avoided the word "guilt" -- too outcome-dependent.)

Comment author: KPier 30 September 2014 09:50:19PM *  4 points [-]

The next passage confirms that this is the author's interpretation as well:

Let us alter the case a little, and suppose that the ship was not unsound after all; that she made her voyage safely, and many others after it. Will that diminish the guilt of her owner? Not one jot. When an action is once done, it is right or wrong for ever; no accidental failure of its good or evil fruits can possibly alter that. The man would not have been innocent, he would only have been not found out.

And clearly what he is guilty of (or if you prefer, blameworthy) is rationalizing away doubts that he was obligated to act on. Given the evidence available to him, he should have believed the ship might sink, and he should have acted on that belief (either to collect more information which might change it, or to fix the ship). Even if he'd gotten lucky, he would have acted in a way that, had he been updating on evidence reasonably, he would have believed would lead to the deaths of innocents.

The Ethics of Belief is an argument that it is a moral obligation to seek accuracy in beliefs, to be uncertain when the evidence does not justify certainty, to avoid rationalization, and to help other people in the same endeavor. One of his key points is that 'real' beliefs are necessarily entangled with reality. I am actually surprised he isn't quoted here more.

Comment author: KPier 27 September 2014 02:51:51AM *  29 points [-]

A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant-ship. He know that she was old, and not over-well built at the first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often had needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and refitted, even though this should put him to great expense. Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely though so many voyages and weathered so many storms, that it was idle to suppose she would not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such a way he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her depature with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance-money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.

What shall we say of him? Surely this, that he was verily guilty of the death of those men. It is admitted that he did sincerely believe in the soundness of his ship, but the sincerity of his conviction can in nowise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him. He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts.

  • W.J. Clifford, the Ethics of Belief

Meetup : Stanford THINK starts weekly meetups this Sunday

3 KPier 20 September 2014 08:00PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Stanford THINK starts weekly meetups this Sunday

WHEN: 21 September 2014 04:30:00PM (-0700)

WHERE: Old Union rm 121, Stanford University, Palo Alto

THINK is an effective altruism/rationality group that meets during the school year at Stanford. This is our third year. Most attendees are Stanford students, but anyone is welcome.

This week's discussion topic is rationality habits (from CFAR's checklist); we usually have a few games and structures activities and then allow them to dissolve into unstructured discussion.

Discussion article for the meetup : Stanford THINK starts weekly meetups this Sunday

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 12 November 2012 02:58:51AM 1 point [-]

I think it would be a good idea for a post, not just for the specifics but also because it would relate to making decisions which involve long range predictions.

Comment author: KPier 12 November 2012 03:09:53AM 3 points [-]

From the upvotes I'm concluding it's worthwhile to go ahead and write it: I agree it serves as a pretty decent example of applying rationality concepts for long-term decision making. It'll have to wait a week until Thanksgiving Break, though.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 09 November 2012 02:41:00PM *  5 points [-]

Question, only for teenagers: Is there a topic, somehow relevant to your age group, which you would like to see rationally discussed on LW?

Please, be specific.

Comment author: KPier 09 November 2012 08:36:16PM 14 points [-]

I'm a freshman in college now, but a post or two analyzing the reasons for choosing an (expensive, high status) private college versus an (essentially free, low status) state college, or going to school in America versus Europe versus somewhere else, would have been immensely valuable to me a year ago.

This would belong on LessWrong because typical advice on this topic is either "follow your dreams, do what you love, everything will work out", or "you're an idiot to take on debt, if you can't pay your own way through college you're a lazy, entitled brat".

A post describing how to make such a decision based on expected-value calculations, discussing value of information and college visits, and dissecting the research into the income effects of attending top colleges would be very nice.

(I could write such a post, if others think it would be of enough general interest).

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