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In response to 2012 Survey Results
Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 20 December 2012 04:28:18AM 0 points [-]

I wouldn't necessarily read too much into your calibration question, given that it's just one question, and there was something of a gotcha.

One thing I learned from doing calibration exercises is that I tended to be much too tentative with my 50% guesses.

When I answered the calibration question, I used my knowledge of other math that either had to, or couldn't have come before him, to narrow the possible window of his birth down to about 200 years. Random chance would then give me about a 20% shot. I thought I had somewhat better information than random chance within that window so I estimated my guess (IIRC) at 30%. I was, alas wrong, but I'm pretty confident that I would get around 30% of problems with a similar profile correct. If this problem was tricky, then it is more likely than average to be a problem that people get wrong in a large set. But this will be balanced by problems which are straightforward.

Not to suggest that this result isn't evidence of LW's miscalibration. In fact, it's strong enough evidence for me to throw into serious doubt the last survey's finding that we were better calibrated than a normal population. OTOH neither bit of evidence is terribly strong. A set of 5-10 different problems would make for much stronger evidence one way or the other.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 November 2012 09:29:10PM 4 points [-]

Temperatures are described as "flat since the 90s" which is based on a massive misreading of the data, giving one exceptionally hot year (1998) the same evidentiary weight as the 8 of 10 hottest years on record which have occurred since then.

"Flat since the 90s" is a statement about the rate of change of temperature. "8 of 10 hottest years on record [...] have occurred since then" is a statement about the value of the temperature. These are almost entirely unrelated factoids, are completely compatible with one another, and I wish people would stop presenting the latter as some kind of slamdunk refutation of the former. It doesn't support the warmist case, it weakens it.

Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 22 November 2012 04:34:02PM 1 point [-]

the running 11 year average of global temperature has not flattened since 1990, but continued upward at almost the same pace with only a moderate decrease in slope since the outlier 1998 year. The 11 years 2000-2010 global mean temperature is significantly higher than the 10 years 1990-2000.

That is not "flat since the 90s". The only way to get "flat since the 90s" is to compare 1998 to various more recent years noting that it was nearly as hot as 2005 and 2010 etc. and slightly hotter than other years in the 2000s, as if 1 year matters as much as 10 in a noisy data set.

If he had said "flat since 1998" that might be technically true in a way, but it's a little like saying the stock market has been flat since 2007.

That doesn't even consider using climate knowledge to adjust for some of the variance, for instance that El Niño years are hotter, and that 1998 was the biggest El Niño year on record.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 November 2012 02:50:21PM *  6 points [-]

I think his views on anthropogenic global warming are, on balance, bollocks. The science is settled.

I wouldn't say I am a Moldbug fan, but I did read an exorbitant amount of his writing. I do treat his views on AGW as evidence against his other opinions, in the same way I would if he wrote a similar tract on evolution, general relativity, the germ theory of disease, etc.

(I don't currently have the time to go re-read the linked essay of approximately 15,000 words, so this comment is based solely on my memory/impression of his arguments. Memories being what they are, please take my comment with as much salt as appropriate.)

Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 18 November 2012 02:45:12PM *  6 points [-]

Don't worry, I just did reread it, and it is just as I remembered. A lot of applause lights for the crowd that believes that the current state of climate science is driven by funding pressure from the US government DoE. His "argument" is based almost exclusively on the tone of popular texts, and anecdotal evidence that Joe Romm was an asshole and pushing bad policy at DoE during the Clinton administration. Considerations of what happened during the 8 years of a GWB administration that was actively hostile to the people JoeR favored are ignored.

Temperatures are described as "flat since the 90s" which is based on a massive misreading of the data, giving one exceptionally hot year (1998) the same evidentiary weight as the 8 of 10 hottest years on record which have occurred since then. Conveniently, when he wants to spread FUD about the current state of climate science, he will talk about natural variability and uncertainty in the climate. OTOH, he judges the shape of the data since the 1990s in a way that completely ignores that variability and uncertainty.

Bollocks is spot on and I absolutely treat his writings on global warming as evidence against his other opinions. That said, I am hardly a fan, and consider his argumentation logically weak, full of applause lights and other confusing nonsense across the board. Generally in a agreement with lukeprog.

I've read as much as I have, because he is from a vastly different tribe, and willing to express taboo opinions, which include some nuggets of truth or interesting mistakes worth thinking about.

Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 12 November 2012 03:32:51AM 11 points [-]


As last year, I would prefer different wording on the P(religion) question. "More or less" is so vague as to allow for a lot of very different answers depending on how I interpret it, and I didn't even properly consider the "revealed" distinction noted in a comment here.

I appreciate the update on the singularity estimate for those of us whose P(singularity) is between epsilon and 50+epsilon.

I still wonder if we can tease out the differences between current logistical/political problems and the actual effectiveness of the science on the cryonics question. Once again I gave an extremely low probability even though I would give a reasonable (10-30%) probability that the science itself is sound or will be at some point in the near future. Or perhaps it is your intention to let a segment of the population here fall into a conjunctiveness trap?

On the CFAR migraine treatment question I thought as follows:

Gur pbeerpg nafjre jbhyq qrcraq ba jung lbh xarj nobhg gur crefba. Sbe nalbar noyr gb cebprff naq haqrefgnaq gur hgvyvgl genqrbssf naq jub jnf fhssvpvragyl ybj vapbzr gung O pbhyq pbaprvinoyl or n orggre pubvfr, V jbhyq tvir gurz obgu bcgvba N naq O naq rkcynva gur genqrbss pnershyyl, be nggrzcg gb nfpregnva gurve $inyhr bs 1 srjre zvtenvar ol bgure dhrfgvbaf naq gura znxr gur pbeerpg erpbzzraqngvba onfrq ba gung.

Gjb guvatf ner dhvgr pyrne gb zr:

1: pubbfvat gur zbfg rssvpvrag gerngzrag va grezf bs zvtenvarf erzbirq cre qbyyne, vf irel pyrneyl gur jebat nafjre.

2: sbe >90% bs crbcyr va gur evpu jbeyq, gur pbeerpg nafjre fubhyq or N.

In response to comment by [deleted] on 2012 Less Wrong Census/Survey
Comment author: magfrump 06 November 2012 04:06:15AM 0 points [-]

My suspicion is that the openness questions in that test are geared toward people who are also Myers-Briggs S's; I also predict that LWers will be almost entirely N's (50% confidence interval: at least 85% N), and so score significantly less openness.

Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 12 November 2012 03:08:55AM 0 points [-]

I am a massive N on the meyers briggs astrology test, yes I scored 96% for openness on the big-5.

I suspect our responses to questions like "I am an original thinker" have a lot to do with our social context. Right now, the people I run into day to day are fairly representative of the general population with little to skew toward toward the intellectual or original other than "people who hold down decent jobs, or did so until they retired". It doesn't take a great lack of humility to realize that compared to most of these people, I am a brilliant and original thinker.

OTOH, it's not like I'm Feynman or something. If I were working somewhere that filtered strongly for intelligence, like a hot tech startup or academe and had done so for long enough, I would probably feel relatively average and very focused on how to bridge the gap between me and those at the level or two above, vs. a dim awareness of the vast intellectual and originality gap between my associates and the typical person.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 23 August 2012 10:33:43AM *  5 points [-]

What people usually mean when they talk about flying cars is something as small, safe, convenient and cheap as a ground car.

There will never be any such thing. The basic problem with the skycar idea -- the "Model T" airplane for the masses -- is that skycars have inherent and substantial safety hazards compared to ground transport. If a groundcar goes wrong, you only have its kinetic energy to worry about, and it has brakes to deal with that. It can still kill people, and it does, tens of thousands every year, but there are far more minor accidents that do lesser damage, and an unmeasurable number of incidents where someone has avoided trouble by safely bringing the car to a stop.

For a skycar in flight, there is no such thing as a fender-bender. It not only travels faster (it has to, for lift, or the fuel consumption for hovering goes through the roof, and there goes the cheapness), but has in addition the gravitational energy to get rid of when it goes wrong. From just 400 feet up, it will crash at at least 100mph.

When it crashes, it could crash on anything. Nobody is safe from skycars. When a groundcar crashes, the danger zone is confined to the immediate vicinity of the road.

Controlling an aircraft is also far more difficult than controlling a car, taking far more training, partly because the task is inherently more complicated, and partly because the risks of a mistake are so much greater.

Optimistically, I can't see the Moller skycars or anything like them ever being more than a niche within general aviation.

Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 23 August 2012 01:26:25PM *  3 points [-]

You say that "There will never be any such thing", but your reasons tell only why the problem is hard and much harder than one might think at first, not why it is impossible. Surely the kind of tech needed for self-driving cars, perhaps an order of magnitude more complicated, would make it possible to have safe, convenient, cheap flying cars or their functional equivalent.

At worst, the reasons you state would make it AI-complete, and even that seems unreasonably pessimistic.

Comment author: JGWeissman 19 August 2012 01:54:59PM 6 points [-]

I'll bet at least a few people save their money or donate to charity instead of buying stuff they don't really need.

That sounds like a bet you would win. However, the thing I claim no one is actually doing is taking the money they would be spending on whole life insurance premiums, and investing it as well as an insurance provider would, for the purpose of later subsidizing the larger premiums they would have to pay for whole life insurance when they are older. That would be a crazy thing to do, as it is more work, more risk in resources that are sub-linearly instrumentally valued, and doesn't cover you during the time you are investing instead of paying premiums.

Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 21 August 2012 02:40:13AM *  0 points [-]

It's only a crazy thing to do if you are pretty sure you will need/want the insurance for the rest of your life. If you aren't sure, then you are paying a bunch of your investment money for insurance you might decide you don't need (and in fact, you definitely won't need financially once you have self-funded).

If you are convinced that cryonics is a good investment, and don't have the money to fund it out of current capital, then that seems like a good reason to buy some kind of life insurance, and a universal life policy is probably one of the better ways to do it.

It's probably a bit more expensive than buying term life and investing the difference[1], if you can and will invest reasonably well (it's not actually all that complicated, but it is just enough so to be vulnerable to akrasia problems). Someone who geeks out on financial decisions and doesn't find them uncomfortable or boring work may be better off doing it themselves. Others should go for the UL policy.

If you have the money to fund it, some kind of trust is likely to be a much cheaper option for legal protection than an insurance policy.

[1] there are some tax advantages to investing within the UL that can make it less expensive than term+invest for those who have already maxed out their tax-deferred savings in 401(k)/IRA/etc.

Comment author: Ghatanathoah 27 July 2012 09:03:20PM *  -1 points [-]

I don't think anyone in the entire population ethics literature reads Parfit as you do: the moral problem is not one of feasibility via resource constraint, but rather just that Z is a morally preferable state of affairs to A, even if it is not feasible.

The view I am criticizing is not that Z may be preferable to A, under some circumstances. It is the view that if the only ways Z and A differ is that Z has a higher population, and lower quality of life, then Z is preferable to A. This may not be how Parfit is correctly interpreted, but it is a common enough interpretation that I think it needs to be attacked.

Again, the paradoxical nature of the MAP is not harmed even if it demands utterly infeasible or even nomologically impossible, but that were we able to actualize Z we should do it.

Again, my complaint with the paradox is not that, if Z and A are our only choices, that A is preferable to Z. Rather my complaint is the interpretation that if we were given some other alternative, Y that has a much larger population than A, but a smaller population and higher quality of life than Z, that Z would be preferable to Y as well.

All things equal a world with 50 Utils burning 2 million utils is better than one with 10 utils burning 10. So (again) objections to feasibility or efficiency shouldn't harm the MAP route to the repugnant conclusion.

Again, I admitted that my solution might allow a MAP route to the repugnant conclusion under some instances like the one you describe. My main argument is that under circumstances where our choices are not constrained in such a manner, it is better to pick a society with a higher quality of life and lower population.

So the A to A+ move has a small drop in average but a massive gain in utility, and persons already existing gain a boost in their wellbeing (and I can twist the dials even more astronomically). So if we can add these people, redistributing between them such that total value and equality increases seems plausible. And so we're off to the races. It might be the case that each move demands arbitrarily massive (and inefficient) use resources to actualize - but, again, this is irrelevant to a moral paradox.

Again, my objection is not that going this route is preferable is the best choice if it is the only choice we are allowed. My objection is to people who interpret Parfit to mean that even under circumstances where we are not in such a hypothetical and have more option to choose from, we should still choose the world with lives barely worth living (i.e. Robin Hanson). Again, those people may be interpreting Parfit incorrectly, which in turn makes my criticism seem like an incorrect interpretation of Parfit. But I think it is a common enough view that it deserves criticism.

In light of your and Unnamed's comments I have edited my post and added an explanatory paragraph at the beginning, which says:

"EDIT: To make this clearer, the interpretation of the Mere Addition Paradox this post is intended to criticize is the belief that two societies that differ in no way other than that one has a higher population and lower quality of life than the other, that that society is necessarily better than the one with the lower population and higher quality of life. Several commenters have argued that this is not a correct interpretation of the Mere Addition Paradox. They seem to claim that a more correct interpretation is that a sufficiently large population with a lower quality of life is better than a smaller one with a higher quality of life, but that it may need to differ in other ways (such as access to resources) to be truly better. They may be right, but I think that it is still a common enough interpretation that it needs attacking. The main practical difference between the interpretation that I am attacking and the interpretation they hold is that the former confers a moral obligation to create as many people as possible, regardless of its effects on quality of life, but the later does not."

Let me know if that deals sufficiently with your objections.

Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 28 July 2012 05:44:29AM 0 points [-]

" It is the view that if the only ways Z and A differ is that Z has a higher population, and lower quality of life, then Z is preferable to A. This may not be how Parfit is correctly interpreted, but it is a common enough interpretation that I think it needs to be attacked."

Generally it's a good idea to think twice and reread before assuming that a published and frequently cited paper is saying something so obviously stupid.

Your edit doesn't help much at all. You talk about what others "seem to claim", but the argument that you have claimed Parfit is making is so obviously nonsensical, that it would lead me to wonder why anyone cites his paper at all, or why any philosophers or mathematicians have bothered to refute or support it's conclusions with more than a passing snark. A quick google search on the term "Repugnant Conclusion" leads to a wikipedia page that is far more informative than anything you have written here.

Comment author: David_Gerard 26 July 2012 02:38:51PM 13 points [-]

Front page worthy.

Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 28 July 2012 05:28:19AM 6 points [-]

Not even close. The primary content of the OP is based on a straw man due to a massive misunderstanding of the mathematical arguments about the Repugnant Conclusion.

The conclusion of what Partfit actually demonstrated goes something more like this:

For any coherent mathematical definition of utility such that there is some additive functions which allows you to sum the utility of many people to determine U(population), the following paradox exists:

Given any world with positive utility A, there exists <b>at least one</b> other world B with more people, and less average utiity per person which your utility system will judge to be better, i.e.: U(B) > U(A).

Parfit does not conclude that you necessarily reach world B by maximizing reproduction from world A nor that every world with more people and less average utility is better. Only worlds with a higher total utility are considered "better". This of course implies either more resources, or more utility efficient use of resources in the "better" world.

The cable channel analogy would be to say "As long as every extra cable channel I add provides at least some constant positive utility epsilon>0, even if it is vanishingly small, there is some number of cable channels I can put into your feed that will make it worth $100 to you." Is this really so hard to accept? It seems obviously true even if irrelevant to real life where most of us would have diminishing marginal utility of cable channels.

Parfit's point is that it is hard for the human brain to accept the possibility that some world with uncounted numbers of people with lives just barely worth living could possibly be better than any world with a bunch of very happy high utility people (he can't accept it himself), even though any algebraically coherent system of utility will lead to that very conclusion.

John Maxwell's comment gets to the heart of the issue, the term "just barely worth living". Philosophy always struggles where math meets natural language, and this is a classic example.

The phrase "just barely worth living" conjures up an image of a life that is barely better than the kind of neverending torture/loneliness scenario where we might consider encouraging suicide.

But the taboos against suicide are strong. Even putting aside taboos, there are large amounts of collateral damage from suicides. The most obvious is that anyone who has emotional or family connections to a suicide will suffer. Even people who are very isolated, will have some connection, and suicide could trigger grief or depression in any people who encounter them or their story. There are also some very scary studies about suicide and accident rates going up in the aftermath of publicized suicides or accidents, due to social lemming like programming in humans.

So it is quite rational for most people to not consider suicide until their personal utility is highly negative if they care at all about the people or world around them. For most of us, a life just above the suicide threshold would be a negative utility life and a fairly large negative utility.

A life with utility positive epsilon is not a life of sadness or pain, but a life that we would just barely choose to live, as a disembodied soul given a choice of life X or non-existence. Such a life, IMO will be comfortably clear of the suicide threshold, and would, in my opinion, represent an improvement in the world. Why wouldn't it? It is by definition, a life that someone would choose to have rather than not have! How could that not improve the world?

Given this interpretation of "just barely worth living", I accept the so-called Repugnant conclusion, and go happily on my way calculating utility functions.

RC is just the mirror image of the tortured person versus 3^^^^3 persons with dust specks in their eyes debate.

Tabooing "life just barely worth living", and then shutting up and multiplying led me to realize that the so-called Repugnant conclusion wasn't repugnant after all.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 21 April 2012 11:45:22PM *  2 points [-]

"Appeal to authority" doesn't even seem like much of a fallacy to me... If I'm an argument with a non-physicist on whether faster than light travel is possible, and I'm a non-physicist myself, am I better off explaining some elementary understanding of physics I happen to have or quoting a famous physicist?

I would think that a summary of the understanding of a famous physicist would be much stronger Bayesian evidence than some elementary secondhand physics explanation from me.

Of course, an entire physics textbook, complete with citations of key physics papers and findings, is probably stronger Bayesian evidence still.

Edit: Looks as though the poster addresses my point:

It is important to note with this fallacy that authorities in given fields may very well have valid arguments, and that one should not dismiss another's experience and expertise. To form an argument, however, one must defend it on its merits i.e. know why the person in authority holds the particular position that they do. It is, of course, entirely possible that the opinion of a person or institution of authority is wrong; therefore the authority that such a person or institution holds does not have any intrinsic bearing upon whether their claims are true or not.

It sounds as though they're saying it's okay to borrow arguments from people in authority, but they're unclear on whether just taking their opinion at face value is okay.

To make your own personal estimate as accurate as possible, it seems like you'd want to average together independent estimates from many people that were familiar with the relevant arguments and evidence, weighting folks according to their expertise/prediction track record. It seems silly to privilege your own estimate. So I'm definitely in favor of relying on this sort of authority for making your own personal estimate, but you might not want to share them to prevent information cascades. See also.

Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 22 April 2012 11:00:13PM 1 point [-]

My understanding is that the "appeal to authority fallacy" is specifically about appealing to irrelevant authorities. Quoting a physicist on their opinion about a physics question within their area of expertise would make an excellent non-fallacious argument. On the other hand, appealing to the opinion of say, a politician or CEO about a physics question would be a classic example of the appeal to authority fallacy. Such people's opinions would represent expert evidence in their fields of expertise, but not outside them.

I don't think the poster's description makes this clear and it really does suggest that any appeal to authority at all is a logical fallacy.

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