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

Comment author: BeleagueredPotential 18 June 2017 08:10:22AM *  0 points [-]

I find myself in a potentially critical crossroads at the moment, one that could affect my ability to become a productive researcher for friendly AI in the future. I'll do my best to summarize the situation.

I had very strong mental capabilities 7 years ago, but a series of unfortunate health related problems including a near life threatening infection led to me developing a case of myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome). This disease is characterized by extreme fatigue that usually worsens with physical or mental exertion, and is not significantly improved by rest. There are numerous other symptoms that are common to ME, I luckily escaped a great many of them. However I developed the concentration and memory problems which are common to ME to a very large degree.

I had somewhat bad ME until a few years ago when in conjunction with a mind/body specialist I was able to put it into partial remission. I am now able to do physically demanding activities without fatigue but I still have severe cognitive constraints; my intelligence now seems to be almost as sharp as it ever was despite deficits in mental energy, concentration, and memory (especially working memory). However having efficacious mental throughput relies so much on these attributes that support intelligence, and I am hardly useful at all as it stands. Therefore my primary concern these past few years has been to resolve my medical issues to a large enough degree to enable real productivity.

I am still in this state despite putting all of my effort towards remedying it, I have stuck to safer treatments (like bacteriotherapy or sublingual methylcobalamin) in order to prevent worsening my condition (although I have had some repercussions from following even this philosophy). I am wondering if I can reasonably expect to get better using this methodology though. It could be that I need to take more extreme risks, because I won't do any good as I am and time continues to tick away. Looking at the the big picture with a properly pessimistic outlook gives me the impression that friendly AI research does not have a lot of time to spare as it is.

There is a doctor that is recommended by a large amount of people on a ME forum I frequent who has exceptionally aggressive treatment protocols. His name is Dr. Kenny de Meirleir and while I have misgivings about some of the stuff I've read about him, I've pretty much given up on trying to find someone who is both good and doesn't have a long wait list. I've gotten on the wait list of one practitioner who is local but I do not have too much confidence in them. Dr. Meirleir wasn't too difficult to get an appointment with because he travels to the USA for a few days every couple of months and these appointments are not widely known about.

However even the cost of initial tests and evaluation could be an unrecoverable failure for me if they don't pan out like I hope. It will cost thousands of dollars to pay for travel to the states, hotel, the consultation, and the comprehensive tests he is likely to run; even considering how much of the lab tests my own country will probably cover. Although at least then I could finally confirm a lot of unknowns about my health, such as whether there are infectious agents still affecting me. Despite all the testing I've gone through over the years he does a lot of tests I haven't gotten yet.

It really depends on the results of the tests, but I'm reading plenty of anecdotal reports that suggest a high likelihood of me getting put on multiple antibiotics by him. Plenty of people whose stories I have read have reported worsening conditions and relapses of ME due to antibiotics, and I know from my research that ME treatments in general often have these risks.

The quantity of symptoms I have has always been small, which might indicate that there is a lot more of my physiology that is working the way it should be compared to the average ME patient. My condition is also in partial remission already and I am still under 30, so I consider myself to have better odds of major recovery than the low rates of total remission this disease is usually predicted to have.

The question then is; as rationalists what path do you think I should take here? If I choose to go to the appointment next weekend, I lose a large chunk of my limited capital but gain knowledge and possibilities for treatment. If I then proceed to do treatment of the type he often prescribes, I probably lose most or all of my remaining money in something that could stand the best chance of making me functional again but that could also do nothing or make me irrecoverably worse (or anything else between the two extremes). This is not money I can recover easily, work is difficult still and it could take me lots of time to save considering normal essential expenses. If I chose to do nothing, cancel the appointment, and continue on my safe but so far ineffective path then I keep the status quo and avoid risking my health. Although if I do this I waste precious time either waiting for one of my less risky solutions to work, or waiting for the unlikely possibility of researchers developing a cure anytime soon. The years it will take for me to finish developing and expanding my skills and knowledge after recovery have to be factored in as well, I cannot just jump into FAI research right away. There are no doubt other options and variables I cannot see at the moment but I haven't found them as of yet.

Due to the aforementioned cognitive restraints I know that my ideas and research I have done on my condition are probably riddled with biases, errors, and gaps in knowledge. If anyone can offer suggestions or comments about this situation it would be appreciated. It's safe to assume that the personal outcomes I face from this choice only matter in the context of whether it increases or decreases the probability of me being useful to friendly AI development in the future. Even if I only further recover partially and can contribute in other ways (like financially), I'll consider that worth the effort.

I might not get the chance to answer any responses in a timely manner because of how much strain writing causes me (and if I do decide not to cancel the appointment I will have to prepare for travel this coming weekend). However reading and thinking both cost me less energy so know that any responses posted will be considered by me as carefully as I can and it will give me more perspective to help decide what to do in this situation.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 18 June 2017 11:33:53AM 2 points [-]

I'm going to take a wild guess, and suggest that your attitude towards FAI research, and your experience of CFS, are actually related. I have no idea if this is a standard theory, but in some ways CFS sounds like depression minus the emotion - and that is a characteristic symptom in people who have a purpose they regard as supremely important, who find absolutely no support for their attempt to pursue it, but who continue to regard it as supremely important.

The point being that when something is that important, it's easy to devalue certain aspects of your own difficulties. Yes, running into a blank wall of collective incomprehension and indifference may have been personally shattering; you may be in agony over the way that what you have to do in order to stay alive, interferes with your ability to preserve even the most basic insights that motivate your position ... but it's an indulgence to think about these feelings, because there is an invisible crisis happening that's much more important.

So you just keep grinding away, or you keep crawling through the desert of your life, or you give up completely and are left only with a philosophical perspective that you can talk about but can't act on... I don't know all the permutations. And then at some point it affects your health. I don't want to say that this is solely about emotion, we are chemical beings affected by genetics, nutrition, and pathogens too. But the planes intersect, e.g. through autoimmune disorders or weakened disease resistance.

The core psychological and practical problem is, there's a difficult task - the great purpose, whatever it is - being made more difficult in ways that have no intrinsic connection to the problem, but are solely about lack of support, or even outright interference. And then on top of that, you may also have doubts and meta doubts to deal with - coming from others and from yourself (and some of those doubts may be justified!). Finally, health problems round out the picture.

The one positive in this situation, is that while all those negatives can reinforce each other, positive developments in one area can also carry across to another.

OK, so that's my attempt to reflect back to you, how you sound to me. As for practical matters, I have only one suggestion. You say

he travels to the USA for a few days every couple of months

so I suggest that you at least wait until his next visit, and use that extra time to understand better how all these aspects of your life intersect.

Comment author: sad_dolphin 06 June 2017 01:35:32PM *  2 points [-]

I am considering ending my life because of fears related to AI risk. I am posting here because I want other people to review my reasoning process and help ensure I make the right decision.

First, this is not an emergency situation. I do not currently intend to commit suicide, nor have I made any plan for doing so. No matter what I decide, I will wait several years to be sure of my preference. I am not at all an impulsive person, and I know that ASI is very unlikely to be invented in less than a few decades.

I am not sure if it would be appropriate to talk about this here, and I prefer private conversations anyway, so the purpose of this post is to find people willing to talk with me through PMs. To summarize my issue: I only desire to live because of the possibility of utopia, but I have recently realized that ASI-provided immortal life is significantly likely to be bad rather than good. If you are very familiar with the topics of AI risk, mind uploading, and utilitarianism, please consider sending me a message with a brief explanation of your beliefs and your intent to help me. I especially urge you to contact me if you already have similar fears of AI, even if you are a lurker and are not sure if you should. Because of the sensitive nature of this topic, I may not respond unless you provide an appropriately genuine introduction and/or have a legitimate posting history.

Please do not reply/PM if you just want to tell me to call a suicide prevention hotline, tell me the standard objections to suicide, or give me depression treatment advice. I might take a long time to respond to PMs, especially if several people end up contacting me. If nobody contacts me I will repost this in the next discussion thread or on another website.

Edit: The word limit on LW messages is problematic, so please email me at sad_dolphin@protonmail.com instead.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 08 June 2017 07:10:19PM 0 points [-]

If ASI-provided immortal life were possible, you would already be living it.

... because if you're somewhere in an infinite sequence, you're more likely to be in the middle than at the beginning.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 25 May 2017 09:29:48AM 7 points [-]

Suppose there's some idea, X, which you think might help to solve a problem, Y. And there's also a dumb version of X, X', which you know doesn't work, but which still has enthusiasts.

And then one day there's a headline: CAN IDEA X SOLVE PROBLEM Y? Only you find out that it's actually X', the dumb version of X, that is being presented to the world as X... and nothing is done to convey the difference between X' and the version of X that actually warrants attention.

That is, more or less, the situation I find myself in, with respect to this article. I wish there were some snappier way to convey the situation, without talking about X and X' and so on, but I haven't found a way to do it.

Problem Y is: explain why quantum mechanics works, without saying that things don't have properties until they are measured, and so on.

Idea X is, these days, usually called Bohmian mechanics. To the Schrodinger equation, which describes the time evolution of the wavefunction of quantum mechanics, it adds a classical equation of motion for the particles, fields, etc. The particles, fields, etc., evolve on a trajectory in state space which follows the probability current in state space, as defined by the Schrodinger equation.

The original version of this idea is due to de Broglie, who proposed that particles are guided by waves. This was called pilot-wave theory, because the wave "pilots" the particle.

Pilot-wave theory was proposed in the very early days of quantum theory, before the significance of entanglement was properly appreciated. The significance of entanglement is that you don't have one wavefunction per particle, you just have one big wavefunction which provides probabilities for joint configurations of particles.

A pilot-wave theory for many particles, in the form that de Broglie originally proposed - one wave per particle - contains no entanglement, and can't reproduce the multi-particle predictions of quantum mechanics, as Bell's theorem and many other theorems show. Bohmian mechanics can reproduce those predictions, because in Bohmian mechanics, the wavefunction that does the piloting is the single, entangled, multi-particle wave used in actual quantum mechanics.

All this is utterly basic knowledge for the people who work on Bohmian mechanics today. But meanwhile, apparently a group of people who work on fluid dynamics, have rediscovered de Broglie's original idea - "wave guiding a particle" - and are now promoting it as a possible explanation of quantum mechanics. They don't seem to care about the theorems proving that you can't get Bell-type correlations without using entangled waves.

So basically, this article describes the second-rate researchers in this field - in this case, people who are doing the equivalent of trying to force the square peg into the round hole - as if they are the intellectual leaders who define it!

Comment author: Rubix 02 February 2013 01:17:50AM 25 points [-]

"In any man who dies, there dies with him his first snow and kiss and fight. Not people die, but worlds die in them."

-Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 02 April 2017 12:34:23PM 3 points [-]

Ironically, the man Yevtushenko is now dead too; but the world Yevtushenko, asteroid number 4234, lives on.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 23 March 2017 09:02:15PM 1 point [-]

No, there is no evidence of such replication. This isn't really compatible with gays being detectable at age <5. Also, it's pretty clear that isn't what happens in sheep, which are highly analogous.

Common infections can have effects on a small population. For example, Barr-Epstein is implicated in at least some cases of narcolepsy, but 95% of the population tests positive for it.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 30 March 2017 10:10:09AM 1 point [-]

What about pederasty in ancient Greece, what about sex in all-male prisons... in both those cases, you have men who by current definitions are not gay, but rather bisexual. And in both cases you have recruitment into an existing sexual culture, whether through seduction or coercion.

Human sexuality can clearly assume an enormous variety of forms, and I don't have a unified theory of it. Obviously genes matter, starting with the basic facts of sex determination, and then in a more elusive way, having some effect on sexual dispositions in the mature organism.

And yes, natural selection will be at work. But, in this case it is heavily mediated by culture (which is itself a realm of replicator populations), and it is constrained by the evolvability of the human genome. I continue to think that the existence of nonreproductive sexuality is simply a side effect of our genomic and evolutionary "business model", of leaky sexual dimorphism combined with Turing-complete cognition.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 21 March 2017 02:56:48PM 0 points [-]

Are there any ideas about how and when the gay germ is acquired?

If someone hasn't experienced sex yet, but they already think they are gay, is that because of the gay germ?

Gays generally say that they "always knew they were different" (and there is some evidence that this is not just confabulated memories), so it is probably acquired before age 5, possibly before birth. It is probably something common, like the flu. And there might be multiple infections that cause the same brain changes, as appears to be the case with narcolepsy.

If homosexuality has such a huge fitness penalty, why haven't we evolved immunity to the gay germ?

You could ask a similar question about any explanation of homosexuality. It is measured to be weakly heritable. So we know that there are genes that protect from it. Given the fitness penalty, why haven't those genes swept through the population? That wouldn't necessarily eliminate it, but they would eliminate the heritability.

There are only two possibilities: either the fitness penalty is not what it looks like (eg, the sexual antagonism hypothesis); or the environment has changed so that which genes protect has changed.

Germ theory gives a simple explanation for changing environment, The Red Queen Hypothesis: the germ is evolving, so the genes that protect against it are changing. This is the metric that Cochran and Ewald use: multiply the fitness cost by the heritability. The higher that number, the more likely the cause is infection.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 23 March 2017 07:31:20PM 1 point [-]

There actually is a known replicator that assists the reproduction of gay phenotypes, but it's a behavior: gay sex! For a recent exposition, see the video that cost "Milo" his job.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 18 March 2017 06:03:29PM 0 points [-]

I thought Cochran was a science-jock who couldn't imagine being gay

Whereas you can imagine it so easily that you didn't bother to look at the real world, just as you can imagine Cochran so easily you didn't bother to look at him

how seriously I should take the argument that there has to be (in gwern's words) a "mechanism... to offset the huge fitness penalty"

90% of biologists don't believe in evolution, either, but progress comes from those who do.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 21 March 2017 10:59:22AM 1 point [-]

I believe in evolution, I just don't believe in the gay germ.

But regardless of belief... I have some questions which I think are fair questions.

Are there any ideas about how and when the gay germ is acquired?

Are there any ideas about its mechanism of action?

If homosexuality has such a huge fitness penalty, why haven't we evolved immunity to the gay germ?

If someone hasn't experienced sex yet, but they already think they are gay, is that because of the gay germ?

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 19 March 2017 12:12:14AM *  0 points [-]

Give it all to Fabian Tassano.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 14 March 2017 07:48:25PM 1 point [-]

The gay germ theory is pretty silly

You only posit that because your paranoid ignorance of biology.

Cochran has a paranoid intuition that something else is happening, so he posits his gay germ

Bullshit. Cochran wrote down his exact thought process. He thinks that everything is due to germs. Moreover, he measures of the strength of the evidence. Schizophrenia and (male) homosexuality are at the top of the list

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 18 March 2017 07:27:19AM 3 points [-]

OK, let's talk about proximate causes and ultimate causes. The proximate causes are whatever leads to the formation of a particular human individual's sexuality. The ultimate causes are whatever it is that brought about the existence of a population of organisms in which a given sexuality is even possible.

My focus has been on proximate causes. I look at the role of fantasy, choice, and culture in shaping what a person seeks and what they can obtain, and the powerful conditioning effect of emotional and sexual reward once obtained, and I see no need at all to posit an extra category of cause, in order to explain the existence of homosexuality. It's just how some people end up satisfying their emotional and sexual drives.

What I had not grasped, is that the idea of the gay germ is being motivated by consideration of ultimate causes - all this talk of fitness penalties and failure to reproduce. I guess I thought Cochran was a science-jock who couldn't imagine being gay, and who therefore sought to explain it as resulting from an intruding perturbation of human nature.

I am frankly not sure how seriously I should take the argument that there has to be (in gwern's words) a "mechanism... to offset the huge fitness penalty". Humanity evolves through sexual selection, right? And there are lots of losers in every generation. Apparently that's part of our evolutionary "business model". Meanwhile I've argued that non-reproducing homosexuality is a human variation that arises quite easily, given our overall cognitive ensemble. So maybe natural selection has neither a clear incentive to eliminate it, nor a clear target to aim at anyway.

Comment author: gwern 12 March 2017 04:18:07PM *  3 points [-]

That theory is even worse than the inclusive fitness one because you offer no mechanism whatsoever to offset the huge fitness penalty.

Sexual imprinting is a highly successful evolved mechanism critical to reproductive fitness which does in fact succeed in the overwhelming majority of cases; in many ways, it is more important than trivial details like 'eating food' because at least an offspring which immediately starves to death doesn't drain parental resources and compete with siblings and the parents can try again! There should be a very good reason why such an important thing, found throughout the animal kingdom in far stupider & less sexually-dimorphic organisms, goes wrong in such a consistent way when other complex behaviors work at a higher rate and fail much more bluntly & chaotically. 'Random imprinting' is too weak a mechanism to thwart such a critical device, and doesn't explain why the errors do not rapidly disappear with general or sex-linked adaptations. (Even as a 5% liability-threshold binary trait, a reproductive fitness penalty of 50%, to be generous to a trait which involves active aversion to procreative sex, would imply it should be far lower now than when it first arose*.)

Further, such a random nonshared environment theory doesn't explain why dizygotic and monozygotic same-sex twins differ in concordance. (They don't differ in language, so your example is evidence against your imprinting theory.)

* https://www.researchgate.net/profile/J_Bailey2/publication/21311211_A_genetic_study_of_male_sexual_orientation/links/02e7e53c1a72a8a596000000.pdf gives a low end heritability estimate of 0.31; population prevalence among males is usually estimated ~5% giving a liability threshold of ~-1.64; homosexuality is amply documented for the past 2500 years or so, at least back to the ancient Greeks, which at a generation time of ~25 years, means 100 generations. So assuming a fitness penalty of 'just' half and that selection started only 100 generations ago (rather than much further back), we would expect the rate of homosexuality to be less than 1/5th what it is.

 threshold_select <- function(fraction_0, heritability, selection_intensity) {
library(VGAM) ## for 'probit'
fraction_probit_0 = probit(fraction_0)
## threshold for not manifesting trait:
s_0 = dnorm(fraction_probit_0) / fraction_0
## new rate after one selection:
fraction_1 = pnorm(fraction_probit_0 + heritability * s_0 * selection_intensity)
return(fraction_1)
}
threshold_select(0.95, 0.31, 0.5)
# [1] 0.9517116257
fractions <- 0.95
for (i in 2:100) { fractions[i] <- threshold_select(fractions[(i-1)], 0.31, 0.5); }
round(fractions, digits=3)
# [1] 0.950 0.952 0.953 0.955 0.956 0.958 0.959 0.960 0.961 0.963
# [11] 0.964 0.965 0.966 0.966 0.967 0.968 0.969 0.970 0.971 0.971
# [21] 0.972 0.973 0.973 0.974 0.974 0.975 0.975 0.976 0.977 0.977
# [31] 0.977 0.978 0.978 0.979 0.979 0.980 0.980 0.980 0.981 0.981
# [41] 0.981 0.982 0.982 0.982 0.983 0.983 0.983 0.983 0.984 0.984
# [51] 0.984 0.984 0.985 0.985 0.985 0.985 0.986 0.986 0.986 0.986
# [61] 0.986 0.987 0.987 0.987 0.987 0.987 0.987 0.988 0.988 0.988
# [71] 0.988 0.988 0.988 0.989 0.989 0.989 0.989 0.989 0.989 0.989
# [81] 0.989 0.990 0.990 0.990 0.990 0.990 0.990 0.990 0.990 0.990
# [91] 0.991 0.991 0.991 0.991 0.991 0.991 0.991 0.991 0.991 0.99
Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 13 March 2017 06:48:33AM 1 point [-]

My guess is that it's somehow a spandrel of intelligence.

View more: Next