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Comment author: Gleb_Tsipursky 13 January 2017 12:25:07PM 1 point [-]

Sarah's post highlights some of the essential tensions at the heart of Effective Altruism.

Do we care about "doing the most good that we can" or "being as transparent and honest as we can"? These are two different value sets. They will sometimes overlap, and in other cases will not.

And please don't say that "we do the most good that we can by being as transparent and honest as we can" or that "being as transparent and honest as we can" is best in the long term. Just don't. You're simply lying to yourself and to everyone else if you say that. If you can't imagine a scenario where "doing the most good that we can" or "being as transparent and honest as we can" are opposed, you've just suffered from a failure mode by flinching away from the truth.

So when push comes to shove, which one do we prioritize? When we have to throw the switch and have the trolley crush either "doing the most good" or "being as transparent and honest as we can," which do we choose?

For a toy example, say you are talking to your billionaire uncle on his deathbed and trying to convince him to leave money to AMF instead of his current favorite charity, the local art museum. You know he would respond better if you exaggerate the impact of AMF. Would you do so, whether lying by omission or in any other way, in order to get much more money for AMF, given that no one else would find out about this situation? What about if you know that other family members are standing in the wings and ready to use all sorts of lies to advocate for their favorite charities?

If you do not lie, that's fine, but don't pretend that you care about doing the most good, please. Just don't. You care about being as transparent and honest as possible over doing the most good.

If you do lie to your uncle, then you do care about doing the most good. However, you should consider at what price point you will not lie - at this point, we're just haggling.

The people quoted in Sarah's post all highlight how doing the most good sometimes involves not being as transparent and honest as we can (including myself). Different people have different price points, that's all. We're all willing to bite the bullet and sometimes send that trolley over transparency and honesty, whether questioning the value of public criticism such as Ben or appealing to emotions such as Rob or using intuition as evidence such as Jacy, for the sake of what we believe is the most good.

As a movement, EA has a big problem with believing that ends never justify the means. Yes, sometimes ends do justify the means - at least if we care about doing the most good. We can debate whether we are mistaken about the ends not justifying the means, but using insufficient means to accomplish the ends is just as bad as using excessive means to get to the ends. If we are truly serious about doing the most good as possible, we should let our end goal be the North Star, and work backward from there, as opposed to hobbling ourselves by preconceived notions of "intellectual rigor" at the cost of doing the most good.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 13 January 2017 02:53:23PM 6 points [-]

"Would you do so, whether lying by omission or in any other way, in order to get much more money for AMF, given that no one else would find out about this situation?"

No, I would not. Because if I would, they would find out about the situation, not by investigating those facts, but by checking my comments on Less Wrong when I said I would do that. Or in other words, if you ever are talking to a billionaire uncle in real life, they may well have read your comments, and so there will be no chance of persuading them to do what you want even if you refrain from lying.

You are very, very wrong here, and it should be evident that by your own standards, if you right, you should keep your opinions to yourself and pretend to be in favor of transparency and honesty.

Comment author: James_Miller 13 January 2017 12:12:53AM 12 points [-]

Please keep it. Politics is the mind killer mostly comes into play when debating which side is morally right, not when trying to figure out why one side won.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 13 January 2017 04:12:05AM 0 points [-]

It comes into play quite a bit when talking about why one side won as well, since you keep seeing people say, "We didn't win because we weren't faithful enough to our principles," when it is obvious from the beginning that political parties will tend to lose because they are too faithful to their principles, i.e. not centrist enough.

Comment author: chaosmage 10 January 2017 02:37:02PM *  2 points [-]

I want to downvote it because it lazily rehashes outdated clich├ęs.

This type of description of "cults" has always had a bunch of problems. Let's be generous and disregard the "cult" label (although it is entirely discredited in the scientific study of what is now referred to as New Religious Movements) because we can replace it with some other word. Still, this does not look at actual existing cults at all. People's Temple self-destructed almost 40 years ago. There are thousands of other cults (tens of thousands if you include Asia) and this description disregards all of them. It has no basis of data whatsoever.

What it has is a "checklist" of criteria that are very fuzzy and offer no clarity on what is or isn't a cult. All these do is provide a lot of threatening language to reinforce the idea that cults are dangerous. Which is not a proven fact. There's solid evidence certain specific group have certain specific dangers - Scientology is the big one. But "cultishness" in general, i.e. basically religiosity with heightened tribalism, is not established to be dangerous. [Edit: Not established to be more dangerous than mainstream religion.] And this type of "cult checklist" narrative distracts from this simple fact by just piling vague threatening assertions onto vague threatening assertions.

I would downvote this anywhere, but on LW, where we're supposed to think critically, check our sources and believe only what we have good reason to believe, it seems particularly inappropriate.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 10 January 2017 04:38:53PM 0 points [-]

I agree with your definition of "cultishness" as "religiosity with heightened tribalism." I think it is very, very obvious that this is more dangerous than mainstream religion and not something that needs some special method to "establish."

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 07 January 2017 06:51:32AM 0 points [-]

This is a stupid comment. I would downvote it and move on, but I can't, so I'm making this comment.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 07 January 2017 05:22:05PM 2 points [-]

I agree with this, if "this" refers to your own comment and not the one it replies to.

Comment author: Dagon 05 January 2017 10:01:09PM 2 points [-]

Calculate the chance of breaking the casino, for any finite maximum payout. It's always non-zero, there are no infinities.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 06 January 2017 06:12:28AM 0 points [-]

This is not anyone's true rejection, since no one would plan to play until they lost everything even if the casino had infinite wealth.

Comment author: Bound_up 03 January 2017 01:15:17PM 0 points [-]
  1. Impossible overstates it. It is sufficiently difficult as to not be worth using it, making things more difficult than they have to be. This, again, relates to clarity. If there are people who need unclarity, that's a strategic concern, not one of understanding things as they are.

  2. In the case of God, I think "God does not exist" is sufficiently obvious. People aren't going to stop expecting the universe to behave consistently because they realized "God does not exist" is probably true. As such, they have effectively distinguished God from the laws of the universe.

I could imagine other cases where the effect you describe is stronger, though. It's an interesting point.

And, of course, again I recognize the non-epistemic part of this decision. If we're pursuing clarity, we should avoid these ambiguous and loaded terms and use others. If it's a question of strategy, we might not WANT that complete clarity, sure.

I'm thinking this might be the majority of our perceived disagreement. If so, I want to emphasize again that my strict lines are only talking about epistemics, about clarity. I recognize that there may be strategic reasons to avoid that clarity.

In other words, I'm not saying "say God when we don't mean God" BAD, "not so say" GOOD.

I'm saying "say God when we don't mean God" UNCLEAR, "not so say" CLEAR.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 03 January 2017 03:15:17PM 0 points [-]

We probably mostly agree about the practical part of this, although I suspect that due to lack of experience, you underestimate the practical costs of verbal atheism for many people. This at least is suggested by your previous reference to "coddling" people.

I do not think we agree on the epistemic issue yet, since you seem to be saying that there are no epistemic costs to atheism. It may or may not be possible to resolve this disagreement, depending on an issue I will discuss shortly.

But first, when I spoke of an epistemic cost, I did not mean adopting a false belief, or at least not necessarily. I meant a trend toward something false. That is why I used the phrase "as if." So for example one of the reasons that most of us are not much concerned about the epistemic costs of reading fiction is that there is no particular false belief that reading fiction forces one to adopt: there is a simply a trend towards positions more similar to the ones expressed in the fiction. So there is an epistemic cost, but one is not forced to adopt a false belief.

This is relevant to your comment that "people aren't going to stop expecting the universe to behave consistently because they realized 'God does not exist' is probably true." Basically you are saying that this will not force people to adopt a false belief. I agree. But I say that there will be a trend towards a false belief (and I will explain that shortly.) The same thing is true if you speak of God as the principle(s) responsible for the universe. If a person says that God is such a principle, but not a person, they will not expect God to e.g. speak with them personally and give them a revelation. So they have effectively distinguished "God" or the principles responsible for the universe from the personal God of theism. But there will still be a trend towards false beliefs. That is true, in my opinion, on both sides of this issue.

Getting to the point of our disagreement, I think there is an actual false belief that many atheists adopt, and that many others trend towards adopting. Now it may be that you yourself hold this belief. If so, then for me it will be evidence that I am right, since it will show that you have fallen prey to the epistemic cost that I am talking about. But since in this case you will not agree that your belief is false, for you it will be evidence that you are right: you will simply think that I have fallen prey to the opposite epistemic cost.

Thus: "as such, they have effectively distinguished God from the laws of universe." Not if they think the laws of the universe do not exist; for in that case, just as they say that God does not exist, they also say that the laws of the universe do not exist. In other words, we can say that things fall because of the law of gravity. But what is the law of gravity, and where is it found? If it is nothing but an idea in our minds, and nothing at all in the real world, then the law of gravity does not exist, and the fact that things fall is a brute fact which has nothing responsible for it. Many atheists think that this account is true, and in that way they do indeed believe that there are no principles responsible for the world.

As I said previously, I think that this position is falser than theism. Saying that there is literally nothing at all responsible for things is falser than saying that a person is responsible, although both are false. But as I said, you may hold this belief yourself, and in that case, this would indicate to me that I am right about the epistemic cost of atheism, but it would indicate the opposite to you.

Comment author: Bound_up 30 December 2016 04:05:33PM 0 points [-]

Have you read "A Human's Guide to Words" from the sequences? I recommend it highly, and I think it clears up our disagreement.

If we were computers, or perfect philosophers, you would be completely correct. As it stands, you're still mostly correct. Unfortunately, humans have certain defects which require us to take certain precautions, including caring about connotations as well as denotations, as also history of usage and so on.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 01 January 2017 09:21:07PM 0 points [-]

Yes, I've read the post you mention. But since you didn't fully spell it out, I'm not sure what you're intending to say. I can think of at least two interpretations, one I would disagree with, and one I would agree with.

1) You might be saying that it is impossible to do what I am suggesting given the way people actually relate to words. In this case I would disagree, and I also suspect that you would not apply such a principle consistently, e.g. to speaking about the gender of trans people.

2) You might simply be saying that doing what I am proposing has an epistemic cost. In that case I would agree. For example, take someone who is raised believing in God. He might think, "God is the principle or principles most responsible for the world." Understood in that way, God might very well be the laws of nature or something like that. But if the person previously believed that God was a person, then continuing to speak in that way will make him tend to think "as if" the world was caused by a person, even if he specifically denies it. I agree with that, but have two things to say about it:

First, for such a person, saying that "God does not exist," also has an epistemic cost. Because this will tend to make him think "as if" there were no principles responsible for the world. It is not obvious which cost is worse. Personally I think that "there are no principles responsible for the world" is falser than "a person is responsible for the world," even though both are false. Of course you can respond that you simply don't accept the false thing: but that is possible whether you speak the one way or the other.

Second, there are non-epistemic costs and benefits, and you have to consider these when you consider which way to speak. This is why I brought up the tribal issue: even if the epistemic cost of speaking of God as something existing is higher than speaking as an atheist, it might turn out (at least for people who are members of some communities) that overall the cost of saying that God does not exist is higher.

You can compare this with reading fiction. There can be no reasonable doubt that reading fiction has an epistemic cost, and that in general it will lead you to think "as if" reality were more like the story than it is. But reading fiction can also have epistemic benefits, and it definitely has non-epistemic benefits, so that most people believe (as I do) that the overall benefits outweigh the costs.

Comment author: Brillyant 30 December 2016 09:04:44PM 0 points [-]

I believe life has no absolute purpose. This is probably a costly belief compared to other, more rosy (i.e. religious) beliefs with which I am very familiar.

Nonetheless, I hold the belief I do, despite it's negative consequences (emotional, motivational, psychological, etc.), because I'm compelled to believe this way based on the evidence.

As I said, I don't see any reason someone couldn't believe in a non-honest god. I've talked to deists who don't consider "honesty" a characteristic that applies to the sort of hyper-powerful entity they believe created all things.

If our conscious experience is a simulation, then are the creators of that simulation (i.e. the gods) being "honest"?

Comment author: entirelyuseless 01 January 2017 09:00:13PM 0 points [-]

I think you are factually mistaken about whether life has a purpose. Of course to see whether we actually disagree about this I would have to know why you added the word "absolute" there. But it looks to me like you just agree with Eliezer that reality in itself is indifferent. As I have said in other threads, I think reality in itself is good. Evidence that reality is purposeless, for me, would be a reality where there are no tendencies. Of course it is hard to imagine such a world, and it may be entirely impossible. But there is nothing strange about this: since I think that reality is fundamentally good, I think that trying to imagine a reality which is not good is trying to imagine a reality that lacks the fundamental stuff of reality -- i.e, an unreal reality, which is a contradiction.

In any case, I accept that this is your opinion and that you think you are compelled by evidence to hold this. But in that case, you think that you benefit by having an accurate map of reality. And this benefit could offset the costs you mention. If it does not offset them, then perhaps you should reconsider your opinion. And about being "compelled to believe," you are not compelled to believe anything. There are clearly people who reject evidence, and you are as human as they are, so you can reject evidence if you wish to do so. Whether or not people do so will depend on whether or not they value having an accurate map of reality, or at any rate how they value that compared to other things, since everyone has at least a little bit of desire for an accurate map. So you are only "compelled" because you think that the benefit of the accurate map outweighs those other costs you mention.

As I said, I agree that there is no reason why the causes of the world would have to be "honest." I said that there can't be a good reason to believe in an all powerful dishonest being, because there are no benefits to that belief which could offset the costs. Having an accurate map of reality could not be the benefit, because there is no evidence (and there could not be any such evidence in principle) that could possibly indicate that the world was created by an all powerful and dishonest being. Because "dishonest" just means one that wants to deceive you. And such a being will deceive you, since it wants to and is all powerful. So if you think that some evidence indicates the existence of such a being, then your evidence is worthless, since an all powerful being that wished to deceive you would succeed in doing so, even if it simply wanted to make you think that you had good evidence for something -- your evidence might seem completely convincing, but it could be totally false. And you could you have no convincing reason for saying your evaluation of the evidence is not totally false, given that you are saying that there is an all powerful being that wishes to deceive you.

Likewise, there are no practical benefits to such a belief. So there is no reason, neither intellectual nor practical, that could lead someone to believe in a dishonest God.

Still, this is a question of what is possible in practice, not of what is possible in principle. Theoretically someone could mistakenly believe that he got some benefits from the belief, and so adopt it, just as you mistakenly believe that you get an accurate map of reality by saying that life has no purpose.

In the case of the simulation, the creators of the simulation are not gods in the way we are talking about, because they are presumably not all powerful: a simulator as we understand it would have to do some work to change the content of the simulation, so making that change would impose some cost on them. So honest or dishonest, they will not be a "dishonest God" in the way I was talking about it. In any case, I did not say that a dishonest God is impossible: I said there can be no reason to hold such a belief, and that is a different matter. It is not impossible for you not to exist, but there can be no reason for you to believe, "I do not exist."

Comment author: Bound_up 30 December 2016 03:57:45PM 0 points [-]

Look, man, I have nothing to say about whether or not there's any "point" to believing or disbelieving in a dishonest God. I have spoken only on what kind of evidence would suggest such a being was real or not.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 30 December 2016 04:02:30PM 0 points [-]

Sure. But as long as it is pointless to believe something, there is no reason to believe it, regardless of the condition of the evidence. This is basically a tautology.

Comment author: Viliam 22 December 2016 09:03:47AM 0 points [-]

Not wanting to change to some other word is not because they do not want to admit they were wrong. It is because they do not want to abandon their tribe.

So they don't want their tribe to know that they internally admit they were wrong. Then this is about strategic lying.

(Note: I am not against strategic lying per se. If my life would be threatened if I tell the truth, I would definitely be interested in learning good methods of strategic lying.)

Comment author: entirelyuseless 30 December 2016 03:48:45PM 0 points [-]

I was not talking about strategic lying. It is true, however, that in many such cases strategic lying might be appropriate. This simply reveals more clearly the badness of Bound_up's advice. As I said in another comment, it comes across as, "Abandon your tribe and come over to mine!", and in fact that may be what he intends.

I was talking about using the word "God" to express whatever true elements there are in the idea, and abandoning the false elements, and being quite specific about this. This would not involve any lying, and if you are clear enough your tribe will know quite clearly that you disagree with them. Nonetheless, I assure you that people who believe in God will still feel better about this than if you simply say "God does not exist." So as long as you are only speaking of real things, a person from such a tribe will not get any benefit from denying that God exists, unless he specifically wants to say that he is abandoning his tribe and joining another.

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