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

Comment author: RaelwayScot 26 January 2016 08:12:33PM 1 point [-]

What are your thoughts on the refugee crisis?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 26 January 2016 08:52:25PM 6 points [-]

There's a whole -osphere full of blogs out there, many of them political. Any of those would be better places to talk about it than LW.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 06 January 2016 09:49:55PM *  1 point [-]

Consider sleep. The consciousness that goes to sleep ends. There is a discontinuity in perceived time. In the morning, the wakening brain ...

[...] will be capable of generating a perfectly functional consciousness, and it will feel as if it is the same consciousness which observes the mind which is, for instance, reading these words; but it will not be. The consciousness which is experiencing awareness of the mind which is reading these words will no longer exist.

You cease to exist every night. Indeed, there are all sorts of disruptions to the continuity and integrity of consciousness, ranging from distraction to coma to seizures to dissociative drugs. But people who experience these still care about their future selves. Why? Are they in error to do so?

My point here is that we can argue "this consciousness ceases to exist" with about as much strength for sleep as for more exotic processes. The difference is social and psychological, not metaphysical: we are accustomed to sleep, and to treating the consciousness who is born in the morning as the same consciousness who died the night before. It makes sense socially to do so; it is adaptive to do so; it is certainly more conducive to an intuitive understanding of things like memory.

But sameness — identity — is pretty darn tricky. Electrons don't have it; where does it come from?

Comment author: AmagicalFishy 27 December 2015 04:53:38AM *  4 points [-]

I don't think this is a stupid question, but everyone else seems to—that is, the immediate reaction to it is usually "there's obviously no difference." I've struggled with this question a lot, and the commonly accepted answer just doesn't sit well with me.

If different races have different skin, muscle/bone structure, genetics, and maybe other things, shouldn't it follow that different races could have different brains, too?

I know this is taboo, and feel the following sort of disclaimer is obligatory: I'm not racist, nor do I think any difference would necessarily be something drastic or significant, but the existence of a difference is something that seems probable to me.

Edit: Though it's obviously included, I'm not talking specifically about intelligence!

Comment author: fubarobfusco 27 December 2015 05:58:44AM *  4 points [-]

Given that various mental disorders are heritable, it's not clearly impossible for psychological properties to be selected for.

However, unlike dark or light skin (which matters for dealing with sunlight or the lack of it), mental ability is generally useful for survival and success in all climates and regions of the world. Every physical and social setting has problems to figure out; friendships and relationships to negotiate; language to acquire; mates to charm; rivals to overcome or pacify; resources that can be acquired through negotiation, deception, or wit; and so on. This means that all human populations will be subject to some selection pressure for mental ability; whereas with skin color there are pressures in opposite directions in different climates.

So why is this such a troublesome subject?

The problem with the subject is that there's an ugly history behind it — of people trying to explain away historical conditions (like "who conquered whom" or "who is richer than whom") in terms of psychological variation. And this, in turn, has been used as a way of justifying treating people badly ... historically, sometimes very badly indeed.

Classifications don't exist for themselves; they exist in order for people to do things with them. People don't go around classifying things (or people) and then not doing anything with the classification. But sometimes people make particular classifications in order to do horrible things, or to convince other people to do horrible things.

"Earthmen are not proud of their ancestors, and never invite them round to dinner." —Douglas Adams

Comment author: Bryan-san 21 December 2015 08:08:43PM 1 point [-]

This is a perspective I hadn't seen mentioned before and helps me understand why a friend of mine gives low value to the goal-oriented rationality material I've mentioned to him.

Thank you very much for this post!

Comment author: fubarobfusco 21 December 2015 08:49:28PM 2 points [-]

It's worth noting that, from what I can tell at least (having not actually taken their courses), quite a bit of CFAR "rationality" training seems to deal with issues arising not directly from Bayesian math, but from characteristics of human minds and society.

Comment author: Bryan-san 19 December 2015 04:26:39PM 0 points [-]

What are the strongest arguments that you've seen against rationality?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 20 December 2015 09:08:13PM *  4 points [-]

Well, it depends on what you mean by "rationality". Here's something I posted in 2014, slightly revised:

If not rationality, then what?

LW presents epistemic and instrumental rationality as practical advice for humans, based closely on the mathematical model of Bayesian probability. This advice can be summed up in two maxims:

  1. Obtain a better model of the world by updating on the evidence of things unpredicted by your current model.
  2. Succeed at your given goals by using your (constantly updating) model to predict which actions will maximize success.

Or, alternately: Having correct beliefs is useful for humans achieving goals in the world, because correct beliefs enable correct predictions, and correct predictions enable goal-accomplishing actions. And the way to have correct beliefs is to update your beliefs when their predictions fail.

We can call these the rules of Bayes' world, the world in which updating and prediction are effective at accomplishing human goals. But Bayes' world is not the only imaginable world. What if we deny each of these premises and see what we get? Other than Bayes' world, which other worlds might we be living in?

To be clear, I'm not talking about alternatives to Bayesian probability as a mathematical or engineering tool. I'm talking about imaginable worlds in which Bayesian probability is not a good model for human knowledge and action.

Suppose that making correct predictions does not enable goal-accomplishing actions. We might call this Cassandra's world, the world of tragedy — in which those people who know best what the future will bring, are most incapable of doing anything about it.

In the world of heroic myth, it is not oracles (good predictors) but rather heroes and villains (strong-willed people) who create change in the world. Heroes and villains are people who possess great virtue or vice — strong-willed tendencies to face difficult challenges, or to do what would repulse others. Oracles possess the truth to arbitrary precision, but they accomplish nothing by it. Heroes and villains come to their predicted triumphs or fates not by believing and making use of prediction, but by ignoring or defying it.

Suppose that the path to success is not to update your model of the world, so much as to update your model of your self and goals. The facts of the external world are relatively close to our priors; not much updating is needed there — but our goals are not known to us initially. In fact, we may be thoroughly deceived about what our goals are, or what satisfying them would look like.

We might consider this to be Buddha's world, the world of contemplation — in which understanding the nature of the self is substantially more important to success than understanding the external world. In this world, when we choose actions that are unsatisfactory, it isn't so much because we are acting on faulty beliefs about the external world, but because we are pursuing goals that are illusory or empty of satisfaction.

There are other models as well, that could be extrapolated from denying other premises (explicit or implicit) of Bayes' world. Each of these models should relate prediction, action, and goals in different ways: We might imagine Lovecraft's world (knowledge causes suffering), Qoheleth's world (maybe similar to Buddha's), Job's world, or Nietzsche's world.

Each of these models of the world — Bayes' world, Cassandra's world, Buddha's world, and the others — does predict different outcomes. If we start out thinking that we are in Bayes' world, what evidence might suggest that we are actually in one of the others?

Comment author: ChristianKl 02 December 2015 10:37:47PM 1 point [-]

System I and System II seem to be very unwidely terms because of the numbers. People like Gleb try to find alternatives to use to reach "the masses". There a common tradition of expressing new concepts with Greek and Latin roots. Can anybody think of good names for System I and System II based on Greek or Latin?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 03 December 2015 05:01:31AM 0 points [-]

Subconscious and conscious cognition?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 02 December 2015 05:52:12PM 2 points [-]

Ambiguity isn't a unary function. It doesn't make sense to say "this sentence is ambiguous" without some context:

  • What's the social context in which the sentence is spoken? "I love you" from a child to a parent almost certainly doesn't mean the same thing as "I love you" from an adult to a lover. This isn't ambiguity; it's context dependence.
  • What are the likely (mis)interpretations? How distant are they from each other in meaning-space? Do those differences matter? "Go to the library and get me Moby-Dick" might leave the hearer unclear as to which library is meant (the college library? the public library? the main branch of the public library? the room in the house with lots of bookcases?) ... but maybe the speaker doesn't care about the difference — they just want their damn whale book.
  • Is the sentence intended to nail down one specific meaning when some hearers would prefer a different one? For some purposes, such as laws and rules, people want a very clear idea of what's being forbidden, even in a context where people have strong disagreements about what should be forbidden. See for instance the U.S. jurisprudence notions of the vagueness doctrine and the "chilling effect".
  • For that matter, what level of language skill does the speaker/writer expect from the hearer/reader, and how much care is the hearer/reader expected to apply? Some grammatical forms are harder to parse. There are a number of example sentences where introducing a comma or pause in the wrong place can completely change the sense of the sentence.

"Woman: Without her, man is nothing" / "Woman, without her man, is nothing".
"I helped my Uncle Jack off a horse" / "I helped my uncle jack off a horse".
"Unless a player has Book Burning deal six damage to him or her ..." / "Unless a player has Book Burning, deal six damage to him or her ..."

Comment author: ShardPhoenix 23 November 2015 11:16:36PM *  7 points [-]

What is the optimal amount of attention to pay to political news? I've been trying to cut down to reduce stress over things I can't control, but ignoring it entirely seems a little dangerous. For an extreme example, consider the Jews in Nazi Germany - I'd imagine those who kept an eye on what was going on were more likely to leave the country before the Holocaust. Of course something that bad is unlikely, but it seems like it could still be important to be aware of impactful new laws that are passed - eg anti-privacy laws, or internet piracy now much more heavily punishable, etc.

So what's the best way to keep up on things that might have an impact on one's life, without getting caught up in the back-and-forth of day-to-day politics?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 24 November 2015 08:42:17PM 9 points [-]

Some things to think about:

Are there actual political threats to you in your own polity (nation, state, etc.)? Do you belong to groups that there's a history of official repression or large-scale political violence against? Are there notable political voices or movements explicitly calling for the government to round you up, kill you, take away your citizenship or your children, etc.? (To be clear: An entertainer tweeting "kill all the lawyers" is not what I mean here.)

Are you engaged in fields of business or hobbies that are novel, scary, dangerous, or offensive to a lot of people in your polity, and that therefore might be subject to new regulation? This includes both things that you acknowledge as possibly harmful (say, working with poisonous chemicals that you take precautions against, but which the public might be exposed to) as well as things that you don't think are harmful, but which other people might disagree. (Examples: Internet; fossil fuels; drones; guns; gambling; recreational drugs; pornography)

Internationally — In the past two hundred years, how often has your country been invaded or conquered? How many civil wars, coups d'état, or failed wars of independence have there been; especially ones sponsored by foreign powers? How much of your country's border is disputed with neighboring nations?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 29 October 2015 09:31:40PM 4 points [-]

A word of warning: Conspiracy-theorists tend to think of themselves as members of "the cognitive elite" — the unusually well-informed, those who think clearly and skeptically, those who have broken free of brainwashing or consensus.

Comment author: Stefan_Schubert 27 October 2015 06:07:15PM 0 points [-]

Your criticism would be much more interesting if you pointed to concrete problems in my fact-checking/argument-checking.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 28 October 2015 12:13:49AM 0 points [-]

I wasn't asserting problems with your fact-checking; I was stating a limitation on the project of fact-checking in general.

View more: Next