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Comment author: fubarobfusco 22 May 2015 02:32:12AM 4 points [-]

Reliable internal senses: in effect, a diagnostic readout of chemical and biological processes, such as blood glucose, melatonin and other hormones, immune responses, calories consumed, hydration, organ function, and so on.

This doesn't have to be a sense as such (that is, directly available to consciousness). It could be a collection of timeseries sent to an external monitoring system.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 May 2015 04:08:21PM -2 points [-]

"why can we learn anything at all?"

Because entities which can't do not survive.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 11 May 2015 08:55:00PM 0 points [-]

For that matter, a world in which it is impossible for an organism to become better at surviving by modeling its environment (i.e. learning) is one in which intelligence can't evolve.

(And a world in which it is impossible for one organism to be better at surviving than another organism, is one in which evolution doesn't happen at all; indeed, life wouldn't happen.)

Comment author: [deleted] 08 May 2015 01:25:59PM -2 points [-]

I'm biased toward the truth.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 08 May 2015 04:30:32PM 4 points [-]

Lots of people want to be, but they somehow don't end up agreeing on what the truth is. That's part of why we bother with this science stuff.

Comment author: DanArmak 07 May 2015 01:19:11PM 5 points [-]

Compared to those given no messages, these participants produced more stereotypical ratings, whether about women, older people or the obese.

It would be more interesting to measure the correctness of the ratings. A stereotype, unlike some definitions of "bias", is not automatically wrong; it could just as well be correct. "Men are physically stronger than women" is a stereotype which is correct and useful (the difference has a significant magnitude).

Comment author: fubarobfusco 08 May 2015 04:21:06AM *  4 points [-]

I suppose that depends on the specifics of the experiment; the brief description above doesn't really make it very clear, and the actual paper is paywalled.

When evaluating individuals, facts about the individual should screen off demographic facts. "Men are physically stronger than women" is a statement about central tendency. But an individual about whom you know they are female and a prize-winning triathlete is probably stronger than an individual about whom you know they're a man who watches 14 hours of TV every day.

Or, let's say that expert nuclear engineers are (for whatever reason) 75% men and 25% women. That means if someone tells you, "X is an expert nuclear engineer", your prior for that person being a man is 3:1. However, if you are in a professional nuclear engineering context and meet an individual woman who is introduced to you as an expert nuclear engineer, you should not assign 3:1 odds that this description is wrong and that really she is an administrative assistant or schoolteacher (or an incompetent nuclear engineer; or, for that matter, a man).

Or even 1:1 odds.

Or, you know, 1:20 odds.

In other experiments on biased behavior in hiring — résumé evaluation and the like — the evaluator is presented with detailed facts about the individual, not just their demographic facts. They have a lot to go on besides the person's gender or race or age or whatever. That's how we can be pretty confident that what's being detected is not accurate reasoning about central tendencies (as in your "men are physically stronger than women") but inaccurate reasoning about individual data points.

In response to The Stamp Collector
Comment author: fubarobfusco 04 May 2015 08:49:11AM 0 points [-]

One point I notice here is that "value" is in the map, not the territory. The whole notion that agents have values is a way of modeling real-world things; it isn't a principle on which the world rests.

For instance, people sometimes make big, definitive-sounding claims about "human terminal values", but these are basically (pretty rough) attempts to create a map that might be useful for predicting human behavior. Insofar as that map isn't predictive, it's worth amending or discarding.

Comment author: James_Miller 03 May 2015 12:03:19AM 4 points [-]

Why is it such a big deal for SpaceX to land its used booster rocket on a floating platform rather than just having the booster parachute down into the ocean and then be retrieved?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 03 May 2015 04:37:02AM 5 points [-]

It's a step toward landing it back at the launch site for rapid reuse.

The project's long-term objectives include returning a launch vehicle first stage to the launch site in minutes and to return a second stage to the launch pad following orbital realignment with the launch site and atmospheric reentry in up to 24 hours. Both stages will be designed to allow reuse a few hours after return.


Comment author: knb 26 April 2015 12:21:09AM *  2 points [-]

The Wall Street Journal has an article up claiming that the world economy is currently experiencing an excess of capital, labor, and commodities, and that this is potentially a cause of serious problems.

Could anyone explain to me how it is possible to have an excess of capital and an excess of labor?

ETA: You can get around the paywall by googling the title of the article and clicking the first link.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 26 April 2015 02:07:26AM -1 points [-]

According to Marx, in capitalism, improvements in technology and rising levels of productivity increase the amount of material wealth (or use values) in society while simultaneously diminishing the economic value of this wealth, thereby lowering the rate of profit—a tendency that leads to the paradox, characteristic of crises in capitalism, of "reserve army of labour" and of “poverty in the midst of plenty”, or more precisely, crises of overproduction in the midst of underconsumption.

— Wikipedia, "Overproduction"

Comment author: shminux 05 April 2015 06:39:19PM 11 points [-]

I like your write-up, very clear and accessible. You certainly have a gift for popularization, not just research. A rare combination.

I would just note upfront that

Reasoning well has little to do with what you're reasoning towards.


Rationality of this kind is not about changing where you're going, it's about changing how far you can go.

are white lies, as you well know. It's not unusual in the process of reasoning of how to best achieve your goal to find that the goal itself shifts or evaporates.

"How to best serve God" may result in deconversion.

"How to make my relationship with partner a happy one" may result in discovering that they are a narcissistic little shit I should run away from. Or that both of us should find other partners.

"How to help my neighborhood out of poverty" might become "How to make the most money" in order to donate as much as possible.

This goal-evaporation danger is rarely as extreme, but it is ubiquitous. Every goalpost shifts when you optimize your shot hard enough. Your analogy

Your deepest desires are not a burden, but a compass

is very apt: following it strictly helps you reach your destination, but does not mean your destination is there or has what you expected. Or won't get you killed in the process.

In this essay you talk about Instrumental Rationality as if it were separate from Epistemic. It is not. The dangers of good reasoning ought to be noted upfront, the way MoR!Harry did to Draco, only more so. Hopefully you already plan to talk about it in one of your remaining three essays.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 08 April 2015 10:59:02PM 4 points [-]

Every goalpost shifts when you optimize your shot hard enough.

Optimize hard enough for "get the ball into the goal as fast as possible" and you explode the ball and drive its husk through the bodies of the defending team, and you don't get asked to play football any more.

Comment author: emr 03 April 2015 11:58:06PM 1 point [-]

Even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and being stumbled over.

-- Oliver W. Holmes

Comment author: fubarobfusco 04 April 2015 02:32:30AM 1 point [-]

Dogs have been specifically bred for many thousands of years to respond to human signals.

(So have humans.)

Comment author: CronoDAS 31 March 2015 07:11:28PM *  8 points [-]

I have a small problem. My girlfriend (that I've been with for almost a year, and hope to be with for more years to come) has something of a New Age/unscientific worldview, which I find slightly disturbing, but I don't know how to attempt to "convert" her to something, well, less wrong, without upsetting her or making her feel stupid or something like that, or even how to react to her talking about her more "unusual" experiences.

A trivial example: She once mentioned that a certain kind of stone (it may have been hematite) had "healing powers". I expressed vague skepticism but didn't press the issue any further.

More seriously, my girlfriend has told me stories about seeing and interacting with "spirits", although she's asked me not to repeat any of them, and I've had to reassure her that no, I don't think she's crazy. For example, she said that whenever she goes to a particular railroad crossing, she always sees a woman riding a bicycle along the tracks that nobody else sees, and that one side of the woman's head looks horribly injured. There's another spirit, which she says reminds her of me, that usually hangs out on the roof outside her second-story window on nights when I'm not there, and sort of stands guard. He's asked to come in, but she says that spirits can't come in if you don't let them and she's always said no, except once when she was in a hotel and he spent the night on the side of the double bed she wasn't sleeping on.

I'm not sure how to react or deal with this. She feels kind of fragile emotionally to me, so I have to tread lightly; her father died when she was seven and her mother died when she was thirteen, and she says she's always afraid people are going to leave her. She also has something of an inferiority complex and is hypersensitive to perceived slights. She worries that, because didn't do well in school, people (including me) will treat her like she's stupid. She's also fat and she thinks it makes her ugly. I, of course, think she's beautiful and sexy, but she doesn't quite believe me when I tell her that.

Any advice? ("Break up with her" will be ignored.)

Comment author: fubarobfusco 31 March 2015 08:16:06PM 11 points [-]

When I was in college in small-town New England in the late '90s, one year a group of freshmen became convinced that the woods near campus were haunted by a malicious evil spirit — a wraith. This upset them greatly; they reported feeling the wraith as an oppressive and disturbing presence. Practical advice such as "there's no such thing as wraiths; you are all just working each other up into a tizzy over nothing" was ineffective to relieve their upset.

Eventually, a friend of the group got a friend of his, who was an initiated practitioner of ritual magick, to send them a spell to banish the wraith. The spell was cast, and the people who had felt the wraith's presence reported that it was no longer bothering them.

Now, one self-consistent description of these events is that wraiths literally exist, and banishing-spells literally work. Another is that when people become caught up in playing out an upsetting story, bringing that story to a close within its own rules can work to end their upset.

Other possibly relevant tales:

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