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Comment author: scarcegreengrass 28 June 2016 07:59:21PM -1 points [-]

I should probably add that i'm looking for a positive and mutually-supporting LW-style community. But i'm sure other people would prefer a more brutally honest community. That's fine and ideally we'll all find sites that suit us in the end.

Comment author: gjm 28 June 2016 11:36:14PM -4 points [-]

The prevalence of downvotes on LW at the moment is, I think, scarcely at all to do with having a brutally honest community; it's to do with there being one person with a legion of sockpuppets who heavily downvotes people he doesn't like.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 28 June 2016 04:01:49PM *  1 point [-]

Say you are a strong believer and advocate for the Silicon Valley startup tech culture, but you want to be able to pass an Ideological Turing Test to show that you are not irrational or biased. In other words, you need to write some essays along the lines of "Startups are Dumb" or "Why You Should Stay at Your Big Company Job". What kind of arguments would you use?

Comment author: gjm 28 June 2016 11:35:21PM -1 points [-]

The question seems like it has more levels of indirection in it than necessary. I mean, to pass an ITT is to behave/speak/write just like someone with the views you're pretending to have. So how is "Say you believe X and want to pass an ITT by arguing not-X. What would you say?" different from "Say you believe not-X and want to defend it. What would you say?" or, even, just "What are the best arguments for not-X?"?

Comment author: Dagon 24 June 2016 10:49:19PM 0 points [-]

Hmm. You're getting close to Repugnant Conclusion territory here, which I tend to resolve by rejecting the redistribution argument rather than the addition argument.

In my view, In terms of world-preference, the smaller world with no poverty is inferior, as there are fewer net-positive lives. If you're claiming that near-starving impoverished people are leading lives that are negative value, I understand but do not agree with your position.

Comment author: gjm 28 June 2016 04:01:05PM -1 points [-]

What's your reason for not agreeing with that position?

I ask because my own experience is that I feel strongly inclined to disagree with it, but when I look closer I think that's because of a couple of confusions.

Confusion #1. Here are two questions we can ask about a life. (1) "Would it be an improvement to end this life now?" (2) "Would it be an improvement if this life had simply never been?". The question relevant to the Repugnant Conclusion is #2 (almost -- see below), but there's a tendency to conflate it with #1. (Imagine tactlessly telling someone that the answer to #2 in their case is yes. I think they would likely respond indignantly with something like "So you'd prefer me dead, would you?" -- question #1.) And, because people value their own lives a lot and people's preferences matter, a life has to be much much worse to make the answer to #1 positive than to make the answer to #2 positive. So when we try to imagine lives that are just barely worth having (best not to say "worth living" because again this wrongly suggests #1) we tend to think about ones that are borderline for #1. I think most human lives are well above the threshold for saying no to #1, but quite a lot might be below the threshold for #2.

Confusion #2. People's lives matter not only to themselves but to other people around them. Imagine (ridiculously oversimple toy model alert) a community of people, all with lives to which the answer to question 2 above is (all things considered) yes and who care a lot about the people around them; let's have a scale on which the borderline for question 2 is at zero, and suppose that someone with N friends scores -1/(N^2+1). Suppose everyone has 10 friends; then the incremental effect of removing someone with N friends is to improve the score by about 0.01 for their life and reduce it by 10(1/82-1/101) or about 0.023. In other words, this world would be worse off without any individual in the community -- *if what you imagine when assessing that is that that individual is gone and no one else takes their place in others' social relationships. But everyone in the community has a life that, all told, is negative, the world would be better off if none of them had ever lived, and it would be better off if any individual one had never lived and their place in others' lives had been taken by someone else.

(By the way -- do you feel that sense of outrage as if I'm proposing dropping bombs on this hypothetical community? That's the difference between question 1 and question 2, again. For the avoidance of doubt, I feel it too.)

This second effect, like the first one, tends to make us overestimate how bad a life has to be before the world would have been better off without it, because even if we're careful not to confuse question 1 with question 2 we're still liable to think of a "borderline" life as one for which the world would be neither better nor worse off if it were simply deleted, which accounts for social relationships in the wrong way.

Comment author: J_Thomas 11 November 2007 05:23:04PM 18 points [-]

A long time ago I read a newspaper article which claimed that a Harvard psychological research project had women chew up chocolate and spit it out, while looking in a mirror and connected to some sort of electrodes. They claimed that after that the women didn't like chocolate much.

I tried it without the electrodes. I got a 2 pound bag of M&Ms. I usually didn't buy M&Ms because no matter how many I got they'd be gone in a couple of days. I started chewing them and spitting them out. Every now and then I'd rinse out my mouth with water and the flavor would be much more intense after that. I got all the wonderful taste of the M&Ms but I didn't swallow.

I did that for 15 minutes a day for 3 days. After that I didn't much like chocolate, and it took more than a year before I gradually started eating it again.

I think the esthetic pleasure of chocolate must have a strong digestive component.

Comment author: gjm 28 June 2016 10:11:57AM -1 points [-]

Another possibility is that there's something about chewing things and spitting them out that tends to make them less appealing. (E.g., the whole thing looks and feels kinda gross; or you associate spitting things out with finding them unpleasant -- normally if you spit something out after starting to eat it it's because it tastes unpleasant or contains unpleasant gristle or something like that.)

Comment author: waveman 28 June 2016 09:54:07AM 0 points [-]

This has actually been trenchantly criticized on statistical grounds. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Better_Angels_of_Our_Nature

The basic idea is that if the Cuban Missile Crisis(or numerous other similar events) had ended badly the conclusion would have been reversed. And according to people who were there, such as President John F Kennedy, it very well could have ended badly.

Comment author: gjm 28 June 2016 10:09:50AM -1 points [-]

I haven't looked at the original criticism, but the "basic idea" as you describe it seems to introduce a source of bias: we have more visibility of luckily avoided ways in which things could have gone badly for recent events than for older ones, so if you try to take those into account then you will skew the change over time in the direction opposite to the one Pinker claims.

(If you also look for unluckily avoided ways in which things could have gone well then maybe the bias goes away.)

Comment author: Lumifer 27 June 2016 05:23:05PM 0 points [-]

It's a better start than simple compounding interest calculations :-)

To approach this from another side, one can buy an annuity (which provides a stream of income for the rest of your life). You need to save as much as is needed to buy such an annuity and then you're good (mostly). However I understand that these annuities are not... attractively priced, especially if you want one which adjusts your income stream for inflation.

Comment author: gjm 27 June 2016 07:31:49PM -1 points [-]

That is also my understanding, and I doubt the annuity market has the properties required to make its prices reflect any sort of reality.

Comment author: Lumifer 27 June 2016 04:00:37PM 0 points [-]

Yep, so far we've been talking about nominal sums without considering their real purchasing power.

The proper question of what is the sum of money that one can live off as a rentier to maintain a certain standard of living and how much needs to be saved for how long is... complicated.

Comment author: gjm 27 June 2016 05:01:10PM -1 points [-]

Yup. The most sophisticated approach I've seen, which is clearly not actually sophisticated enough, is to guess at possible trajectories of future investment growth by some process along the lines of random sampling of past stock market returns, and then choose a sum that leads to you not running out of money in, say, at least 99% of those trajectories.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 27 June 2016 03:44:13PM -1 points [-]

Not entirely. It would take me at least 30 minutes to vote, and probably more, given the need to register. Together with the other people like me (and I am admitting there aren't very many, since I only include those who have a similar algorithm, not all those that happen to get the same outcome), that adds up to a good deal of time that could be spent on working for a better system, while there would still be no change in the outcome from voting, even if the group of us voted as a unit.

Comment author: gjm 27 June 2016 04:59:32PM -1 points [-]

There will also probably be no change in the outcome from working for a better system.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 27 June 2016 01:57:31PM -1 points [-]

The way it applies in real life, is that all the people like me will choose not to vote, and to work together for a better, less inefficient system, which will give us much more utility than if we had all chosen to vote.

Comment author: gjm 27 June 2016 03:41:22PM -1 points [-]

It seems to me that not voting and working for a better system are basically independent activities.

Comment author: Lumifer 27 June 2016 02:48:58PM 0 points [-]

And if you want to get there in, say, 20 years, you better save about $3,000 a month.

Your math is a bit off -- you're forgetting that your savings also grow at 4%/year while you're accumulating them. So if you save $2,000 / month and can get stable 4% return (after taxes), in 20 years you will have $612K.

The whole calculation, though, is based on guaranteed returns and if your returns are actually volatile (say, the mean is 4% with noticeable standard deviation), the situation changes.

Comment author: gjm 27 June 2016 03:40:39PM -1 points [-]

And of course all these calculations are ignoring inflation.

If inflation is, say, 2%, then

  • to get out $2k/month with 4% nominal returns you need $1.2M rather than $600k; or
  • to get out $2k/month with $600k, you need 4% real returns or about 6% nominal. And
  • the equivalent of $2k/month now is about $3k/month in 20 years. On the other hand,
  • your savings can reasonably be expected to increase in line with inflation too.

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