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Map and Territory: a new rationalist group blog

8 gworley 15 October 2016 05:55PM

If you want to engage with the rationalist community, LessWrong is mostly no longer the place to do it. Discussions aside, most of the activity has moved into the diaspora. There are a few big voices like Robin and Scott, but most of the online discussion happens on individual blogs, Tumblr, semi-private Facebook walls, and Reddit. And while these serve us well enough, I find that they leave me wanting for something like what LessWrong was: a vibrant group blog exploring our perspectives on cognition and building insights towards a deeper understanding of the world.

Maybe I'm yearning for a golden age of LessWrong that never was, but the fact remains that there is a gap in the rationalist community that LessWrong once filled. A space for multiple voices to come together in a dialectic that weaves together our individual threads of thought into a broader narrative. A home for discourse we are proud to call our own.

So with a lot of help from fellow rationalist bloggers, we've put together Map and Territory, a new group blog to bring our voices together. Each week you'll find new writing from the likes of Ben Hoffman, Mike Plotz, Malcolm Ocean, Duncan Sabien, Anders Huitfeldt, and myself working to build a more complete view of reality within the context of rationality.

And we're only just getting started, so if you're a rationalist blogger please consider joining us. We're doing this on Medium, so if you write something other folks in the rationalist community would like to read, we'd love to consider sharing it through Map and Territory (cross-positing encouraged). Reach out to me on Facebook or email and we'll get the process rolling.


[Link] Biofuels a climate mistake

4 morganism 09 October 2016 09:16PM

[Link] Six principles of a truth-friendly discourse

4 philh 08 October 2016 04:56PM

[Link] Software for moral enhancement (kajsotala.fi)

6 Kaj_Sotala 30 September 2016 12:12PM

[Link] Sam Harris - TED Talk on AI

6 Brillyant 29 September 2016 04:44PM

Against Amazement

5 SquirrelInHell 20 September 2016 07:25PM

Time start: 20:48:35


The feelings of wonder, awe, amazement. It's a very human experience, and it is processed in the brain as a type of pleasure. If fact, if we look at the number of "5 photos you wouldn't believe" and similar clickbait on the Internet, it functions as a mildly addictive drug.

If I proposed that there is something wrong with those feelings, I would soon be drowned in voices of critique, pointing out that I'm suggesting we all become straw Vulcans, and that there is nothing wrong with subjective pleasure obtained cheaply and at no harm to anyone else.

I do not disagree with that. However, caution is required here, if one cares about epistemic purity of belief. Let's look at why.


Stories are supposed to be more memorable. Do you like stories? I'm sure you do. So consider a character, let's call him Jim.

Jim is very interested in technology and computers, and he is checking news sites every day when he comes to work in the morning. Also, Jim has read a number of articles on LessWrong, including the one about noticing confusion.

He cares about improving his thinking, so when he first read about the idea of noticing confusion on a 5 second level, he thought he wants to apply it in his life. He had a few successes, and while it's not perfect, he feels he is on the right track to notice having wrong models of the world more often.

A few days later, he opens his favorite news feed at work, and there he sees the following headline:

"AlphaGo wins 4-1 against Lee Sedol"

He goes on to read the article, and finds himself quite elated after he learns the details. 'It's amazing that this happened so soon! And most experts apparently thought it would happen in more than a decade, hah! Marvelous!'

Jim feels pride and wonder at the achievement of Google DeepMind engineers... and it is his human right to feel it, I guess.

But is Jim forgetting something?


Yes, I know that you know. Jim is feeling amazed, but... has he forgotten the lesson about noticing confusion?

There is a significant obstacle to Jim applying his "noticing confusion" in the situation described above: his internal experience has very little to do with feelings of confusion.

His world in this moment is dominated with awe, admiration etc., and those feelings are pleasant. It is not at all obvious that this inner experience corresponds to a innacurate model of the world he had before.

Even worse - improving his model's predictive power would result in less pleasant experiences of wonder and amazement in the future! (Or would it?) So if Jim decides to update, he is basically robbing himself of the pleasures of life, that are rightfully his. (Or is he?)

Time end: 21:09:50

(Speedwriting stats: 23 wpm, 128 cpm, previous: 30/167, 33/183)

A Weird Trick To Manage Your Identity

2 Gleb_Tsipursky 19 September 2016 07:13PM

I’ve always been uncomfortable being labeled “American.” Though I’m a citizen of the United States, the term feels restrictive and confining. It obliges me to identify with aspects of the United States with which I am not thrilled. I have similar feelings of limitation with respect to other labels I assume. Some of these labels don’t feel completely true to who I truly am, or impose certain perspectives on me that diverge from my own.


These concerns are why it's useful to keep one's identity small, use identity carefully, and be strategic in choosing your identity.


Yet these pieces speak more to System 1 than to System 2. I recently came up with a weird trick that has made me more comfortable identifying with groups or movements that resonate with me while creating a System 1 visceral identity management strategy. The trick is to simply put the word “weird” before any identity category I think about.


I’m not an “American,” but a “weird American.” Once I started thinking about myself as a “weird American,” I was able to think calmly through which aspects of being American I identified with and which I did not, setting the latter aside from my identity. For example, I used the term “weird American” to describe myself when meeting a group of foreigners, and we had great conversations about what I meant and why I used the term. This subtle change enables my desire to identify with the label “American,” but allows me to separate myself from any aspects of the label I don’t support.


Beyond nationality, I’ve started using the term  “weird” in front of other identity categories. For example, I'm a professor at Ohio State. I used to become deeply  frustrated when students didn’t prepare adequately  for their classes with me. No matter how hard I tried, or whatever clever tactics I deployed, some students simply didn’t care. Instead of allowing that situation to keep bothering me, I started to think of myself as a “weird professor” - one who set up an environment that helped students succeed, but didn’t feel upset and frustrated by those who failed to make the most of it.


I’ve been applying the weird trick in my personal life, too. Thinking of myself as a “weird son” makes me feel more at ease when my mother and I don’t see eye-to-eye; thinking of myself as a “weird nice guy,” rather than just a nice guy, has helped me feel confident about my decisions to be firm when the occasion calls for it.


So, why does this weird trick work? It’s rooted in strategies of reframing and distancing, two research-based methods for changing our thought frameworks. Reframing involves changing one’s framework of thinking about a topic in order to create more beneficial modes of thinking. For instance, in reframing myself as a weird nice guy, I have been able to say “no” to requests people make of me, even though my intuitive nice guy tendency tells me I should say “yes.” Distancing refers to a method of emotional management through separating oneself from an emotionally tense situation and observing it from a third-person, external perspective. Thus, if I think of myself as a weird son, I don’t have nearly as much negative emotions during conflicts with my mom. It enables me to have space for calm and sound decision-making.


Thinking of myself as "weird" also applies to the context of rationality and effective altruism for me. Thinking of myself as a "weird" aspiring rationalist and EA helps me be more calm and at ease when I encounter criticisms of my approach to promoting rational thinking and effective giving. I can distance myself from the criticism better, and see what I can learn from the useful points in the criticism to update and be stronger going forward.


Overall, using the term “weird” before any identity category has freed me from confinements and restrictions associated with socially-imposed identity labels and allowed me to pick and choose which aspects of these labels best serve my own interests and needs. I hope being “weird” can help you manage your identity better as well!

Learning values versus learning knowledge

5 Stuart_Armstrong 14 September 2016 01:42PM

I just thought I'd clarify the difference between learning values and learning knowledge. There are some more complex posts
about the specific problems with learning values, but here I'll just clarify why there is a problem with learning values in the first place.

Consider the term "chocolate bar". Defining that concept crisply would be extremely difficult. But nevertheless it's a useful concept. An AI that interacted with humanity would probably learn that concept to a sufficient degree of detail. Sufficient to know what we meant when we asked it for "chocolate bars". Learning knowledge tends to be accurate.

Contrast this with the situation where the AI is programmed to "create chocolate bars", but with the definition of "chocolate bar" left underspecified, for it to learn. Now it is motivated by something else than accuracy. Before, knowing exactly what a "chocolate bar" was would have been solely to its advantage. But now it must act on its definition, so it has cause to modify the definition, to make these "chocolate bars" easier to create. This is basically the same as Goodhart's law - by making a definition part of a target, it will no longer remain an impartial definition.

What will likely happen is that the AI will have a concept of "chocolate bar", that it created itself, especially for ease of accomplishing its goals ("a chocolate bar is any collection of more than one atom, in any combinations"), and a second concept, "Schocolate bar" that it will use to internally designate genuine chocolate bars (which will still be useful for it to do). When we programmed it to "create chocolate bars, here's an incomplete definition D", what we really did was program it to find the easiest thing to create that is compatible with D, and designate them "chocolate bars".


This is the general counter to arguments like "if the AI is so smart, why would it do stuff we didn't mean?" and "why don't we just make it understand natural language and give it instructions in English?"

Not all theories of consciousness are created equal: a reply to Robert Lawrence Kuhn's recent article in Skeptic Magazine [Link]

3 oge 04 September 2016 08:35PM

I found this article on the Brain Preservation Foundation's blog that covers a lot of common theories of consciousness and shows how they kinna miss the point when it comes to determining if certain folks should or should not upload our brains if given the opportunity.

Hence I see no reason to agree with Kuhn’s pessimistic conclusions about uploading even assuming his eccentric taxonomy of theories of consciousness is correct.  What I want to focus on in the reminder of this blog is challenging the assumption that the best approach to consciousness is tabulating lists of possible theories of consciousness and assuming they each deserve equal consideration (much like the recent trend in covering politics to give equal time to each position regardless of any empirical relevant considerations). Many of the theories of consciousness on Kuhn’s list, while reasonable in the past, are now known to be false based on our best current understanding of neuroscience and physics (specifically, I am referring to theories that require mental causation or mental substances). Among the remaining theories, some of them are much more plausible than others.


Inefficient Games

14 capybaralet 23 August 2016 05:47PM

There are several well-known games in which the pareto optima and Nash equilibria are disjoint sets.
The most famous is probably the prisoner's dilemma.  Races to the bottom or tragedies of the commons typically have this feature as well.

I proposed calling these inefficient games.  More generally, games where the sets of pareto optima and Nash equilibria are distinct (but not disjoint), such as a stag hunt could be called potentially inefficient games.

It seems worthwhile to study (potentially) inefficient games as a class and see what can be discovered about them, but I don't know of any such work (pointers welcome!)

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