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Open Thread: September 2011

5 Post author: Pavitra 03 September 2011 07:50PM

If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post (even in Discussion), then it goes here.

If continuing the discussion becomes impractical, that means you win at open threads; a celebratory top-level post on the topic is traditional.

Comments (441)

Comment author: [deleted] 06 September 2011 06:15:06AM 20 points [-]

Wondering vaguely if I'm the only person here who has attempted to sign up for cryonics coverage and been summarily rejected for a basic life insurance plan (I'm transgendered, which automatically makes it very difficult, and have a history of depression, which apparently makes it impossible to get insurance according to the broker I spoke with).

I see a lot of people make arguments (some of them suggesting a hidden true rejection) about why they don't want it, or why it would be bad. I see a lot of people here make arguments for its widespread adoption, and befuddlement at its rejection (the "Life sucks, but at least you die" post) and the difficulties this poses for spreading the message. And I see a few people argue (somewhat mendaciously in my opinion) for its exclusivity or scarcity, arguing that it's otherwise of little to no value if just anyone can get signed up.

What I don't see is a lot of people who'd like to and can't, particularly for reasons of discrimination. For me, my biggest rejection for a long time was the perception that it was just out of reach of anyone who wasn't very wealthy, and once I learned otherwise, that obstacle dissipated. Now I'm kind of back to feeling like it's that way in practice -- if you're not one of the comparatively small number of people who can pay for it out of hand, or a member of any group who's already statistically screwed by the status quo, then it may as well be out of reach for you.

I doubt the average person who has heard of, and rejected cryonics has gone through this specifically, but it certainly suggests some reasons why it might be a tough sell outside the "core communities" who're already well-represented in cryonics. Even if we want it, we can't get it, and the more widely-known that is, the more difficult PR's going to be among people who've already had their opportunities and futures scuppered by the system as it stands.

I'm not saying it's rational, but from where I stand it's very hard to blame someone for cynically dismissing the prospect out of hand, or actively opposing it. IMO, the cryonics boosters either need to acknowledge the role that stuff like this plays in people's relationship to Shiny New Ideas Proposed By Well Educated Financially-Comfortable White Guys From The Bay Area, or just concede that, barring massive systematic reforms in other sectors of society, this will not be an egalitarian technology.

Comment author: lsparrish 07 September 2011 05:24:15AM 7 points [-]

I hope you don't mind, I've copied your message to the New Cryonet mailing list. This is an important issue for the cryonics community to discuss. I think there needs to be a system in place for collecting donations and/or interest to pay for equal access for those who can't get life insurance. There are a couple of cases I'm aware of where the community raised enough donations to cover uninsurable individuals for CI suspensions.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 September 2011 05:31:28AM 2 points [-]

I don't mind.

While my personal case is obviously important to me (it is my life after all), it's important to me in a more general sense -- a lot of people are talking on this site about various ways to fix the world or make it better, yet they're often not members of the groups who've had to pay the costs (through exploitation, marginalization or just by being subject to some society-wide bias against them) to get it to where it is now.

Comment author: handoflixue 07 September 2011 05:59:51AM 4 points [-]

I'm both transgendered and diagnosed with depression, and I've had good luck getting insured via Rudi Hoffman. I don't recall what the name of the insurance company was, and I haven't heard the final OK since the medical examination, but I don't foresee any difficulties. I was warned they'll most likely put me down on male rates (feh) despite being legally female, but I can deal with that even if I don't like it.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 September 2011 06:01:29AM 2 points [-]

Same broker. Did you mention the depression to him explicitly?

Comment author: handoflixue 07 September 2011 07:03:48PM 2 points [-]

Yes. I'm not taking any medication for it, which might have affected it.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 September 2011 07:46:23PM 2 points [-]

That question never came up in my conversation with him, oddly. So I'm left wondering what the decisive difference is. shrug

Comment author: Dennis 07 September 2011 10:04:57AM 1 point [-]

If you don't mind me asking - how old are you and how much money do you typically save a year?

Comment author: [deleted] 07 September 2011 03:37:32PM 3 points [-]

Bad assumption, but I'll answer.

I am 28. long-term unemployed, cannot get a bank account due to issues years ago, living on disability payments and now with support of my domestic partner (which is the main reason my situation isn't actually desperate any longer). We have to keep our finances pretty separate or my income (~7k a year, wholly inadequate to live on by myself anyplace where I could actually do so) goes away.

I keep a budget, I'm pragmatic and savvy enough to make sure our separate finances on paper don't unduly restrict us from living our lives as necessary, but I can't remember the last time I made it to the end of the month with money left over from my benefits check. Sometimes if I'm having a very good month, I'll not need to use my food stamps balance for that cycle, meaning it's there when I need extra later.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 September 2011 03:41:22PM 6 points [-]

And to stave off questions about how I could afford cryonics on this level of income: Life insurance can fall within a nice little window of 50 dollars or less, which could plausibly be taken out of my leisure and clothing budgets (it doesn't consume all of them, but those are the only places in the budget with much wiggle room). Maintaining a membership with the Cryonics institute that depends on a beneficiary payout of that insurance is something like 120 dollars a year - even I can find a way to set that aside.

Comment author: ahartell 07 September 2011 07:51:10PM 6 points [-]

Would it be really stupid to use Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres as the fictional character that had an impact on me for my CommonApp essay? On one hand it seems right since he introduced me to lesswrong which has certainly had a big effect but on the other hand... it's... you know... fanfiction.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 September 2011 01:45:43PM 5 points [-]

You can do it. It's good countersignaling. But you have to be absurdly careful about writing quality. It's your job to convey to a skeptical audience that fanfiction can be transformative. You have to be absolutely brutal in avoiding language that signals immaturity -- or, better, find an editor who can be absolutely brutal to you.

My M.O., back in my college-essay days, was to read a New Yorker before sitting down to write. Inhale the style. Better yet, find some essays by Gene Weingarten, the modern master of long-form narrative journalism. Imagine what Gene Weingarten could do with HP:MOR. Then try to do it.

Comment author: thomblake 07 September 2011 09:27:38PM 1 point [-]

In general, honesty is the best policy. If you really were influenced to great things by HJPEV, explain it well and it should go over well. If the admissions folks are going to say "This well-written and inspiring essay is about fanfiction" and thus throw it in the garbage, it could just as well have been thrown away for the room's lighting or what they had for breakfast.

Comment author: gwern 08 September 2011 12:09:02AM *  7 points [-]

If you really were influenced to great things by HJPEV, explain it well and it should go over well.

This is important. Deliberately choosing to write about fanfiction is a high-risk move, and so is high-status if you pull it off well! But you might just face-plant. (You don't try out unpracticed tricks in front of a girl you want to impress.)

Or to put it another way:

  1. a high-status fictional character like Hamlet treated mediocrely is a mainstream submission
  2. a low-status fictional character like Bella Swan treated mediocrely is a contrarian submission, and penalized accordingly - the intellectual equivalent of misspelling "it's/its"
  3. a high-status fictional character like Ahab treated well is a conspicuous mainstream signal
  4. a low-status fictional character like MoR!Harry treated well is a meta-contrarian submission, and thus is a conspicuous contrarian signal

All else equal, 3<4.

Comment author: shokwave 08 September 2011 12:26:42AM 9 points [-]

Also, recognising a low-status character as a low-status character is an important part of 4. Trying to pretend it's high status ("the author is an AI researcher, it is the most reviewed fanfiction ever, it's better than Rowling's Harry Potter", etc) will usually backfire.

Honestly, I'd start by baldly and confidently acknowledging that characters from fanfiction about popular books are low-status, and that you are going to do your piece on him anyway.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 08 September 2011 12:33:28AM *  3 points [-]

As someone currently going through this process (I just wrote the same essay about Terry Pratchett's character Tiffany Aching), the impression I get is that it's very important to be unique: if your essay is the same as 200 others, it will be penalized as much as if it is poorly written. Using a rationalist fanfiction character, if you can write it well and have the guts to write it sincerely (but not too sincerely, or you'll signal naivete), is a good idea. If you don't want to deal with a fanfiction character, write about some other rationalist. Either way, don't mention lesswrong. And please don't write about Howard Roark. I enjoyed The Fountainhead, but it's worse signaling than fanfiction. You'll look like a shallow thinker who falls for propaganda, and most universities lean to the liberal end of the spectrum.

Important note: I'm applying to highly selective colleges with student bodies that think of themselves as contrarian or meta-contrarian. If you aren't, this advice may not apply.

Comment author: thomblake 09 September 2011 02:06:06PM 2 points [-]

I stand by my statement.

If the essay asked about "the fictional character that had the greatest impact on you" or something to that effect and that person is HJPEV, then that's what you should write about. Otherwise, you'd be lying, and apart from the general wrongness of lying, you're going to write better about something that's true.

Comment author: gwern 09 September 2011 02:12:50PM 1 point [-]

I stand by my statement.

I didn't disagree.

Comment author: ahartell 09 September 2011 07:37:34PM 2 points [-]

Thank you by the way. Your post convinced me to write about him and illuminated the best way to handle it.

Comment author: gwern 09 September 2011 07:52:01PM 3 points [-]

If it's not too personal, I would be curious to see the final product.

Comment author: ahartell 09 September 2011 08:40:24PM 1 point [-]

If I like how it turns out and decide to stick with it I'll message it to you. I may not start for a while though.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 10 September 2011 05:14:38PM 1 point [-]

Has anyone done a thorough social psychological game theoretic analysis of college admissions? Seems right up your alley, gwern.

Comment author: gwern 10 September 2011 06:31:03PM 5 points [-]

I only play a deep thinker online, I don't think I could write such a thing in a way that isn't merely extensive plagiarism of, say, Steve Sailer.

(That said, reading over my comment, I missed an opportunity: I should have pointed out that the reason why 4>3 is because it is an expensive signal in the sense that attempting to do #4 but only achieving a #2 exposes one to considerable punishment whereas one doesn't run such a risk with#1 and #3, and expensive signals are, of course, the most credible signals.)

Comment author: [deleted] 07 September 2011 09:49:53PM 2 points [-]

The other way to look at the situation is that the admissions folks are looking for a very specific essay. That essay requires you to identify yourself with a character from some postmodern South American novel (or possibly Elie Wiesel in "Night") and certainly has no place in it for fan fiction.

Comment author: Kevin 09 September 2011 03:54:59AM 6 points [-]

Nope. Admissions folks are looking to be entertained.

Comment author: imaxwell 14 September 2011 07:24:54AM 1 point [-]

Hmm... I'm not sure. I'd take the word of someone with experience on an admissions committee, if you can get it.

If you do it, I think you'd be better off talking just a little about the character and much more about the community you found. Writing to the prompt is not really important for this sort of thing. (Usually one of the prompts is pretty much "Other," confirming that.)

Comment author: Alicorn 07 September 2011 08:15:40PM 1 point [-]

What's your second choice?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 04 September 2011 09:59:09AM *  16 points [-]

I'm getting increasingly pessimistic about technology.

If we don't get an AI wiping us out or some form of unpleasant brain upload evolution, we'll get hooked by superstimuli and stuff. We don't optimize for well-being, we optimize for what we (think we) want, which are two very different things. (And often, even calling it "optimization" is a stretch.)

Comment author: [deleted] 04 September 2011 10:22:20AM 8 points [-]

We don't optimize for well-being, we optimize for what we (think we) want, which are two very different things.

Natural selection does not cease operation. Say, for example, that someone invents a box that fully reproduces in every respect the subjective experience of eating and of having eaten by directly stimulating the brain. Dieters would love this device. Here's a device that implements in extreme form the very danger that you fear. In this case, the specific danger is that you will stop eating and die.

So the question is, will the device wipe out the human race? Almost certainly it will not wipe out the entire human race, simply because there are enough people around who would nevertheless choose to eat despite the availability of the device, possibly because they make a conscious decision to do so. These people will be the survivors, and they will reproduce, and their children will have both their values (transmitted culturally) and their genes, and so will probably be particularly resistant to the device.

That's an extreme case. In the actual case, there are doubtless many people who are not adapting well to technological change. They will tend to die out disproportionately, will tend to reproduce disproportionately less.

We have a model of this future in today's addictive drugs. Some people are more resistant to the lure of addictive drugs than others. Some people's lives are destroyed as they pursue the unnatural bliss of drugs, but many people manage to avoid their fate.

Many people have so far managed the trick of pursuing super stimuli without destroying their lives in the process.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 07 September 2011 07:46:24AM 19 points [-]

Keep in mind, it's possible to evolve to extinction.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 September 2011 10:46:43PM *  4 points [-]

What struck me about the example in this post that its basically genetically equivalent to reliable easy to use contraception.

And now that I think about it humanity basically is like a giant petri dish where someone dumped some antibiotics. The demographic transition is a temporary affair, a die off of maladapted genotypes and memeplexes.

Comment author: nerzhin 05 September 2011 04:18:55PM 3 points [-]

It is not at all clear that the people resistant to addictive drugs are reproducing at a higher rate than those who aren't.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 04 September 2011 04:31:05PM 3 points [-]

Sure, I don't think humanity is in any danger of being destroyed by conventional technologies, and I'm pretty sure the Singularity will be happen - in one form or another - way before then. But there may very well be a lot of suffering on the way.

Comment author: Iabalka 05 September 2011 02:14:51PM 1 point [-]

Are you suggesting to leave everything to natural selection? Doesn't strike me as the rationalists' way.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 September 2011 02:38:24PM 3 points [-]

Are there particular technologies (or uses of) that have especially earned your pessimism?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 04 September 2011 04:56:10PM 12 points [-]

Lots of things, but some off the top of my head:

Communication technologies probably top the list. Sure, the Internet has given birth to lots of great communities, like the one where I'm typing this comment. But it has also created a hugely polarized environment. (See the picture on page 4 of this study.) It's ever easier to follow your biases and only read the opinions of people who agree with you, and to think that anyone who disagrees is stupid or evil or both. On one hand, it's great that people can withdraw to their own subcultures where they feel comfortable, but the groupthink that this allows...

"Television is the first truly democratic culture - the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what people do want." -- Clive Barnes. That's even more true for the Internet.

Also, it's getting easier and easier to work, study and live for weeks without talking to anyone else than the grocery store clerk. I don't think that's a particularly good thing from a mental health perspective.

Comment author: Alex_Altair 05 September 2011 07:31:06PM 3 points [-]

I gain great confidence from the principle that rational people win, on average. It is rational people that make the world, and if it gets to be something we don't want, we change it. The only real threat is rationalists with different utility functions (e.g. Quirrelmort).

(Disclaimer: please don't take this as a promotion of an "us/them" dichotomy.)

Comment author: Vaniver 04 September 2011 09:31:17PM 2 points [-]

Also, it's getting easier and easier to work, study and live for weeks without talking to anyone else than the grocery store clerk. I don't think that's a particularly good thing from a mental health perspective.

Talking with your mouth, or talking? Because it's not clear to me that talking online is significantly worse than talking in person at sustaining mental health. I suspect getting a girlfriend/boyfriend will do more for your mental health and social satisfaction than interacting with people face-to-face more.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 05 September 2011 12:34:04PM 4 points [-]

Personally I find that if I don't hang out with people in real life every 2-4 days I will get increasingly lethargic and incapable of getting anything done. To what degree this generalizes is another matter.

Comment author: Raemon 06 September 2011 11:08:20PM *  9 points [-]

I find the same thing as Kaj. I've started literally percieving myself as having that set of "needs" bars in the Sims. Bladder bar gets empty, and I need to use the toilet or I'll be uncomfortable. Sleep bar gets low, and I'll be tired until I get enough. Social bar (face to face time) gets low, and I'll feel bleah until I get some face to face time.

The good news is that I've noticed this, become able to distinguish between "not enough facetime Bleah" and other types of Bleah, and then make sure to get face-to-face time when I need it.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 September 2011 03:34:28AM *  2 points [-]

It's spooky how similar I am in this regard.

The good news is

What's the bad news?

Comment author: [deleted] 06 September 2011 09:36:06PM 1 point [-]

Very much the same way. The internet has been a mixed blessing -- it allowed me to have the life I have at all, way back when, but now it's also a massive hook for akrasia and encourages sub-optimal use of free time. I'm still trying to get that under control.

Comment author: SilasBarta 06 September 2011 05:19:30PM 2 points [-]

If you mean a face-to-face bf/gf, you're not actually disagreeing with Kaj. Also, I concur with his points about social deprivation leading to lethargy, based on personal experience.

Comment author: luminosity 04 September 2011 11:27:35PM 1 point [-]

I've been working from home for a year now. I don't get out and see people often, my family live far away, so I don't have many opportunities to see people in person. The exception is, my brother is staying with me while he studies at University. There have been a few periods however where he's been away up with our parents, or off at a different university in a different state. I have a few friends I talk with regularly online through IM, and it helps, but the periods when my brother was away were still very difficult and I was getting very stressed towards the end, even though we don't interact all that much on a day to day basis, and even though I've always been much more tolerant and even thriving on loneliness than most people I know.

Maybe video chatting with people would be an adequate substitute? I haven't tried that, but my anecdote is that IM / talking online alleviates some of the stress, but goes nowhere near to mitigating it.

Comment author: kurokikaze 19 September 2011 04:40:19PM *  0 points [-]

Sorry, but isn't this the criticism of inappropriate use of technologies rather than technologies itself?

Comment author: Erebus 19 September 2011 05:42:26PM 2 points [-]

What would be the point of criticizing technology on the basis of its appropriate use?

Technologies do not exist in a vacuum, and even if they did, there'd be nobody around to use them. Thus restricting to only the "technology itself" is bound to miss the point of the criticism of technology. When considering the potential effects of future technology we need to take into account how the technologies will be used, and it is certainly reasonable to believe that some technologies have been and will be used to cause more harm than good. That a critical argument takes into account the relevant features of the society that uses the technology is not a flaw of the argument, but rather the opposite.

Comment author: kurokikaze 20 September 2011 01:59:12PM 0 points [-]

No, I'm not talking about the basis to criticize technology, but more about of actual target of criticism. Disclaimer: there sure are technologies that can do more harm than good. Here I will concentrate on communications, as you picked it as being one of the top problematic technologies.

For me, it all boils down to constructive side of criticism: should we change the technologies of the way we use them? Because I think in first case, new technologies will be used with the same drawbacks for humans as old ones. In the second case, successful usage patterns can be applied to new technologies as well.

For example, rather than limit the usage of communication technologies or change the comm technology itself, maybe we should focus on how the people use them. Make television more social. Or make going out with other people more easy and fun. Promote social interaction and activities using existing technologies, not relying on some magic future technology that will solve the existing problems. I think building the solution around existing technologies is a faster way than waiting for new ones.

Surely, there are technology side and social/culture side of the problem. But we cannot change any of these fast. We can only expand one to help the other. For example, on one programming site, around two years after its creation, people started to organize meetups in local places, much like LW meetups. Then, year later, other group on the site organized soccer games between different site users. The people liked it. And it doesn't take much time because they were building around existing stuff.

Also, sorry for my english. It's not my main language.

Comment author: Erebus 21 September 2011 07:40:48AM 1 point [-]

Maybe I misinterpreted your first comment. I agree almost completely with this one, especially the part

(...) not relying on some magic future technology that will solve the existing problems.

Comment author: wedrifid 04 September 2011 10:17:43AM 3 points [-]

We don't optimize for well-being, we optimize for what we (think we) want, which are two very different things. (And often, even calling it "optimization" is a stretch.)

You think we optimize for what we think we want? That's a stretch in itself. ;)

(Totally agree with what you are saying!)

Comment author: wnoise 18 September 2011 06:11:34PM *  14 points [-]

European Philosophers Become Magical Anime Girls

Author Junji Hotta has blessed the world with “Tsundere, Heidegger, and Me”, a tour de force of European philosophy… in a world where all the philosophers are self-conscious anime girls. The books went on sale September 14.


Comment author: pedanterrific 24 September 2011 03:07:22AM *  6 points [-]

I... that's... I don't...


I'll be in my bunk.

Comment author: gwern 19 September 2011 03:15:46PM 4 points [-]

They have gone too far.

Comment author: NihilCredo 23 September 2011 02:47:23AM 2 points [-]

At first I thought "Oh, nice, I'll finally know what Christians felt when that horrible Manga Gospel got published", but then I clicked the link and I just couldn't help having a good laugh. It seems I can only simulate the more chill Christians.

On further reflection, I got my start on literature through multiple shelves full of comic book adaptations of the classics, so I really shouldn't feel superior. Although to be fair those were a little more faithful to the source material - except for Taras Bulba, which quite shocked me later when I got my hands on the non-bowdlerised version.

Comment author: Bugmaster 23 September 2011 02:41:50AM 2 points [-]

Please please please someone translate it into English ! Or Russian, I'm not picky... I must read this manga, if only to see whether the text... disturbs... me as much as the art does.

Comment author: Vaniver 23 September 2011 02:01:41AM 1 point [-]

That picture of Spinoza displeases me on so many levels.

Comment author: pedanterrific 24 September 2011 02:56:18AM *  4 points [-]

"Desire is the essence of a man." - Baruch Spinoza

Comment author: knb 08 September 2011 06:24:06AM 14 points [-]

Paul Graham's essay "Why Nerds are Unpopular" has been mentioned a few times on LW, in a very positive way.

My initial reaction upon reading that essay a couple years ago was also very positive. However, upon rereading it, I realized it doesn't really fit with my observations or what I know from social science research at all. I want to write a top level post about why I disagree with Graham, but I'm not really sure if that would be on-topic enough for a top-level.

So I guess I'll just put this to a vote. Please upvote this if you think I should write a top-level post.

Comment author: knb 08 September 2011 06:24:33AM 31 points [-]

Please Upvote this if you think I should write a discussion level post.

Comment author: lessdazed 08 September 2011 06:30:45AM 11 points [-]

Why not just do a draft in discussion? It's a top level subject, but how could we judge well at this point without knowing what the post would look like?

Comment author: knb 08 September 2011 06:26:55AM 1 point [-]

If you think I shouldn't post about it at all, please upvote this. Be sure to downvote below.

Comment author: KPier 21 September 2011 03:51:25AM *  4 points [-]

I've been debating the validity of reductionism with a friend for a while, and today he presented me with an article (won't link it, it's a waste of your time) arguing that the consciousness-causes-collapse interpretation of QM proves that consciousness is ontologically fundamental/epiphenomenal/ect..

To which I responded: "Yeah, but consciousness-causes-collapse is wrong."

And then realized that the reasons I have rejected it are all reductionist in nature. So he pointed out, fairly, that I was begging the question. And unfortunately, I'm not sufficiently familiar with the literature on QM to point him to an explanation. Does anyone know an explanation of reasons to reject consciousness-causes-collapse that isn't explicitly predicated on reductionism?

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 21 September 2011 05:01:58AM 4 points [-]

From the perspective of the Copenhagen interpretation, this is like a debate about whether 'consciousness updates the prior', in which 'the prior' is treated as a physical entity which exists independently of observers and their ignorance.

In the Copenhagen interpretation - at least as originally intended! - a wavefunction is not a physical state. It is instead like a probability distribution.

From this perspective, the mystery of quantum mechanics is not, why do wavefunctions collapse? It is, why do wavefunctions work, and what is the physical reality behind them?

The reification of wavefunctions has apparently become an invisible background assumption to a lot of people. But in the Copenhagen interpretation, wavefunctions do not exist, only "observables" exist: the quantities whose behavior the wavefunction helps you to predict.

Examples of observables are: the position of an electron; the rate of change of a field; the spin of a photon. In the Copenhagen interpretation, these are what exists.

Some examples of things which are not observables and which do not exist: An electron wavefunction with a peak here and a peak there; a photon in a superposition of spin states; in fact, any superposition.

Because quantum mechanics does not offer a nonprobabilistic deeper level of description, it is very easy for people to speak and think as if the wavefunctions are the physical realities, but that is not how Copenhagen is supposed to work.

To reiterate: "consciousness collapses the wavefunction" in exactly the same sense that "consciousness updates the prior". You are free to invent subquantum physical theories in which wavefunctions are real, in an attempt to explain why quantum mechanics works, and maybe in those theories you want to have something "collapsing" wavefunctions, but you probably wouldn't want that to be "consciousness".

Comment author: Kingreaper 22 September 2011 12:25:42AM 3 points [-]

You don't need to reject CCC without reductionism to defeat his argument. His argument is "If CCC is true, reductionism is false"

That's not a reason to reject reductionism, unless you have better reason to hold to CCC than to reductionism.

Comment author: Owen 21 September 2011 04:09:10AM 3 points [-]

Perhaps that extremely simple systems, that no one would consider conscious, can also "cause collapse"? It doesn't take much: just entangle the superposed state with another particle - then when you measure, canceling can't occur and you perceive a randomly collapsed wavefunction. The important thing is the entangling, not the fact that you're conscious: measuring a superposed state (i.e. entangling your mind with it) will do the trick, but it's entirely unnecessary.

I used to believe the consciousness-causes-collapse idea, and it was quite a relief when I realized it doesn't work like that.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 September 2011 04:11:57AM 1 point [-]

Some of the consciousness causes collapse people would claim that you intended to cause that entanglement. (If you are thinking this sounds like an attempt to make their claims not falsifiable, I'd be inclined to agree.)

Comment author: Owen 21 September 2011 04:21:11AM 1 point [-]

I can intentionally do lots of things, some of which cause entanglement and "collapse", and some of which don't. I'd say to them that it still seems like the conscious intent isn't what's important.

If you'd like to substitute a better picture for the layperson, I'd go with "disturbing the system causes collapse". (Where "disturb" is really just a nontechnical way of saying "entangle with the environment.") Then it's clear that conscious observation (which involves disturbing the system somehow to get your measurement) will cause (apparent) collapse, but doesn't do so in a special depends-on-consciousness way. And if they want a precise definition of "disturb", you can get into the not-too-difficult math of superposition and entanglement.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 September 2011 04:28:17AM *  1 point [-]

And if they want a precise definition of "disturb", you can get into the not-too-difficult math of superposition and entanglement.

I'm a math grad student and I consider the math of entanglement and the like to be not easy. There are two types of consciousness-causes-collapse proponents. The first type who doesn't know much physics will find entanglement to be pretty difficult (they need to already understand complex numbers and basic linear algebra to get the structure of what is going on). Even a genuinely curious individual will likely have trouble following that unless they are a mathematically inclined individual. The second, much smaller group of people, are people who already understand entanglement but still buy into consciousness-causes collapse.They seem to have developed very complicated and sometimes subtle notions of what it means for things to be conscious or to have intent (almost akin to theologians). So in either case this avenue of attack seems unlikely to be successful.

If one is more concerned with convincing bystanders (as is often more relevant on the internet. People might not change their minds often. But people reading might), then this could actually do a good job when encountering the first category by making it clear that one knows a lot more about the subject than they do. This seems to empirically work in real life also as one can see in various discussions. See for example the cases Deepak Chopra has try to invoke a connection between QM and consciousness and he gets shot down pretty bluntly when there's anyone with a bit of math or physics background.

Comment author: Owen 21 September 2011 01:49:24PM 1 point [-]

You're right; maybe I'm overestimating my ability to explain things so that laypeople will understand. But there are some concessions you can make to get the idea across without the full background of complex linear algebra - often I use polarizers as an example, because most people have some experience with them (from sunglasses or 3D movies), and from there it's only a hop, skip, and a jump to entangled photons.

I do try to explain so that people feel like the explanation is totally natural, but then I often run into the problem of people trying to reason about quantum mechanics "in English", so to speak, instead of going to the underlying math to learn more. Any suggestions?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 September 2011 01:55:58PM *  2 points [-]

It seems to me that it is easier to get people to realize just that they can't use their regular language to understand what is going on than to actually explain it. People seem to have issues with understanding this primarily because of Dunning-Kruger and because of the large number of popularizations of difficult science that just uses vague analogies.

I'd ask "ok. This is going to take some math. Did you ever take linear algebra?" If yes, then I just explain things. When they answer no (vast majority of the time)I then say "ok do you remember how matrix multiplication works?" They will generally not or have only a vague memory. At that point I then tell them that I could spending a few hours or so developing the necessary tools but that they really don't have the background without a lot of work. This generally results in annoyance and blustering on their part. At this point one tells them the story of Oresme and how he came up with the idea of gravity in the 1300s but since he didn't have a mathematical framework it was absolutely useless. This gets the point across sometimes.

Edit: Your idea of using polarization as an example is an interesting one and I may try that in the future.

Comment author: Owen 21 September 2011 05:30:16PM 1 point [-]

Upvoted; thanks for providing the name "Dunning-Kruger" and the Oresme example!

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 21 September 2011 10:58:21AM *  1 point [-]

I've been debating the validity of reductionism with a friend for a while [...] Does anyone know an explanation of reasons to reject consciousness-causes-collapse that isn't explicitly predicated on reductionism?

This quite possibly can't be done. If you handicap yourself by refusing to use an idea while examining its merits, you may well draw inferior conclusions about it, and modify it in a way that makes it worse. You should use your whole mind to reflect on itself (unless you conclude some of its parts are not to be trusted). See these posts in particular:

Comment author: Manfred 21 September 2011 11:48:45AM 1 point [-]

I wouldn't call occam's razor an explicit part of reductionism. It's basically equivalent to saying you can't just make up information.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 22 September 2011 12:22:38AM 1 point [-]

I wouldn't call occam's razor an explicit part of reductionism. It's basically equivalent to saying you can't just make up information.

I don't think so. This may be the case when your hypotheses are something like "A" and "A v B" but if your hypotheses you are comparing are "A" and "C ^ D ^ E" this sort of summary of Occam's razor seems to be insufficient.

Comment author: Manfred 22 September 2011 01:16:24AM 0 points [-]

If both hypotheses explain some set of data, I've usually been able to make a direct comparison even in what look like tough cases by following the information in the data - what sort of process generates it, etc. Keeping things in terms of the "language" of the data is in fact also justified by the idea that pulling information from nowhere is bad.

This sort of reliance on our observations is certainly an empiricist assumption, but I don't think a reductionist one.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 22 September 2011 02:23:49AM 3 points [-]

Consider the following problem. You know that there is some some property that some integers have and others don't and you are trying to figure out what the property is. After testing every integer under 10^4, you find that there are 1229 integers under 10^4 that work. You have two hypotheses that describe these. One is that they are every prime number. The other is a given by a 1228 degree polynomial where P(n) gives the nth number in your set. One of these is clearly simpler. This isn't just a language issue- if I tried to right these out in any reasonable equivalent of a Turing machine or programming language one of them will be a much shorter program. The distinction here however is not just one of one of them making up information. One is genuinely shorter.

If one wants we can give similar historical examples. In 1620 you could make a Copernican model of the solar system that would rival Kepler's model in accuracy. But you would need a massive number of epicycles. The problem here doesn't seem to be pulling information from nowhere. The problem seems to be that one of the hypotheses is simpler in a different way.

Both of these examples do have something in common which is that in both of the complicated examples there are a lot of parameters that are observationally dependent whereas the other has many fewer of those. But that seems to be a distinct issue (although it is possibly a good very rough way of measuring complexity of hypotheses).

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 September 2011 04:04:48AM *  1 point [-]

There are a variety of different issues.

First, it assumes that consciousness exists as an ontological unit. This isn't just a problem with reductionism but is a problem with Occam's razor. What precisely one means by reductionism can be complicated and subtle with some versions more definite or plausible than others. But regardless, there's no good evidence that consciousness is an irreducible.

Second, it raises serious questions about what things were like before there were conscious entities. If no collapse occurred prior to conscious entities what does that say about the early universe and how it functioned? Note that this actually raises potentially testable claims if one can use telescopes to look back before the dawn of life. Unfortunately, I've never seen any consciousness causes collapse proponent either explain why this doesn't lead to any observable difference or make any plausible claim about what differences one would observe.

Third, it violates a general metapattern of history. As things have progressed the pattern has consistently been that minds don't interact with the laws of physics in any fundamental way and that more and more ideas about how minds might interact have been thrown out (ETA: There are a few notable exceptions such as some of the stuff involving the placebo effect.). We've spent much of the last few hundred years establishing stronger and stronger versions of this claim. Thus, as a simple matter of induction, one would expect that trend if anything to continue. (I don't know how much inducting on the pattern of discoveries is justified.)

Fourth, it is ill-defined. What constitutes a conscious mind? Presumably people are conscious. Are severely mentally challenged people conscious? Are the non-human great apes conscious? Are ravens and other corvids conscious? Are dogs or cats conscious? Are mice conscious? Etc. down to single celled organisms and viruses.

Fifth, consciousness causes collapse is a hypothesis that is easily supported by standard human biases. This raises two issues one of which is not that relevant but is worth mentioning and the other which is very relevant. The first, less relevant issue, is that this means we should probably assume that we are likely to overestimate our chance that the hypothesis is correct. This is not however an argument against the hypothesis. But there's a similar claim that is a sort of meta-argument against the hypothesis. Since this hypothesis is one which is supported by human biases one would expect a lot of motivated cognition for evidence and arguments for the hypothesis. So if there are any really good arguments one should consider it more likely that they would have been hit on. The fact that they have not suggests that there really aren't any good arguments for it.

Comment author: byrnema 12 September 2011 03:11:36PM *  4 points [-]

I noticed a bias about purchasing organic milk this morning, that is perhaps a combination of the sunk cost fallacy, ugh fields and compartmentalization.

My mother is sending me information this morning that I should be giving my children organic milk (to avoid hormones, etc). I don't disagree with her, but I'm probably not going to start buying organic milk. This makes me feel a little sorry for my mother, that she is going to some effort to convince me I ought to take this precaution, and I'm going to nod and agree, and then finally not change my behavior.

The twinge of guilt makes me examine the 'why', and I believe the reason I won't buy organic is because my children already drink much less milk than they used to. If there was one year I should have bought organic, it should have been during their first year of drinking cow milk when they drank several bottles a day and it was a major source of their nutrition. Now they only drink a couple glasses a day, and this milk is mixed with many other food sources.

I'm sure the logic is still opaque... Even if they don't drink as much milk as they used to, the milk drinking continues over the rest of their lives and switching to organic now would make a difference. If one of the main objections is the cost of organic milk (and at first I would claim that it was) then this fact means that by switching to organic milk now, I can pay less per day to completely free them of any contaminants normal milk would expose them to. For a few extra dollars a week, my children could be rBGH-free the rest of their lives.

What is my true objection? My true objection, perhaps, is that some part of my brain is already computing what it would feel like to purchase organic milk next time in the store. I'm paying a significant amount more, so I should be feeling good about the purchase, that I am making such-and-such good choices for my family. However, I know I will only feel badly! If the marginal price of organic milk is justified now, I should have been buying it before -- when my kids were small -- and so every single time that I purchase organic milk I will feel a dissonance that I wasn't purchasing it before. Either organic milk is important or it isn't, and in deciding to ignore my mother and continue to buy regular milk, I am making a choice to behave consistently with past choices.

Some compartmentalization is at work here, because I realize all this quite consciously, and it doesn't matter. I still feel like going to the milk aisle and glibly throwing in the carton that costs $3.49 rather than $5.50 is a viable option that I choose. I can even resolve to look at the label and chant "I am buying this rather than something else that I know is better because I don't want to have to renounce past decisions", and it doesn't matter.

A factor in this locus of irrationality is that I don't feel strongly that organic milk is better, and the extra cost is a weighing factor. Thus, the desire to avoid negative feelings is operating in a landscape that is nearly even. I trust that if I deemed it was more important to go with organic milk, I would do so. On the other hand, this is a reminder that such psychological tensions can affect more important decisions, if the need to avoid negative feelings is stronger, and I should continue to be honest with myself and be aware of them.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 12 September 2011 04:27:38PM 11 points [-]

Past-you, using the evidence that past-you had, came to a particular conclusion. Present-you, using more evidence, may come to a different conclusion. Future-you, using still more evidence, may come to yet another conclusion. This is as it should be; that's what evidence is for.

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 07 September 2011 11:50:01PM 4 points [-]

I have been wondering recently about how to rationally approach topics that are naturally subjective. Specifically, this came up in conversation about history and historiography. Historic events are objective of course, but a lot of historical scholarship concerns itself with not just describing events, but speculating as to their causes and results. This is naturally going to be influenced by the historian's own cultural context and existing biases.

How can rationalists engage with this inherently subjective topic, and apply rationality techniques? We can try to take account of the historian's biases, but in many cases that will require us to do some historical research - it is probably not possible to get an accurate, objective account.

This applies to a certain extent to other fields I am sure, but history and historiography are perhaps the most scholarly ones I can bring to mind.

Comment author: Bill_McGrath 08 September 2011 10:09:32PM 1 point [-]

Hmm. I was a little tired and rushed when I wrote this. There are a few thoughts I'd like to add concerning historiography.

As I said above, history, because of its subjective nature, is always influenced by the historian's bias. Historiography could maybe be called the study of these biases, but is in itself subject to the same flaws.

No historian's viewpoint on a historical event will be fully objective. But just because no approach can be perfect, does not mean that all approaches can be equally imperfect. My question isn't so much about how to be a rational historian, but more: is there a rational way to evaluate the relative worths of different historical viewpoints?

Comment author: smk 07 September 2011 02:30:39PM 4 points [-]

A kind of uncomfortably funny video about turning yourself bisexual, a topic that's come up a few times here on LW. http://youtu.be/zqv-y5Ys3fg

Comment author: gwern 20 September 2011 09:40:41PM 3 points [-]

I tried writing an essay arguing that popular distaste for politicians is due largely to base rate neglect leading people to think they are worse than they are: http://www.gwern.net/Notes#politicians-are-not-unethical (I don't think it works, though.)

Comment author: Vaniver 23 September 2011 02:00:40AM 0 points [-]

Heart -> Hearst.

Also, the Edwards example you gives suggests that one story may not be sufficient (I don't know how many times the Enquirer reported on it before other media picked it up, but I know the rest did only months later).

Comment author: gwern 23 September 2011 02:36:50PM 1 point [-]

Thanks; I've incorporated both.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 21 September 2011 07:00:59AM 0 points [-]

I can't find that content on that page.

Comment author: gwern 21 September 2011 01:35:30PM 1 point [-]

Caching. (This has been enough of a problem with linking to new content - people having the old page cached - that I've been thinking of turning it off, even with the speed/bandwidth hit.)

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 21 September 2011 07:34:35PM 0 points [-]


Comment author: ataftoti 08 September 2011 05:40:26AM *  2 points [-]

Has anyone been able to play Mafia using bayesian methods? I have tried and failed due to encountering situations that eluded my attempts to model them mathematically. But since I am not strong at math, I'm hoping others have had success?

And the related question: any mafiascum.net players here?

Edit: I mean specifically using bayesian methods for online forum-based Mafia games. These seem to me to give the player enough time to do conscious calculations.

Comment author: katydee 13 September 2011 05:22:34AM 1 point [-]

I play online Mafia but haven't attempted to use explicit Bayesian reasoning to do so.

Comment author: Jack 12 September 2011 04:39:53AM 1 point [-]

I wonder if there aren't any group rationality games that don't seriously undermined group moral and cohesion. The last time I played Mafia people ended up crying and my relationship with my brother and cousin went through traumatic upheaval. Diplomacy is not a better option.

Comment author: katydee 13 September 2011 05:24:24AM 2 points [-]

This seems like an unusual experience to have. I have played Mafia with 3+ non-overlapping groups in person and 4+ non-overlapping groups online, and have yet to encounter any trouble; in fact, in two of the cases we were explicitly playing as a bonding exercise to improve group morale and cohesion, and it seems to have worked both times.

Comment author: ataftoti 13 September 2011 04:27:40AM *  1 point [-]

The last time I played Mafia people ended up crying

And what about the times before that?

Playing mafia has never undermined real social relationships in my experience, and I've introduced this game to perhaps 20 people in real life, with at least 2 completely non-overlapping groups.

Also, I doubt face-to-face mafia should be considered a game that especially exercises rationality. It seems to me that you get thrown a huge fuckton of cognitive biases with no time to combat them.

(again, my original question should specify "forum based mafia games"...let me edit that now...)

Comment author: Jack 13 September 2011 06:04:07AM 1 point [-]

On reflection, I think the problems came from the people in the group being too close. I have certainly had fun before. We may have also taken the game too seriously.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 13 September 2011 05:39:37AM 1 point [-]

It's more like it teaches a sort of mini-rationality: "You're swimming in cognitive biases, but your intuitions can also be helpful. Empirically develop a few techniques to separate good intuitions from bad with decent error probability."

Comment author: shokwave 12 September 2011 12:03:28PM 1 point [-]

I can report that playing Mafia at a meetup markedly improved group interaction. What impact this has on your position is unknown.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 08 September 2011 09:16:33AM 1 point [-]

Trying to update even on just the well-defined data looks impossible for humans, trying to update on what other people are saying would be difficult, even with a computer. Also, it seems like there might be certain disadvantages if you turn out to be Mafia.

Comment author: ataftoti 12 September 2011 04:22:04AM 1 point [-]

Allow me to specify: I am referring to online forum mafia games.

These games are slow enough that one can do some calculations, if one can find the numbers (and that seems to be the hard part, along with deciding how they should be calculated).

I've thought and am still thinking that the fact that I've never heard of bayesian methods being used in mafia is simply an observation about the failures of players, not that it inherently cannot be done using available tools.

Frankly I'm surprised mafia does not seem to attract more attention from the demographic concerned with rationality. If some set of methods were developed that consistently worked and cut through the jungle of biases that is the nature of the game, then that would be an achievement for the progress of rationality, would it not? I think many methods that may develop would easily transfer to other uses as well.

Comment author: klkblake 05 September 2011 11:18:19AM 3 points [-]

I'm confused about Kolmogorov complexity. From what I understand, it is usually expressed in terms of Universal Turing Machines, but can be expressed in any Turing-complete language, with no difference in the resulting ordering of programs. Why is this? Surely a language that had, say, natural language parsing as a primitive operation would have a very different complexity ordering than a Universal Turing Machine?

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 05 September 2011 11:40:09AM 1 point [-]

The Kolmogorov complexity changes by an amount bounded by a constant when you change languages, but the order of the programs is very much allowed to change. Where did you get that it wasn't?

Comment author: printing-spoon 09 September 2011 12:26:42AM 1 point [-]

(this is because all Turing-complete languages can simulate each other)

Comment author: anonym 05 September 2011 05:30:24PM *  3 points [-]

I don't recall any discussion on LW -- and couldn't find any with a quick search -- about the "Great Rationality Debate", which Stanovich summarizes as:

An important research tradition in the cognitive psychology of reasoning--called the heuristics and biases approach--has firmly established that people’s responses often deviate from the performance considered normative on many reasoning tasks. For example, people assess probabilities incorrectly, they display confirmation bias, they test hypotheses inefficiently, they violate the axioms of utility theory, they do not properly calibrate degrees of belief, they overproject their own opinions onto others, they display illogical framing effects, they uneconomically honor sunk costs, they allow prior knowledge to become implicated in deductive reasoning, and they display numerous other information processing biases (for summaries of the large literature, see Baron, 1998, 2000; Dawes, 1998; Evans, 1989; Evans & Over, 1996; Kahneman & Tversky, 1972, 1984, 2000; Kahneman, Slovic, & Tversky, 1982; Nickerson, 1998; Shafir & Tversky, 1995; Stanovich, 1999; Tversky, 1996).

It has been common for these empirical demonstrations of a gap between descriptive and normative models of reasoning and decision making to be taken as indications that systematic irrationalities characterize human cognition. However, over the last decade, an alternative interpretation of these findings has been championed by various evolutionary psychologists, adaptationist modelers, and ecological theorists (Anderson, 1990, 1991; Chater & Oaksford, 2000; Cosmides & Tooby, 1992; 1994b, 1996; Gigerenzer, 1996a; Oaksford & Chater, 1998, 2001; Rode, Cosmides, Hell, & Tooby, 1999; Todd & Gigerenzer, 2000). They have reinterpreted the modal response in most of the classic heuristics and biases experiments as indicating an optimal information processing adaptation on the part of the subjects. It is argued by these investigators that the research in the heuristics and biases tradition has not demonstrated human irrationality at all and that a Panglossian position (see Stanovich & West, 2000) which assumes perfect human rationality is the proper default position to take.

Stanovich, K. E., & West, R. F. (2003). Evolutionary versus instrumental goals: How evolutionary psychology misconceives human rationality. In D. E. Over (Ed.), Evolution and the psychology of thinking: The debate, Psychological Press. [Series on Current Issues in Thinking and Reasoning]

The lack of discussion seems like a curious gap given the strong support to both the schools of thought that Cosmides/Tooby/etc. represent on the one hand, and Kahneman/Tversky/etc. on the other, and that they are in radical opposition on the question of the nature of human rationality and purported deviations from it, both of which are central subjects of this site.

I don't expect to find much support here for the Tooby/Cosmides position on the issue, but I'm surprised that there doesn't seem to have been any discussion of the issue. Maybe I've missed discussions or posts though.

Comment author: rehoot 06 September 2011 03:39:42AM 3 points [-]

I don't understand the basis for the Cosmides and Tooby claim. In their first study, Cosmides and Tooby (1996) solved the difficult part of a Bayesian problem so that the solution could be found by a "cut and paste" approach. The second study was about the same with some unnecessary percentages deleted (they were not needed for the cut and paste solution--yet the authors were surprised when performance improved). Study 3 = Study 2. Study 4 has the respondents literally fill in the blanks of a diagram based on the numbers written in the question. 92% of the students answered that one correctly. Studies 5 & 6 returned the percentages and the students made many errors.

Instead of showing innate, perfect reasoning, the study tells me that students at Yale have trouble with Bayesian reasoning when the question is framed in terms of percentages. The easy versions do not seem to demonstrate the type of complex reasoning that is needed to see the problem and frame it without somebody framing it for you. Perhaps Cosmides and Tooby are correct when they show that there is some evidence that people use a "calculus of probability" but their study showed that people cannot frame the problems without overwhelming amounts of help from somebody who knows the correct answer.


Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J. (1996). Are humans good intuitive statisticians after all? Rethinking some conclusions from the literature on judgment under uncertainty. Cognition 58, 1–73, DOI: 10.1016/0010-0277(95)00664-8

Comment author: anonym 07 September 2011 03:41:36AM *  2 points [-]

I agree. I was hoping somebody could make a coherent and plausible sounding argument for their position, which seems ridiculous to me. The paper you referenced shows that if you present an extremely simple problem of probability and ask for the answer in terms of a frequency (and not as a single event), AND you present the data in terms of frequencies, AND you also help subjects to construct concrete, visual representations of the frequencies involved by essentially spoon-feeding them the answers with leading questions, THEN most of them will get the correct answer. From this they conclude that people are good intuitive statisticians after all, and they cast doubt on the entire heuristics and biases literature because experimenters like Kahneman and Tversky don't go to equally absurd lengths to present every experimental problem in ways that would be most intuitive to our paleolithic ancestors. The implication seems to be that rationality cannot (or should not) mean anything other than what the human brain actually does, and the only valid questions and problems for testing rationality are those that would make sense to our ancestors in the EEA.

Comment author: JonathanLivengood 14 September 2011 08:52:21AM 0 points [-]

I was hoping somebody could make a coherent and plausible sounding argument for their position.

I'm not sure I'm up to the challenge, but here goes anyway ...

I think you are being ungenerous to the position Tooby and Cosmides mean to defend. As I read them (see especially Section 22 of their paper), they are trying to do two things. First, they want to open up the question of how exactly people reason about probabilities -- i.e., what mechanisms are at work, not just what answers people give. Second, they want to argue that humans are slightly more rational than Kahneman and Tversky give them credit for being.

First point. Tooby and Cosmides do not actually commit to the position that humans use a probability calculus in their probabilistic reasoning. What they do argue is that Kahneman and Tversky were too quick to dismiss the possibility that humans do use a probability calculus -- not just heuristics -- in their probabilistic reasoning. If humans never gave the output demanded by Bayes' theorem, then K&T would have to be right. But T&C show that in more ecologically valid cases, (most) humans do give the output demanded by Bayes. So, the question is re-opened as to what brain mechanism takes frequency inputs and gives frequency outputs in accordance with Bayes' theorem. That mechanism might or might not instantiate a rule in a calculus.

Second point. If you are tempted (by K&T's research) to say that humans are just dreadfully bad at statistical reasoning, then maybe you should hold off for a second. The question is a little bit under-specified. Do you mean "bad at statistical reasoning in general, in an abstract setting" or do you mean "bad at statistical reasoning in whatever form it might take"? If the former, then T&C are going to agree. If you frame a statistics problem with percentages, you get all kinds of errors. But if you mean the latter, then T&C are going to say that humans do pretty well on problems that have a particular form, and not surprisingly, that form is more ecologically valid.

General rule of charity: If someone appears to be defending a claim that you think is obviously ridiculous, make sure they are actually defending what you think they are defending and not something else. Alternatively (or maybe additionally), look for the strongest way to state their claim, rather than the weakest way.

Comment author: Vaniver 07 September 2011 09:33:45PM 2 points [-]

Typically, the "optimal thinking" argument gets brought up here in the context of evolutionary psychology. Loss aversion makes sound reproductive sense when you're a hunter-gatherer, and performing a Bayesian update carefully doesn't help all that much. But times have changed, and humans have not changed as much.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 September 2011 12:20:39PM *  2 points [-]

EDIT: this comment was made when I was in a not-too-reasonable frame of mind, and I'm over it.

Is teaching, learning, studying rationality valuable?

Not as a bridge to other disciplines, or a way to meet cool people. I mean, is the subject matter itself valuable as a discipline in your opinion? Is there enough to this? Is there anything here worth proselytizing?

I'm starting to doubt that. "Here, let me show you how to think more clearly" seems like an insult to anyone's intelligence. I don't think there's any sense teaching a competent adult how to change his or her habits of thought. Can you imagine a perfectly competent person -- say, a science student -- who hasn't heard of "rationalism" in our sense of the world, finding such instruction appealing? I really can't.

Of course I'm starting to doubt the value (to myself) of thinking clearly at all.

Comment author: lessdazed 06 September 2011 01:44:35PM *  17 points [-]

Yesterday I spoke with my doctor about skirting around the FDA's not having approved of a drug that may be approved in Europe first (it may be approved in the US first). I explained that one first-world safety organization's imprimatur is good enough for me until the FDA gives a verdict, and that harm from taking a medicine is not qualitatively different than harm from not taking a medicine.

We also discussed a clinical trial of a new drug, and I had to beat him with a stick until he abandoned "I have absolutely no idea at all if it will be better for you or not". I explained that abstractly, a 50% chance of being on a placebo and a 50% chance of being on a medicine with a 50% chance of working was better than assuredly taking a medicine with a 20% chance of working, and that he was able to give a best guess about the chances of it working.

In practice, there are other factors involved, in this case it's better to try the established medicine first and just see if it works or not, as part of exploration before exploitation.

This is serious stuff.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 September 2011 08:15:30AM -1 points [-]

We also discussed a clinical trial of a new drug, and I had to beat him with a stick until he abandoned "I have absolutely no idea at all if it will be better for you or not". I explained that abstractly, a 50% chance of being on a placebo and a 50% chance of being on a medicine with a 50% chance of working was better than assuredly taking a medicine with a 20% chance of working, and that he was able to give a best guess about the chances of it working.

Better yet, if you aren't feeling like being altruistic you go on the trial then test the drug you are given to see if it is the active substance. If not you tell the trial folks that placebos are for pussies and go ahead and find either an alternate source of the drug or the next best thing you can get your hands on. It isn't your responsibility to be a control subject unless you choose to be!

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 07 September 2011 09:01:36AM 10 points [-]

Downvoted for encouraging people to screw over other people by backing out of their agreements... What would happen to tests if every trial patient tested their medicine to see if it's a placebo? Don't you believe there's value in having control groups in medical testing?

Comment author: AlanCrowe 07 September 2011 09:47:26AM 5 points [-]

Lessdazed is describing quite a messy situation. Let me split out various subcases.

First is the situation with only one approval authority running randomised controlled trials on medicines. These trials are usually in three phases. Phase I on healthy volunteers to check for toxicity and metabolites. Phase II on sufferers to get an idea of the dose needed to affect the course of the illness. Phase III to prove that the therapeutic protocol established in Phase II actually works.

I have health problems of my own and have fancied joining a Phase III trial for early access to the latest drugs. Reading around for example it seems to be routine for drugs to fail in Phase III. Outcomes seem to be vaguely along the lines of three in ten are harmful, six in ten are useless, one in ten is beneficial. So the odds that a new drug will help, given that it was the one out of ten that passed Phase III, are good, while the odds that a new drug will help, given that it is about to start on Phase III are bad.

Joining a Phase III trial is a genuinely altruistic act by which the joiner accepts bad odds for himself to help discover valuable information for the greater good.

I was confused by the idea of joining a Phase III trial and unblinding it by testing the pill to see whether one had been assigned to the treatment arm of the study or the control arm. Since the drug is more likely to be harmful than to be beneficial, making sure that you get it is playing against the odds!

Second, Lessdazed seemed to be considering the situation in which EMA has approved a drug and the FDA is blocking it in America, simply as a bureaucratic measure to defend its home turf. If it were really as simple as that, I would say that cheating to get round the bureaucratic obstacles is justified.

However the great event of my lifetime was man landing on the Moon. NASA was brilliant and later became rubbish. I attribute the change to the Russians dropping out of the space race. In the 1960's NASA couldn't afford to take bad decisions for political reasons, for fear that the Russians would take the good decision themselves and win the race. The wider moral that I have drawn is that big organisations depend on their rivals to keep them honest and functioning.

Third: split decisions with the FDA and the EMA disagreeing, followed by a treat-off to see who was right, strike me as essential. I dread the thought of a single, global medicine agency that could prohibit a drug world wide and never be shown up by approval and successful use in a different jurisdiction.

Hmm, my comment is losing focus. My main point is that joining a Phase III trial is, on average, a sacrifice for the common good.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 September 2011 09:30:12AM *  1 point [-]

Downvoted for encouraging people to screw over other people by backing out of their agreements... What would happen to tests if every trial patient tested their medicine to see if it's a placebo? Don't you believe there's value in having control groups in medical testing?

Downvoted for actively polluting the epistemic belief pool for the purpose of a shaming attempt. I here refer especially (but not only) to the rhetorical question:

Don't you believe there's value in having control groups in medical testing?

I obviously believe there's a value in having control groups. Not only is that an obvious belief but it is actually conveyed by my comment. It is a required premise for the assertion of altruism to make sense.

My comment observes that sacrificing one's own (expected) health for the furthering of human knowledge is an act of altruism. Your comment actively and directly sabotages human knowledge for your own political ends. The latter I consider inexcusable and the former is both true and necessary if you wish to encourage people who are actually capable of strategic thinking on their own to be altruistic.

You don't persuade rationalists to conform to your will by telling them A is made of fire or by trying to fool them into believing A, B and C don't even exist. That's how you persuade suckers.

Comment author: lessdazed 07 September 2011 10:08:29AM *  4 points [-]

Your comment actively and directly sabotages human knowledge for your own political ends.

OK, see, I thought this might happen. I love your first comment, much more than ArisKatsaris', but despite it having some problems ArisKatsaris is referring to, not because it is perfect. I only upvoted his comment so I could honestly declare that I had upvoted both of your comments, as I thought that might diffuse the situation - to say I appreciated both replies.

Don't get me wrong - I don't really mind ArisKatsaris' comment and I don't think it's as harmful as you seem to, but I upvoted it for the honesty reason.

You just committed an escalation of the same order of magnitude that he did, or more, as his statements were phrased as questions and were far less accusatory. I thought you might handle this situation like this and I mildly disapprove of being this aggressive with this tone this soon in the conversation.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 September 2011 10:40:36AM *  0 points [-]

I don't think it's as harmful as you seem to

A very slightly harmful instance of a phenomenon that is moderately bad when done on things that matter.

I thought you might handle this situation like this and I mildly disapprove of being this aggressive with this tone this soon in the conversation.

Where 'this soon' means the end. There is nothing more to say, at in this context. (As a secondary consideration my general policy is that conversations which begin with shaming terminate with an error condition immediately.) I do, however, now have inspiration for a post on the purely practical downsides of suppression of consideration of rational alternatives in situations similar to that discussed by the post.

EDIT: No, not post. It is an open thread comment by yourself that could have been a discussion post!

Comment author: lessdazed 07 September 2011 10:51:21AM *  1 point [-]

I'm not unsympathetic.

Compare and contrast my(September 7th, 2011) approach to yours(September 7th, 2011), I guess.

Where 'this soon' means the end.

ADBOC, it didn't have to be.

It is an open thread comment by yourself that could have been a discussion post!

It sort of soon became one.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 07 September 2011 09:45:42AM *  4 points [-]

I obviously believe there's a value in having control groups Not only is that obvious but it is actually conveyed by my comment. It is a required premise for the assertion of altruism to make sense.

Not so, there exists altruism that is worthless or even of negative value. An all-altrustic CooperateBot is what allows DefectBots to thrive. Someone can altruistically spend all his time praying to imaginary deities for the salvation of mankind, and his prayers would still be useless. To think that altruism is about value is a map-territory confusion.

My comment observes that sacrificing one's own (expected) health for the furthering of human knowledge is an act of altruism.

Your comment doesn't just say it's altruistic. It also tells him that if he doesn't feel like being an altruist, that he should tell people that "placebos are for pussies". Perhaps you were just joking when you effectively told him to insult altruists, and I didn't get it.

Either way, if he defected in this manner, not just he'd be partially sabotaging the experiment he signed up for, he'd probably be sabotaging his future chances of being accepted in any other trial. I know that if I was a doctor, I would be less likely to accept you in a medical trial.

Your comment actively and directly sabotages human knowledge for your own political ends.

Um, what? I don't understand. What deceit do you believe I committed in my above comment?

Comment author: Jack 07 September 2011 05:00:39PM 5 points [-]

Let me see if I can summarize this thread:

Wedrifid made a strategic observation that if a person cares more about their own health then the integrity of the trial it makes sense to find out whether they are on placebo and, if they are, leave the trial and seek other solutions. He did this with somewhat characteristic colorful language.

You then voted him down for expressing values you disagree with. This is a use of downvoting that a lot of people here frown on, myself included (though I don't downvote people for explaining their reasons for downvoting, even if those reasons are bad). Even if wedrifid thought people should screw up controlled trials for their own benefit his comment was still clever, immoral or not.

Of course, he wasn't actually recommending the sabotage of controlled trials-- though his first comment was sufficiently ambiguous that I wouldn't fault someone for not getting it. Luckily, he clarified this point for you in his reply. Now that you know wedrifid actually likes keeping promises and maintaining the integrity of controlled trials what are you arguing about?

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 07 September 2011 05:57:25PM 3 points [-]

Wedrifid made a strategic observation that if a person cares more about their own health then the integrity of the trial it makes sense to find out whether they are on placebo and, if they are, leave the trial and seek other solutions.

To me it didn't feel like an observation, it felt like a very strong recommendation, given phrases like "Better yet", "tell them placebos are for pussies", "It isn't your responsibility!", etc

Even if wedrifid thought people should screw up controlled trials for their own benefit his comment was still clever, immoral or not.

Eh, not really. It seemed shortsighted -- it doesn't really give an alternate way of procuring this medicine, it has the possibilty to slightly delay the actual medicine from going on the market (e.g. if other test subjects follow the example of seeking to learn if they're on a placebo and also abandon the testing, that forcing the thing to be restarted from scratch), and if a future medicine goes on trial, what doctor will accept test subjects that are known to have defected in this way?

Now that you know wedrifid actually likes keeping promises and maintaining the integrity of controlled trials what are you arguing about?

Primarily I fail to understand what deceit he's accusing me of when he compares my own attitude to claiming that "A is made of fire" (in context meaning effectively that I said defectors will be punished posthumously go to hell; that I somehow lied about the repercussions of defections).

He attacks me for committing a crime against knowledge -- when of course that was what I thought he was committing, when I thought he was seeking to encourage control subjects to find out if they're a placebo and quit the testing. Because you know -- testing = search for knowledge, sabotaging testing = crime against knowledge.

Basically I can understand how I may have misunderstood him --- but I don't understand in what way he is misunderstanding me.

Comment author: orthonormal 06 September 2011 12:53:47PM 13 points [-]

You're confuting two things here: whether rationality is valuable to study, and whether rationality is easy to proselytize.

My own experience is that it's been very valuable for me to study the material on Less Wrong- I've been improving my life lately in ways I'd given up on before, I'm allocating my altruistic impulses more efficiently (even the small fraction I give to VillageReach is doing more good than all of the charity I practiced before last year), and I now have a genuine understanding (from several perspectives) of why atheism isn't the end of truth/meaning/morals. These are all incredibly valuable, IMO.

As for proselytizing 'rationality' in real life, I haven't found a great way yet, so I don't do it directly. Instead, I tell people who might find Less Wrong interesting that they might find Less Wrong interesting, and let them ponder the rationality material on their own without having to face a more-rational-than-thou competition.

Comment author: Swimmer963 06 September 2011 05:23:33PM 6 points [-]

Instead, I tell people who might find Less Wrong interesting that they might find Less Wrong interesting, and let them ponder the rationality material on their own without having to face a more-rational-than-thou competition.

This phrase jumped out in my mind as "shiny awesome suggestion!" I guess in a way it's what I've been trying to do for awhile, since I found out early, when learning how to make friends, that most people and especially most girls don't seem to like being instructed on living their life. ("Girls don't want solutions to their problems," my dad quotes from a book about the male versus the female brain, "they want empathy, and they'll get pissed off if you try to give them solutions instead.")

The main problem is that most of my social circle wouldn't find LW interesting, at least not in its current format. Including a lot of people who I thought would benefit hugely from some parts, especially Alicorn's posts on luminosity. (I know, for example, that my younger sister is absolutely fascinated by people, and loves it when I talk neuroscience with her. I would never tell her to go read a neuroscience textbook, and probably not a pop science book either. Book learning just isn't her thing.)

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 06 September 2011 06:57:59PM 1 point [-]

Depending on what you mean by 'format', you might be able to direct those people to the specific articles you think they'd benefit from, or even pick out particular snippets to talk to them about (in a 'hey, isn't this a neat thing' sense, not a 'you should learn this' sense).

Comment author: Swimmer963 06 September 2011 07:27:21PM 1 point [-]

"Pick out particular snippets" seems to work quite well. If something in the topic of conversation tags, in my mind, to something I read on LessWrong, I usually bring it up and add it to the conversation, and my friends usually find it neat. But except with a few select people (and I know exactly who they are) posting an article on their facebook wall and writing "this is really cool!" doesn't lead to the article actually being read. Or at least they don't tell me about reading it.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 06 September 2011 07:42:51PM 2 points [-]

If facebook is like twitter in that regard, I mostly wouldn't expect you to get feedback about an article having been read - but I'd also not expect an especially high probability that the intended person actually read it, either. What I meant was more along the lines of emailing/IMing them individually with the relevant link. (Obviously this doesn't work too well if you know a whole lot of people who you think should read a particular article. I can't advise about that situation - my social circle is too small for me to run into it.)

Comment author: orthonormal 07 September 2011 01:56:26AM 10 points [-]

I, uh, just did that, and received this reply half an hour later:

Wow, thanks for destroying my chance of getting any work done for the next 7-10 days! Some friend you are!

I think that counts as a success.

Comment author: Swimmer963 10 September 2011 01:15:16PM 1 point [-]

Sorry for the delayed reply...

I don't know what Twitter is like, but the function on Facebook that I prefer to use (private messages) is almost like email and seems to be replacing email among much of my social circle. I will preferentially send my friends FB messages instead of emails, since I usually get a reply faster.

Writing on someone's wall is public, and might result in a slower reply because it seems less urgent. But it's still directed at a particular person, and it would be considered rude not to reply at all. But when I post an article or link, the reply I often get is "thanks, looks neat, I'll read that later."

Comment author: [deleted] 06 September 2011 05:23:52PM 11 points [-]

Can you imagine a perfectly competent person -- say, a science student -- who hasn't heard of "rationalism" in our sense of the world, finding such instruction appealing? I really can't.

At some point I was that person. Weren't you?

Comment author: handoflixue 09 September 2011 10:53:30PM 2 points [-]

"Here, let me show you how to think more clearly"

I was recently around some old friends who are lacking in rationality, and kept finding myself at a complete loss. I wanted to just grab them and say exactly that.

In other news, I've learned that some lessons in how to politely and subtly teach rationality would be quite welcome >.>

Comment author: wedrifid 07 September 2011 08:18:06AM 1 point [-]

Not as a bridge to other disciplines, or a way to meet cool people. I mean, is the subject matter itself valuable as a discipline in your opinion?

A little bit but it varies wildly based on who you are.

Is there enough to this? Is there anything here worth proselytizing?

Not really.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 03 September 2011 08:29:30PM 1 point [-]

I keep running into problems with various versions of what I internally refer to as the "placebo paradox", and can't find a solution that doesn't lead to Regret Of Rationality. Simple example follows:

You have an illness from wich you'll either get better, or die. The probability of recovering is exactly half of what you estimate it to be due to the placebo effect/positive thinking. Before learning this you have 80% confidence in your recovery. Since you estimate 80%, your actual chance is 40% so you update to this. Since the estimate is now 40%, the actual chance is 20%, so you update to this. Then it's 10%, so you update to that. etc. Until both your estimated and actual chance of recovery are 0. then you die.

An irrational agent, on the other hand, upon learning this could self delude to 100% certainty of recovery, and have a 50% chance of actually recovering.

This is actually causing me real world problems, such as inability to use techniques based on positive thinking, and a lot of cognitive dissonance.

Another version of this problem features in HP:MoR, in the scene where harry is trying to influence the behaviour of dementors.

And to show this isn't JUST a quirk of human mind design, one can envision Omega setting up an isomorphic problem for any kind of AI.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 03 September 2011 08:44:36PM 12 points [-]

For actual humans, I'd look into ways of possibly activating the placebo effect without explicit degrees of belief, such as intense visualization of the desired outcome.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 03 September 2011 09:42:40PM 5 points [-]

This is an interesting idea but I'm skeptical that this would actually work. There are studies which I don't have the citations for (they are cited in Richard Wiseman's "59 Seconds") which strongly suggest that positive thinking in many forms doesn't actually work. In particular, having people visualize extreme possibilities of success (e.g. how strong they'll be after they've worked out, or how much better looking they will be when they lose weight, etc.) make people less likely to actually succeed (possibly because they spend more time simply thinking about it rather than actually doing it.). This is not strong evidence but it is suggestive evidence that visualization is not sufficient to do that much. These studies didn't look at medical issues where placebos are more relevant.

Comment author: Manfred 03 September 2011 11:34:03PM 7 points [-]


The human brain is a weird thing. Also, see the entire body of self-hypnosis literature.

Comment author: endoself 04 September 2011 05:51:23AM *  2 points [-]

Another method to try is affirmations.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 03 September 2011 09:19:25PM 1 point [-]

any data on if this is actually possible, and if so how to do it? Does it work for other things such as social confidence, positive thinking, etc.?

It certainly SEEMS like it's the declarative belief itself, not visualizations of outcomes, that cause effects. And the fact so many attempts at perfect deception have failed seems to indicate it's not possible to disentangle [your best rational belifs] from what your "brain thinks" you believe.

(... I really need some better notation for talking about these kind of things unambiguously.)

Comment author: [deleted] 07 September 2011 02:09:26PM 3 points [-]

Speaking of Omega setting up an isomorphic situation, the Newcomb's Box problems do a good job of expressing this.


However, I also though of a side question. Is the person who is caught in a cycle of negative thinking like the placebo effect that you mention, engaging in confirmation bias?

I mean, if that person thinks "I am caught in a loop of updates that will inexorably lead to my certain death." And they are attempting to establish that that is true, they can't simply say "I went from 80%/40% to 40%/20% to 20%/10%, and this will continue. I'm screwed!" as evidence of it's truth, because that's like saying "4,6,8" "6,8,10" "8,10,12" as the guesses for the rule that you know "2,4,6" follows. and then saying "The rule is even numbers, right? Look at all this evidence!"

If a person has a hypothesis that their thoughts are leading them to an inexorable and depressing conclusion, then to test the hypothesis, the rational thing to do is for that person to try proving themselves wrong. By trying "10,8,6" and then getting "No, that is not the case." (Because the real rule is numbers in increasing order.)

I actually haven't confirmed that this idea myself yet. I just thought of it now. But casting it in this light makes me feel a lot better about all the times I perform what appear at the time to be self delusions on my brain when I'm caught in depressive thinking cycles, so I'll throw it out here and see if anyone can contradict it.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 07 September 2011 07:34:16PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for restating parts of the problem in a much clearer manner!

And yea, that article is why this problem is wreaking such havock on me, and I were thinking of it as I wrote the OP. I'm not sure why I didn't link it.

However, I still can't resolve the paradox. Although I'm finally starting to see how one might start on doing so: formalizing an entire decision theory that solves the entire class of problems, and them swapping half my mindware out in a single operation. Doesn't seem like a very^good solution thou so I'd rather keep looking for third options.

I don't think I understand the middle paragraph with all the examples. Probably because the way I actually think of it is not the way I used in the OP, but rather an equation where expectation must be equal to actual probability to call my belief consistent, and jumping straight there. Like so: P=E/2, E=P, thus E=0.

Hmm, I just got a vague intuition saying roughly "Hey, but wait a moment, probability is in the mind. The multiverse is timeless and in each Everett branch you either do recover or you don't! ", but I'm not sure how to proceed from there.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 04 September 2011 06:58:41AM 11 points [-]

Actually, you can solve this problem just by snapping your fingers, and this will give you all the same benefits as the placebo effect! Try it - it's guaranteed to work!

Comment author: handoflixue 09 September 2011 11:49:57PM 2 points [-]

I've been doing this for years, and it really does work!

(No, really, I actually have; it actually does. The placebo effect is awesome ^_^)

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 16 September 2011 09:22:15PM 8 points [-]

Relevant and amusing (to me at least) story: A few months ago when I had a cold, I grabbed a box of zinc cough drops from my closet and started taking them to help with the throat pain. They worked as well or better than any other brand of cough drops I've tried, and tasted better too. Later I read the box, and it turned out they were homeopathic. I kept on taking them, and kept on enjoying the pain relief.

Comment author: lessdazed 06 November 2011 04:03:13PM *  0 points [-]

it's guaranteed to work!

Probably not. Try throwing a coin in a wishing well or lighting a dollar bill on fire for more effect.

In the regular-price group, 85.4% (95% confidence interval [CI], 74.6%-96.2%) of the participants experienced a mean pain reduction after taking the pill, vs 61.0% (95% CI, 46.1%-75.9%) in the low-price (discounted) group (P = .02). Similar results occurred when analyzing only the 50% most painful shocks for each participant (80.5% [95% CI, 68.3%-92.6%] vs 56.1% [95% CI, 40.9%-71.3%], respectively; P = .03).


Comment author: Torben 04 September 2011 04:34:01AM 3 points [-]

Your model assumes a constant effect in each iteration. Is this justified?

I would envisage a constant chance of recovery and an asymptotically declining estimate of recovery. It seems more realistic, but maybe it's just me?

Comment author: shokwave 04 September 2011 03:32:05PM *  2 points [-]

Updating on the evidence of yourself updating is almost as much as a problem as is updating on the evidence of "I updated on the evidence of myself updating". Tongue-in-cheek!

That is to say, the decision theory you are currently running is not equipped to handle the class of problems where your response to a problem is evidence that changes the nature of the very problem you are responding to - in the same way that arithmetic is not equipped to handle problems requiring calculus or CDT is not equipped to handle Omega's two-box problem.

(If it helps your current situation, placebo effects are almost always static modifiers on your scientific/medical chances of recovery)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 November 2011 05:37:32PM *  1 point [-]

To fully solve this problem requires answering the question of how the placebo effect physically works, which requires answering the question of what a belief physically is, to have that physical effect.

However, no-one yet knows the answers to those questions, which renders all of these logical arguments about as useful as Zeno's proof that arrows cannot move. The problem of how to knowingly induce a placebo response is a physical one, not a logical one. Nature has no paradoxes.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 06 November 2011 07:09:34PM *  0 points [-]

The first part is wrong, the second is obvious and I never said anything to contradict it. We don't need to know exactly how beliefs are implemented just approximately how they behave.

Of coarse this is a physical problem and of coarse we don't know every detail enough to give an exact answer, the math can still be useful for solving the problem.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 November 2011 08:16:35PM 0 points [-]

the math can still be useful for solving the problem.

The point of your post was that the mathematics you are doing is creating the problem, not solving it. I haven't seen any other mathematics in this thread that is solving the problem either.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 06 November 2011 10:34:35PM 0 points [-]

Honestly, this discussion was to long ago for me to really remember what it was about well enough to discus it properly.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 08 November 2011 08:54:46AM 1 point [-]

I have a couple of suggestions more constructive than my earlier comments.

One is that according to a paper recently cited here, placebos can work even if you know they're placebos.

The other is that if belief doesn't work for you, how about visualisation? Instead of trying to believe it will work, just imagine it working. Vividly imagine, not just imagining that it will work. This doesn't raise decision-theoretic paradoxes, and people claim results for it, although I don't know about proper studies. We don't know how placebos work, and "belief" isn't necessarily the key state of mind.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 08 November 2011 11:56:12AM 0 points [-]

That article was probably what caused me to notice the problem in the first place and write the OP.

Visualization is probably the most promising solution, and even if it's not as strong as placebo might b worth exploring. My main problems with it is that there's still some kind of psychological resistance to it, and that I have no clear idea of what exact concrete image I'm supposed to visualize given some abstract goal description.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 September 2011 03:16:56AM 1 point [-]

Can you see what an absurdly implausible scenario you must use as a ladder to demonstrate rationality as a liability? Rather than being a strike against strict adherence to reality. The fact that we have to stretch so hard to paint it this way, further legitimizes the pursuit of rationality.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 04 September 2011 07:02:32PM 0 points [-]

I think one way to avoid having to call this regret of rationality would be to see optimism as deceiving, not yourself, but your immune system. The fact that the human body acts differently depending on the person's beliefs is a problem with human biology, which should be fixed. If Omega does the same thing to an AI, Omega is harming that AI, and the AI should try to make Omega stop it.

Comment author: handoflixue 09 September 2011 11:39:31PM 1 point [-]

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/dec/22/placebo-effect-patients-sham-drug It is also well worth noting that the Placebo Effect works just fine even if you know it's just a Placebo Effect. I hadn't realized it worked for others, but I've been abusing this one for a lot of my life, thanks to a neurological quirk that makes placebos especially potent for me.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 10 September 2011 10:00:34AM 1 point [-]

Yes, but you have to BELIEVE the placebos will help. In fact, the paradox ONLY appears in the case you know it's a placebo because that's when the feedback loop can happen.

Comment author: handoflixue 11 September 2011 02:23:39AM 1 point [-]

I'm not aware of any research that says a placebo won't help a "non-believer" - can you cite a study? Given the study I linked where they were deliberately handed inert pills and told that they were an inert placebo, and they still worked, I actually strongly doubt your claim.

And given the research I linked, why in the world wouldn't you believe in them? They do rationally work.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 11 September 2011 09:17:09AM 1 point [-]

A placebo will help if you think the pill you're taking will help. This may be because you think it's a non-placebo pill that'd help even if you didn't know you were taking it, or because you know it's a placebo but think placebos work. If you were given a placebo pill, told it was just a candy and given no indication it might help anything, it wouldn't do anything because it's just sugar. Likewise if you're given a placebo, know it's a placebo, and are convince on al levels that there is no chance of it working.

Comment author: handoflixue 12 September 2011 06:26:25PM 1 point [-]

Right. So find someone who will tell you it's a placebo, and read up on the research that says it does work. It'd be irrational to believe that they don't work, given the volume of research out there.

Comment author: Pfft 06 September 2011 10:01:05PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: gwern 04 September 2011 01:22:56AM 1 point [-]

And to show this isn't JUST a quirk of human mind design, one can envision Omega setting up an isomorphic problem for any kind of AI.

An AI can presumably self-modify. For a sufficient reward from Omega, it is worth degrading the accuracy of one's beliefs, especially if the reward will immediately allow one to make up for the degradation by acquiring new information/engaging in additional processing.

(A hypothetical: Omega offers me 1000 doses of modafinil, if I will lie on one PredictionBook.com entry and say -10% what I truly believe. I take the deal and chuckle every few minutes the first night, when I register a few hundred predictions to make up for the falsified one.)

Comment author: lessdazed 03 September 2011 11:50:27PM *  -2 points [-]

Edit: Original version moved to karma sink to hide it away and leave it available for reference. New version:

Is what we refer to as "status" always best thought of as relative? Is a person's status like shares in a corporation or money in an economy, where the production of more diminishes what they have and does not create wealth? Is it an ability to compel others and resist compulsion? Or is it more like widgets, where if I happen to lose out from you getting more widgets, it is only because of secondary effects like your ability to out-compete me with your widgets?

I am not trying to find a really true definition of "status". To some, it seems right to answer the question "Is status all relative or is status not all relative?" with "It depends on which reasonable meaning of status you mean." Everyone (?) agrees that a valid way of discussing status is to talk about something like what portion of the total (subcategory of) status a person has.

Not everyone agrees that there is a reasonable meaning by which one might speak of non-relative status, other than the one that is shorthand for ignoring small or infinitesimal losses by others. In the same way we may say "The government printed one million dollars and gave it to an agency, no one else lost or gained anything." It's fine to say that, but only because: a) the inflation caused by printing a million dollars is miniscule, b) we can count on the listener to infer that increasing money does not increase wealth in that way.

So if one's answer is "It depends," then one thinks it is more than just linguistically valid to think about status in terms of an absolute that can be increased or decreased, but literally, logically, true. Not everyone agrees with that, and the poll is to get a general feel for how many here think each way.

So, as a hypothetical: A person in a room magically becomes awesome - say a guy has knowing kung fu downloaded into his brain, and he tells everyone, and they believe him. Does it make any sense at all to say that the status of others has not changed, other than in a way susceptible to a money/inflation/wealth (simple truth sheep/rock) metaphor?


Status all is relative

Status is not all relative

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 04 September 2011 03:22:35PM *  2 points [-]

On the first island, everyone likes everyone else's joke equally. All still have equal status from each person's perspective. Is there more status on that island than before?

On the second island, everyone dislikes everyone else's joke equally. All still have equal status from each person's perspective. Is there less status on that island than before?

My intuition is that status is meaningful relative to other people's, so this is similar to the inflation of a currency. In all the ways that status can be used to get people to do things, there isn't any more or less of it.

What happens when one person on the first island asks for help building a fire?

Whether or not the others help em depends on the temperature of the island. Like I said before, my intuition is that status is relative. If they do help em, ey gains some amount of status relative to them. If they don't, ey loses a similar amount of status.

EDIT: The following is based on a misinterpretation of lessdazed.

Assuming you mean third island: The other people help em, and ey gains a bit of status in the process. Ey now has slightly more status than the others. The reverse happens on the fourth island.

Comment author: lessdazed 05 September 2011 02:29:23AM *  3 points [-]

Could someone please explain the response to this comment? What I'm most curious about are the responses to the attached poll replies. Multiple people have downvoted each entry in the poll without comment. This ruins the poll for the participants, as one can no longer tell how many people have voted for each option. Do not do this on polls until either LW shows more than net votes, or there is a better way to poll.

I also don't understand downvoting this comment without criticizing it and helping me fix its problems. I have discussed this topic with several LW participants and have gotten each of the two types of responses multiple times, and I think a previously undiscussed issue that gets divergent intuitions from people who theretofore have believed themselves having very similar philosophies is potentially interesting. If I am not criticized, I do not know how to improve. It is currently sitting at -2 but it has been upvoted several times as well, five or more people have downvoted without comment.

I'm not shy about posting things in discussion if I think they merit it, but I didn't think this topic did, so I posted it in the open thread. If this issue is not appropriate for an open thread, where is it appropriate for?

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 06 September 2011 10:06:44PM 1 point [-]

I've not downvoted you, nor participated in the poll, but...

...your question about how relative 'status' is, reminds me of debates about whether a tree falling in the forest makes a sound. Depends how one defines the word. You don't seem to have an option in your poll for "Depends how one defines 'status' ".

...also you seem to be first posing a detailed specific scenario with a concrete question about what happens with the fires on the first and second islands -- but then the polls don't offer that specific, concrete question, they offer the vague "status is relative/not all relative" questions instead. Which seems you want to jumble different questions together, or making people seem to support one thing by answering another. Or something.

In short it all seems a bit muddled. Mind you, as I said, I wasn't among the people downvoting this, so I don't know their own reasoning behind their votes.

Comment author: satt 05 September 2011 04:29:28AM 1 point [-]

Multiple people have downvoted each entry in the poll without comment. This ruins the poll for the participants, as one can no longer tell how many people have voted for each option.

One user upvoted "Status is not all relative", two users upvoted "Status is all relative", those three users downvoted the karma sink, and three other users downvoted all three comments.

Comment author: lessdazed 06 September 2011 09:24:21PM 1 point [-]

Thank you very much!

Comment author: lessdazed 04 September 2011 03:40:34PM *  1 point [-]

Status is all relative

Comment author: lessdazed 04 September 2011 03:40:20PM *  0 points [-]

Status is not all relative

Comment author: wedrifid 27 September 2011 04:37:00PM -1 points [-]

Ok, my 'last 30 days' karma just dropped 100 over an 8 hour period. Now I'm trying to work out exactly why I need to be reminded that I must have written some awesome comments a month ago. :P

Comment author: wedrifid 29 September 2011 03:45:38AM 0 points [-]

Ok, now it is a 200 drop in the 30 days while the absolute increases by about 100. WTF was I doing back then? I didn't write a top level post. Must have been some sort of political drama that I lucked out and got on the popular side of.

Comment author: jkaufman 19 March 2012 08:29:21PM *  1 point [-]

Testing nofollow on a link that contains 'lesswrong' somewhere but doesn't point to lesswrong.com.

Comment author: jkaufman 19 March 2012 08:48:35PM 0 points [-]

LessWrong does in fact fail to properly nofollow the link. I've reported it to Trike.

Comment author: MinibearRex 23 September 2011 01:44:29AM 0 points [-]

I got in a discussion with a philosophy grad student today, who told me that the question of whether thoughts were "just" patterns of neural flashes, or if there was something epiphenomenal going on, was still a serious open question. I'm really hoping that this is just a description of the current state of affairs in the philosophy world, and not the neuroscience world, but she seemed rather insistent on this point. This isn't actually considered an open question in neurobiology, right?

Comment author: antigonus 29 September 2011 05:17:39AM *  4 points [-]

This isn't actually considered an open question in neurobiology, right?

It isn't a question in neurobiology at all. If consciousness is epiphenomenal, then by definition you can't perform any experiment to detect its existence. And insofar as neurology is the attempt to discover the material composition of the brain and the causal structure of brain events, and epiphenomenalism holds that consciousness is immaterial and causally silent, well...

Comment author: wedrifid 29 September 2011 03:47:51AM 2 points [-]

I got in a discussion with a philosophy grad student today

I made that mistake once too.

but she seemed rather insistent on this point

Uh huh.

This isn't actually considered an open question in neurobiology, right?

No. It's crazy talk.

Comment author: Vaniver 23 September 2011 01:55:23AM 0 points [-]

I think the question here is not "is this an open question" but "are there people who disbelieve this?". I can imagine neurobiologists who cannot rule out epiphenomena about thoughts.

Comment author: MinibearRex 23 September 2011 04:02:23AM 0 points [-]

True, I can imagine that as well. I guess my question was really more about prevalence. How common are these people?

Comment author: Vaniver 23 September 2011 02:18:01PM 0 points [-]

I came across this in an unrelated discussion:

Neuroscientists generally assume that all mental processes have a concrete neurobiological basis.

Searching for something similar in Google Scholar might give you lots of sources to suggest to the grad student that most neuroscientists are reductionists.

Comment author: Jack 29 September 2011 11:19:20AM 3 points [-]

Neuroscientists generally assume that all mental processes have a concrete neurobiological basis.

This is vague enough to not be at all inconsistent with epiphenomenalism.