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thomblake comments on The noncentral fallacy - the worst argument in the world? - Less Wrong

157 Post author: Yvain 27 August 2012 03:36AM

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Comment author: thomblake 19 September 2012 06:25:11PM 3 points [-]

A little of both. Freedom is a terminal value, and heuristically dictators cause bad consequences.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 19 September 2012 06:27:46PM *  2 points [-]

My own view: Dictators in countries tend to cause bad consequences. Dictators in forums tend to cause good consequences.

Comment author: komponisto 20 September 2012 03:34:33AM 4 points [-]

I'd like to point out that Overcoming Bias, back in the day, was a dictatorship: Robin and Eliezer were explicitly in total control. Whereas Less Wrong was explictly set up to be community-moderated, with voting taking the place of moderator censorship. And the general consensus has always been that LW was an improvement over OB.

Comment author: Bugmaster 19 September 2012 06:28:53PM 4 points [-]

Do you have any evidence for that ? In my experience, it all depends on the dictator, not on the venue.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 19 September 2012 11:22:17PM *  3 points [-]

It's easier to leave a forum than a country. Forum-dictators who abuse their power end up with empty forums.

Comment author: wedrifid 20 September 2012 10:30:42AM 1 point [-]

It's easier to leave a forum than a country. Forum-dictators who abuse their power end up with empty forums.

Real world dictators who abuse their power often end up dead. (But perhaps not as much as real world dictators who do not abuse their power enough to secure it.)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 20 September 2012 10:22:27PM 1 point [-]

Real world dictators who abuse their power often end up dead.

Not as often as you seem to think.

Comment author: Bugmaster 20 September 2012 12:25:55AM 0 points [-]

Perhaps I misunderstood what ArisKatsaris was saying. I thought he meant something like this:

Dictators in countries tend to make living conditions in those countries less desirable. Dictators in forums tend to make posting in those forums (and/or reading them) more desirable.

If this is true, your objection is somewhat tangential to the topic (though an empty forum is less desirable than an active one). But perhaps he meant something else ?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 20 September 2012 10:21:36PM 2 points [-]

Since it's easier to leave, a dictator in a forum has more motivation not to abuse his power.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 19 September 2012 06:36:22PM 0 points [-]

Just my own personal experience of how moderated vs non-moderated forums tend to go, and as for countries, likewise my impression of what countries seem nice to live in.

Comment author: Bugmaster 19 September 2012 08:26:41PM 3 points [-]

You're probably right about modern countries; however, as far as I understand, historically some countries did reasonably well under a dictatorship. Life under Hammurabi was far from being all peaches and cream, but it was still relatively prosperous, compared to the surrounding nations. A few Caesars did a pretty good job of administering Rome; of course, their successors royally screwed the whole thing up. Likewise, life in Tzarist Russia went through its ups and downs (mostly downs, to be fair).

Unfortunately, the kind of a person who seeks (and is able to achieve) absolute power is usually exactly the kind of person who should be kept away from power if at all possible. I've seen this happen in forums, where the unofficial grounds for banning a user inevitably devolve into "he doesn't agree with me", and "I don't like his face, virtually speaking".

Comment author: fubarobfusco 19 September 2012 08:13:43PM -1 points [-]

"Dictators" in forums can't kill people or hold them hostage.

Comment author: Bugmaster 19 September 2012 08:20:27PM 1 point [-]

Right, but that doesn't mean they tend to be beneficial, either. We're not arguing over which dictator is the worst, but whether dictators in forums are diametrically opposed to their real-world cousins.

Comment author: shminux 19 September 2012 08:36:38PM -2 points [-]

Freedom is a terminal value

Freedom is never a terminal value. If you dig a bit, you should be able to explain why freedom is important/essential in particular circumstances.

Comment author: Nornagest 19 September 2012 08:48:12PM 2 points [-]

I'd be cautious about saying something's never a terminal value. Given my model of the EEA, it wouldn't be terribly surprising to me if some set of people did have poor reactions to certain types of external constraint independently of their physical consequences, though "freedom" and its various antonyms seem too broad to capture the way I'd expect this to work.

Someone's probably studied this, although I can't dig up anything offhand.

Comment author: shminux 19 September 2012 08:56:08PM *  1 point [-]

I take back the "never" part, it is way too strong. What I meant to say is that the probability of someone proclaiming that freedom is her terminal value not having dug deep enough to find her true terminal values is extremely high.

Comment author: Nornagest 19 September 2012 09:18:02PM 1 point [-]

That seems reasonable. Especially given how often freedom gets used as an applause light.

Comment author: DaFranker 19 September 2012 08:53:51PM -1 points [-]

(...) it wouldn't be terribly surprising to me if some set of people did have poor reactions to certain types of external constraint independently of their physical consequences, (...)

Yes, I was commenting on this at the same time. The mental perception of restrictions, or the mental perception of absence of restrictions, can become a direct brainwired value through evolution, and is a simple step enough from other things already in there AFAICT. Freedom itself, however, independent of perception/observation and as a pattern of real interactions and decision choices and so on, seems far too complex to be something the brain would just randomly stumble upon in one go, especially only in some humans and not others.

Comment author: thomblake 19 September 2012 08:43:41PM 2 points [-]

I agree that freedom is an instrumental value. I disagree that it is never a terminal value. It is constitutive of the good life.

Comment author: DaFranker 19 September 2012 08:57:58PM -1 points [-]

See if you can replace "freedom" with its substance, and then evaluate whether that substance is something the human brain would be likely to just happen to, once in a while, find as a terminal, worth-in-itself value for some humans but not others, considering the complexity of this substance.

Yes, the mental node/label "freedom" can become a terminal value (a single mental node is certainly simple enough for evolution to stumble upon once in a while), but that's directly related to a perception of absence of constraints or restrictions within a situation or context.

Comment author: thomblake 20 September 2012 01:44:38PM 1 point [-]

find as a terminal, worth-in-itself value for some humans but not others

I don't see what you're getting at here. All terminal values are agent-specific.

Comment author: DaFranker 20 September 2012 03:10:51PM 1 point [-]

More complex values will not spontaneously form as terminal, built-in-brain values for animals that came into being through evolution. Evolution just doesn't do that. Humans don't rewire their brains and don't reach into the Great Void of Light from the Beyond to randomly pick their terminal values.

Basically, the systematic absence of conceptual incentives and punishment-threats organized such as to funnel the possible decisions of a mind or set of minds towards a specific subset of possible actions (this is a simplified reduction of "freedom" which is still full of giant paintbrush handles) is not something a human mind would just accidentally happen to form a terminal value around (barring astronomical odds on the order of sun-explodes-next-second) without first developing terminal values around punishment-threats (which not all humans have, if any), decision tree sizes, and various other components of the very complex pattern we call "lack of freedom" (because lack of freedom is much easier to describe than freedom, and freedom is the absence or diminution of lack(s) of freedom).

I don't see any evidence that a sufficient number of humans happen to have most of the prerequisite terminal values for there to be any specimen which has this complex construct as a terminal value.

As I said in a different comment, though, it's very possible (and very likely) that the lighting-up of the mental node for freedom could be a terminal value, which feels from inside like freedom itself is a terminal value. However, the terminal value is really just the perception of things that light up the "freedom!" mental node, not the concept of freedom itself.

Once you try to describe "freedom" in terms that a program or algorithm could understand, you realize that it becomes extremely difficult for the program to even know whether there is freedom in something or not, and that it is an abstraction of multiple levels interacting at multiple scales in complex ways far, far above the building blocks of matter and reality, and which requires values and algorithms for a lot of other things. You can value the output of this computation as a terminal value, but not the whole "freedom" business.

A very clever person might be capable of tricking their own brain by abusing an already built-in terminal value on a freedom mental-node by hacking in safety-checks that will force them to shut up and multiply, using best possible algorithms to evaluate "real" freedom-or-no-freedom, and then light up the mental node based on that, but it would require lots of training and mind-hacking.

Hence, I maintain that it's extremely unlikely that someone really has freedom itself as a terminal value, rather than feeling from inside like they value freedom. A bit of Bayes suggests I shouldn't even pay attention to it in the space of possible hypotheses, because of the sheer amount of values that get false positives as being terminal due to feeling as such from inside versus the amount of known terminal values that have such a high level of complexity and interconnections between many patterns, reality-referents, indirect valuations, etc.

Comment author: thomblake 20 September 2012 03:46:22PM 0 points [-]

because lack of freedom is much easier to describe than freedom, and freedom is the absence or diminution of lack(s) of freedom

"Lack of freedom" can't be significantly easier to describe than freedom - they differ by at most one bit.

No opinion on whether the mental node representing "freedom" or actual freedom is valued - that seems to suffer/benefit from all of the same issues as any other terminal value representing reality.

If someone tries to manacle me in a dungeon, I will perform great violence upon that person. I will give up food, water, shelter, and sleep to avoid it. I will sell prized possessions or great works of art if necessary to buy weapons to attack that person. I can't think of a better way to describe what a terminal value feels like.

Comment author: DaFranker 20 September 2012 04:17:06PM *  1 point [-]

Manacling you in a dungeon also triggers your mental node for freedom and also triggers the appearance of restrictions and constraints, and more so you are the direct subject yourself. It lacks a control group and feels like a confirmation-biased experiment.

If I simply told you (and you have easy means of confirming that I'm telling the truth) that I'm restricting the movements of a dozen people you've never heard of, and the restriction of freedom is done in such a way that the "victims" will never even be aware that their freedoms are being restricted (e.g. giving a mental imperative to spend eight hours a day in a certain room with a denial-of-denial clause for it), would you still have the same intense this-is-wrong terminal value for no other reason than that their freedom is taken from them in some manner?

If so, why are employment contracts not making you panic in a constant stream of negative utility? Or compulsive education? Or prison? Or any other form of freedom reduction which you might not consider to be about "freedom" but which certainly fits most reductions of it?

Comment author: thomblake 20 September 2012 04:24:40PM 3 points [-]

you are the direct subject yourself.

Yes, I meant "freedom for me" - I thought that was implied.

If I simply told you (and you have easy means of confirming that I'm telling the truth) that I'm restricting the movements of a dozen people you've never heard of, and the restriction of freedom is done in such a way that the "victims" will never even be aware that their freedoms are being restricted (e.g. giving a mental imperative to vote republican with a denial-of-denial clause for it), would you still have the same intense this-is-wrong terminal value for no other reason than that their freedom is taken from them in some manner?

I would not want to be one of those people. If you convincingly told me that I was one of those people, I'd try to get out of it. If I was concerned about those people and thought they also valued freedom, I'd try to help them.

employment contracts

My employment can be terminated at will by either party. There are some oppressive labor laws that make this less the case, but they mostly favor me and neither myself nor my employer is going to call on them. What's an "employment contract" and why would I want one?

compulsive education

Compulsory education is horrible. It's profoundly illiberal and I believe it's a violation of the constitutional amendment against slavery. I will not send my children to school and "over my dead body" is my response to anyone who intends to take them. I try to convince my friends not to send their children to school either.

prison

I don't intend to go to prison and would fight to avoid it. If my friends were in prison, I'd do what I could to get them out.

Comment author: DaFranker 20 September 2012 04:45:51PM *  1 point [-]

I would not want to be one of those people. If you convincingly told me that I was one of those people, I'd try to get out of it. If I was concerned about those people and thought they also valued freedom, I'd try to help them.

...therefore, if you are never aware of your own lack of freedom, you do not assign value to this. Which loops around back to the appearance of freedom being your true value. This would be the most uncharitable interpretation.

It seems, however, that in general you will be taking the course of action which maximizes the visible freedom that you can perceive, rather than a course of action you know to be optimized in general for widescale freedom. It seems more like a cognitive alert to certain triggers, and a high value being placed on not triggering this particular alert, than valuing the principles.

Edit: Also, thanks for indulging my curiosity and for all your replies on this topic.

Comment author: Raemon 20 September 2012 03:55:16PM *  0 points [-]

Would you sell possessions to buy weapons to attack a person would runs an online voluntary community who changes the rules without consulting anyone?

If the two situations are comparable, I think it's important to know exactly why.

Also note that manacling you to a dungeon isn't just eliminating your ability freely choose things arbitrarily, it's preventing you from having satisfying relationships, access to good food, meaningful life's work and other pleasures. Would you mind being in a prison that enabled you to do those things?

Comment author: thomblake 20 September 2012 04:15:24PM 1 point [-]

Would you mind being in a prison that enabled you to do those things?

Yes. If this were many years ago and I weren't so conversant on the massive differences between the ways different humans see the world, I'd be very confused that you even had to ask that question.

Would you sell possessions to buy weapons to attack a person would runs an online voluntary community who changes the rules without consulting anyone?

No. There are other options. At the moment I'm still vainly hoping that Eliezer will see reason. I'm strongly considering just dropping out.

Comment author: DaFranker 20 September 2012 04:36:52PM 0 points [-]

I feel like asking this question is wrong, but I want the information:

If I know that letting you have freedom will be hurtful (like, say, I tell you you're going to get run over by a train, and you tell me you won't, but I know that you're in denial-of-denial and subconsciously seeking to walk on train tracks, and my only way to prevent your death is to manacle you in a dungeon for a few days), would you still consider the freedom terminally important? More important than the hurt? Which other values can be traded off? Would it be possible to figure out an exchange rate with enough analysis and experiment?

Yes. If this were many years ago and I weren't so conversant on the massive differences between the ways different humans see the world, I'd be very confused that you even had to ask that question.

Regarding this, what if I told you "Earth was a giant prison all along. We just didn't know. Also, no one built the prison, and no one is actively working to keep us in here - there never was a jailor in the first place, we were just born inside the prison cell. We're just incapable of taking off the manacles on our own, since we're already manacled."? In fact, I do tell you this. It's pretty much true that we've been prisoners of many, many things. Is your freedom node only triggered at the start of imprisonment, the taking away of a freedom once had? What if someone is born in the prison Raemon proposes? Is it still inherently wrong? Is it inherently wrong that we are stuck on Earth? If no, would it become inherently wrong if you knew that someone is deliberately keeping us here on Earth by actively preventing us from learning how to escape Earth?

The key point being: What is the key principle that triggers your "Freedom" light? The causal action that removes freedoms? The intentions behind the constraints?

It seems logical to me to assume that if you have freedom as a terminal value, then being able to do anything, anywhere, be anything, anyhow, anywhen, control time and space and the whole universe at will better than any god, without any possible restrictions or limitations of any kind, should be the Ultimately Most Supremely Good maximal possible utility optimization, and therefore reality and physics would be your worst possible Enemy, seeing as how it is currently the strongest Jailer than restricts and constrains you the most. I'm quite aware that this is hyperbole and most likely a strawman, but it is, to me, the only plausible prediction for a terminal value of yourself being free.

Comment author: DaFranker 19 September 2012 08:49:11PM 1 point [-]

Freedom is never a terminal value. If you dig a bit, you should be able to explain why freedom is important/essential in particular circumstances.

Ironically, the appearance of freedom can be a default terminal value for humans and some other animals, if you take evolutionary psychology seriously. Or, to be more accurate, the appearance of absence of imposed restrictions can be a default terminal value that receives positive reinforcement cookies in the brain of humans and some other animals. Claustrophobia seems to be a particular subset of this that automates the jump from certain types of restrictions through the whole mental process that leads to panic-mode.

The abstract concept of freedom and its reality referent pattern, however, would be extremely unlikely to end up as a terminal value, if only even for its sheer mathematical complexity.

Comment author: shminux 19 September 2012 08:57:20PM 0 points [-]

I agree with this.