Open Thread, September 23-29, 2013

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

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I ate something I shouldn't have the other day and ended up having this surreal dream where Mencius Moldbug had gotten tired of the state of the software industry and the Internet and had made his personal solution to it all into an actual piece of working software that was some sort of bizarre synthesis of a peer-to-peer identity and distributed computing platform, an operating system and a programming language. Unfortunately, you needed to figure out an insane system of phoneticized punctuation that got rewritten into a combinator grammar VM code if you wanted to program anything in it. I think there even was a public Github with reams of code in it, but when I tried to read it I realized that my computer was actually a cardboard box with an endless swarm of spiders crawling out of it while all my teeth were falling out, and then I woke up without ever finding out exactly how the thing was supposed to work.

Welcome to Urbit

One of Urbit’s problems is that we don’t exactly have a word for what Urbit is. If there is such a word, it somehow means both “operating system” and “network protocol,” while somehow also implying “functional” and “deterministic.”

Not only is there no such word, it’s not even clear there should be one. And if there was, could we even hear it? As Wittgenstein said: if a lion could talk, we would not understand him. But heck, let’s try anyway.

I love the smell of Moldbug in the morning.

For an example of fully rampant Typical Mind Fallacy in Urbit, see the security document. About two-thirds of the way down, you can actually see Yarvin transform into Moldbug and start pontificating on how humans communicating on a network should work, and never mind the observable evidence of how they actually have behaved whenever each of the conditions he describes have obtained.

The very first thing people will do with the Urbit system is try to mess with its assumptions, in ways that its creators literally could not foresee (due to Typical Mind Fallacy), though they might have been reasonably expected to (given the real world as data).

I love those dream posts in the open threads.

Note that [explaining-the-joke]( hc gb gur pbzchgre orvat n pneqobneq obk vf yvgrenyyl gehr.

I think that he actually implemented the spiders.

Robin Hanson defines “viewquakes” as "insights which dramatically change my world view."

Are there any particular books that have caused you personally to experience a viewquake?

Or to put the question differently, if you wanted someone to experience a viewquake, can you name any books that you believe have a high probability of provoking a viewquake?

Against Intellectual Monopoly converted me from being strongly in favor of modern copyright to strongly against it.

If someone will actually get through the density of the text, moldbug has been known to provoke a few viewquakes.

The Feynman Lectures on Computation did this for me by grounding computability theory in physics.

A microecon textbook given to a reflective person.

I'm not sure if it is possible or has a high chance of success to give someone a book in the hope of provoking a viewquake. Most people would detect being influenced. Compare with trying to give people the bible to convert them doesn't work either even though it also could provoke a viewquake - after all the bible is also much different from other common literature. To actually provoke a viewquake it must be a missing piece either connecting pieces or buildig on them and thus causing an aha moment. And the trouble is: This depends critically on your prior knowledge thus not every book will work on everyone.

Compare with

I know of a few former-theists whose atheist tipping point was reading Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine. I recall being fairly heavily influenced by this myself when I first read it (about twelve years ago, when it was one of only a small handful of popular books on memetics), but suspect I might find it a bit tiresome and erroneous if I were to re-read it.

I tried to read it a few years after reading a bunch of dawkins and found it hard to get through

Reading Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations prompted the biggest viewquake I've ever experienced, substantially changing my conception of what a properly naturalistic worldview looks like, especially the role of normativity therein. I'm not sure I'd assign it a high probability of provoking a viewquake in others, though, given his aphoristic and often frustratingly opaque style. I think it worked for me because I already had vague misgivings about my prior worldview that I was having trouble nailing down, and the book helped bring these apprehensions into focus.

A more concrete scientific viewquake: reading Jaynes, especially his work on statistical mechanics, completely altered my approach to my Ph.D. dissertation (and also, incidentally, led me to LW).

The biggest world-shattering book for me was the classic, Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler. I was just 21 and the book had a large impact on me. Nowadays though, the ideas in the book are pretty mainstream, so I don't think it would have the same effect for a millenial.

While it's overoptimistic and generally a bit all over the place, Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near might still be the most bang for the book single introduction to the "humans are made of atoms" mindset you can throw at someone who is reasonably popular science literate but hasn't had any exposure to serious transhumanism.

It's kinda like how The God Delusion might not be the most deep book on the social psychology of religion, but it's still a really good book to give to the smart teenager who was raised by fundamentalists and wants to be deprogrammed.

After reading Engines of Creation, The Singularity is Near didn't have nearly as much effect on me. I just thought, "Well, duh" while reading it. I can imagine how it would affect someone with little exposure to transhumanist ideas though. I agree with you that it's a good choice.

The Anti-Christ would be my #1 pick, for both versions of the question. Stumbling on Happiness is a good second choice though.

Are there any particular books that have caused you personally to experience a viewquake?

"1493" and "The Better Angels of Our Nature"

Primarily how much biology and ecosystems could have largescale impacts on society and culture in ways which stayed around even after the underlying issue was no longer around. One of the examples there is how the prevalence of diseases (yellow fever, malaria especially) had long-term impacts on differences in North American culture in both the South and the North.

Is there a name for this following bias?

So I've debated a lot of religious people in my youth, and a common sort of "inferential drift", if you can call if that, is that they believe that if you don't think something is true or doesn't exist, then this must mean that you don't want said thing to be true or to exist. It's like a sort of meta-motivated reasoning; they are falsely attributing your conclusions due to motivated reasoning. The most obvious examples are reading any sort of Creationist writing that critiques evolution, where they pretty explicitly attribute accepting the theory of evolution to a desire for god to not exist.

I've started to notice it in many other highly charged, mind-killing topics as well. Is this all in my head? Has anyone else experienced this?

That does seem close to Bulverism. But what I described seem to be happening at a subconscious bias level, where people are somewhat talking past each other due to a sort of hidden assumption of Bulverism.

I used to get a lot of people telling me I was an atheist because I either didn't want there to be a god or because I wanted the universe to be logical (granted, I do want that, but they meant it in the pejorative Vulcan-y sense). I eventually shut them up with "who doesn't want to believe they're going to heaven?" but it took me a while to come up with that one.

I don't understand it either, but this is a thing people say a lot.

If someone else accuses you of engaging in motivated reasoning that's ad hominem.

No, that is a mere assertion (which may or may not be true). If they claimed that he is wrong because he is engaging in motivated reasoning, then that would be ad hominem.

Wait, what? This might be a little off topic, but if you assert that they lack evidence and are drawing conclusions based on motivated reasoning, that seems highly relevant and not ad hominem. I guess it could be unnecessary, as you might try to focus exactly on their evidence, but it would seem reasonable to look at the evidence they present, and say "this is consistent with motivated reasoning, for example you describe many things that would happen by chance but nothing similar contradictory, so there seems to be some confirmation bias" etc.

CFAR has a class on handling your fight/flight/freeze reaction this Saturday Sept 28th.

The sympathetic nervous system activation that helps you tense up to take a punch or put on a burst of speed to outrun an unfriendly dog isn't quite so helpful when you're bracing to defend yourself against an intangible threat, like, say, admitting you need to change your mind.

Once of CFAR's instructors will walk participants through the biology of the fight/flight/freeze response and then run interactive practice on how to deliberately notice and adjust your response under pressure. The class is capped at 12, due to its interactive nature.

An iteration of this class was one of the high points of the May 2013 CFAR retreat for me. It was extraordinarily helpful in helping me get over various aversions, be less reactive and more agenty about my actions, and generally enjoy life more. For instance, I gained the ability to enjoy, or substantially increased my enjoyment of, several activities I didn't particularly like, including:

  • improv games
  • additional types of social dance
  • conversations with strangers
  • public speaking

It also helped substantially with CFAR's comfort zone expansion exercises. Highly recommended.

For those of us who can't be in Berkeley in < 1 week's notice, can you go into more detail on the methods?

A bit. Most of the techniques were developed by one of the CFAR instructors, and I can't reproduce his instruction, nor do I want to steal his thunder. The closest thing you can find out more about is mindfulness-based stress reduction. (But the real value of the class is being able to practice with Val and ask him questions, which unfortunately I can't do justice to in a LW comment.)

Would you be able to post a summary for people unable to attend? I find the topic very interesting, but habitually reside in a different continent,.

I noticed that in the survey results from last year that there was a large number of people who assigned a non-trivial probability to the simulation hypothesis, yet identified as atheist.

I know this is just about definitions and labels, so isn't an incredibly important issue, but I was wondering why people choose to identify that way. It seems to me that if you assign a >20% chance to us living in a computer simulation that you should also identify as agnostic.

If not, it seems like you are using a definition of god which includes all the major religions, yet excludes our possible simulators. What is the distinction that you think makes the simulation not count as theism?

Probably these people use a definition of theism that says that a god has to be an ontologically basic entity in an absolute sense, not just relative to our universe. If our simulators are complex entities that have evolved naturally in their physical universe (or are simulated in turn by a higher level) then they don't count as gods by this definition.

god has to be an ontologically basic entity

Also, the general definition of God includes omniscience and omnipotence, but a simulator-god may not be either, e.g. due to limited computing resources they couldn't simulate an arbitrarily large number of unique humans.

Hmm, that is a distinction that is pretty clear cut. However most people who believe in god believe that all people have ontologically basic souls. Therefore, since they think ontologically basic is nothing particularly special, I do not think that they would consider that a particularly important part of the definition of a god.

If you read the survey questions God get's defined as an ontologically basic entity for the sake of the survey.

Oh. I was looking at the excel data and missed that. Oops. Maybe this means a lot more people agree with me than I thought.

They might think that being ontologically basic is a necessary condition for being a god, but not a sufficient condition. Then simulators are not gods, but souls are not gods either because they do not satisfy other possible necessary conditions: e,g, having created the universe, or being omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent (or at least being much more powerful, knowing and good than a human), etc.

Or perhaps, they believe being ontologically basic is necessary and sufficient for being a god, but interpret this not just as not being composed of material parts, but in the stronger sense of not being dependent on anything else for existing (which souls do not satisfy because they are created by God, and simulators don't because they have evolved or have been simulated in turn). (ETA: this last possibility probably applies to some theists but not the atheists you are talking about.)

What is your response to the argument I gave below?

I feel like there are two independent questions:

1) Does there exist a creator with a mind?

2) Are minds ontologically basic?

I think that accurately factors beliefs into 2 different questions, since there are (I think) very few people who believe that god has an an ontologically basic mind yet we do not.

I do not think it is justified to combine these questions together, since there are people who say yes to 1 but not 2, and many many people who say yes to 2 but not 1.

They are indeed logically distinct questions. However, up to a few years ago all or almost all people who said yes to 1 also said yes to 2. The word "theism" was coined with these people in mind and is strongly associated with yes to 2 and with the rest of the religious memeset.

Thus, it is not surprising that many people who only accept (or find likely) 1 but not 2 would reject this label for fear of false associations. Since people accepting both 1 and 2 (religionists) tend to differ philosophically very much in other things from those accepting 1 but not 2 (simulationists), it seems better to use a new technical term (e.g. "creatorism") for plain yes to 1, instead of using a historical term like "theism" that obscures this difference.

Yes. I disagree with them.

(Eliminating the supernatural aspect explains the human mind, and explains away God.)

Disagree with simulatarians about whether or not we are simulated?

Disagree with theists that people have ontologically basic souls; further disagree with the claim that the 'ontologically basic' / 'supernatural' aspect of a god is unimportant to its definition.

(What theists think is not relevant to a question about the beliefs of people who not self-identify as theists.)

I feel like there are two independent questions:

1) Does there exist a creator with a mind?

2) Are minds ontologically basic?

I think that accurately factors beliefs into 2 different questions, since there are (I think) very few people who believe that god has an an ontologically basic mind yet we do not.

I do not think it is justified to combine these questions together, since there are people who say yes to 1 but not 2, and many many people who say yes to 2 but not 1.

Calling myself an agnostic would put me in an empirical cluster with people who think gods worthy of worship might exist, and possibly have some vague hope for an afterlife (though I know not all agnostics believe these things). I do not think of potential matrix overlords the way people think of the things they connect to the words "God" and "gods". I think of them as "those bastards that (might) have us all trapped in a zoo." And if they existed, I wouldn't expect them to have (real) magic powers, nor to be the creators of a real universe, just a zoo that looks like one. I do not think that animals trapped in a zoo with enclosure walls painted with trees and such to look like a real forest should think of zookeepers as gods, even if they have effectively created the animals' world, and may have created the animals themselves (through artificial breeding, or even cloning), and I think that is basically analogous to what our position would be if the simulation hypothesis was correct.

Hmm. I was more thinking about a physics simulation by something that is nothing like a human than an ancestor simulation like in Bostrom's original argument. I think that most people who assign a non-trivial chance to ancestor simulation would assign a non-trivial chance to physics simulation.

I don't think either variety is very similar to a zoo, but if we were in a physics simulation, I do not think our relationship with our simulators is anything like a animal-zookeeper relationship.

I also think that you should taboo the word "universe," since it implies that there is nothing containing it. Whatever it is that we are in, our simulators created all of it, and probably could interfere if they wanted to. They are unlikely to want to now, since they went so long without interfering so far.

I also think that you should taboo the word "universe," since it implies that there is nothing containing it.

It may have once meant that, like the word "atom" once meant "indivisible." But that's not how people seem to use it anymore. Once a critical mass of people start misusing a word, I would rather become part of the problem than fight the inevitable.

If you were using the word that way, then it seems they are "creators of a (real) universe."

Theism usually involves God as the explanation of why the world exists, and why we are conscious. In usual simulation scenarios, a world happens through physics and natural selection etc. And then a copy of part of that world is made. Yes, the copying process "made" the copy, but most explanations of how the copied world is the way it is (from the point of view of those in it) still has to do with physics, natural selection, etc. and not the copying process.

In other words, "who designed our world?" is more relevant than "who created our world?".

I've been working on a series of videos about prison reform. During my reading, I came across an interesting passage from wikipedia:

In colonial America, punishments were severe. The Massachusetts assembly in 1736 ordered that a thief, on first conviction, be fined or whipped. The second time he was to pay treble damages, sit for an hour upon the gallows platform with a noose around his neck and then be carted to the whipping post for thirty stripes. For the third offense he was to be hanged.[4] But the implementation was haphazard as there was no effective police system and judges wouldn't convict if they believed the punishment was excessive. The local jails mainly held men awaiting trial or punishment and those in debt.

What struck me was how preferable these punishments (except the hanging, but that was very rare) seem compared to the current system of massive scale long-term imprisonment. I would much rather pay damages and be whipped than serve months or years in jail. Oddly, most people seem to agree with Wikipedia that whipping is more "severe" than imprisonment of several months or years (and of course, many prisoners will be beaten or raped in prison). Yet I think if you gave people being convicted for theft a choice, most of them would choose the physical punishment instead of jail time.

I'm reminded of the perennial objections to Torture vs Dust Specks to the effect that torture is a sacred anti-value which simply cannot be evaluated on the same axis as non-torture punishments (such as jail time, presumably), regardless of the severities involved..

I would much rather...

Don't look at it from the perp point of view, look at it from an average-middle-class-dude or a suburban-soccer-mom point of view.

If there's a guy who, say, committed a robbery in your neighborhood, physical punishment may or may not deter him from future robberies. You don't know and in the meantime he's still around. But if that guy gets sent to prison, the state guarantees that he will not be around for a fairly long time.

That is the major advantage of prisons over fines and/or physical punishments.

On the other hand, making people spend long periods of time in a low-trust environment surrounded by criminals seems to be a rather effective way of elevating recidivism when they do get out, so the advantage as implemented in our system is on rather tenuous footing.

And of course, the prison system comes with the major disadvantage that imprisoning people is a highly expensive punishment to implement.

I am not arguing that prisons are the proper way to deal with crime. All I'm saying is that arguments in favor of imprisonment as the preferred method of punishing criminals exist.

If there's a guy who, say, committed a robbery in your neighborhood, physical punishment may or may not deter him from future robberies. You don't know and in the meantime he's still around. But if that guy gets sent to prison, the state guarantees that he will not be around for a fairly long time.

This is totally obvious, I'm not sure why you felt you needed to point that out.

The point of my comment is that it is interesting that prison isn't viewed as cruel, even though it's obviously more harsh than alternatives. Obviously there are other reasons people prefer prison as a punishment for others.

That's only an advantage if the expected cost to society of keeping him in prison is less than the expected cost (broadly construed) to society of him keeping on robbing.

The relevant part: "look at it from an average-middle-class-dude or a suburban-soccer-mom point of view".

They do have political power and they don't do expected-cost-to-society calculations.

I guess I just hadn't interpreted "point of view" close enough to literally.

and/or physical punishments.

well, short of death.

The key quote, "Incarceration destroys families and jobs, exactly what people need to have in order to stay away from crime." If we had wanted to create a permanent underclass, replacing corporal punishment with prison would have been an obvious step in the process.

Obviously that's not why people find imprisonment so preferable to torture, though; TheOtherDave's "sacred anti-value" explanation is correct there. It would be interesting to know exactly how a once-common punishment became seen as unambiguously evil, though, in the face of "tough on crime" posturing, lengthening prison sentences, etc.

Maybe it's a part of human hypocrisy: we want to punish people, but in a way that doesn't make our mirror neurons feel their pain. We want people to be punished, without thinking about ourselves as the kind of people who want to harm others. We want to make it as impersonal as possible.

So we invent punishments that don't feel like we are doing something horrible, and yet are bad enough that we would want to avoid them. Being locked behind bars for 20 years is horrible, but there is no speficic moment that would make an external observer scream.