Epistemic Status: Strong opinions weakly held. Mostly trying to bring some things into the discourse that I think are too often ignored.

Some updates I've made based on the discussion in this post are here .


Jessicata's Dialogue on Appeals to Consequences is an expansion of a response that she wrote to me a few months ago, arguing a particular point that I agree with: Namely, if you have an object level thing you want in the world, it's almost never worth lying or withholding information about that thing, because it breaks meta level norms about truthseeking that are much more important to accomplishing object level goals in general. However, there's a slightly more interesting case that I think is quite murkier, that the original comment was pointing to. That is, what if your truthseeking norms are in tension with OTHER meta level norms that are important? In general, how do you deal with instances where tensions between two important values cause you to not know what to do?


Let's imagine John and Jill are discussing John's behavior in a private space. Jill is a leader of the space, and John is someone who frequently attends the space and has lively discussions trying to get to the truth.

Jill: John, I've had several complaints about your tendency to steer conversations towards the divisive topic that everyone should be a Vegan, and I'm going to ask you to tone it down a bit when you're in our main space.

John: Are people saying that I'm making arguments that are false?

Jill: No, no one is saying that you're making false arguments. John: Are people saying that I'm derailing the conversation? I think you'll find that every instance I brought up veganism was highly relevant to the conversation.

Jill: Yes, some people have said that, but I happen to believe you when you say that you've only brought it up in relevant contexts for you.

John: Then what's the problem? I'm stating relevant true beliefs that add to the totality of the conversation and steer it in conversationally relevant directions.

Jill: The problem is twofold. Firstly, people find it annoying to retread the same conversation over and over. More importantly, this topic usually leads to demon conversations, and I fear that continued discussion of the topic at the rate its' currently discussed could lead to a schism. Both of these outcomes go against our value of being a premiere community that attracts the smartest people, as they're actually driving these people away!

John: Excuse me for saying so, but this a clear appeal to consequence!

Jill: Is it? I'm not saying that the negative consequences to the community mean that what you're saying is false - that would be a clear logical fallacy. Instead I'm just asking you to bring up this argument less often because I think it will lead to bad outcomes.

John: Ok, maybe it's not a logical fallacy, but it is dangerous. This community is built on a foundation of truth seeking, and once we start abandoning that because of people's feelings, we devolve into tribal dynamics and tone arguments!

Jill: Yes, truthseeking is very important. However, It's clear that just choosing one value as sacred , and not allowing for tradeoffs can lead to very dysfunctional belief systems,.I believe you've pointed at a clear tension in our values as they're currently stated. The tension between freedom of speech and truth, and the value of making a space that people actually want to have intellectual discussions at.

John: You're saying there's a tension, but to me there's a clear and obvious winner. Under your proposed rules, anyone will be able to silence anything simply by saying they don't like it!

Jill: If I find someone trying to silence good arguments through that tactic, I'll sit them down and have a similar conversation to the one we're having now.

John: That's even worse! That means that instead of the putting the allowed conversation topics up to vote, we're putting them in the hands of one person, you! You can silence any conversation you want.

Jill: I can see how it would seem that way, but I believe we've cultivated some great cultural norms that make it harder for me to play to political games like that. Firstly, our norm of radical transparency means that this and all similar conversations I have like this will be recorded and shared with everyone, and any such political moves by me will be laughably transparent.

John: That makes sense. Also, Hi Mom!

Jill: Second, our organization allows anyone to apply the values to anyone else, so if you see ME not following the values in any of my talks, you can call me out on it and I'll comply.

John: Sure, you say that now, but because of your role you can just defy that rule whenever you want! Jill: That's true, and it's one of the reasons I've worked to cultivate integrity as a leader. Has there been any instance of my behavior where you think I would actually do that?

John: No I suppose not. Are there any other cultural norms preventing you from using the arbitrary nature of decisions for your own gain? Jill: There's one more. Our organization has a clear set of values, and as the leader one of my roles is to spearhead the change the values in clear ways when there's tension between them. So I'm not just going to talk to you, I'm actually going to suggest to the organization that we clarify our values such that they tell us to do in these relatively common situations, and I'm going to have you help me.

John: I think that makes sense. We can probably make a list of topics that people are allowed to taboo, and a list of topics people are not allowed to taboo, and then I'll always know what it's ok to "appeal to consequences" on. Jill: I'm afraid that particular rule would be unwise. I think there's practically unlimited scissor statements that could cause schisms in our community, and a skilled adversary could easily find one that's not on our list of approved topics. No, I'm afraid we'll need to make a general value that can cover these situations in the general case.

John: Oh, so trying to avoid appeals to consequence argument can actually be used by someone looking to harm our community? That's interesting! But it's not clear to me that there is a general rule that can cover all the cases.

Jill: There is. The general rule is that people should give equal weight to their own needs, the needs of the people they're interacting with, and the needs of the organization as a whole.

John: I'm not sure I get it.

Jill: Well, you have a need to express that everyone should be a vegan. It's clearly very important to you, or you wouldn't bring it up so much. At the same time, many of the people in our community have a need to have variety in their conversation, and you should be aware of this when talking with them. Finally, our organization has a need to not experience/discuss scissor statements too often or too frequently, in order to remain healthy and avoid frequent schisms. By bringing this topic up so much, you're putting your needs above the needs of others you're interacting with and the group, instead of bringing it up less frequently, which would be placing the needs on equal ground.

John: That makes sense. I suppose by the same token, if there's a really interesting topic that's helpful for the group to know about, and lots of people want to talk about, it would be putting your own needs above others needs if you said it hurt your feelings so people couldn't talk about it.

Jill: Exactly!

John: So this rule seems plausible to me, and I'm sure it would be great for many people, but I have to admit its' not for me. I'd much prefer a space where people are allowed to say anything they want to me, and I can say anything I want to them in return.

Jill: I agree that this may not be the best rule for everybody. That's why next week we're going to start experimenting with The Archipelago Model. As I said, I want you to tone it down in the main room, which follows the Maturity value mentioned above. However, we've designated a side room that instead follows Crocker's Rules. You're allowed to go to either room, but when in that room, must follow the stated values of the room. And most importantly, all conversations are recorded and can be listened to by anyone in the community!

John: Cool, that seems worthwhile, but very messy and likely to have numerous hidden failure modes...

Jill: I agree, but it at least seems worth a shot!


So you probably noticed already, but this post wasn't really about Appeal to Consequences at all. Instead, it's a meditation on how good organizations deal with tensions in their values, and avoid the organization being overrun by skilled sociopaths. A lot of these suggestions and ideas come from the work I've been doing over the past year or so to figure out what makes great organizations and communities. I'd be particularly interested in peoples' inner sim of how the organization described by John and Jill above would go horribly wrong, and counter ideas about what could be done to fix THOSE issues.

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It seems like you're imagining a context that isn't particularly conducive to making intellectual progress. Otherwise, why would it be the case that John feels the need to regularly argue for veganism? If it's not obvious to the others that John's not worth engaging with, they should double-crux and be done with it. The "needs" framing feels like a tell that talking, in this context, is mainly about showing that you have broadcast rights, rather than about informing others.

The main case I can imagine where a truth-tracking group should be rationing attention like this, is an emergency where there's a time-sensitive question that needs to be answered, and things without an immediate bearing on it need to be suppressed for the duration.

The "needs" framing feels like a tell that talking, in this context, is mainly about showing that you have broadcast rights, rather than about informing others.

That's because lots of talking is mainly about broadcast rights. Any doublecrux on this situation has to include both John's explicit argument, AND his need for broadcast rights, or it won't actually solve the underlying issue. He'll fail to update, or choose another thing to continually bring up.

Pretending humans are only optimizing for truth is a recipe for spending lots of time having arguments that are pretend about one thing when they're actually about broadcast rights or traumas.

The dialogue is portraying an organization that's just realizing that the naive idea that more time spent on object level truths leads to more truth is wrong.

In the fully evolved form of the organization, someone (maybe even John himself) would have realized he had this need the first or second time it happened, and gone meta to address it. Then in the future, when it comes up, people could point out when it's derailing the conversation in a way that puts John's need above the need of the group to get to the truth. The organization would

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Overall great post, thanks! Much I agree with, but a few things stick out.

By bringing this topic up so much, you're putting your needs above the needs of others you're interacting with and the group, instead of bringing it up less frequently, which would be placing the needs on equal ground.

The competing needs frame feels off to me. I think this is why (but I haven't thought about it at length):

  • Balancing between everyone's needs makes sense if the point of the group/community is for people to come together and assist each other in meeting their individual needs. But I think that's very often not the point of a group/community.
  • In many cases (including the rationality community/LW), the point is to come together towards some joint objective. Raemon would call this building a product together. When you're building a product, it's not about my needs vs your needs, it's about which actions will actually lead to a successful product.
    • It doesn't make sense to say "we should balance between my need for website minimalism and your need for information density", but rather "we need to answer which of these is actually better for the
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In many cases (including the rationality community/LW), the point is to come together towards some joint objective. Raemon would call this building a product together. When you're building a product, it's not about my needs vs your needs, it's about which actions will actually lead to a successful product.

I think it's quite importantly about both. In her review of An Everyone Culture Sarah describes a deliberately developmental organizations as

creating a culture where everyone talks about mistakes and improvements, and where the personal/professional boundaries are broken down.

That second one may seem nuts, but as she points out in her review of moral mazes in the same post, there's a really good reasons to bring our needs to work: If we don't, we end up pretending to have conversations about Product that are actually about our needs. This should terrify us as people who actually care about the product, because it might mean that your fighting for website minimalism is actually about your need to be heard, and has nothing to do with creating a better reading experience as you're eloquently arguing.

Once you accept that much work at traditional organizations is actually about

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I think I understand this picture and could pass your ITT (maybe), but I think your proposed org will fail in all but exceptional circumstances for reasons I don't have an immediate great articulation for. I'll attempt to offer something, but I might need to stew on it longer (plus it's probably a rather long conversation we were to try to properly resolve it. I'd be up for chatting sometime or a public Double-Crux or the like. Feel free to reply to this one, but probably next round should happen elsewhere). A thing I emphatically agree with is that people are usually covertly pursuing other goals when working on products together. I lean a bit "cynical" here and think it's "expressing trauma and unmet needs" plus typical monkey status competition stuff. Much of the later stuff is a) subconscious and instinctive (for the reasons given in Elephant in the Brain/Trivers), and b) not stuff you can ever admit to and still succeed at due to its zero-sum, adversarial nature. I'll collectively call these a person's Other Goals because they're "other" than the stated goal of building a product. I think that people's (sub)conscious pursuit of Other Goals does interfere with their ability to work on the product, but I think it's a perilous for an organization's solution to be to try ensure everyone's satisfied on their Other Goals enough to work on the product without distraction/compromise. Individuals should attempt to do achieve integration/inner harmony, etc., but if an organizations tries to create this for them as its primary strategy for dealing with Other Goals, I foresee that opening being exploited ruthlessly by the Other Goals to detriment of the product. [elaboration/justification needed] I favor solving the Other Goals problem by being a culture/system which rewards and punishes you for helping or hindering the product. Want to be more listened to? Have good ideas for the product! This requires an emotional maturity of sorts from members who need to be able to
Could part of this be paraphrased as "If you don't address meeting people's needs equally, they won't be able to work on pure product without it secretly being about their needs"?
2Matt Goldenberg5y
Yes that seems like a decent summary

I feel like the elephant in the room is that convincing logical arguments are often only weak to moderate evidence for something.

2Matt Goldenberg5y
So it's unclear to me which arguments you're referring to, but I think you might be saying something like "The reason its' important to focus on needs is that if we don't, it causes people to make convincing logical arguments that are actually about their needs" However, you could also be saying "This post is a logical argument and convincing, but that doesn't make it true." Or possibly "A culture that's focused on discussion to find truth isn't that useful, and we should be focusing more on things like empiricism." I'm curious what it is you're trying to point at here.
9Gordon Seidoh Worley5y
So I can't speak for Romeo, but there's an important sense in which "logical arguments" are often not the ideal they present themselves to be as a class. Making clean and correct logical arguments requires imposing a consistent ontology, and such an ontology is necessarily not complete. Thus someone can make a correct logical argument and still fail to convince because thankfully people are better Bayesian reasoners than we often give them credit for, and if they are not convinced by logic there is a decent chance it's because the logic left out some part of reality that is holding up the belief.
2Matt Goldenberg5y
Yes, I get the argument, but am unsure of how Romeo sees it relating to this post.

In the 'keep the organization from being overrun' sense, see also sealioning. The search space of worthwhile things is very large and idiosyncratically explored by well meaning, intelligent people. Aggressive value laden 'logical arguments' often point to a tacit value to have everyone converge on the same set of metaheuristics. This is because the person doing this has a strong need for internal consistency that they are externalizing onto their social space. And there's nothing wrong with wanting internal consistency. But if pressed hard, it is anti-truth seeking as an aggregate strategy because you lose out on the consilience of having different people pursuing different search methods. Epistemology is a team sport. The objection would be 'but if we don't then argue about what we've discovered what's the point?' The point is that adversarial processes as a part of the truth seeking process needs to be consensual. This applies doubly when you aren't in a 101 space and people might be sick of a dynamic where simple seeming questions with complicated answers make newer members feel entitled to the effort needed to explain said complicated answers. This is one of the reasons well written blog posts that can be referenced by name can be so helpful for community discourse.

I like this post by the way and my comment wasn't an objection to it.

our norm of radical transparency means that this and all similar conversations I have like this will be recorded and shared with everyone, and any such political moves by me will be laughably transparent.

And the decision algorithm that your brain uses to decide who to sit down is also recorded, one imagines? In accordance with our norm of radical transparency.

The general rule is that people should give equal weight to their own needs, the needs of the people they're interacting with, and the needs of the organization as a whole.

I'm terribly sorry, but I'm afraid I'm having a little bit of trouble working out the details of exactly how this rule would be applied in practice—could you, perhaps, possibly, help me understand?

Suppose Jill comes to Jezebel and says, "Jezebel, by mentioning the hidden Bayesian structure of language and cognition so often, you're putting your own needs above the needs of those you're interacting with, and those of the organization as a whole."

Jezebel says, "Thanks, I really value your opinion! However, I've already taken everyone's needs into account, and I'm very confident I'm already doing the right thing."

What happens?

8Matt Goldenberg5y
That would be pointing towards a norm of radical honesty. Radical transparency is more about assuring that skilled sociopaths can't maintain multiple realities/narratives and control information flows. Note that the selective enforcement issue you linked to is addressed by the radical transparency norm, but more directly by the previously mentioned norm. I mean, this is quite context dependent. Has Jezebel done this many times? How many complaints have there been? etc. Here's one example of what could happen next, but I stress that this is not "the procedure", it's just one way that would work for specific circumstances: Jezebel sits down with a few of people that have made the complaint. They work to understand each others point of view until they can ITT each other. With a facilitator they double crux. The people who complained work to understand why they think its' important, Jill works to understand why they don't want to hear it, they both talk about what effect they have on the organization. They work to come to a shared point of view. However, this is a really weird case and even after all that there's fundamental differences. At the end, they can't come to an agreement. Jill sits down with everyone, understands all the points of views, and does her best to understand all the arguments. In the end, she determines Jezebel was correct. She sits down with each of them and explains why, based on the values, she decided that Jezebel was correct. The recording of this conversation then becomes "case law" for this specific value, and things are slightly clearer when a similar situation comes up in the future.

Jill sits down with everyone, understands all the points of views, and does her best to understand all the arguments. In the end, she determines Jezebel was correct.

What if, instead, Jill determines that Jezebel was wrong—but Jezebel still disagrees?

She sits down with each of them and explains why, based on the values, she decided that Jezebel was correct.

What if all said people are not satisfied with Jill’s explanation?

4Matt Goldenberg5y
Once again, the answers to these questions are highly context specific. Are the values in question new, or very established? Does the decision seem highly idiosyncratic and hard to justify with previous decisions? How many people are involved/disagree? Depending on these issues, the next steps could involve anything from changing onboarding procedures, norms, and rituals(because the values are not being imparted well), to going to a leadership oversight commitee (because the leader's doing a bad job), to telling people to respect the leaders decision, to firing or banning people. ------ On a meta note, both of the above questions (Zach's and Said's) feel a bit weird to me, like there are clear answers to them if you spend a few minutes steelmanning how the aforementioned organization would work well. My sense is that either the questions are being very uncharitable, they're looking for impossible certainty in an obviously context specific and highly variable situation, or they're doing some sort of socratic move (in the latter case, this is a style of conversation I'd rather not have on my posts, and in the former cases, I'd prefer people to be more charitable and work to steelman). It could also be that I'm just assuming a much smaller inferential gap than there actually is, and the answers would not be clear to most people who aren't as steeped in this stuff as I am.

or they're doing some sort of socratic move (in the latter case, this is a style of conversation I'd rather not have on my posts

Very well. I will endeavor to be more direct.

there are clear answers to them if you spend a few minutes steelmanning how the aforementioned organization would work well

The fourth virtue is evenness! If you first write at the bottom of a sheet of paper, "And therefore, the aforementioned organization would work well!", it doesn't matter what arguments you write above it afterward—the evidential entanglement between your position and whatever features-of-the-world actually determine organizational success, was fixed the moment you determined your conclusion. After-the-fact steelmanning that selectively searches for arguments supporting that conclusion can't help you design better organizations unless they have the power to change the conclusion. Yes requires the possibility of no.

they're looking for impossible certainty in an obviously context specific and highly variable situation

We're looking for a decision procedure. "It's context-specific; it depends" is a good start, but a useful proposal needs to say more about what it depends on.

A simple ex

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4Matt Goldenberg5y
I feel like having a trusted leader is a pretty clear tiebreaking decision procedure, no? However, the important parts of this model and the organizations I've been a part of is all the OTHER parts that come before that last resort, where people have a clear sense of values, buy into them, and recognize themselves or as a group when they're not following them. But in the end, if all of those important bits failed, these organizations still have a hierarchy. ETA: The decision procedure IS the values. The values are hard to pin down because values are hard to pin down, they're taught through examples and rituals and anecdotes and example and the weights on the neural nets in people's heads get to learn what following them and breaking them look like. Ultimately theres leaders who can help make tough calls and fix adversarial examples and ambiguous options and the like, but the important part of these organizations is mostly how they're set up to train that neural net.
That makes sense; I agree that culture (which is very complicated and hard to pin down) is a very important determinant of outcomes in organizations. One thing that's probably important to study (that I wish I understood better) is how subcultures develop over time: as people leave and exit the organization over time, the values initially trained into the neural net may drift substantially.
Edit: I hadn't read Zack's long reply when making this comment, so it wasn't factored into it. Likely would have said something very slightly different if I had. -- Entirely fair of you to make the meta-note. Data point from me: I actually found the question/answer pairs quite helpful + think they're reasonable; I probably could have generated answers for a system I set up, but I haven't fully absorbed your proposal enough to do so on your behalf. Actually, something generally helpful to hear is the "it's highly context specific." That seems true and a good answer. I think I would have tried to specify some overarching principle for all these cases and done so poorly. Treading carefully, I'll say that I can't speak to the motivations/attitudes behind the questions, and I thought the wording in the other question wasn't very good, but both questions themselves seem good to me.

Doing the "strong opinions weakly held" thing can make it hard to know when I've updated, so I want to list a few updates I've made from discussing this post with people on LW and in person:

  • One of the major things I didn't realize about the models I was using in this post is when they do and don't apply. In particular, the models related to radical transparency and applying the values to everyone work better in a private space with strong vetting, and the models related to "balancing needs" work better in a public space with weaker vetting. If I were to write the post again, this is the biggest change I would focus on making.

  • I am now more skeptical of radical transparency and wary of some of its' psychological effects, especially in the context of a public space, but even in private organizations with strong vetting.

  • I still think the "people's needs are equal with the product of the space" model is basically correct for a public space, but now think that there are multiple ways that could look. One of the ways it could look is like here, but another way this could be implemented is in which everyone is "responsible" for their own feelings. That is, people can treat thei

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I think a relatively straightforward disagreement is "peoples needs are equal with the space" seems fairly strong, and unnecessarily so. Why 50/50 instead of 75/25 or some such? Especially for spacing that are aiming to be, like, a professional production environment, it does seem to me that if you don't put any effort into making sure people's basic needs are taken care of you're product will suffer (as people find ways to make the product fit their needs, in subtle ways). 50/50 just seems like a pretty strong jump to me.
2Matt Goldenberg5y
I think that there are bad psychological traps that happen when you view a person's needs as less important than your own, which transfer over to an organization, as well as when you view your needs as lesser. That is, I suspect that in a public/non-vetted space, saying "people's needs are half as important as the organization" will lead to abuse by people in power at the organization of people with less power, or even by people who feel more senior/in tune with the needs of the organization to newer members. It may also lead to people who don't know the importance of self-care burning out. In a vetted or private space, I think you can talk about people being willing to sacrifice their needs for the greater good, as long as its' done carefully and deliberately with strong checks and balances.

I just reread your post and have a couple more comments.

Jill: The problem is twofold. Firstly, people find it annoying to retread the same conversation over and over. More importantly, this topic usually leads to demon conversations, and I fear that continued discussion of the topic at the rate its' currently discussed could lead to a schism. Both of these outcomes go against our value of being a premiere community that attracts the smartest people, as they're actually driving these people away!
Jill: Yes, truthseeking is very important. However,
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6Matt Goldenberg5y
So I think the actual terminal goal for something like LW might be "uncover important intellectual truths." It's certainly not "say true things" or the site would be served by simply republishing the thesaurus over and over. I think if you're judging the impact on that value, then both "freedom of speech" and "not driving people away" begin to trade off against each other in important ways.
Yes, that I agree with, and I'm happy with that framing of it. I suppose the actual terminal goal is a thing that ought to be clarified and agreed upon. The about page has: But that's pretty brief, doesn't explicitly mention truth, and doesn't distinguish between "uncover important intellectual truths" and "cause all its members to have maximally accurate maps" or something. Elsewhere, I've talked at length about the goal of intellectual progress for LessWrong. That's also unclear about what specific tradeoffs are implied when pursuing truths. Important questions, probably the community should discuss them more. (I though my posting a draft of the new about page would spark this discussion, but it didn't.)

I liked this post a lot and loved the additional comment about "Feeling and truth-seeking norms" you wrote here.

As a small data point: there have been at least three instances in the past ~three months where I was explicitly noticing certain norm-promoting behavior in the rationalist community (and Lesswrong in particular) that I found off-putting, and "truth-seeking over everything else" captures it really well.

Treating things as sacred can lead to infectiousness where items in the vicinity of the thing are treated as sacred too, even ... (read more)

Can you clarify which bit was off-putting? The fact that any norms were being promoted or the specific norms being promoted? If the former, I think it's actually important that a community debates and determines it norms, and that members enforce those norms. I think it's overall healthy to me that norms are being discussed a lot present (even if not all the discussion happens in accordance with the norms I'd advocate). That doesn't feel true to me. Specific examples don't spring to mind, but I can't endorse that as a categorical statement in the abstract. People's quality of life and productivity (in the short-term) aren't sacred enough to me to be never be outweighed in any circumstance.
Only the latter. And also the vehemence with which these viewpoints seemed to be held and defended. I got the impression that statements of the sort "yay truth as the only sacred value" received strong support; personally I find that off-putting in many contexts. Edit: The reason I find it off-putting isn't that I disagree with the position as site policy. More that sometimes the appropriate thing in a situation isn't just to respond with some tirade about why it's good to have an unempathetic site policy. To give some more context: Only the first instance of this had to do with explicit calls for forum policy. This was probably the same example that inspired the dialogue between Jill and John above. The second example was a comment on the question of making downvotes less salient. While I agree that the idea has drawbacks, I was a bit perplexed that a comment arguing against it got strongly upvoted despite including claims that felt to me like problematic "rationality for rationality's sake": Instead of allowing people to only look at demotivating information at specific times, we declare it antithetical to the "core of rationality" to hide information whether or not it overall makes people accomplish their goals better. The third instance was an exchange you had about conversational tone and (lack of) charity. Toward the end you said that you didn't like the way you phrased your initial criticism, but my quick impression (and I probably only skimmed the lengthy exchange and also don't remember details) was that I generally thought your points seemed pretty defensible, and the way your conversation partner commented would have also thrown me off. "Tone and degree of charity are very important too" is a perspective I'd like to see represented more among LW users. (But if I'm in the minority, that's fine and I don't object to communities keeping their defining features if the majority feels that they are benefitting.) Maybe I expressed it poorly, but what I mean
I agree there's something like vehemence and it's made all the conversations unpleasant and stressful. Someone countered to me that if you perceive someone to be threatening the very integrity of your ability to have conversations, it's appropriate to break frame and get up in arms. I'm not convinced it's warranted here, but maybe... I'm not sure about the exact proportion of people's perspectives. There definitely is a cluster of people (myself included) who think "tone", etc. are significant. (This group also might be more averse to getting into online conflicts.) I'm also concerned about the number of people who would counterfactually engage more on LessWrong, except they dislike the conversations they'll end up in currently. There are a bunch of conversations going on about the topic right (some in semi-private which might be public soonish). There's support (at least on the LW team) for an Archipelago type solution where people can opt-in into one of 2 or 3 norm sets. (Though that doesn't quite fix site-level things like the karma notifier settings.) One of those spaces should have much more "civility." Yeah, that's reasonable. I think that many people, while agreeing with that (or something close to it), get very afraid as soon as someone says it that because they fear it's going to be used to justify distinctly not-rational/damages the whole endeavor of being rational. I have some of this fear myself. It seems to me that rationality is extremely fragile and vulnerable, such that even though rationality might serves other goals, you have to be very uncompromising with regards to rationality, especially core things like hiding information from yourself (I was lightly opposed to the negative karma hiding myself) even if it that has appararant costs. But it's hard. I think there are tricky questions to answer, but the conversation currently can be civil/happen without vehemence.
Cool! And I appreciate the difficulty of the task at hand. :) When I model these conversations, one failure mode I'm worried about is that the "more civility" position gets lumped together with other things that Lesswrong is probably right to be scared of. So, the following is to delineate my own views from things I'm not saying: I could imagine being fine with Bridgewater culture in many (but not all) contexts. I hate that in "today's climate" it is difficult to talk about certain topics. I think it's often the case that people complaining about tone or about not feeling welcome shouldn't expect to have their needs accommodated. And yet I still find some features of what I perceive to be "rationalist culture" very off-putting. I don't think I phrased it as well in my first comment, but I can fully get behind what Raemon said elsewhere in this thread: So it's not that I'm saying that I'd prefer a culture where truth-seeking is occasionally completely abandoned because of some other consideration. Just that the side that superficially looks more virtuous when it comes to truth-seeking (for instance because they boldly proclaim the importance of not being bothered by tone/tact, downvote notifications, etc.) isn't automatically what's best in the long run. Edited to add: I admit it's a delicate balance to walk. But sometimes, people are inconsiderate in a way that definitely harms discussions. The principle of charity isn't just a thing in philosophy to make people feel good; there's also some methodological use to it. Likewise with trying to understand that other people have different minds from one's own. There has to be a way to point out inconsiderateness that doesn't get met with a response a la "tact doesn't matter because truth is the only virtue."
I agree with that. But people can have very different psychologies. Most people are prone to overconfidence, but some people are underconfident and beat themselves up too much over negative feedback. If the site offers an optional feature that is very useful for people of the latter type, it's at least worth considering whether that's an overall improvement. I wasn't even annoyed that people didn't like the feature; it was more about the way in which the person argued. Generally, more display of awareness of people having different psychologies would please me. :)
I also find it off-putting in many contexts—perhaps most contexts. But if there's any consequentialist value in having one space in the entire world where (within the confines of that space) truth is the only sacred value, perhaps lesswrong.com is a Schelling point?

Something that I'm maybe able to put into words now:

The classical example of "sacred values run amok" in my mind is when you ask people how much money a hospital should spend on a heart transplant for a dying child. People try to dodge the question, avoiding trading off a sacred value for a mundane value. Despite the fact that money can buy hospital equipment that saves other lives.

It's plausible that hospital should hold "keeping people healthy and alive" as an overall sacred value, which they never trade off against. This might forbid some paths where resources are spent on things that weren't necessary to keep people healthy and alive. But it doesn't tell you what are the best strategies to go about it are. You're allowed to sacrifice a boy's life to buy hospital equipment. You're even allowed to sacrifice a boy's life to make sure your employees are well rested and not overly stressed. Running a hospital is a marathon, not a sprint.

Over the past couple years, I have updated to "yes, LessWrong should be the place focused on truthseeking." I think I came to believe that right around the time I wrote Tensions in... (read more)

I definitely agree that there could exist perverse situations where there are instrumental tradeoffs to be made in truthseeking of the kind I and others have been suspicious of. For lack of a better term, let me call these "instrumentally epistemic" arguments: claims of the form, "X is true, but the consequences of saying it will actually result in less knowledge on net." I can totally believe that some instrumentally epistemic arguments might hold. There's nothing in my understanding of how the universe works that would prevent that kind of scenario from happening.

But in practice, with humans, I expect that a solid supermajority of real-world attempts to explicitly advocate for norm changes on "instrumentally epistemic" grounds are going to be utterly facile rationalizations with the (typically unconscious) motivation of justifying cowardice, intellectual dishonesty, ego-protection, &c.

I (somewhat apologetically) made an "instrumentally epistemic" argument in a private email thread recently, and Ben seemed super pissed in his reply (bold italics, incredulous tone, "?!?!?!?!?!" punctuation). But the thing is—even if I might conceivably go on to defend a modified form of my orig

... (read more)

I'm not advocating lying here, I'm advocating learning the communication skills necessary to a) actually get people to understand your point (which they'll have a harder time with if they're defensive), and b) not wasting dozens of hours unnecessarily (which could be better spent on figuring other things out).

[and to be clear, I also advocate gaining the courage to speak the truth even if your voice trembles, and be willing to fight for it when it's important. Just, those aren't the only skills a rationalist or a rationalist space needs. Listening, communicating clearly, avoiding triggering people's "use language as politics mode", and modeling minds and frames different from your own are key skills too]

8Wei Dai5y
Why do you think this prior is right? This seems true only if your prior is so obviously right that one couldn't disagree with it in good faith. I'm not convinced of this. (As I mentioned I'm sympathetic to both sides of the debate here, but I find myself wanting to question your side more, because it seems to display a lot more certainty (along with associated signals such as exasperation and incredulity), which doesn't seem justified to me.)

I find myself wanting to question your side more

Thanks, I appreciate it a lot! You should be questioning my "side" as harshly as you see fit, because if you ask questions I can't satisfactorily answer, then maybe my side is wrong, and I should be informed of this in order to become less wrong.

Why do you think this prior is right?

The mechanism by which saying true things leads to more knowledge is at least straightforward: you present arguments and evidence, and other people evaluate those arguments and evidence using the same general rules of reasoning that they use for everything else, and hopefully they learn stuff.

In order for saying true things to lead to less knowledge, we need to postulate some more complicated failure mode where some side-effect of speech disrupts the ordinary process of learning. I can totally believe that such failure modes exist, and even that they're common. But lately I seem to be seeing a lot of arguments of the form, "Ah, but we need to coordinate in order to create norms that make everyone feel Safe, and only then can we seek truth." And I just ... really have trouble taking this seriously as a good faith argument rather than an attempt to col

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4Matt Goldenberg5y
I want to address something that I think is quite important in the context of this post, because I think you're pattern matching the "let's make a space where people's needs are addressed," to the standard social justice safe space, but there are actually 3 types of safe spaces, and the one you're imagining is not related to the ones this post is talking about. The social justice kind, where nobody is allowed to bring up arguments that make you feel unsafe, is the one you're talking about. "We need to make everyone feel safe and can't seek truth until we do that" is describing an environment where truth seeking is basically impossible. I think private spaces like that are important in a rationalist environment, because some people are fragile and need to heal before they can participate in truth seeking, but are almost never right for an organization that has the goal of seeking truth. Then there's the kind that this post is talking about. In this type of environment, it's safe to say "This conversation is making me feel unsafe, so I need to leave". It's also safe to say "It feels like your need for safety is getting in the way of truthseeking" as well as for other people to push back on that if they think that this person's need for safety is so great in this moment that we need to accommodate them for a bit and return to this topic later. I think the majority of public truth-seeking spaces would be served by adopting this type of safety, in lieu of something like Crocker's rules. Then there's the third type of safe space. In this type of safe space, you can say "This topic is making me feel unsafe" and the expected response is "Awesome, then we're going to keep throwing you in as many situations like this as possible, poke that emotional wound, and help you work through it so you can level up as an individual and we can level up as an organization." In this case, the safety comes from the strict vetting procedures and strong culture that let you know that peopl
I mean, in the case of a website that people use in their free time, you don't necessarily even need an excuse: if you don't find a conversation valuable (because it's making you feel unsafe or for any other reason), you can just strong-downvote them and stop replying. There was a recent case on Less Wrong where one of two reasons I gave for calling for end-of-conversation was that I was feeling "emotionally exhausted", which seems similar to feeling unsafe. But that was me explaining why I didn't feel like talking anymore. I definitely wasn't saying that my interlocutor should give equal weight to his needs, my needs, and the needs of the forum of the whole. I don't see how anyone is supposed to compute that.
6Matt Goldenberg5y
If your primary metaphor for thought is simple computations or mathematical functions, I can see how this would be very confusing, but I don't think that's actually the native architecture of our brains. Instead our brain is noticing patterns, creating reusable heuristics, and simulating other people using empathy. When you look at the question using that native architecture, it becomes relatively simple to find a reasonable answer. This is the same way that we regularly find solutions to complex negotiations between multiple parties, or plan complex situations with multiple constraints, even though many of those tasks are naively uncomputable. The shared values and culture serve to make sure those heuristics are calibrated similarly between people. Reply

When you look at the question using that native architecture, it becomes relatively simple to find a reasonable answer.

I don't think "reasonable" is the correct word here. You keep assuming away the possibility of conflict. It's easy to find a peaceful answer by simulating other people using empathy, if there's nothing anyone cares about more than not rocking the boat. But what about the least convenient possible world where one party has Something to Protect which the other party doesn't think is "reasonable"?

The shared values and culture serve to make sure those heuristics are calibrated similarly between people.

Riiiight, about that. The OP is about robust organizations in general without mentioning any specific organization, but given the three mentions of "truthseeking", I'd like to talk about the special case of this website, and set it in the context of a previous discussion we've had.

I don't think the OP is compatible with the shared values and culture established in Sequences-era Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong. I was there (first comment December 22, 2007). If the Less Wrong and "rationalist" brand names are now largely being held by a different culture with differen

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I don't think "reasonable" is the correct word here. You keep assuming away the possibility of conflict. It's easy to find a peaceful answer by simulating other people using empathy, if there's nothing anyone cares about more than not rocking the boat. But what about the least convenient possible world where one party has Something to Protect which the other party doesn't think is "reasonable"?

Yes, if someone has values that are in fact incompatible with the culture of the organization, they shouldn't be joining that organization. I thought that was clear in my previous statements, but it may in fact have not been. If every damn time their own values are at odds with what are best for the organization given its' values, that's an incompatible difference. They should either find a different organization, or try the archipeligo model. There are such thing as irreconcilable value differences.

I don't think the OP is compatible with the shared values and culture established in Sequences-era Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong.

I agree. I think when that culture was established, the community was missing important concepts abou... (read more)

I think when that culture was established, the community was missing important concepts about motivated reasoning and truth seeking

Can you be more specific? Can you name three specific concepts about motivated reasoning and truthseeking that you know, but Sequences-era Overcoming Bias/Less Wrong didn't?

I think many of those norms originally caused the site to decline and people to go elsewhere.

I mean, that's one hypothesis. In contrast, my model has been that communities congregate around predictable sources of high-quality writing, and people who can produce high-quality content in high volume are very rare. Thus, once Eliezer Yudkowsky stopped being active, and Yvain a.k.a. the immortal Scott Alexander moved to Slate Star Codex (in part so that he could write about politics, which we've traditionally avoided), all the "intellectual energy" followed Scott to SSC.

Can you think of any testable predictions (or retrodictions) that would distinguish my model from your model?

I also got that this is a subject you care a lot about.

Yes. Thanks for listening.

4Matt Goldenberg5y
Here are a few: * The importance of creating a culture that develops Kegan 5 leaders that can take over for the current leaders and help meaningfully change the values as the context changes, in a way that doesn't simply cause organizations to value drift along with the current broader culture. * How ignoring or not attending for people's needs creates incentives for motivated reasoning, and how to create spaces that get rid of those incentives WITHOUT being hijacked by whoever screams the loudest. * The importance of cultural tradition and ritual in embedding concepts in augmenting the teaching and telling people what concepts are important. No because I think that our models are compatible. My model is about how to attract, retain, and develop people with high potential or skill that are in alignment your community's values, and your model says that not retaining, attracting, or developing people that matched our communities values and had high writing skill is what caused it to fail. If you can give a specific model of why LW1 failed to attract, retain, and develop high quality writers, then I think there's a better space for comparison. Perhaps you can also point out some testable predictions that each of our models would make.
First, I want to state that I agree with this model. However, I also want to note that the SSC comments section tend to have fairly low-quality discussion (in comparison to the OB/LW 1.0 heyday), and I'm not sure why this is; candidate hypotheses include that Scott's explicit politics attracted people with lower epistemic standards, or that the lack of an explicit karma system allowed low-quality discussion to persist (but I don't think OB had an explicit karma system either?). Overall, I'm unsure as to what kind of norms/technology maintains high-quality discussion (as opposed to just the presence of discussion in general), and it's plausible to me that the two may actually be somewhat mutually exclusive (in the sense that norms/technology designed to promote the volume of high-quality discussion may in fact reduce the volume of discussion in general). It's not clear to me how this tradeoff should be balanced.
(I sometimes think that I might be well-positioned to fill the market niche that Scott occupied in 2014, but no longer can due to his being extortable ("As I became more careful in my own writings [...]") in a way that I have been trained not to be. But I would need to learn to write faster.)
One thing is that I think early OBNYC and LW just actually had a lot of chaff comments too. I think people disproportionately remember the great parts.

When you look at the question using that native architecture, it becomes relatively simple to find a reasonable answer. This is the same way that we regularly find solutions to complex negotiations between multiple parties, or plan complex situations with multiple constraints, even though many of those tasks are naively uncomputable.

I'm not confident that it does. I perhaps expect people doing this using the native architecture to feel like they've found a reasonable answer. But I would expect them to actually be prioritising their own feelings, in most cases. (Though some people will underweight their own feelings. And perhaps some people will get it right.)

Perhaps they will get close enough for the answer to still count as "reasonable"?

If someone attempts to give equal weight to their own needs, the meds of their interlocutor, and the needs of the forum as a whole - how do we know whether they've got a reasonable answer? Does that just have to be left to moderator discretion, or?

2Matt Goldenberg5y
Yes basically, but if the forum were to take on this direction, the idea would be to have enough case examples/explanations from the moderators about WHY they made that discretion to calibrate people's reasonable answers. See also this response to Zach which goes more into details about the systems in place to calibrate people's reasonable answers.
3Said Achmiz5y
I’m rather confused about what you mean by ‘safe’. I thought I knew what the word meant, but the way you (and some others) are using it perplexes me. Could you explain how to interpret this notion of “safety”? For instance, this part: [emphasis mine] 1. What do the bolded uses of ‘safe’ mean? 2. Is it the same meaning as the other uses of ‘safe’ in your comment? If not, what other meanings are in use, in which parts of the comment?
2Matt Goldenberg5y
I think it's best defined by its' antonym. Unsafety, in this context, would mean anything that triggers a defensive or reactive reaction. Just like how bodily unsafety triggers fear, agression, etc, there are psychological equivalents that trigger the same reaction. Safety is when a particualr circumstance doesn't trigger that reaction, OR alternatively there could be a meta safety (AKA, having that reaction doesn't trigger that reaction, because it's ok). I think your bolded definitions of safe would actually be served by changing to the word allowed, which for many people correlates quite closely with their feeling of safety.
I think the question of "what is safety?" is a really good one. I'll write up some thoughts here both for this thread, but also to be to refer to generally (hence a bit more length). I'm not a fan of that definition. It's equating "feelings of safety" with "actual safety" It's defining safety as the absence the response to perceived unsafety. It feels equivalent to saying "sickness is the thing your immune system fights, and health is the absence of your immune system being triggered to fight something." Which is very approximately true, but breaks down when you consider autoimmune disorders. With those, it's the mistaken perception of attack which is the very problem. This definition can also put a lot of the power in the hands of those who are having a reaction. If we all agree that our conversation must be safe, and that any individual can declare it unsafe because they are having a reaction, this gives a lot power to individuals to force attention on the question of safety (and I fear too asymmetrically with others being blamed for causing the feelings of uncertainty). ----- So here's the alternative positive account of "safety" I would give: One *is* safe if one is unlikely to be harmed; one *feels* if they believe (S1 and/or S2) if they believe they won't be harmed. This accords with the standard use of safety, e.g. safety goggles, safety precautions, safe neighborhood, etc. In conversation, one can be "harmed socially", e.g. excluded from the group, being "punished" by the group, being made to look bad or stupid (with consequences on how they are treated), having someone act hostilely or aggressive to them (which is a risk of strong negative experience even if they S2 believe it won't come to any physical or lasting harm), etc. (this is not a carefully developed or complete list). So in conversation and social spaces, safety equates to not being likely to be harmed in the above ways. Much the same defenses that activate when feeling under physical t
3Matt Goldenberg5y
> I'm not a fan of that definition. It's equating "feelings of safety" with "actual safety" I agree with this, but it's quite a mouthful to deal with. And I think "feelings of safety" are actually more important for truthseeking and creating a product - they're the things that produce defensiveness, motivated reasoning, etc. This seems rightish- but off in really important ways that I can't articulate. It's putting the emphasis on the wrong things and "collective responsiblity" is not an idea I like at all. I think I'd put my stance as something like "feeling unsafe is a major driver of what people say and do, and good cultures provide space to process and deal with those feelings of unsafety" Note that this issue is explicitly addressed in the original dialogue. If someones feelings are hurting the discourse, they need to take responsibility for that just as much as I need to take responsibility for hurting their feelings. No one is agreeing that all conversations must be safe for all people, but simply that taking into account when people feel unsafe is important.
Yeah, but there's a really big difference! You can't give up that precision. Nods. Also agree that "collective responsibility" is not the most helpful concept to talk about. Indeed, the fact people can say ""It feels like your need for safety is getting in the way of truth-seeking"is crucial for it to have any chance. My expectation based on related real-life experience though, is that if making your need for safety is an option, there will people who abuse this and use it to suck up a lot of time and attention. That technically someone could deny their claim and move on, but this will happen much later than optimal and in the meantime everyone's attention has been sucked into a great drama. Attempts to say "your safety is disrupting truth-seeking" are accused as being attempts to oppress someone, etc. This is all imagining how it would go with typical humans. I'm guessing you're imagining better-than-typical people in your org who won't have the same failure mode, so maybe it'll be fine. I'm mostly anchored how I expect that approach to go if applied to most humans I've known (especially those really into caring about feelings and who'd be likely to sign up for it).
I think mr-hire thinks the important success condition is that people feel safe and that it's important to design the space towards this goal, with something of a collective responsibility for the feelings of safety of each individual. I think Said things that individuals bear full responsibility their feelings of safety, and that it's actively harmful to make these something the group space has to worry about. I think Said might even believe that "social safety" isn't even important for the space, i.e., it's fine if people actually are attacked in social ways, e.g. reputationally harm, caused to be punished by the group, made to experience negative feelings due to aggression from others. ---- If I had to choose between my model of mr-hire's preferred space and my model of Said's preferred space, I think I would actually choose Said's. (Though I might not be correctly characterizing either - I wanted to state my prediction before I asked to test how successfully modeling other's views). When it comes to truth seeking, I'd rather err on the side of people getting harmed a bit and having to do a bunch of work to "steel" themselves against the "harsh" environment, then give individuals such a powerful tool (the space being responsible for their perception of being harmed) to disrupt and interfere with discourse. I know that's not the intended result, but it seems too ripe for abuse to give feelings and needs the primacy I think is being given in the OP scenario. Something like an unachievable utopia: it sounds good, but I am very doubtful it can be done and also be a truth-seeking space. [Also Said, I had a dream last night that I met you in Central Park, NY. I don't know what you look or sound like in person, but I enjoyed meeting my dream version of you.]

I think Said things that individuals bear full responsibility their feelings of safety, and that it’s actively harmful to make these something the group space has to worry about.

Well, this is certainly not an egregious strawman by any stretch of the imagination—it’s a reasonable first approximation, really—but I would prefer to be somewhat more precise/nuanced. I would say this:

Individuals bear full responsibility for having their feelings (of safety, yes, and any other relevant propositional attitudes) match the reality as it in fact (objectively/intersubjectively verifiably) presents itself to them.[1]

This, essentially, transforms complaints of “feeling unsafe” into complaints of “being unsafe”; and that is something that we (whoever it is who constitute the “we” in any given case) can consider, and judge. If you’re actually made unsafe by some circumstance, well, maybe we want to do something about that, or prevent it. (Or maybe we don’t, of course. Likely it would depend on the details!) If you’re perfectly safe but you feel unsafe… that’s your own business; deal with it yourself![2]

I think Said might even believe that “social safety” isn’t even important for the space, i.

... (read more)
Thanks for the precise and nuanced write-up, and for not objecting to my crude attempt to characterize your position. Nothing in your views described here strikes me as gravely mistaken, it seems like a sensible norm set. I suspect that many of our disagreements appear once we attempt be precise around acceptable and not acceptable behaviors and how they are handled. I agree that "aggression" is fuzzy and that simply causing negative emotions is certainly not the criteria by which to judge the acceptability of behavior. I used those terms to indicate/gesture rather than define. I have a draft, Three ways to upset people with your speech, which attempts to differentiate between importantly different cases. I find myself looking forward to your comments on it once I finally publish it. I don't think I would have said that a week ago, and I think it's largely feeling safer with you, which is in turn the result of greater familiarity (I've never been active in the LW comments as much as in the last few weeks). I'm more calibrated about the significance of your words now, the degree of malice behind them (possibly not that much?), and even the defensible positions underlying them. I've also updated that it's possible to have a pleasant and valuable exchange. (I do not say these things because I wish to malign you with my prior beliefs about you, but because I think they're useful and relevant information.) Your warm response to my mentioning dream-meeting you made me feel warm (also learning your Myers Briggs type). (Okay, now please forgive me for using all the above as part of an "argument"; I mean it all genuinely, but it seems to be a very concrete applied way to discuss topics that have been in the air of late.) This gets us into some tricky questions I can place in your framework. I think it will take us (+ all the others) a fair bit of conversation to answer, but I'll mention them here now to at least raise them. (Possibly just saying this because I'm away
Here's the couple of thousand words that fell out when I attempted to write up my thoughts re safety and community norms.
Link seems broken
Thanks, fixed! It's a little bit repetitive with everything else I've written lately, but maybe I'm getting it clearer with each iteration.
I ended up having thoughts here that grew beyond the context (how to think about this feels related to how to think about depleted willpower). Wrote a shortform post. My current best guess is that you'd get the best results (measured roughly "useful ideas generated and non-useful ideas pruned") from a collection of norms where a) people need to take responsibility for their own feelings of fear, and there is help/guidelines on how to go about that if you're not very good at it yet, and b) people also take responsibility for learning to the social and writing skills to avoid particularly obvious failure modes. i.e. "I'm feeling defensive" shouldn't be a get out of jail free card. (in particular, any request that someone change their communication behavior should come with a corresponding costly signal that you are working on improving your ability to listen while triggered) And while I think I've believed this for a couple weeks, I don't think I was doing the work to actually embody it, and I think that's been a mistake I've been making.
6Matt Goldenberg5y
I'm holding the frame you wrote on your shortform feed re defensiveness for a bit to see how I feel about it.
I’ve been trying to use the phrase ‘feeling of safety’ when it comes up but it has the unfortunate property that ‘aspiring rationalist’ had, where there isn’t a stable equilibrium where people reliably say the whole phrase.

I hereby proclaim that "feelings of safety" be shortened to "fafety." The domain of worrying about fafety is now "fafety concerns."

Problem solved. All in a day's work.

Strong upvote
Updated to? This wording surprises me, because I'm having trouble forming a hypothesis as to what your earlier position could have been. (I'm afraid I haven't studied your blogging corpus.) What else is this website for, exactly?
Instrumental rationality?
My steelman of this position is something like, “I favored focusing instrumental rationality because it seemed, well, useful. At the time I figured that this was just a different subject than epistemic rationality, & focusing on it would at worst mean less progress improving the accuracy of our beliefs. But in hindsight this involved allowing epistemics to get worse for the sake of more instrumental success. I’ve now updated towards that having been a bad tradeoff.” How close is that?
Thanks! I'm not sure this is a place where steelmanning is quite the appropriate tool. My past self was optimized for being my past self, not being right. He was mostly just not trying to solve this question. But, in this case, I think the best tool is more properly called "modeling people" and maybe "empathy". Things my past self cared about and/or believed included: * All the probability stuff feels too hard to think about, and it doesn't seem like it's really going to help me that much even if I put a lot of work into it. So for me personally, I'm just going to try to "remember base rates" and a few other simple heuristics and call it a day. I was glad other people took it more seriously though * Truth seems like one of many important things. What matters is getting things accomplished. (I've never been optimizing against truth, I have just prioritized other things. There's been times where I, say, only put 20 minutes into checking an essay for being right, rather than 2 hours, when I had reason to suspect I might have had motivated reasoning.) * I thought (and still think, although less strongly and for more nuanced reasons) that the in person rationality community is unhealthy because it only selects for a few narrow types of person, who are min-maxed in a particular skillset. And I think the in person community is important (both for epistemic and instrumental reasons). It is important to be a community that doesn't actively drive away people who bring other skills to the table. I still roughly believe all that. The main update is that there should a) be dedicated spaces that focus on truthseeking as their [probably] sacred value, b) that LessWrong should be such a space. (But, as noted in Tensions in Truthseeking, there are still different tradeoffs you can make in your truthseeking frame, and I think it's good to have spaces that have made different min-max tradeoffs to explore those tradeoffs. For example, there might be math-heavy spaces, there migh
Okay, but I thought the idea was that instrumental rationality and epistemic rationality are very closely related. Two sides of the same coin, not two flavors of good thing that sometimes trade off against each other. That agents achieve their goals by means of building accurate models, and using those models to "search out paths through probability" that steer the world into the desired goal-state. If the models aren't accurate, the instrumental probability-bending magic doesn't work and cannot work.
Okay, but geez man, my past self had different beliefs. What do you want here? What is your incredulity here aiming to accomplish? If you can't simulate the mind of a person who showed up on LessWrong with one set of beliefs and gradually updated their beliefs in a set of directions that are common on the site, I think you should prioritize learning to simulate other minds a bit
I genuinely feel incredulous and am trying to express what I'm actually thinking in clear language? I mean, it's also totally going to be the case that the underlying generator of "genuinely felt incredulity" is no doubt going to be some sort of subconscious monkey-politics status move designed by evolution to make myself look good at the expense of others. It's important to notice that! But the mere fact of having noticed that doesn't make the feeling go away, and given that the feeling is there, it's probably going to leak into my writing. I could expend more effort doing a complicated System-2 political calculation that tries to simulate you and strategically compute what words I should say in order to have the desired effect on you. But not only is that more work than saying what I'm actually thinking in clear language, I also expect it to result in worse writing. Use the native architecture! I mean, if it'll help, we can construct a narrative in which my emotion of incredulity that was designed by evolution to make me look good, actually makes me look bad in local social reality? That's a win-win Pareto improvement: I don't have to mutilate my natural writing style in the name of so-called "cooperative" norms, and you don't have to let my monkey-politics brain get away with "winning" the interaction. How about this? Incredulity is, definitionally, a failed prediction. The fact that I felt incredulous means that my monkey status instincts are systematically distorting my anticipations about the world, making me delusionally perceive things as "obvious" exactly when they're things that I coincidentally happened to already know, and not because of their actual degree-of-obviousness as operationalized by what fraction of others know them. (And conversely, I'll delusionally perceive things as "nonobvious" exactly when I coincidentally happened to not-know them.) (Slaps forehead) Hello, Megan! Ten years into this "rationality" business, and here I am still making
I think there are separate worthwhile skills of "focus on learning empathy/modeling and let clear language flow from that", and also "writing skills exist that are separate from epistemics" (such as brevity, which I think actually factors in here a bit) Something that may not have been clear from my past discussion is that when I say "this could have been written in a way that was less triggering", or something, I'm not (usually) meaning that to be a harsh criticism. Just, the sort of thing that you should say 'ah, that makes sense. I will work on that' for the future.

Just, the sort of thing that you should say 'ah, that makes sense. I will work on that' for the future.

It's actually not clear to me that I should work on that. As a professional hazard of my other career, I'm pretty used to people trying to use "You would be more persuasive if you were nicer" as an attempted silencing tactic; if I just believed everyone who told me that, I would never get anything done.

If you supress a signal it's hard to know how representative it is of the whole population. If people stop expressing when their feelings are hurt it becomes next to impossible to keep a representative statistic. Why vote when my vote is one among thousands and very unlikely to be a swing vote? If a speech act infact impacts a big portion but each believes they are a single person minority you get more suppression than desired. Also general danger of revolving around common denominators.

2Matt Goldenberg5y
Agree strongly with this. Was this meant to be a reply to that other post on my short term feed about feelings?
Mainly thinking what could go wrong with what John says just before Jill says "Exactly!". Attribution who prevents the action is unclear and it could be the speaker-to-be selfcensoring or a moderator intervening.
2Matt Goldenberg5y
Nobody intervenes in this case, The speaker is allowed to say it makes her uncomfortable, and is allowed to leave if the conversation is too intense for her. If she won't allow the conversation to go on repeatedly , then Jill may have to a conversation like this one. If she thinks many people are uncomfortable but not speaking up, there's a bunch of things she can do next.
I had trouble reading this as it felt like there were a lot of presumptions in conflict. If you let people bring random norms in the quality of the discussion will be random. In selecting some norms to be non-random the site must somehow encourage certain norms and suppress incompatible ones. If people were "smart" they could know the norms beforehand and then all speech would be flawless from a norm standpoint. But the interesting case is when someone in the discussion fails to effectively employ a norm. After the norm discussion speech should be norm compliant and I think change from non-compliant to compliant means supressing the "offending" parts. If no supression happens the harmful elements are left alive to do their damage. Thus if a norm-officer is talking to you there is some goal how your speech is supposed to change. It's good goal to try get to this goal by selling why the norm is a good idea. However I think the norm will be or should be enforced even if such "selling" fails. At the very least the moderator needs to make a call whether the conversation is sufficient remedy for the detected danger or whether the issue should be escalated to less discussive "actual action" levels. If the discussion concluded "I will raise veganism just as often as I have previously" escalation would be the conclusion (or some kind of weird thing were the defiance tries to upset the whole norm structure with the defiant party banking on that the wider community will overrule the moderators effected principles). Compliant people wil lnot constatnlyu trigger the norm-violations but that places a limit on effectively expressible stances and I think the effective communicaiton what does and does not cause schism falls outside of that and the closest thing you get is a kind of plausible stereotype needs. At worst talking about what does and does not cause a schism causes a schism which would trigger supression of schism analysis. Thus what a schism is is largely depend on th
4Matt Goldenberg5y
Yes I think this is true and thought it was obvious. Just like any other community or organization, people who aren't following the norms repeatedly should be kicked out. But the important part that seperates good organizations from bad is the procedures to teach and find consensus on norms. One of the central underlying points here is that if you ignore the participants lives or make them taboo, they'll make everything about that ANYWAY, while pretending to be about the norms of the organization. See moral mazes, see corporate america. In a private organization, the solution to that is to point out every time it happens, go meta, and create norms that consistently call people out on their private shit getting in the way of the community/organization, while supporting them in in working through that private shit. In a more public space like described here, you haven't done the vetting to make that model work, so you simply have to acknowledge that it exists, but not let people put those needs above other people's needs, or the values of the organization.
So in the general itervention ought to happen.But I still find it contradctory that "nobody intervenes" in this case. I think the intervention needs to happen in some form or its a case of passive "let the problem fester" type of situation. It is expressed in passive voice when actual situations happen when particular humans do stuff. I think in my mind there are two models with different primary moving actors which it is not clear which one is to be followed or if either is implied by the principle. When a lot of responcibility is placed on the speaker to moderate themselfs those decisons are less accessible to the public discussion. There is a conflict. One one hand you need to express what your needs are so that others know to balance their needs against yours. But on the other hand if you appear as "needy" you will be percieved as a problem element. If people statistically signicifantly can't say what their needs are the Maturity principle becomes relativily empty as the needs of others are not known. It's a relevant case where the "needs of the many people in the community" are known to be inaccurate or outright fictious (and to get to there there would need to be intervening stages where they are suspected to be so etc).With fixed goals everybody will try to disguise their objective as the accepted objective but with flexible objectives there is a new kind of strife about whos private objectives are among the flex goals. And the tension between people whos objectives are just-in and just-out can get pretty intense.

There's a lot I like about this post (I was mulling over a similar sort of post, spelling out what collection of norms I actually think would actually work best for a dedicated truthseeking space).

There are two crystallizations here that I like, which I'd been struggling to articulate: over the past year I've updated harder in the "yes, it's really important for LessWrong's highest value to be truthseeking, and not to make any tradeoffs for other things." But something about that still felt nagging to me. I grappled a bi... (read more)

What would go horribly wrong?

I'm not sure what the effect of having your every word recorded and freely available would have on in person conversations. Or having Crocker's Rules instituted.

4Matt Goldenberg5y
I think both of those would go horribly wrong instituted in a bad institution that didn't have value aligned individuals, clear values, rituals to support values, and decent standards of vetting either before or after the fact. On the other hand I think that radical things like recording all conversations (a Bridgewater practice) and instituting crockers rule in a specific room or context (another bridgewater practice called fishbowling) can go well when implemented in an organization that has the values, practices, standards, and people to support it. I'm curious what horribly wrong things you think would happen from both of these policies?
This was the one part of this essay I had qualms about. I think it's best articulated by this essay about radical honesty. I think it's possible that radical honesty is net-positive, but it's also possible that it drives dishonesty even deeper into your psyche where it's even harder to track it. (Separately, I've heard a lot of things about Bridgewater culture feeling pretty abusive. I've worked in one company run by ex-Bridgewater people who were trying to be "Bridgewater, but kinder and coming from a place of compassion", but that still failed and still felt fairly traumatizing. I think it's much easier to get this wrong than right and getting it wrong is costly) I do think underlying goal you're pointing at is good – finding some way to increase honesty and accountability, esp. among leaders, is good.
2Matt Goldenberg5y
I think is possibly very true, and I suspect a "Crocker's Rules" type policy to have a similar issue, however, I think the radical transparency (as opposed to radical honesty, which is having to share everything) on net is pretty good because it prevents political games. Re:Bridgewater - I expect most DDOs to feel abusive, wrong, or culty to the wrong people. I've been part of two organizations in my life that I would consider "doing DDOs right", and both of them I think would be horrible and abusive places for certain people.
Is that an update for you or something that seemed true when you wrote the OP, that you feel you accounted for when proposing the radical transparency thing?
4Matt Goldenberg5y
It's an update for me.