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How far along are you on the Lesswrong Path?

by AiresJL3 min read9th Jul 202014 comments

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How far along are you on the Path?

Some say the Path has always existed and there have always been those who have walked it. The Path has many names and there are many notions of what the Path is.

To some the path is called philosophy, to others it is the art of rationality. To my people, it was called science and the pursuit of truth. Physics, psychology, neuroscience, machine learning, optimal control theory. All of these are aspects to the path. It has no true name.

With certainty, the only way to know whether you walk the path is by talking to those who don't walk the path.

One man, Scott Alexander describes the path as,

"Some people are further down the path than I am, and report there are actual places to get to that sound very exciting. And other people are around the same place I am, and still other people are lagging behind me. But when I look back at where we were five years ago, it’s so far back that none of us can even see it anymore, so far back that it’s not until I trawl the archives that realize how many things there used to be that we didn’t know. "

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How to tell where you are on the path?

One day, a man comes up to a woman and says:

"I am further down the path than you are."

In response, the woman says:

"No, I am further down the path than you are."

Instantly, both people recognize the solution as they have both at least progressed some degree through the path. The man speaks:

"Only one of us can be more right than the other. Let us make a prediction about all things in this world for all time and whoever is more correct about the state of the world for all time is closer to the end of the path."

Realizing the recursive time constraint of determining who is correct with infinite precision, the woman instead points to a random child.

"Whoever can guess correctly how this child behaves for the next 1 minute has walked further along the path and we will default to their position as truth when we are in conflict and have no time to discuss the details."

The man proceeds to describe in detail the neurobiological system of the baby and all the deterministic forces that would lead the baby to breathe, think, move in the manner in which he predicted it would. He then goes on to describe all the biases in their environment and how it would play a role in the way the child would act.

The woman looks at the man and says, you are wrong. You are doubly wrong and you do not understand the nature of the path at all.

She writes something down on the piece of paper, gives it to the man and tell him to open it in 10 seconds.

He looks at it for a couple seconds and then realizing its time, he opens it.

The child will cry and you are an idiot. I create the future

In that moment, he hears a cry and realizes that she was much farther along the path than he was. She had gone to the child in the seconds he was focusing on the paper, picked it up and pinched it with what looked like significant force.

The woman looks at him and asks:

"Do you understand?"

He thinks for a long while and replies:

Either I have the ability to affect the entropic state of the universe or I dont. If I can, then I can create any future constrained by energy and possible state transitions. The truest prediction is one that I am already causally bound to.
In the case where I can't effect the entropic state of the universe, I should still act and believe as if i do, because it is the most effective way within the closed system to affect the likelihood of a prediction.

She looks at him with a smile and a surprising glint of curiosity in her eyes. She thinks to herself silently:

Close. I was once where you were. There is a flaw in that logic. The flaw is axiomatic and has to do with the essence of reality. Pursue this question, does reality exist if you have no sensors in which to perceive it?

The answer lies in this. What is the difference between a prediction, the current perceived state and the reason to transition to the next state?

But instead says,

The ability to manipulate the system is far more important than the ability to predict its outcomes. At some point your ability to manipulate the system will become equivalent to the best prediction system in the world.

My Path and Others

The path isn't linear and it isn't constrained to a single dimension. It is at the very least 4 dimensional and has no boundaries or edges as far as I know.

Some Condensed Examples of Path Progression

  • Scott'09 -> Scott'2020
    • Metropolitan Man -> Slate Star Codex -> Secret
  • Elizier'09 -> Elizier'2020
    • HPMOR -> Less Wrong -> AI to Zombies
  • Aires'09 -> Aires'20
    • MM/HPMOR Reader -> Engineer -> Kinect -> Hololens -> MASc in AI -> Uber Michelangelo Founder -> Uber AI -> Meta-learning/Neuroevolution -> Emotional Tensor Theory

I forked from Lesswrong in 2009, when I originally worked in SF and haven't returned except for a brief stint in 2011/12 when i returned to the bay area.

In my pursuit of rationality, AI and AGI, I sought to analyze the human emotion system from a neurobiology and machine learning perspective.

What is represented by the feelings we feel i.e what does the embedded neurotransmitter representation of emotions actually correspond to in terms of hardware and information theory?

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Does the Lesswrong Path have a blindspot related to emotions?

A quick search of emotions in the Lesswrong Archives shows less than 5 results

  • Why is there such a large gap of exploration into emotions on Lesswrong. Is it because they are colloquially the anathema to rationality?
  • Is it an inherited bias from the ideology of the lesswrong creators? or simply ignorance
  • Perhaps emotions aren't relevant in any way and are encompassed in rationality?

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Call for Aid: Lesswrong 2.0 is enormous as is the path I have walked. I'm sure while there is overlap there are likely very strong contention points in both how AI systems work and human systems work. Help me find them.

I'd love to talk to two or three less wrong experts for 2 1.5hr sessions in July/August. If you'd like to help me, please comment directly and we can set up a calendar invite over email.

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4 Answers

Why is there such a large gap of exploration into emotions on Lesswrong. Is it because they are colloquially the anathema to rationality?

I don't think that's accurate. In fact, Eliezer says as much in Why Truth?. He explicitly calls out the view that rationality and emotion are opposed, using the example of the character of Mr. Spock in Star Trek to illustrate his point. In his view, Mr. Spock is irrational, just like Captain Kirk, because denying the reality of emotions is just as foolish as giving in wholeheartedly to them. If your emotions rest on true beliefs, then they are rational. If they rest on false beliefs they are irrational. The fact that they are instinctive emotions rather than reasoned logic is irrelevant to their (ir)rationality.

I think LessWrong has actually done a fairly good job at avoiding this mistake. If we look at the posts on circling [1], [2], for example, you'll see that they're all about emotions and management of emotions. The same applies to Comfort Zone Expansion, ugh fields, meditation and Looking, and kenshō. It's just that few of them actually mention the word "emotion" in their titles, which might lead one to the false assumption that they are not about emotions.

Does the Lesswrong Path have a blindspot related to emotions?

Julia Galef wrote about how she updated in CFAR towards emotions being more important then initially assumed in 2013. When it comes to dealing with emotions there's Gendlin's Focusing and Circling and a discourse on meditation.

The discourse is however more focused on applied knowledge then neurobiology based knowledge.

Not that far.  I'm still quite wrong.

Cartesian boundary is, while intellectually seen through, not experientially seen through most of the time.