Dagon's Shortform

by Dagon31st Jul 201939 comments
39 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 4:42 PM
New Comment

I wish people would be more careful about reinforcing attribution error. We all (including me) have a tendency to talk about types of people rather than behaviors.

I wish we talked about mistake theory rather than mistake theorists. I wish we talked about ideas or discussions at a given simulacra level, rather than people operating at that level. Recently, I wish it were a discussion about "empathetic oofs" rather than "empathetic oofers".

I find it offputting, and it makes it harder for me to accept the underlying thesis, when such behaviors are attributed to immutable personality types. More importantly, I think it constrains our analysis very severely not to recognize that these are valid (or at least common) strategies, and we should strive to use both when appropriate.

EA folks: is there any donation I can make to increase the expected number of COVID-19 vaccinations given by end of February, either worldwide or for a specific region? 

Increasing vaccine production capacity takes longer then two months. The only way you can increase vaccinations in the time frame is reducing the amount of vaccine that's given per patient or approve more vaccines. 

India's approval of a vaccine without phase 3 trials would be the kind of action that you would want to encourage. 1 dosing instead of 2 dosing is an action that works in the developed world.

Running PR for such actions would be the only viable move. I'm however not aware of individual charities that would use marginal donations for that purpose. 

Reminder to self: when posting on utiltarianism-related topics, include the disclaimer that I am a consequentialist but not a utilitarian. I don't believe there is an objective, or even outside-the-individual perspective to valuation or population aggregation.

Value is relative, and the evaluation of a universe-state can and will be different for different agents. There is no non-indexical utility, and each agent models the value of other agents' preferences idiosyncratically.

Strong anti-realism here. And yet it's fun to play with math and devise systems that mostly match my personal intuitions, so I can't stay away from those topics.

I think I agree that there's no objectively true universal value aggregation process, but if you can't find (a method for finding) very broad value aggregation system, then you can't have peace. You have peace insofar as factions accept the rulings of the system. Simply giving up on the utilitarian project is not really an option.

That's an interesting reason to seek Utilitarianism that I hadn't considered. Not "this is true" or "this makes correct recommendations", but "if it works, it'll be a better world". I see some elements of Pascal's Wager in there, but it's a novel enough (to me) approach that I need to think more on it.

I do have to point out that perhaps "you can't have peace" is the actual true result of individual experience. You can still have long periods of semi-peace, when a coalition is strong enough to convince others to follow their regime of law (Pax Romana, or many of today's nations). But there's still a lot of individual disagreement and competition for resources, and some individuals use power within the system to allocate resources in ways that other individuals disprefer.

I'm not sure if that is "peace" within your definition. If so, Utilitarian aggregation isn't necessary - we have peace today without a working Utility calculation. If not, there's no evidence that it's possible. It may still be a worthwhile goal to find out.

Shameless self-promotion but I think meta-preference utilitarianism is a way to aggregate value fairly without giving up anti-realism. Also, be sure to check out the comment by Lukas_Gloor as he goes into more depth about the implications of the theory.

Well, that's one way to lean into the "this isn't justified by fundamentals or truth, but if people DID agree to it, things would be nicer than today (and it doesn't violate preferences that I think should be common)". But I'm not sure I buy that approach. Nor do I know how I'd decide between that and any other religion as a desirable coordination mechanism.

I'm not sure what flavor of moral anti-realism you subscribe to so I can't really help you there, but I am currently writing a post which aims to destroy a particular subsection of anti-realism. My hope is that if I can destroy enough of meta-ethics, we can hopefully eventually make some sort of justified ethical system. But meta-ethics is hard and even worse, it's boring. So I'll probably fail.

Good luck! I look forward to seeing it, and I applaud any efforts in that direction, even as I agree that it's likely to fail :)

That's a pretty good summary of my relationship to Utilitarianism: I don't believe it, but I do applaud it and I prefer most of it's recommendations to a more nihilistic and purer theory.

I don't believe it, but I do applaud it and I prefer most of it's recommendations to a more nihilistic and purer theory.

Wow what a coincidence, moral nihilism is exactly the subject of the post is was talking about. Here it is btw.

There's a lot of similarity between EMH (efficient markets hypothesis) and Aumann's agreement theorem.

  1. Both are about updating on other agents' information.
  2. Both make pretty strong statements about common knowlege.
  3. Neither one applies in the interesting cases.

Types and Degrees of Maze-like situations

Zvi has been writing about topics inspired by the book Moral Mazes, focused on a subset of large corporations where politics rather than productivity are seen as the primary competition dimension and life focus for participants. It's not clear how universal this is, nor what size and competitive thresholds might trigger it. This is just a list of other Maze-like situations that may share some attributes with those, and may have some shared causes, and I hope solutions.

  • Consumerism and fashion.
  • Social status signaling and competition.
  • Dating, to the extent you are thinking of eligibility pools and quality of partner, rather than individual high-dimensional compatibility.
  • Acutal politics (elected and appointed-by-elected office).
  • Academic publishing, tenure, chairs.
  • Law enforcement. Getting ahead in a police force, prison system, or judiciary (including prosecutors) is almost unrelated to actually reducing crime or improving the world.
  • Bureaucracies are a related, but different kind of maze. There, it's not about getting ahead, it's about ... what? Shares the feeling that it's not primarily focused on positive world impact, but maybe not other aspects of the pathology.

We should also add law and legislation to that list.

Expand on that a bit - is this an employment/social maze for lawyers and legislators, or a bureaucratic maze for regular citizens, or something else? I'll definitely add policing (a maze for legal enforcers in that getting ahead is almost unrelated to stopping crime).

Employment and social maze for both lawyers and legislators, and sometimes judges as well a police (as you mention). For lawyers perhaps there is some asymmetry between DA side and Defendant in criminal cases, not sure there. Examples for DA and police are the incentives to get convictions and so the image of making things safe and producing justice leading to some pretty bad cases of bad behavior that amounts to either framing and innocent in some cases, getting a conviction by illegal means (slippery slope situations) which then undermine the entire legal structure/culture of a rule of law society.

Similar for legislators -- election results tend to drive behavior with lots of wiggle room for not actually working on delivering campaign promises or not ever actually having intended to push the advertised agenda. The incentives of being a tenured politician, particularly at the federal and state level, related to personal benefit seem poorly aligned with serving the electorate (representing constituents values rather than maximizing the politician's income, status and the like.

There might be some dynamic related to rent-seeking results too. If rent-seeking is purely a structural reality (standard organizational costs facing special versus general interests) that should stabilize until the underlying costs structures change. But I'm not entirely sure that is the case, if we can make the cases that rent-seeking is growing then perhaps a moral maze would provide a better explanation of that growth where no shift in underlying cost are able to explain the growth.

For the regular citizen certainly the bureaucracy creates problems both for engaging with government as well as perhaps engaging with politics and elections -- though I'm less sure this is a real maze problem.

My daily karma tracker showed that 3 comments got downvoted. Honestly, probably justified - they were pretty low-value. No worries, but it got me thinking:

Can I find out how I'm voting (how many positive and negative karma I've given) over time periods? Can I find it out for others? I'd love it if I could distinguish a downvote from someone who rarely downvotes from one from a serial downvoter.

I've been downvoting less, recently, having realized how little signal is there, and how discouraging even small amounts can be. Silence or comment are the better response, for anything better than pure drivel.

Worth noting that by default the karma notifier doesn't show downvotes, for basically this reason.

I think it only makes sense to opt into seeing all downvotes if you're confident you can take this as information without it harming your motivation.

Meanwhile, there are benefits to actually downvoting things that are wrong, or getting undue attention, or subtly making the site worse. It matters how things can sorted for attention allocation, and relative karma scores in a discussion are important, among other things, so that people don't see bad arguments appearing highly endorsed and then feeling motivated to argue against them (when they wouldn't ordinarily consider this a good use of their time)

So I think people should actually just downvote more, and not use the "show me all my downvotes" feature, which most people aren't using and you probably shouldn't worry about overmuch.

I opted in to seeing downvotes, and I think my curiosity (both about personal interactions on the site and about the general topic of mechanism design) will compel me to continue. I'm not worried about them - as I say, they were low-value comments, though not much different from others that get upvoted more (and IMO shouldn't be). Mostly it shows that low-number-of-voters is mostly noise, and that's fine.

My main point was wondering how I can monitor my own voting behavior? (ok, and a little complaining that variable-point voting is confusing.) I think I upvote pretty liberally and downvote very rarely, but I really wonder if that's true, and I wonder things like how many votes I give (on multiple comments) on the same post.

I do agree that being able to see metrics on your own voting is pretty reasonable, although not something I expect to make it to the top of our priority queue for awhile.

Here's a prediction I haven't seen anywhere else: due to border closures from COVID-19 and Brexit, the value of dual-citizenship is going up (or at least being made visible). This will lead to an uptick in mixed-nationality marriages.

"One of the big lessons of market design is that participants have big strategy sets, so that many kinds of rules can be bent without being broken. That is, there are lots of unanticipated behaviors that may be undesirable, but it's hard to write rules that cover all of them. (It's not only contracts that are incomplete...) " -- Al Roth

I think this summarizes my concerns with some of the recent discussions of rules and norm enforcement. People are complicated and the decision space is much larger than usually envisioned when talking about any specific rule, or with rules in general. Almost all interactions have some amount of adversarial (or at least not-fully-aligned) beliefs or goals, which is why we need the rules in the first place.

Al Roth interview discussing the historical academic path from simplistic game theory to market design, which covers interesting mixes of games with multiple dimensions of payoff. https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.33.3.118

We should probably generalize cryptocurrency mechanisms to "proof of waste".  Fundamentally, the concept of a blockchain is that real-world resources are used for artifically-complex calculations just to show that one doesn't need those resources for something else.

This is only true for "proof of work" currencies and thus does not generalize to crypto currency that's more efficient. 

Interesting!  What cryptocurrencies or blockchains are there which are based on something other than proof of {some resource use}?  

There are certainly non-crypt-based currencies and centralized data authorities that simply use fiat and access bottlenecks.  I've only come across distributed authority mechanisms based on usage of some expensive and limited resource.

Cardano and Polkadot both use proof of stake. They are more like proof of resource ownership instead of proof of resource use. Resource is however a bit misleading here given that there are no resources in the classical sense needed to create the coins that are used for the staking in the first place. The coins are created out of nothing. Saying that minting coins out of nothing is creating resources is like saying that the FED printing money creates more resources for the economy. 

Besides reducing electricity consumption that has additional advantages such as increase the amount of transactions that can be processed by two orders of magnitude (and additional orders of magnitude if you count side-chains). It also makes the process of validating blocks faster. 

Filecoin is also noteworthy in that it uses proof-of-spacetime where miners do valuable work of storing data instead of wasteful work. 

I was aware of the proof of spacetime as an alternative to the normal proof-of-computation chains.  Unused (for other purposes) disk space definitely falls into the category of "resource", as much as unused (for other purposes) compute capacity.  

A quick glance at polkadot and cardano didn't jump out as to what limits their tokens and what a "stake" actually is.  Thanks for pointing them out, though - I have more to learn :)

In the case of Filecoin it's not space that's unused for other purposes. It's space that's used to store files that users (that are verified clients) of filecoin want to store. 

The basic idea of proof-of-stake is that when it comes to validating a new block, one of the users that stake coins gets randomly chosen weighted by the amount of staked coins. That user is then responsible for validating the next block in a way that's similar to a miner in Bitcoin being responsible for validating the new block when the miner succeeds in solving the computational problem. If a user validates a block that's invalid they will lose part of the coins that they staked which incentives them to only validate valid blocks. 

In practice it's a bit more complicated then that and for Polkadot explained at https://wiki.polkadot.network/docs/en/learn-staking

So, has the NYT had any reaction, response, or indication that they're even considering the issue of publicizing private details of a pseudonymous author? Do we know when the article was planned for publication?

Unrelatedly, on another topic altogether, are there any new-and-upcoming blogs about topics of rationality, psychiatry, statistics, and general smart-ness, written by someone who has no prior reputation or ties to anyone, which I should be watching?

Incentives vs agency - is this an attribution fallacy (and if so, in what direction)?

Most of the time, when I see people discussing incentives about LW participation (karma, voting, comment quality and tone), we're discussing average or other-person incentives, not our own. When we talk about our own reasons for participation, it's usually more nuanced and tied to truth-seeking and cruxing, rather than point-scoring.

I don't think you can create alignment or creative cooperation with incentives. You may be able to encourage it, and you can definitely encourage surface-cooperation, which is not valueless, but isn't what you actually want. CF variants of Goodheart's law - incentive design is _always_ misguided due to this, as visible incentives are _always_ a bad proxy for what you really want (deep and illegible cooperation).

There's two sides of discussing incentives, wrt. X:

  • Incentivize X/Make tools that make it easier for people to do X [1].
  • Get rid of incentives that push people to not do X[2] /Remove obstacles to people doing X.

Even if alignment can't be created with incentives, it can be made easier. I'm also curious about how the current incentives on LW are a bad proxy right now.

[1] There's a moderation log somewhere (whatever that's for?), GW is great for formatting things like bulleted lists, and we can make Sequences if we want.

[2] For example, someone made a post about "drive by criticism" a while back. I saw this post, and others, as being about "How can we make participating (on LW) easier (for people it's hard for right now)?"

Best few paragraphs I've read recently:

Last week I compared GameStop to Bitcoin. The thing about Bitcoin as a financial asset, I wrote, is that “there is no underlying claim; there is just a widespread acknowledgment that people think it’s valuable.” I suggested that that was a fascinating and powerful innovation,[3] but that once you are accustomed to it you might get a little overconfident and think that any financial asset—GameStop stock, say—could work the same way. People will buy it because they think it will retain value because people will buy it because they think it will retain value because people will buy it because etc., recursing infinitely, with no underlying fundamental rationale. 

I thought that that would not work, with the stock of a mall retailer; eventually a bad earnings release or whatever will kill the vibe. But I know nothing. Maybe it can work; maybe GameStop traders can conjure value out of thin air and maintain it. Maybe people will buy GameStop because people buy GameStop, and it will go on forever because they don’t stop. “The thing I like about GameStop is not its underlying cash flows,” a venture capitalist will blog in 2027, “but the fact that it is a scarce digital store of value.”[4] 

I don’t think, however many days we are into this nonsense, that GameStop is a particularly important story (though of course it’s a fun one!), or that it points to any deep problems in the financial markets. There have been bubbles, and corners, and short squeezes, and pump-and-dumps before. It happens; stuff goes up and then it goes down; prices are irrational for a while; financial capitalism survives.

But I tell you what, if we are still here in a month I will absolutely freak out. Stock prices can get totally disconnected from fundamental value for a while, it’s fine, we all have a good laugh. But if they stay that way forever, if everyone decides that cash flows are irrelevant and that the important factor in any stock is how much fun it is to trade, then … what are we all doing here? 

-- Matt Levine in his Money Stuff newsletter.  See also Raemon's recommendation for this newsletter at https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/9Qwignbzu4ddXLTsT.

My prediction is that it's not sustainable as a base-less store of value or transaction currency in the same way as bitcoin, because there's SO MUCH overhead in trading.  Predicting internet attention span is a mug's game, but I think it'll take a little longer than Levine does - I'll be surprised if it lasts to the end of February, shocked if it goes through March, but won't absolutely freak out for a year.

In 2030: "People who bought GameStop stock are now billionaires. It was even mentioned on LessWrong, but again we collectively failed at instrumental rationality. Maybe next time." :D

I always enjoy convoluted Omega situations, but I don't understand how these theoretical entities get to the point where their priors are as stated (and especially the meta-priors about how they should frame the decision problem).

Before the start of the game, Omega has some prior distribution of the Agent's beliefs and update mechanisms. And the Agent has some distribution of beliefs about Omega's predictive power over situations where the Agent "feels like" it has a choice. What experiences cause Omega to update sufficiently to even offer the problem (ok, this is easy: quantum brain scan or other Star-Trek technobabble)? But what lets the Agent update to believing that their qualia of free-will is such an illusion in this case? And how do they then NOT meta-update to understand the belief-action-payout matrix well enough to take the most-profitable action?

I guess I've discussed my perspective on the issue of unrealistic hypotheticals here, although you've already commented on that post. Beyond that, Scott Alexanders The Least Convenient Possible World is a great post, but I suspect you've seen it too.

One additional thing which I can add is that this seems related to Decoupling vs. Contextualising norms.

BTW, I created a wiki page for hypotheticals. I've summarised some arguments on why we should pay attention to unrealistic hypothetical, but it'd be useful to have some opposing arguments listed there as well.

Useful pointers. I do remember those conversations, of course, and I think the objections (and valid uses) remain - one can learn from unlikely or impossible hypotheticals, but it takes extra steps to specify why some parts of it would be applicable to real situations. I also remember the decoupling vs contextualizing discussion, and hadn't connected it to this topic - I'm going to have to think more before I really understand whether Newcomb-like problems have clear enough paths to applicability that they can be decoupled by default or whether there's a default context I can just apply to make sense of them.

Funny thought - I wonder if people were created (simulated/evolved/whatever) with a reward/utility function that prefers not to know their reward/utility function.

Is the common ugh field around quantifying our motivation (whether anti-economic sentiment, or just punishing those who explain the reasoning between unpleasant tradeoffs) a mechanism to keep us from goodhearting ourselves?