Meta-discussion from "Circling as Cousin to Rationality"

by Raemon1 min read3rd Jan 2020167 comments

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A lot of the discussion on this post ended up being about LessWrong norms. I've moved that particular thread over to the comments here, and left a comment there pointing over here.

(Some of those comments, including the initial one, were object-level relevant to this post. I apologize for moving all of them indiscriminately. Our comment-moving-features are a bit janky and it's easier to move an entire thread than individual subthreads. I also apologize for breaking a lot of the comment-permalinks in that thread, and we'll look into fixing those. Meanwhile, you can actually still hover-over the comments in question on LW to see a preview of the comment, and you can also copy the comment-hash from the link and apply it to the new post to get a working link)

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Quick note that the LW team is still processing this thread (different team members had different takes on different aspects of it). Sometime next week I expect us to have something more substantive to say, but it seemed better to take some time away from it to gather our thoughts and get in sync about it.

If I may offer my opinion, it seems to me that this debate was a proxy for a long-term problem, which I would roughly describe as "how much exactness should be the norm on LW?".

When Eliezer was writing the Sequences, it was simple: whatever he considered right, that was the norm. There were articles with numbers and equations, articles that quoted scientific research, articles that expressed personal opinion or preference, and articles with fictional evidence. And because all those articles came from the same person, together they created the style that has attracted many readers.

But, now that it is a community blog, there are people with preference for numbers and equations, and people with preference for personal opinion. It's like they speak different languages. And sometimes they disagree with each other. And when they do, it is difficult to resolve the situation, because each of them expects different norms of... what kind of argument is valid, and what kind of content belongs here.

If we limit ourselves to things we can define and describe exactly, the extreme of that would be merely discussing equations. Because the real world is messy and complicated, and peop... (read more)

That was an interesting read, not in terms of reading the discussion of the obvious object level or the meta level, but simply observing the attempts at pretend-rational behavior. Both Said and habryka clearly got triggered and exasperated, probably due to their past experiences in similar situations, yet acted as if they were not. I suspect they didn't even admit their emotional state to themselves, instead taking pride in keeping the conversation "civil". I am not sure whether this approach was productive or counterproductive.

A standard advice in this situation is to take a breather from a discussion whenever you feel that your emotional state is not where you want it to be. Sadly, noticing one's emotional state is not a natural skill, even less so for those with more "logical" mind, which comprise the majority of this forum's participants.

My guess would be that trying to change the norms of discourse to address the passive aggressive yet overtly polite swipes at each other that are the hallmark of this thread is unlikely to be productive, since they do not address the root of the issue: PWE (posting while exasperated). I hope that the LW team spends some time talking about this particular issue, as well.

One hopeful sign is the decision that "it seemed better to take some time away from it to gather our thoughts" and to presumably have the time to cool down and process one's feelings, as well.

What do you mean by ‘authentic’, ‘authenticity’, etc.? I don’t think I’ve seen these terms (as you use them) explained on Less Wrong.

EDIT: … why in the world is this being downvoted?!

I (weakly) downvoted this. It's pretty common for you to ask for clarification on words, phrases or concepts that feel like they have pretty straightforward meanings to me, and I can't remember a single of the (at least a dozen) threads in which you asking questions of that type resulted in a conversation that I thought was worth the time of the author, or was net-positive for my experience on LessWrong. 

I have some detailed models of why exactly that's the case that I don't have the time to go into right now, but for now I think I should just downvote threads that I expect to reliably result in wasted effort by both readers and the author, without appreciable gain. 

Of course, other people can upvote your comment if they do get value out of the resulting threads.

I think many of your contributions to LessWrong are great, but the specific pattern of "repeatedly ask for definitions of lots of terms, without putting forward a plausible interpretation, and/or a concrete problem with the standard usage of a term" seems quite negative to me (and from my interactions with many authors and commenters, this appears to be a relatively frequent experience). 

I wouldn't downvote t

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My experience has been that the usual reason these threads are unproductive, when they are, is simply because the author doesn't have a sensible answer. Unpleasant as it may be for the rest of us, Said is doing us a great service by revealing this fact.

So, I at least partially agree with this, and do indeed think that this is often a valuable service. But my sense is that if the goal of these comments is to reveal ignorance, it just seems better to me to argue for an explicit hypothesis of ignorance, or a mistake in the post. 

As is it, these threads conflate between asking questions because the commenter is curious about the answer, and the author being asked to defend themselves from a critique. This is something that would usually be obvious in in-person interactions, but is hard to figure out with just online comments like this. And so a frequent experience that many (probably around a dozen) authors have relayed to me is that they see a comment from Said, interpret it to be someone being genuinely curious about their post, respond with something that is aimed at helping them, but then later on (many comments into the thread) realize that Said was actually asking them to publicly defend their reasoning, which usually tends to require a very different response and that they've just been talking past each other for two hours. 

They then often feel that they could have successfully defended their reasoning if they had kn

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But my sense is that if the goal of these comments is to reveal ignorance, it just seems better to me to argue for an explicit hypothesis of ignorance, or a mistake in the post.

My sense is the exact opposite. It seems better to act so as to provide concrete evidence of a problem with a post, which stands on its own, than to provide an argument for a problem existing, which can be easily dismissed (ie. show, don't tell). Especially when your epistemic state is that a problem may not exist, as is the case when you ask a clarifying question and are yet to receive the answer!

if the goal of these comments is to reveal ignorance, it just seems better to me to argue for an explicit hypothesis of ignorance, or a mistake in the post

The goal of my initial comment was exactly what it looked like: to inquire about the meaning of a term (as used, and as intended to be understood, by the author)—nothing more.

As it happens, Vaniver didn’t have all that much trouble responding to the inquiry[1], and even agreed that an explanation was necessary. So, in the case of this post, all the hand-wringing about my purported comment patterns turned out to be quite unnecessary.

Of course, this is not what has happened in many other cases, as you rightly note. But here’s the thing: if I ask a simple, straightforward question about a post—like “what does [term X] mean?”, or “what are some examples of [described phenomenon Y]?”, that’s not an argument for “an explicit hypothesis of ignorance”, nor a claim of any mistake—it’s just a question! My expectation, in each such case, is that the author easily provides a response, and perhaps (if particularly conscientious) says “thanks for pointing out that this wasn’t clear from the post”, edits the post to include the explanation /

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I sadly don't have the time to respond to all of this, so I will just make the points that I can make quickly: 

So, in the case of this post, all the hand-wringing about my purported comment patterns turned out to be quite unnecessary.

To be clear, I think your comment was still net-negative for the thread, and provided little value (in particular in the presence of other commenters who asked the relevant questions in a, from my perspective, much more productive way). So I don't think the hand-wringing was unnecessary, and if it has any chance of resolving the broader pattern, I think it would be a major improvement to LessWrong, since I think that pattern is one of the major reasons people do not participate more on the site (and is literally the single most frequent complaint I receive from authors about trying to write on LessWrong).

A question like “what do you mean by [term X]” is only a critique if you can’t answer it!

What this de-facto means is that there is always an obligation by the author to respond to your comment, or otherwise be interpreted to be ignorant. Many people don't have the time, or find engaging with commenters exhausting, and this creates a default expect

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To be clear, I think your comment was still net-negative for the thread, and provided little value (in particular in the presence of other commenters who asked the relevant questions in a, from my perspective, much more productive way)

I just want to note that my comment wouldn't have come about were it not for Said's.

Again, this is a problem that would easily be resolved by tone-of-voice in the real world, but since we are dealing with text-based communication here, these kinds of confusions can happen again and again.

To be frank, I find your attitude here rather baffling. The only person in this thread who interpreted Said's original comment as an attack seems to have been you. Vaniver had no trouble posting a response, and agreed that an explanation was necessary but missing.

I just want to note that my comment wouldn't have come about were it not for Said's.

That's good to know. I do think if people end up writing better comments in response to Said's comments, then that makes a good difference to me. I would be curious about how Said's comment helped you write your comment, if you have the time, which would help me understand the space of solutions in better.

The only person in this thread who interpreted Said's original comment as an attack seems to have been you.

I am quite confident that is not the case. I don't think anyone else has made it the object of discussion except me, but I can guarantee you that many people reading this thread perceived Said's original question as an attack. This is also evident from the fact that Said's top-level comment received many downvotes, not just from me, even if it is currently at a reasonable karma level (when I downvoted it it was at 2 karma, and an hour later it was at -4, I think).

This is also evident by clone of saturn's comment, which I think clearly suggests that a lack of response to these comments is usually interpreted (by him and others) to be strong evidence of the author being incapable of giving a pro

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My guess would also be that Vaniver perceived the comment as at least somewhat of an attack, though I am not super confident, though he could chime in and give clarification on that.

The history was as follows:

  1. Look at the earliest reply in my inbox, agree with it (and Raemon's comment), and edit the post.
  2. Scroll up and see a large comment tree.
  3. In finding the top of the large comment tree, see another comment; decide "I'll handle that one first."

So my view of Said's comment was in the context of nshepperd's comment, at which point I already saw the hole in the post and its shape.

This splits out two different dimensions; the 'attack / benign' dimension and the 'vague / specific' dimension. Of them, I think the latter is more relevant; Said's comment is a request of the form "say more?" and nshepperd's is a criticism of the form "your argument has structure X, but this means it puts all its weight on Y, which can't hold that much weight." The latter is more specific than the former, and I correspondingly found it more useful. [Like, I'm not sure I would have noticed that I also don't define truth from just reading Said's comment, which was quite helpful in figuring out what parts of 'au

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To be clear, I don't interpret a lack of any response as anything other than a sign that the author has a busy life. What I take as strong evidence of the author being incapable of giving a proper response is when there's a back-and-forth in which the author never directly responds to the original question.

6habryka2yThanks, I am glad to hear that. Am I correct in interpreting you to disagree with Said on this point, given this paragraph of his?
4clone of saturn2yYes, I disagree with that as stated, although I would agree with a slightly softened version that replaced "the author should be interpreted as ignorant" with "the post should be regarded as less trustworthy".
2[anonymous]2yAm I the only one who thinks that we shouldn’t be calculating points for and against based on commentary, but instead read the content (article and commentary) and think for ourselves?
4clone of saturn2yProbably? Commentary is useful because most of us aren't smart enough to anticipate all possible criticisms and responses to those criticisms.
[-][anonymous]2y 10

That’s not what I’m saying. If someone posts a comment along the lines of “what about X?” and it goes unresponded to by the OP, that is not a point against the original article. Arguments are not soldiers. Leaving an argument undefended is not a surrender of territory to the enemy.

Rather you the reader should consider X, and decide for yourself its relevance.

2clone of saturn2yOh, I see. Yes, I was assuming in the context of this discussion that X is something you hadn't already thought of, and do find relevant.
2[anonymous]2ySorry, I see the confusion. By “content” I meant both the article and it’s comments. I edited my comment to say as much.
2habryka2yThanks! And I think I also agree with the "the post should be regarded as less trustworthy" assessment, though my guess is we probably disagree some about the effect size of that.
2Said Achmiz2yI want to again draw your attention to this comment of mine [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/jLwFCkNKMCFTCX7rL/circling-as-cousin-to-rationality#kS4BfYJuZ8ZcwuwfB] . You are, it seems to me, interpreting the given quote much too narrowly (which was reasonable when I had just posted it, but is not reasonable now that I’ve clarified).
3habryka2yWhile I do agree that comment clarified some things, my sense is still that clone of saturn would disagree with that comment as written (though I am not confident, which is why I am asking for clarification). In particular, in the absence of the two alternatives that you list that involve someone else answering the question at hand, you maintain that it is the obligation of the author to engage in any of the other four solutions you outline, all of which strike me as roughly equally costly to writing a response. So I don't think it changes my perspective much.
2philh2yI'm a bit surprised that no one in this comment chain (as far as I can see) has mentioned the possibility of these users deleting such comments on their posts, or even blocking Said in general. It's not a perfect solution, and maybe not all these users have enough karma to moderate their own posts (how much karma does that need?), and I believe blocking is a relatively recent feature, but... it seems like it could meaningfully lessen these obstacles?
6philh2ySeparately: given that Said's comments are often perceived as social attacks, it seems to me that this is most of the problem[1]. If a thread turns out to be a giant waste of everyone's time, then that's also bad, of course... but I would be surprised if that happened to nearly the same extent, without the percieved-social-attack thing going on. You propose elsethread that Said could try to generate plausible interpretations to include in his comments. But if we take the main goal to be defusing perceptions of social attack, we should remember that there are other ways to achieve that goal. For example, the following seems less social-attack-y to me than Said's original comment in this thread[2]; I'd be curious how you'd have felt about it. (And curious how Said would have felt about writing it, or something like it.) [1] I do think it matters whether or not this perception is accurate, but it might not matter for the question of "what effect do these comments have on the social fabric of LW". [2] And FWIW, I don't expect the original comment was intended as a social attack in the slightest. But I do think it felt like one, to me, to some degree.
3Said Achmiz2yI have no idea why your proposed alternative version of my comment would be “less social-attack-y”. Of course, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why my actual comment would be “social-attack-y” in the first place, unless we assume something extremely unflattering about Vaniver (which I was not assuming) (but note that even in that scenario, your proposed edit seems to me to change nothing). What’s more, I suspect that no possible version of my comment would change anything about this “perceived social attack” business. In this, as in so many things, we can look for guidance to esteemed philosopher John Gabriel, who puts the matter concisely in this Penny Arcade strip [https://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2016/04/29/escape-is-impossible]: Were someone else to write exactly the words I wrote in my original comment, they would not be perceived as a social attack; whereas if I write those words—or the words you suggest, or any other words whatsoever, so long as they contained the same semantic content at their core[1] [#fn-zZkzcQH3JaBMscaHk-1] —they will be perceived as a social attack. After all, I can say something different, but I cannot mean something different. The fact is, either you think that asking what an author means by a word, or asking for examples of some phenomenon, is a social attack, or you don’t. If I ask a question along such lines, no reassurances, no disclaimers, will serve to signal anything but “I am complying with the necessary formalities in order to ask what I wish to ask”. If you think my question is a social attack without the disclaimers, then their addition will change nothing. It is the question, after all, that constitutes the social attack, if anything does—not the form, in other words, but the content. Best to minimize such baroque signaling. There is a certain baseline of courtesy that ought to be observed, but it is mostly negative—no name-calling, no irrelevant personal attacks, etc. Almost anything beyond that only adds noise.
2philh2yNevertheless, I do think it feels that way to me, and I also think it would feel that way to others. I don't have a good explanation for why. I do think that signaling "I am complying with the necessary formalities in order to ask what I wish to ask" is part of it. Similar to how the word "please" signals nothing more than "I wish to signal politeness", and that seems sufficient to actually be polite. Even though it's a costless signal. It does feel to me like there's a risk here of a euphemism treadmill. If we can't get away without adding tedious formalities, then everyone adds those formalities by default, and then they stop signalling the thing they used to signal. I'm not fully convinced this won't happen, but I do think it's relevant that there's a broader culture outside of LW which will exert some influence pulling us towards whatever signalling norms it uses. This doesn't strike me as literally true, and I do think you could appear less social-attack-y than you do, without changing the core semantic content of what you write. But I do feel like it's the case that your speech style is more likely to be perceived as a social attack coming from you than from someone else. I wish it weren't so. It's certainly possible for "the identity and history of the speaker" to be a meaningful input into the question "was this a social attack". But I think the direction is wrong, in this case. I think you're the single user on LW who's earned the most epistemic "benefit of the doubt". That is, if literally any other user were to write in the style you write, I think it would be epistemically correct to give more probability to it being a social attack than it is for you. And yet here we are. I don't claim to fully understand it. I don't think this is true. It might be that you think you probably could come up with a good guess, but don't want to spend the cognitive effort on doing so. It might be that you think you have a good guess, but you want to confirm that it
5Said Achmiz2yBut of course it’s not costless. In the case of “please”, it’s certainly very close to being costless—almost indistinguishable, really. This is because “please” is a very, very common signal of politeness—so common as to be universally understood, and not just in our culture but in many others. Many people say “please” reflexively. It still costs something, but very little. But the sorts of disclaimers we’re talking about cost much more. They cost time to type (and energy, and stress on one’s hands, etc.). They cost cognitive effort—the need to recall just what sorts of disclaimers and reassurances are required, in this particular community, with its particular, idiosyncratic ideas about what constitutes politeness. They cost yet more effort, to figure out which of those norms apply in this case, and how to navigate this particular situation—what aspects of one’s question may be perceived as a “social attack”, and what meaningless words, precisely, one must use to defuse that perception. None of these things are costless. And, as you say, there’s a treadmill. If it’s mandatory to say these things, then they mean nothing. And if it’s mandatory for me (only) to say these things, then they mean nothing coming from me. (Rather, they don’t mean the things they say, and instead only mean “I am complying with the necessary formalities …” etc.) EDIT: I listed costs to the writer, but in my haste I entirely forgot what is probably an even more important point: that there is a cost to the reader, of such disclaimers and reassurances! Just look at every proposed modification to my original comment, that has been put forth in this giant comment thread. Each one makes a comment of two short sentences (short enough to have fit into a tweet, even before the doubling of Twitter’s character limit) balloon to at least thrice that length, if not much more—and the density of information / insight / message plummets! This wastes the time of every reader—in aggregate, a cost orders o
2philh2yTo be clear, I meant only that "please" is costless (and you're right that it's only nearly so). This seemed relevant because we might therefore expect it to have devolved into meaninglessness, but this doesn't seem to have happened. I agree with the costs that you list, with the caveat that as I mentioned I'm unsure about the treadmill. I just also think commenting in that style has benefits as well, and I'm legitimately unsure which side dominates.
-6Said Achmiz2y

One of the things I try to be careful of, as a rationalist, is to note when the "standard definitions" are importing connotations that go beyond the textual meaning of the word. In this case, like Said Achmiz, I've noticed that "authentic" and "authenticity" are often used as applause lights, serving to engender vaguely positive feelings in the mind of the person reading the text, without actually adding any data or predictions.

Specifically, I'm pointing at the following paragraph:

Why should “that which can be destroyed by the truth” be destroyed? Because the truth is fundamentally more real and valuable than what it replaces, which must be implemented on a deeper level than “what my current beliefs think.” Similarly, why should “that which can be destroyed by authenticity” be destroyed? Because authenticity is fundamentally more real and valuable than what it replaces, which must be implemented on a deeper level than “what my current beliefs think.” I don’t mean to pitch ‘radical honesty’ here, or other sorts of excessive openness; authentic relationships include distance and walls and politeness and flexible preferences.

What are "authentic" and "authenticity" doing here? It s

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I think this is a great comment (I strong-upvoted it), and is exactly the type of comment that I wish Said would make, instead of the ones he tends to make. It includes concrete pointers to why the term used appears to be inadequate, it suggests some plausible interpretations of the term as synonymous with "health" and then correctly points out problems with the text, if that interpretation is correct. It then also asks some concrete follow-up questions that Vaniver can engage with to help people more clearly understand what he is pointing at, and that you highlighted as potentially clarifying.

I think from the perspective of an author, I am glad to get a comment like this, and I expect the resulting thread to be much better than if the author had tried to respond to Said's original comment. 

It’s pretty common for you to ask for clarification on words, phrases or concepts that feel like they have pretty straightforward meanings to me, and I can’t remember a single of the (at least a dozen) threads in which you asking questions of that type resulted in a conversation that I thought was worth the time of the author, or was net-positive for my experience on LessWrong.

I'm surprised at the examples you give.

What they all have in common is Said asking for clarification on a word or phrase. In 4/5, someone gave a definition that Said either accepted or didn't follow up on. All of these cases seem positive to me. (I can't judge how much time they cost, but one was just a link to a definition, one was quoting wikipedia and the others were fairly brief, so I'd guess not prohibitively much.) In the exception, there was no answer at all; if that's not positive, it's certainly not very negative either. They also have this in common with the specific comment that started this thread.

Two of them have more going on than that, and one of them seems much more like an example of the thing you seem to be pointing at, where much back-and-forth is had, much time is spent, and not much ge

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repeatedly ask for definitions of lots of terms, without putting forward a plausible interpretation, and/or a concrete problem with the standard usage of a term

Is there a “standard usage” of ‘authentic’ or ‘authenticity’? It seems to me that the term is used in a variety of widely different ways, depending on context; and many of those usages are heavily laden with connotations, associations, etc., that encode a variety of value assumptions and aspects of world-view, which one typically cannot decode without knowing the author’s views on many things.

So… I really don’t know what Vaniver meant by this. I don’t even have a “standard usage” I could assume. I don’t have a “plausible interpretation”, either; that’s the whole point of the question! And, notably, it’s exactly the sort of term and usage the meaning of which one cannot infer from context, because it carries the bulk of the context’s meaning.

If asking for a clarification of this sort of thing is downvote-worthy, then I cannot but conclude that I am deeply confused about what Less Wrong is even for.

EDIT: Also, having re-read the comments of mine which you linked to, I find I am confused; the idea that the terms in question

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To be clear, the reference class of asking for clarifications is great, and I think generally quite valuable. But my sense is that you would agree that when someone repeatedly inquires about aspects of posts that seem quite straightforward to you, in a way that results in lots of wasted effort of the author from your perspective (and associated complaints of perceiving to have wasted effort from the author), then it would be appropriate to downvote those comments after a certain number of iterations? In particular if you the question-asker seems to rarely be satisfied with the answers from the author, and as such not even you seem to get value out of the resulting threads.

To give an object-level answer to your question: I am quite confident that if you sit down for 5 minutes, with a timer, and generate potential meanings, you can find a plausible interpretation of what Vaniver meant by "authenticity" in that context, and I would take even odds that your plausible interpretation would hit pretty close to the intended meaning of what Vaniver meant. 

I also generally think asking for clarifications is good, but in my experience as an author, it helps a lot for you to give any hint

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But my sense is that you would agree that when someone repeatedly inquires about aspects of posts that seem quite straightforward to you, in a way that results in lots of wasted effort of the author from your perspective (and associated complaints of perceiving to have wasted effort from the author), then it would be appropriate to downvote those comments after a certain number of iterations?

That depends on the following:

  1. Are the aspects in question of the given posts important, or peripheral? (“What does this term, which seems to be referring to a concept that is at the very core of your argument, mean?” would be an important aspect of a post, for example.)

  2. Are these inquiries routinely answered, straightforwardly and quickly, with clear, sensible answers?

  3. Do the answers consist of things that were already in the post in the first place, or could easily be derived from the post (and/or trivial web searching, perhaps)?

For instance, suppose that, for example, you, repeatedly inquired about, let us say, the statistics used in this or that post on Less Wrong. Let us say that these inquiries were usually not answered—either not at all, or not satisfactorily. And now imagine

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Let us say that these inquiries were usually not answered—either not at all, or not satisfactorily. And now imagine that someone started downvoting these inquiries of yours.

Maybe we should write a post about this kind of conversational dynamic![1]

Alice asks Bob a question. Bob can't answer, either for legitimate or illegitimate[2] reasons, but doesn't want to straightforwardly say, "Sorry, I can't answer that because ..." for fear of losing face in front of the audience, so instead resorts to more opaque stonewalling tactics. Usually, Alice will eventually take a hint and give up. But if she doesn't, we have a high-stakes battle of wills adjudicated by the audience—will Bob be exposed as being phony, or will Alice be derided as a pedant?!


  1. Where by "dynamic", I mean "thingy". ↩︎

  2. A legitimate reason for not being able to answer might be: the question is an isolated demand for rigor, where Bob doesn't have a rigorous formulation of his point, but thinks the non-rigorous version is good enough and should be conversationally "admissible." ↩︎

Regardless of whether I agree with your claim here (about which you are “quite confident”), I must point out that, in fact, this is not an object-level answer! I still don’t have an answer to my question, in fact!

Sorry, I meant this in the "more object-level than your general commenting patterns" sense. I will note that you asked why your comment was being downvoted, and since I was one of the people who had downvoted it, I figured I would explain. It doesn't seem like the right call for me to go into a response to your original question, given that I am replying to the part of your comment that's about voting patterns. 

It would be the simplest thing in the world to simply respond with an explanation of what ‘authentic’/‘authenticity’ means.

No, it isn't the simplest thing in the world, and the implicit assumption that anything that isn't extremely straightforward to explain is assumed to be contendless, or in some sense problematic, is I think a major reason for why the resulting threads tend to reliably go badly. 

We have to deal with the reality that sometimes a concept can be pointed at by a bunch of related concepts, in a way that still allows someone to comprehend a b

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Meta: sometimes to get somewhere interesting you have to travel fast. Sometimes to get somewhere interesting you have to travel carefully. I think this disagreement comes up quite a bit in rationalist circles especially because of founder effects: the tension exists in Eliezer's writing as well.

In the tradition of What is Seen and What is Not Seen: Said doesn't see the posts that aren't written because people feel like they would have to write a sequence justifying themselves carefully for the thing they really want to talk about.

I think it is also quite valuable to slow down on aspects of status quo thinking and communicating that are usually quickly glossed over. Indeed, this is the heart of Buddhism. My own frustration isn't with method but that Said seems to choose non central examples often. What's interesting is that in this case authenticity does seem to be pretty central.

Anyway, I'm writing this partially in appreciation for what habryka is trying to communicate here, since it is high effort and in expectation low reward.

Wait a minute. You said that the concept in question (‘authenticity’) has a “pretty straightforward” meaning, to you. (This, allegedly, was the problem with my question: that the term, and concept, I asked about, was straightforward, and its meaning obvious and known, or easily inferred.)

But now you’re saying that it’s not straightforward to explain, and is “pointed at by a bunch of related concepts”, and it’s not “easy or low-effort” to write an explanation—and that this is the problem with my question (that answering it would take too much effort).

So which is it? Is my question too obvious and simple to bother answering it? Or is it too hard and complicated and time-consuming to answer? Or are you suggesting that it could be, somehow, both?

Let me ask you this: do you think I’m the only one who read this post, and thought “Hmm, ‘authentic’? ‘authenticity’? What does he mean by that…?” I mean, I’m no genius, but I’m not stupid, either; if I had trouble understanding what’s meant here, probably at least some others did, too. (Or do you disagree?)

And I’ve read a whole lot of Less Wrong stuff; do you think there might be other readers, who are, perhaps, even less immersed in the whole

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Hmm, so, I think you might have misunderstood my suggestion. My argument was not that in this and other cases standard usage is sufficient. My argument was that in order to actually bridge the inferential gap, it is a massive help to the author and the other commenters, if you point out a concrete problem with a plausible interpretation that comes to mind. I think generating that plausible interpretation takes about 5 minutes, is pretty straightforward, and is something that I would ask you to do. 

However, in order to then actually bridge the gap, significant additional time is likely going to be required in people responding to each other. However, I would argue that how much time is required for that exchange will drastically change depending on how much you as a commenter will have given the author to work with.

This is something that both nshepperd's and quanticle's comments successfully do in this thread. 

8Vaniver2yI wanted to note here that I think this is right; that the analogy between truth and authenticity is what gives this post rhetorical force (and is a huge chunk of why I think rationality and Circling are cousins), that it was good to give truth an extensive, laborious explanation, and that it would also be good to give 'authenticity' an extensive, laborious explanation. Furthermore, I think one of the ways in which Eliezer is an exceptional writer is that he notices dependencies and serializes them; "ah, in order to explain C, I must first explain B, and for B I must first explain A." I often find myself [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/zFQQEkx4c6bxdshr4/5-axioms-of-decision-making#kG3wd85ECzyQvea9c] in the opposite approach; "explain C, figure out what was missing, and then explain B, figure out what was missing, and then explain A." (Tho I think [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/2TPph4EGZ6trEbtku/explainers-shoot-high-aim-low] this happens to Eliezer too.) Pushback of the form "but what do you mean by B?" is an integral part of this process. --- That said, sometimes there's a post intended to explain C to people who already have B, or B grounds out in experience; we talk about color without feeling a need to explain color to the blind. I think that's not the case here; I am hoping to make the thing I like about Circling legible to the highly skeptical, systematic thinkers who want to compile the thing themselves and so want me to provide the dependency chain. But also I'm not convinced that I can succeed, as parts of it may end up depending on experience, but at least we can figure out which parts and what experience.
2Said Achmiz2yIncidentally, this is a strawman; I did not ask, in my initial comment, for a precise explanation of what exactly is meant—even by one term, much less every term. Any explanation at all, even a rough, approximate, or extensional one, would be much better than nothing (which is what we currently have), and it would be a good starting point for any further discussion that might be called for.
6ChristianKl2yIn some sense authenticity has a bunch of straightforward meanings. On the other hand authenticity!CirclingEurope has likely a few features that might not be obvious. In particular it's about embodiment in a way for which Said likely lacks concepts to fit it into his worldview.
2habryka2ynods I agree with this and might have communicated my suggestion somewhat badly. See my response here [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/jLwFCkNKMCFTCX7rL/circling-as-cousin-to-rationality#gcrP99t8Yg4D7JyjN] . I actually agree with Said that 'authenticity' is underdefined in the post, but I don't think that this will be most easily fixed, or even revealed, by asking for a contextless definition of "authenticity". Instead, what I expect to go much better, is to suggest an interpretation of the words as written, and highlight what might be wrong about them (something that other commenters have done successfully in this thread). This allows the author to actually build a model of the shape of the confusion, and try to address it, or for the author to just admit that the interpretation as given is correct and that the post contains a mistake, or for the author to argue that the interpretation as given is correct, but the reasoning that leads to the supposed mistake is wrong, all of which strike me as much more productive than trying to provide a definition of a term without many specific things to go on.
9ChristianKl2yIt seems to me like a good portion of the LessWrong audience is not going to know well what's meant by the term authenticity in the Circling context. It seems to me like the intention of this post is to explain why Circling is important to people who aren't yet understanding Circling well and that target audience is not going to have a good insight into what authenticity means in the Circling context. I don't see how this is asking for a context-less definition either.
1Said Achmiz2yAgain this is a strawman. I didn’t ask for a “contextless” definition; the entire point of my initial question was to ask how ‘authenticity’ was being used in this post; what Vaniver meant by it! Far from being “contextless”, that is, rather, as contextualized as it gets!
2habryka2ySure, you did ask within the context of the post, but that still covers a really broad spectrum of possible confusions. It is definitely not as "contextualized as it gets", since again, both nshepperd and quanticle's comments succeed in contextualizing much more than your comment does, and give much more concrete pointers to where their problems and confusion with the post might lie.
0Said Achmiz2yI didn’t have an interpretation of the words as written, nor could I have come up with one. If I had, or could’ve, I would’ve written a different initial comment, instead of the one I did write.
5habryka2yGiven that other commenters seem to have little problem generating such an interpretation (however simple or inadequate that interpretation might be) and putting it forward, I do think in that case you should abstain from commenting. Again, I am not asking for a perfect guess of what the words mean, just any guess that has any internal structure and plausibility. Like, quanticle's comment here does this straightforwardly: In this sentence, he is proposing a concrete interpretation, and is then critiquing it. If you are unable of generating the same, then I am surprised, but if so, then it does seem to me that you should likely not engage with posts in this reference class, and leave the commenting to other people.

I should clarify that my substitution of "health" for "authenticity" was meant as an example only. I didn't think that's what Vaniver actually meant. The point I was trying to make is roughly the same one that Said is making: I didn't know know what concept the word "authentic" was pointing at in this case. To me, "authentic", as an adjective, is something that usually applies to things or people, not relationships. An authentic item is one that's of known provenance. An authentic person is one who is generally regarded as being honest and straightforward (i.e. not resorting to clever but technically true arguments). I could guess what an authentic relationship would be, but it would have be a guess, and the further clarification from Vaniver is certainly appreciated.

In general, I do not endorse proposing interpretations and then critiquing them. It's far too easy to put your words in the other person's mouth in those cases. I would actually claim that Said's original query, "What do you mean by authenticity here?" is superior to mine, because it leaves the question open-ended, and allows Vaniver to reply with further details rather than boxing them into a "Yes, I agree"/"No I disagree" set of alternatives.

4habryka2yThat was also roughly how I interpreted it. I did not mean to suggest that your interpretation was particularly plausible, I meant to highlight the importance of providing any pointer at all to the shape of the problem you have with the term (indeed, I've been trying to stress that the interpretation you put forward does not have to be particularly plausible, just that it actually points at the shape of the confusion or critique you have of the post). You made it clear that you were worried about the term being used like an applause light, and so gave Vaniver a way to respond to that (to which he indeed responded with "Yes, I do think I kind of used that word as an applause light", in his comment to nshepperd). My sense is that that open-endedness is quite bad, mostly for the reasons I described in many other comments. I agree that this is a real risk, though one that I think can be relatively straightforwardly avoided by just saying "the best interpretation I could come up with is X". Or "the first interpretation that came to mind of this was Y", either of which seem to create enough distance between you and the author that I am not too worried about putting words into other people's mouths.
4Said Achmiz2yYou keep using this term “shape of the confusion”. I assumed at first that it was just a curious figure of speech, and assigned it no significance, but now I am no longer sure. What do you mean by it? For example, you talk about… But how is “I don’t know what you’re talking about when you say ‘[some term]’” insufficient as a pointer? What more could I say? That’s the confusion, in such a case—that I don’t know what you mean by some word—and there’s no critique beyond “you wrote a post where you used the word ‘[whatever]’, but I, a reader, don’t know what you mean by ‘[whatever]’”. Could you elaborate on this “shape of the confusion” business? Because I genuinely don’t have any idea what you’re asking me to do, or suggesting that I should have done.
2habryka2yAlas, I do not think I have the time or the energy to do that at least today, at least to a level that I expect you to be satisfied with. Maybe a different commenter can chime in and fill my place. Again, I would find replying much easier if you were to give me a possible interpretation that I might be able to correct. In a weirdly circular fashion, I do not know enough about your confusion to give you an answer that would take me less than half an hour to write, and I don't expect other people to share your confusion particularly much.

I think I can take a stab at this; timing myself out of curiosity.

@Said: let me draw an analogy to a fictional online interaction (without implying that comment that started all of this is analogous in *all* relevant ways to the fictional one):

Author Andy: "...a destructive mode of communication."

Commenter Cody: "What do you mean by destructive in that context?"

If Andy had written something like "a tangerine mode of communication," it would be understandable if Cody (and most other readers) had *literally* no referents for "tangerine" which would cause that sentence to parse at all. If Andy had instead written something like "...a mode of communication harms the ability of conversational participants to reach agreement on the definition of terms [x, y, and z]," and Cody asked what "harms" meant in that context, as an outsider, it would be very difficult to understand where the communication had broken down, because "harms" is a widely-used term with referents that map relatively cleanly to the concepts at play, even if it is not the most common use for the term. "Destructive" is a more interesting cas... (read more)

[-][anonymous]2y 15

Maybe there is a dialectal difference here? Because for me “authentic relationship” is more in the category of “tangerine mode of communication.” It is an applause light that can be used by a speaker to mean whatever they want, with no fixed meaning across contexts and speakers. It’s like calling something “morally good,” which is a meaningless statement unless you also specify the speaker’s morality. To me it stood out as just as obvious that “authentic relationship” was not sufficiently precise a phrase to use and deserved calling out for clarification, and so I was equally dumbfounded at the response Said got for asking the obvious question.

7Said Achmiz2yI’m afraid not, though I thank you for the attempt. As I noted in this comment [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/jLwFCkNKMCFTCX7rL/circling-as-cousin-to-rationality#95zovYrQgDtWCDCsv] , and as Mark Friedenbach notes in a sibling comment [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/jLwFCkNKMCFTCX7rL/circling-as-cousin-to-rationality#ztWHgtbF48uJP3ccG] , I don’t think ‘authentic’ has any standard usage I could substitute in. I think the standard usage is just an applause light. I didn’t think that Vaniver was using ‘authentic’ merely as a contentless applause light (and, as it turned out, I was right [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/jLwFCkNKMCFTCX7rL/circling-as-cousin-to-rationality#ywrXNYBBN8etqtMmZ] ). Therefore there was no way for me to substitute in any meaning, nor to generate any interpretations. (Substituting ‘genuine’ does not make the relevant bits any more comprehensible.) I always find it suspicious when someone says “you can easily find this via a search”, but then doesn’t actually provide the allegedly-easy-to-find answer. So let’s actually try this exercise. Here’s the first result I get, searching for ‘authentic’ on DuckDuckGo: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/authentic [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/authentic] Definitions 1, 2, 4 and 5 are inapplicable. Definition 3 is just a rephrasing as a contentless applause light. The next several search results are nearly identical. And searching for ‘authenticity’ just redirects to definitions of ‘authentic’. As you see, this does not actually work. As you see, no such interpretation could’ve been generated. My confusion was very simple: what did Vaniver mean by ‘authentic’? (He has now made what I consider a reasonable attempt at answering the question, and an entirely reasonable promise of further explication, so no object-level response is needed, anymore; I am only restating for the record.) I still don’t know what more I could’ve said about its “shape”.

I find it surprising that you find definitions 1,2, 4, and 5 inapplicable. "Authentic" is used three times in the original post, and "authenticity" is used twice. "Authentic" is used as a modifier for "expression", "relationships", and "reaction".

Definition 1a from MW:

worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact

"Conforming to or based on fact" feels very similar to "the map corresponds to the territory".

Performing the substitution: "An expression that is worthy of acceptance or belief, as the expression (map) corresponds to the internal state of the agent that generated it (territory)."

This is not necessarily the most trivial possible leap, but to draw in another analogy... if we consider concept-space to a multidimensional space with connected nodes, the weight of the connection between "authentic" and "honest" is much stronger than between "authentic" and "tangerine". I don't know if you're agreeing with this part of Mark's claim:

It is an applause light that can be used by a speaker to mean whatever they want, wi
... (read more)
4Said Achmiz2yI find it difficult to follow most of what you’re saying here. There seem to be several layers of speculation, analogy, inference, etc. I am skeptical that taking any such approach to interpreting an author’s words is ever productive—especially when you can, instead, just ask. But let me try using the definition of ‘authentic’ which you suggest using, namely— So, from the OP, we have: I have no idea what this could mean. Is the hypothetical author of this hypothetical sentence saying that the person in question didn’t think that telling the truth works well, or… what? No, that seems quite bizarre, based on context. It doesn’t fit. Next up: This doesn’t make any sense; it seems to just be redundant. The structure of these statements sets up a comparison between things (truth and ‘authenticity’), but then (by to the candidate definition) it’s just restating the same thing twice: that truth is good. This is obvious nonsense; relationships aren’t the kind of thing which can be conforming to or based on fact. I have no idea what this could mean, either. Is this simply saying that one doesn’t lie in the given situation? But that makes very little sense, based on context… -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- It doesn’t work, as you see. And, again, I don’t understand why you would advocate for this sort of highly speculative, effortful, highly error-prone decryption work, which is most likely to confuse you even more, when the alternative is simply to ask.

Please don't call it "simply ask", in particular in a framework where you are setting up a lack of response as something that is socially punishable. As a concrete illustration of this effect, T3t did spend an hour trying to explain the relevant concept to you, with basically no apparent success. You asking just the one question above resulted in at least 1.5 hours of effort from me and T3t. Your question was not free, do not treat it as such. 

This appears to be the default of what happens when you ask the questions that you are asking, in the way that you are asking them. People spend literally dozens of hours of engaging with you, only to feel like they end up having completely wasted their and your time. The primary thing that you are doing when you are asking things like this, instead yourself contributing interpretative effort to the comment section, is to offload the interpretative labor on others, usually unsuccessfully and with a large multiplier on the actual costs due to misunderstandings, miscommunications and underspecified questions.

The thing you are doing doesn't work. It is not sustainable, and it does not seem to result in any way, shape or form, in you reliabl

... (read more)
6Said Achmiz2yIf I ask for an explanation of a term or concept, and the result is a lengthy answer, or multiple lengthy answers, and yet a lack of understanding—why do you treat this as a failure, or somehow an undesirable result? To the contrary, it seems quite valuable, to me. It clearly demonstrates that the concept (which was, by assumption, used in the OP without explanation) is not obvious, and not easy to explain. It signals, both to the author and to readers, that here lie complications; that here, hidden behind this term, lurking within this concept—used, and not explained, in the author’s post—are depths, which are not obvious. It shows unambiguously a need to go back, and think carefully about how to communicate the concept; quite probably to write a post about it, or maybe more. It shows to readers that they are not to assume that anything simple and obvious is being referred to. For any readers who are similarly confused as I am, it helps them to articulate their confusion. For the author, it shows what aspects of his thinking isn’t clear, or isn’t clearly communicated; it draws out his assumptions. The result of taking heed of such a discussion is clarity in thought and writing. The result of ignoring it is confusion and error. This, to you, is a waste? How can it be? You say it “doesn’t work”—what do you think is supposed to be happening?
5habryka2yNo, it does not clearly demonstrate that. What it demonstrates is that you, and specifically you, do not understand the concept, and that explaining it to you specifically is difficult. Your confusions do very rarely generalize. Your bafflement is not usually reflective of other people's bafflement, and you not agreeing with a point is only very minor evidence that other people do not agree. And you being confused or unable to understand a point appears to have very little relation to when an argument actually allows others to make better predictions, and to make use of it to achieve things in the world. What is supposed to be happening is that authors spend their effort and time on resolving confusions that have any chance of being adequately resolved, and responding to people who have any chance of benefiting from their explanations. The whole thread above with T3t is a perfect example of a confusion that I think very few other people will have, and where the explanations that are being provided are going to be of almost no value (and why I declined to try to give them, since that was a completely predictable outcome of you asking for clarification).

No, it does not clearly demonstrate that. What it demonstrates is that you, and specifically you, do not understand the concept

Also quanticle, also nshepperd, and presumably lurkers who upvoted their comments.

that explaining it to you specifically is difficult.

I think it'd be fair to read the first paragraph of my post as implicitly setting my hopes for this post as "explaining it to Said." (In the second paragraph I say I'm not going to fully explain Circling, but if the core analogy that I'm trying to make is missing a crucial detail, that seems quite relevant.)

In a different recent post, I explicitly set my bar as "I ~80% expect this to seem like nonsense." I don't know how much of that post seemed like nonsense to Said, but I'd guess 'a lot', and nevertheless he left a detailed comment that struck me as a solid example of "yes, and" or "this fuzzy thing seems like it rhymes with the fuzzy thing you said."

Also quanticle, also nshepperd, and presumably lurkers who upvoted their comments.

Hmm, I am not sure of this. I agree that both quanticle and nshepperd shared Said's original question about the meaning of authenticity, but my guess is that they would not share his assessment that the explanation that has been provided by T3t above is completely inadequate or basically provides no further clarification of the pattern at hand, nor do I expect them to agree with Said's assessment after multiple rounds back and forth with you on the topic of authenticity.  

The usual pattern of Said's comments as I experience them has been (and I think this would be reasonably straightforward to verify): 

  1. Said makes a highly upvoted comment asking a question, usually implicitly pointing out something that is unclear to many in the post
  2. Author makes a reasonably highly upvoted reply
  3. Said says that the explanation was basically completely useless to him, this often gets some upvotes, but drastically less than the top-level question
  4. Author tries to clarify some more, this gets much fewer upvotes than the original reply
  5. Said expresses more confusion, this usually gets very few upvotes
  6. More explanations
... (read more)
enough authors and users have experienced those follow-up discussions that the problems have backpropagated into a broader aversion to questions like Said's top-level question

Just want to provide one data point: that I agree with this.

I have not personally had many back-and-forths with Said, but I've read enough of them to have built up a sense of frustration with Said's communication style.

I find that he sometimes makes good points, but they're often (usually?) wrapped in a style that I personally find unpleasant.

I'm not sure if I can quickly or exhaustively describe what the problem is -- it's not that the comments are rude, per se. He's not calling people names or anything so blatant as that. But there's an attitude that I perceive in them, combined with a set of rhetorical moves that to me seem like bad form.

Maybe a term for the attitude / rhetorical move that I find frustrating would be: "weaponized bafflement". Said often expresses that he has no idea what someone could mean by something, or is totally shocked that someone could think two things are similar (e.g. grouping both reading the sequences and attending CFAR as ration... (read more)

I find myself thinking: if you’re so consistently unable to guess what people might mean, or why people might think something, maybe the problem is (at least some of the time) with your imagination.

Who cares who "the problem" is with? Text is supposed to be understood. The thing that attracted me to the Sequences to begin with was sensible, comprehensible and coherent explanations of complex concepts. Are we giving up on this? Or are people who value clear language and want to avoid misunderstandings (and may even be, dare I say, neuroatypical) no longer part of the target group, but instead someone to be suspicious of?

The Sequences exist to provide a canon of shared information and terminology to reference. If you can't explain something without referencing a term that is evidently not shared by everyone, and that you don't just not bother to define but react with hostility when pressed on, then ... frankly, I don't think that behavior is in keeping with the spirit of this blog.

Let me restate my core claims:

1) I think "I am having trouble understanding what you mean, the best guess I can come up with is X." is far more conducive to getting to clarity than "I have no idea what you mean." even when X feels quite unlikely to be what the person actually meant.

I am not asking the reader to read the mind of the author. I am asking them to generate at least one hypothesis about what the author might mean.

Do not forget the lesson of the Double Illusion of Transparency -- just as the author will think they have communicated clearly when they have not, someone asking a question will also think the question is clear when it has not in fact been understood.

2) Asking for clarification as a form of criticism is bad form (or at lease is a move that should be used sparingly).

Perhaps you suspect the author's thoughts are muddled and that shining the light of clarification on what they've written will expose this fact. You can say, "What do you mean by X?" And perhaps you will catch them in an error.

However, doing this all the time is annoying! Especially if it's unclear to the author whether you in fact are trying to work towar... (read more)

I think this once again presupposes a lot of unestablished consensus: for one, that it's trivial for people to generate hypotheses for undefined words, that this is a worthwhile skill to begin with, and that this is a proper approach to begin with. I don't think that a post author should get to impose this level of ideological conformance onto a commenter, and it weirds me out how much the people on this site now seem to be agreeing that Said deserves censure for (verbosely and repeatedly) disagreeing with this position.

And then it seems to be doing a lot of high-distance inference from presuming a "typical" mindset on Said's part and figuring out a lot of implications as to what they were doing, which is exactly the thing that Said wanted to avoid by not guessing a definition? Thus kind of proving their point?

More importantly, I at least consider providing hypotheses as to a definition as obviously supererogatory. If you don't know the meaning of a word in a text, then the meaning may be either obvious or obscured; the risk you take by asking is wasting somebody's time for no reason. But I consider it far from shown that giving a hypothesis shortens this time at all, and more importantly, there is none such Schelling point established and thus it seems a stretch of propriety to demand it as if it was an agreed upon convention. Certainly the work to establish it as a convention should be done before the readership breaks out the mass downvotes; I mean seriously- what the fuck, LessWrong?

7ESRogs2yI want to clarify that asking about the meanings of particular words is not the main thing I'm talking about (even though that was the example at the top of this whole thread). Said expresses bafflement at all sorts of things that people say. If it was always, "what do you mean by this specific word?" that would be a very different pattern. Or if it was always expressing genuine curiosity, as opposed to making a rhetorical point, that would also be a very different pattern. I am particularly complaining about the pattern of expressing surprise / confusion in a way that seems to be making a rhetorical point rather than seeking genuine understanding.

However, on the topic of words in particular, I do think that simply asking, "What does X mean?" is usually not the best path forward.

Consider three cases:

  • X is a term you're not familiar with (and you haven't looked it up yet)
  • X is a term you're not familiar with, so you've looked it up, but the definitions don't seem to match the way it's being used
  • X is a common term that seems to be used in a weird way

For which of these cases does it make sense to just write, "What do you mean by X?"

1) For case 1, it seems most respectful of others' time to just google the term. If that answers your question, consider also leaving a comment saying, "For others who weren't familiar with X, it means ..."

2) For case 2, I'd recommend saying that you've looked it up and the definitions don't seem to match. Otherwise you might just get one of the standard definitions back when someone replies to your comment and still be confused. Also this lets others know that you're extending them the courtesy recommended in case 1.

3) For case 3, I think it depends on the specific case, and how non-standard the usage is.

3A) If y... (read more)

9FeepingCreature2yI don't think it's so implausible for some people to be significantly more baffled by some things that we must interpret it as an attack. An unusually large imposition of costs is not inherently an attack! May as well blame the disabled for dastardly forcing us to waste money on wheelchair ramps.
4ESRogs2yI do not believe that Said is unable to generate hypotheses in all the cases where he expresses bafflement / indignation. I believe it is (at least partially) a rhetorical move. If people pretended to need wheelchairs to prove a point, we'd be right to blame them for forcing us to spend resources on them.
[-][anonymous]2y 10

I remind readers to review the “Taboo your words” posts of the Human’s Guide to Words sequence. Asking for the meaning of words, even common words, is a rationalist’s truth finding technique. It’s not something to be persecuted.

2ESRogs2yI agree, but as I put it in the great-grandparent comment: It's more a pattern of expressing surprise / indignation as a rhetorical move. Here is an example [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/8xLtE3BwgegJ7WBbf/is-rationalist-self-improvement-real#rm4NW4weWd7cSnTBX] , where he's not asking for clarification, but still doing the surprise / indignation thing. You might think that comment is perfectly fine, and even from my perspective in any one single comment, it's often no big deal. But when surprised indignation is basically your tone in seemingly almost every thread, I eventually find it annoying.
7[anonymous]2yYou’re right, I do find that comment to be fine. But then I have a similar approach to truth seeking myself, and I find it tremendously effective. Part of the background I bring to this is that some of the best rationalist thinkers and mentors I’ve met in my own life had a profound impact on me simply because they asked the necessary pointed questions and let me figure out the answer, or were willing to unabashedly share a contrasting opinion. Everyone’s learning styles are different, but for me this worked remarkably well. Said is doing something similar, so I see it as a valuable contribution.
Said is doing something similar, so I see it as a valuable contribution.

I appreciate hearing this counterpoint.

I wish there was a way to get the benefit of Said's pointed questioning w/o readers like me being so frustrated by the style. I suspect that relatively subtle tweaks to the style could make a big difference. But I'm not exactly sure how to get there from here.

For now all I can think of is to note that some users, like Wei Dai, ask lots of pointed and clarifying questions and never provoke in me the same kind of frustration that many of Said's comments do.

Why should Said be the one to change, though? Maybe relatively subtle tweaks to your reading style could make a big difference.

A "surprised bafflement" tone is often seen as a social attack because it's perceived as implying, "You should know this already, therefore I'm surprised that you don't, therefore I should have higher status than you." But that's not the only possible narrative. What happens if you reframe your reaction as, "He's surprised, but surprise is the measure of a poor hypothesis—the fact that he's so cluelessly self-centered as to not be able to predict what other people know means that I should have higher status"?

Why should Said be the one to change, though?

Good question. When there are conflicts over norms, it's not obvious how to resolve them in general. I suppose the easy, though less preferred, solution would be some kind of appeal to the will of the majority, or to an authority. The harder, but better, way would be an appeal to a deeper set of shared norms. I'm not sure how tractable that is in this case though.

What happens if you reframe your reaction as, "He's surprised, but surprise is the measure of a poor hypothesis—the fact that he's so cluelessly self-centered as to not be able to predict what other people know means that I should have higher status"?

This is in fact often my reaction. But I will note that neither social attacks nor the writings of clueless self-centered people are particularly fun to read. (Especially not when it seems to be both.)

That may be stating it overly harshly. I do think Said is an intelligent person and often has good points to make. And I find it valuable to learn that others are getting a lot of value from his comments.

The signal to noise (not exactly the right term) ratio has not seemed particularly favorable to me though. But perhaps there's yet some different reframing that I could do to be less frustrated (in addition to whatever changes Said might make).

[-][anonymous]2y 12

Why should we have one set of norms at all? Should we really be driving towards cultural unity? Isn't it okay for there to be subsets of people who drive differently? Just learn to ignore what you don't find useful.

4Zack_M_Davis2yWhen designing norms, we should take into account an asymmetry between reading and writing: each comment is only written once, but read many times. Each norm imposed on writers to not be unduly annoying constrains the information flow of the forum much more than each norm imposed on readers to not be unduly annoyed.
6ESRogs2yDriving away other writers with annoyingness also constrains the flow of information. Trade-offs abound!
Maybe a term for the attitude / rhetorical move that I find frustrating would be: "weaponized bafflement". Said often expresses that he has no idea what someone could mean by something, or is totally shocked that someone could think two things are similar (e.g. grouping both reading the sequences and attending CFAR as rationality training), when to me it seems pretty easy to at least generate some hypotheses about what they might mean or why they might think something.

To me this particular move is part of a broader pattern used by Said and a few other common posters on here of using the Socratic method to make their point, which is frequently time consuming, annoying to answer, and IMO a bad tool for finding the truth.

Whenever I detect someone using the Socratic method in the comment section of my posts I ask them to more directly make their point, and in fact may add it to my author commenting guidelines.

my guess is that they would not share his assessment that the explanation that has been provided by T3t above is completely inadequate

This worries me because of double illusion of transparency concerns. That is, one frame we could have here is that Said is virtuously refusing to pretend to understand anything he doesn't understand. Suppose the version of "authentic" that is necessary to make this post work is actually quite detailed and nuanced, in ways that T3t's guess don't quite get at; then it seems like T3t and I might mistakenly believe that communication has taken place when it actually hasn't, whereas Said and I will have no such illusions.

If there are problems with this situation, I think they come from differing people having different expectations of how bad it is to not have communicated something to Said, and I think we fix that by aligning those expectations.

The usual pattern of Said's comments as I experience them has been (and I think this would be reasonably straightforward to verify)

This lines up with a model where Said is being especially rigorous when it comes to dependencies, and the audience isn't, and the audience has some random scattering of dependencies wh

... (read more)

T3t's explanations seem quite useless to me. The procedure they describe seems highly unlikely to reach anything like a correct interpretation of anything, being basically a random walk in concept space.

It's hard to see what "I don't understand what you meant by X, also here's a set of completely wrong definitions I arrived at by free association starting at X" could possibly add over "I don't understand what you meant by X", apart from wasting everyone's time redirecting attention onto a priori wrong interpretations.

I'm also somewhat alarmed to see people on this site advocating the sort of reasoning by superficial analogy we see here:

“Conforming to or based on fact” feels very similar to “the map corresponds to the territory”.

Performing the substitution: “An expression that is worthy of acceptance or belief, as the expression (map) corresponds to the internal state of the agent that generated it (territory).”

So, overall, I'm not very impressed, no.

4T3t2yTo reiterate, I don't explicitly use anything like the procedures I described in my posts to do any sort of interpretation. I came up with them to use as levers to attempt bridging the inferential distance between Said and I; I agree that in practice trying to use those models explicitly would be extremely error-prone (probably better than a random walk, but maybe not by much). More salient to the point at hand: you understood (to a sufficient degree) the models I was describing, and your criticisms contain information about your understanding of those models. If for whatever reason I wanted to continue discussing those models, those two things being true would make it possible for me to respond further (with clarifications, questions about your interpretations, etc).
3habryka2yAlas, then that guess of mine was probably wrong, but thank you for clarifying your position. In that case I will have to admit that I am arguing for a change in norms that you will also likely perceive to be worse. To be clear though, you have given an argument against the procedure that T3t has described. The question at hand was whether their explanation helped you come to better understand the procedure (independently of whether you agree with it). It seems to me that you did indeed come to better understand the procedure in question, though my guess is there are still significant misunderstandings left. Is your sense that your model of the kind of procedure that me and T3t are advocating for has stayed the same after reading their comment?
8T3t2yIf I read "authentic relationship", "a relationship which is built on honest premises and communication (i.e. neither party has lied or misled the other about their background, motivations, or relevant personality characteristics)" is my first guess as to what that would mean. My question is: are you incapable of performing this sort of "decryption work" (as in, the examples you generated are your best effort), or is your chief complaint that it's effortful and error-prone (as in, you could have extrapolated something similar to what I did, but you believe that doing so is epistemically unjustified)? I am advocating for this because, in practice, this seems to minimize the amount of time and communication necessary to make sure both parties are on the same page w.r.t. the definitions of terms used and the intent behind what is being communicated. The way you ask questions reveals almost nothing about the state of your mental map of the subject of discussion (what you think the boundaries are, how you think it corresponds to the surrounding context, etc). This increases the amount of communication required to answer your question much more than linearly - you know "where" you are confused much better than the author. The author can guess, but the author is dealing with the entire possibility space of things you can be confused about; the amount of work that can go into resolving that confusion is unbounded. However, if you put forth your interpretation, then ask for clarification/correction, the author has a much more constrained space to explore to attempt to diagnose where your map is insufficiently well-specified/pointing at the wrong thing/has some other conflict with the author's map. ~Linear time for you to come up with the most straightforward possible interpretation (contingent on you actually being able to do so - still not clear to what degree this is a disagreement in the allowable degree of inference), + ~linear time for the author to identify mistakes,
1Said Achmiz2yI don’t know how you generated that guess, so my answer can only be the former. As for the rest of your comment, I find it baffling. Nothing resembling what you describe is how I think when interpreting people’s writing (nor, as far as am aware, does anyone else I know think like this). In any case, if this is the type and amount of thought necessary to interpret a term used in a post, then I must say, even more emphatically, that such interpretation attempts are ill-advised. There is just no way such efforts can be justified. But there is an even simpler response to make. Namely: suppose that your guess (quoted above) had been right; suppose that Vaniver, when he said “authentic relationship”, had indeed meant “a relationship which is built on …” (etc.). Would it not be easy for him simply to say that? Wouldn’t that have been the easiest thing in the world? Why would he have needed to know anything about the “shape of my confusion”, or my mental models, or any such thing? (Now, as it turns out, the actual meaning of ‘authentic’, as used in the OP, was rather more complicated. But that is a separate matter entirely!)
9T3t2yI was not describing the process I use to interpret novel linguistic compositions such as "authentic relationship" - my brain does that under the hood, automatically, in a process that is fairly opaque to me; despite that, the results are sufficiently accurate that I don't spend hours trying to resolve minutiae, even in highly complex technical domains. I was attempting to use an analogy with word embeddings in multi-dimensional space to explain why the way you approach information-gathering has asymmetrical costs. I can't come up with another analogy, because your response is totally non-informative with respect to how/why/where my first analogy failed to land. Did you notice that you didn't even tell me whether you're familiar with the concepts used? I have literally zero bytes of information with which to attempt to generate a more targeted analogy. This doesn't really seem material to the point I was trying to discuss, but (I imagine) it's because there can be a trade-off between density and precision when trying to convey information. (And, also, how is he supposed to know which parts of his post are going to be incomprehensible to which people? Again, one could put in an unbounded amount of effort into specifying with ever more clarity and precision exactly what they mean by every word.) Your response to Habryka also seems to not materially respond to his main points (the grossly asymmetrical effort involved, and the fact that the time spent is not free, it is traded off against other pursuits). You list certain outcomes you consider beneficial, but "things are not easy to explain and have hidden complexities" is true for literally everything given a sufficient level of desired precision. It is a fully general argument in favor of asking arbitrarily vague questions. EDIT: I did want to thank you for your straightforward answer here: That, at least, would let me move the conversation forward with a tentative conclusion for that question, but unfortunate
5ESRogs2yJust want to point out that I think that simply adding the following to your original comment would have been a marginal improvement: That is, if your comment had been, "'Authentic' seems like it's often used as an applause light to me. Can you say more about specifically what you mean by it in this context?" I think that would have been an improvement over the original comment. I agree with others that just saying, "What do you mean by X?" When X is a common, well-known word can often be insufficient for making it easy for the author to figure out what to say in reply. It's Double Illusion of Transparency [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/sBBGxdvhKcppQWZZE/double-illusion-of-transparency] all the way down. :P
3habryka2yThank you! At least I endorse this as a pretty accurate summary of what I am trying to point to.
4nshepperd2yFWIW, that wasn't my interpretation of quanticle's comment at all. My reading is that "healthy" was not meant as a proposed interpretation of "authentic" but as an illustrative substitution demonstrating the content-freeness of this use of the word -- because the post doesn't get any more or less convincing when you replace "authentic" with different words. This is similar to what EY does in Applause Lights [https://www.readthesequences.com/Applause-Lights] itself, where he replaces words with their opposites to demonstrate that sentences are uninformative. (As an interpretation, it would also be rather barren, and not particularly 'concrete' either: obviously "'authentic' means 'healthy'" just raises the question of what 'healthy' means in this context!)
2habryka2yYes, to be clear, I agree with this. I would count that substitution as a possible interpretation of the word (in particular an interpretation of it being basically just an applause light), but I don't care too much about quibbling about words here.
1Said Achmiz2yMeaning no offense to quanticle (and casting no aspersions on the rest of his comment), but I have no idea what the heck he meant with the quoted bit. That substitution seems to me to be entirely out of left field. I don’t see it as plausible even in retrospect.
4habryka2ynods I am surprised to hear that, but in that case I do sadly see little way of making progress on this, and can only continue to request you to leave the relevant commenting and question-asking to people in the reference class of quanticle then.
2Vaniver2yI think your broader position in this tree is a incorrect hypothesis that's pointing towards correct observations [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/MPj7t2w3nk4s9EYYh/incorrect-hypotheses-point-to-correct-observations] , in approximately the same vein as how, according to Google [https://google.github.io/eng-practices/review/reviewer/speed.html], people start complaining about the strictness of code reviews when reviewers take too long to respond. I have a hypothesis of my own, but I'm both not very certain of it yet and it relies on some Circling jargon, and so I want to privately check some things (with both you and Said and maybe other observers) before going to the trouble of explaining the generator of the hypothesis.

Let's try: "Authenticity" is an opposite of "pretending".

There are situations where it is useful to pretend to have thoughts or feelings, to manipulate other people's perception of us. This can be relatively straightforward, such as signaling loyalty to a group by displaying positive emotions to things associated with the group, and negative emotions to enemies of the group. Or more complicated, such trying to appear harmless in order to deceive opponents, or pretending to be irrational about something as a way to signal credible precommitment.

As a first approximation, "authenticity" means communicating one's thoughts and feelings as one feels them, without adding the thoughts and feeling made up for strategic purposes.

This is complicated by the fact that humans are not perfect liars; they do not have a separate brain module for truth and another brain module for deception. Sometimes deception is best achieved by self-deception, which raise the question what "authenticity" means for a self-deceiving person. But going further, self-deception is also often imperfect, and requires some kind of active maintenance, for example noticing thoughts that contradict the projected image, and removing them. In this case, "authenticity" also includes abandoning the maintenance, and acknowledging the heretical thoughts.

5Vaniver2yTo elaborate on this, a common move in Circling is to notice the thoughts and feelings made up for strategic purposes and explicitly name the strategic purposes. That is, when I notice "I want to be closer to you," I might directly say "I notice I want to be closer to you" instead of saying a sentence designed to have the effect of making us closer. That is, just like I don't think authenticity involves "saying everything you think," I don't think authenticity means "giving up on goals and strategies."

I looked for definitions of the word "authentic", but that only turned up synonyms like "genuine", and the meaning it has in speaking of the authenticity of an antique (i.e. it is what someone is selling it as).

So I searched for /authentic relationships/, which turned up a whole world of fluff and reversible advice.

About the least fluffy but informative thing in the first page of Google results was this. But I am not sure there is any more to this than in a horoscope. Can those who know what they mean by "authenticity" rate that description of it?

If I pick up a mathematics textbook and leaf through it, I can easily determine where I and it are relative to each other on the map of mathematical knowledge. I will know if I'm already familiar with what it covers, or am slightly acquainted, or would have to do a lot of other study to get to where it starts from. But with the cited link and all the others, I cannot really tell. And it is the same with descriptions of Circling.

BTW, something which puts me off "Circling" is the name. It suggests to me the image of a pack of wolves circling their prey. Or "self-criticism sessions" in th... (read more)

7romeostevensit2yThe term is also legally protected and I think there would be benefit in generating an open source alternative term. This comes with its own problems of course.
4Vaniver2yIndeed, I hear that "Circling" may itself become legally protected to refer to a specific style (probably the Circling Institute's), rather than the umbrella term for related styles, in a way that will further complicate things if that happens.
2ChristianKl2yIt seems like there was a trademark application filed last months by the Circling Institute. I think it's unlikely that the trademark will be granted given that the term gets used by a variety of different people. Filing a trademark application in this way is a way to get the government to create a binding ruling that a term is not owned by anyone in a relatively cheap way.
2romeostevensit2yI'd also note there's a difference between legal enforcement and 'expectation of getting hassled' especially with scrupulous people.
2ChristianKl2yThat's a reason to get a government to publish a document that says: "We found that Circling is a general term used by multiple organizations and can't be trademarked because it's a general term". Afterwards if someone tries to hassle you, you can point them to the official government document that says that it's fine to use Circling however you want.
2[anonymous]2yThis comment, and the on-topic replies should be in the other thread.
4Raemon2yI may be able to get to that sometime over the weekend, as noted in my comment on the original post (and now in the OP here), it's much easier (technically) to move whole threads than a bunch of individual comments. I agree it's probably worth fixing but there are some other deadlines I'm trying to meet right now.
2Vaniver2yI saw nsheppard's comment first, and gave a partial response there [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/jLwFCkNKMCFTCX7rL/circling-as-cousin-to-rationality#ywrXNYBBN8etqtMmZ] .

This comment of mine (also available on my user page) seems to have disappeared completely in the move. I'm unsure if other comments and subthreads dissappeared.

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/pC74aJyCRgns6atzu/meta-discussion-from-circling-as-cousin-to-rationality

2Raemon2yi think you have to expand a couple collapsed threads. (I apologize for collapsed threads being a bit finicky)

I also apologize for breaking a lot of the comment-permalinks in that thread

It looks like the post comment-counter is also broken. (The header for this post says "4 comments".)

2Raemon2yAh, I thought to check the comment counter for the original post, but not this new post. Will fix it at some point over the weekend.
6jimrandomh2yI fixed it.