If I wire a pink unicorn detector up to an invisible unicorn detector such that a light goes on iff both detectors fire on the same object, have I not just constructed an invisible-pink-unicorn detector?

Maybe. Or maybe you've constructed a square-circle detector; no experiment would let you tell the difference, no?

I think the way around this is some notion of which kind of counterfactuals are valid and which aren't. I've seen posts here (and need to read more) about evaluating these counterfactuals via surgery on causal graphs. But while I can see how s... (read more)

Or maybe you've constructed a square-circle detector; no experiment would let you tell the difference, no?

Take the thing apart and test its components in isolation. If in isolation they test for squares and circles, their aggregate is a square-circle detector (which never fires). If in isolation they test for pink unicorns and invisible unicorns, their aggregate is an invisible-pink-unicorn detector (which never fires).

What makes us think _any_ of our terminal values aren't based on a misunderstanding of reality?

by bokov 1 min read25th Sep 201389 comments


Let's say Bob's terminal value is to travel back in time and ride a dinosaur.

It is instrumentally rational for Bob to study physics so he can learn how to build a time machine. As he learns more physics, Bob realizes that his terminal value is not only utterly impossible but meaningless. By definition, someone in Bob's past riding a dinosaur is not a future evolution of the present Bob.

There are a number of ways to create the subjective experience of having gone into the past and ridden a dinosaur. But to Bob, it's not the same because he wanted both the subjective experience and the knowledge that it corresponded to objective fact. Without the latter, he might as well have just watched a movie or played a video game.

So if we took the original, innocent-of-physics Bob and somehow calculated his coherent extrapolated volition, we would end up with a Bob who has given up on time travel. The original Bob would not want to be this Bob.

But, how do we know that _anything_ we value won't similarly dissolve under sufficiently thorough deconstruction? Let's suppose for a minute that all "human values" are dangling units; that everything we want is as possible and makes as much sense as wanting to hear the sound of blue or taste the flavor of a prime number. What is the rational course of action in such a situation?

PS: If your response resembles "keep attempting to XXX anyway", please explain what privileges XXX over any number of other alternatives other than your current preference. Are you using some kind of pre-commitment strategy to a subset of your current goals? Do you now wish you had used the same strategy to precommit to goals you had when you were a toddler?