It is easier to imagine the rest of the universe being just as it is if a patient took pill A rather than pill B than it is trying to imagine what else in the universe would have had to be different if the temperature yesterday had been 30 degrees rather than 40. It may be the case that human actions, seem sufficiently free that we have an easier time imagining only one specific action being different, and nothing else.

  • (T. Vanderweele, “Explanation in causal Inference” p. 453-455) – Quoted in J. Pearl, Blog post “Causation without Manipulation”

I recognize the idea of the quote, but am wondering how true it really is, and why this would be so. If the pill counterfactual seems easier than the weather counterfactual, is this due to something fundamentally important about complexity or is it just an illusion?

I ask this because when I try to think about the details of each scenario, the pill example ceases to seem comparatively simple. Asking questions like "how does pill A get to pill B's location?" presents to me as many difficulties as asking "how did that heat get to that location"? So maybe the difference lies in the fact that we tend to not look at details when evaluating counterfactuals relevant to human decisions?

0[anonymous]5yJust to clarify, this is a serious issue when doing counterfactual analysis; we can't easily estimate many counterfactuals because of this bias.

Rationality Quotes Thread June 2015

by Gondolinian 1 min read31st May 2015134 comments


Another month, another rationality quotes thread. The rules are:

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted separately. (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments. If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the place where you read the quote, or its original source if available. Do not quote with only a name.