Scott Aaronson suggests that Many-Worlds and libertarianism are similar in that they are both cases of bullet-swallowing, rather than bullet-dodging:
Libertarianism and MWI are both are grand philosophical theories that start from premises that almost all educated people accept (quantum mechanics in the one case, Econ 101 in the other), and claim to reach conclusions that most educated people reject, or are at least puzzled by (the existence of parallel universes / the desirability of eliminating fire departments).
Now there's an analogy that would never have occurred to me.
I've previously argued that Science rejects Many-Worlds but Bayes accepts it. (Here, "Science" is capitalized because we are talking about the idealized form of Science, not just the actual social process of science.)
It furthermore seems to me that there is a deep analogy between (small-'l') libertarianism and Science:
- Both are based on a pragmatic distrust of reasonable-sounding arguments.
- Both try to build systems that are more trustworthy than the people in them.
- Both accept that people are flawed, and try to harness their flaws to power the system.
The core argument for libertarianism is historically motivated distrust of lovely theories of "How much better society would be, if we just made a rule that said XYZ." If that sort of trick actually worked, then more regulations would correlate to higher economic growth as society moved from local to global optima. But when some person or interest group gets enough power to start doing everything they think is a good idea, history says that what actually happens is Revolutionary France or Soviet Russia.
The plans that in lovely theory should have made everyone happy ever after, don't have the results predicted by reasonable-sounding arguments. And power corrupts, and attracts the corrupt.
So you regulate as little as possible, because you can't trust the lovely theories and you can't trust the people who implement them.
You don't shake your finger at people for being selfish. You try to build an efficient system of production out of selfish participants, by requiring transactions to be voluntary. So people are forced to play positive-sum games, because that's how they get the other party to sign the contract. With violence restrained and contracts enforced, individual selfishness can power a globally productive system.
Of course none of this works quite so well in practice as in theory, and I'm not going to go into market failures, commons problems, etc. The core argument for libertarianism is not that libertarianism would work in a perfect world, but that it degrades gracefully into real life. Or rather, degrades less awkwardly than any other known economic principle. (People who see Libertarianism as the perfect solution for perfect people, strike me as kinda missing the point of the "pragmatic distrust" thing.)
Science first came to know itself as a rebellion against trusting the word of Aristotle. If the people of that revolution had merely said, "Let us trust ourselves, not Aristotle!" they would have flashed and faded like the French Revolution.
But the Scientific Revolution lasted because—like the American Revolution—the architects propounded a stranger philosophy: "Let us trust no one! Not even ourselves!"
In the beginning came the idea that we can't just toss out Aristotle's armchair reasoning and replace it with different armchair reasoning. We need to talk to Nature, and actually listen to what It says in reply. This, itself, was a stroke of genius.
But then came the challenge of implementation. People are stubborn, and may not want to accept the verdict of experiment. Shall we shake a disapproving finger at them, and say "Naughty"?
No; we assume and accept that each individual scientist may be crazily attached to their personal theories. Nor do we assume that anyone can be trained out of this tendency—we don't try to choose Eminent Judges who are supposed to be impartial.
Instead, we try to harness the individual scientist's stubborn desire to prove their personal theory, by saying: "Make a new experimental prediction, and do the experiment. If you're right, and the experiment is replicated, you win." So long as scientists believe this is true, they have a motive to do experiments that can falsify their own theories. Only by accepting the possibility of defeat is it possible to win. And any great claim will require replication; this gives scientists a motive to be honest, on pain of great embarrassment.
And so the stubbornness of individual scientists is harnessed to produce a steady stream of knowledge at the group level. The System is somewhat more trustworthy than its parts.
Libertarianism secretly relies on most individuals being prosocial enough to tip at a restaurant they won't ever visit again. An economy of genuinely selfish human-level agents would implode. Similarly, Science relies on most scientists not committing sins so egregious that they can't rationalize them away.
To the extent that scientists believe they can promote their theories by playing academic politics—or game the statistical methods to potentially win without a chance of losing—or to the extent that nobody bothers to replicate claims—science degrades in effectiveness. But it degrades gracefully, as such things go.
The part where the successful predictions belong to the theory and theorists who originally made them, and cannot just be stolen by a theory that comes along later—without a novel experimental prediction—is an important feature of this social process.
The final upshot is that Science is not easily reconciled with probability theory. If you do a probability-theoretic calculation correctly, you're going to get the rational answer. Science doesn't trust your rationality, and it doesn't rely on your ability to use probability theory as the arbiter of truth. It wants you to set up a definitive experiment.
Regarding Science as a mere approximation to some probability-theoretic ideal of rationality... would certainly seem to be rational. There seems to be an extremely reasonable-sounding argument that Bayes's Theorem is the hidden structure that explains why Science works. But to subordinate Science to the grand schema of Bayesianism, and let Bayesianism come in and override Science's verdict when that seems appropriate, is not a trivial step!
Science is built around the assumption that you're too stupid and self-deceiving to just use Solomonoff induction. After all, if it was that simple, we wouldn't need a social process of science... right?
So, are you going to believe in faster-than-light quantum "collapse" fairies after all? Or do you think you're smarter than that?
"Libertarianism secretly relies on most individuals being prosocial enough to tip at a restaurant they won't ever visit again. An economy of genuinely selfish human-level agents would implode."
A thoughtful article about this and related issues is:
"Or do you think you're smarter than that?"
ZMD, is that the answer you think I'm looking for, your personal answer, or the correct answer?
Eliezer, why are you concerned with untestable questions?
Statistically it would seem unlikely that I am anything near approaching "rational".
Gray Area: Eliezer, why are you concerned with untestable questions?
Questions you can easily test experimentally are hard for Science to get wrong.
There are numerous questions that are hard to test experimentally right this minute but are extremely important because of their future consequences. I bet you can think of one or two.
I chose quantum physics as my point of departure because the case is mathematically clear-cut.
Incidentally, it looks to me like you should be able to test macroscopic decoherence. Eventually. You just need nanotechnological precision, very low temperatures, and perhaps a clear area of interstellar (intergalactic?) space.
Has anyone tried to actually DO Solomonoff induction against the real world? If I understand, it's incomputable, and even the idea of encoding reality as a program... well, it would be a very big program. So except as a pointer to and clarification of Occam's razor, does it have a real world use?
Generalizing: is it actually possible to use pure Bayesianism in any non-contrived, non-trivial context? And if purity can't be attained, is there an optimal impure approximation?
I always tip because it's the convention and I'm afraid of being confronted about not doing it. If I didn't have that fear I most certainly would tip far less.
You should drop the stuff about selfishness. It's self-interest. Everyone agrees if you define "selfish" as not doing anything that could possibly aid anyone else then human society wouldn't work. Clearly you'd live in a cave and have a subsistence existence until you're dead at 15. I don't know anyone who actually advocates that. So the definitions must be off.
There is a problem here that you do not seem to recognize. If any meta-level approach is better, i.e., will yield a more correct model of the universe than the current scientific method, then the scientific method will, over time, devour it, make it a part of itself. This is, because in the end, the "better" alternative approach will at some point yield a theory, no matter how small, but still, perceptibly better prediction. It may not do so for QM - it may yield only a different "interpretation", but it will, somewhere along the line, ... (read more)
Or do you think you're smarter than that?
Yes I do, since you're asking. Is that correct? Probably not. But that doesn't bother me. I have to trust my rationality before I can get anything out of science, right? As far as I'm concerned, my own, personal, internal logic is The King.
Still not convinced that Science (capital S) wants me to believe in anything it can't provide evidence for though. Logic and induction might postulate certain unprovable beliefs, but there's no reason why Science should flat out disagree with them. Still not feeling the dilemma.
A lot of people have a problem with Kolmogorov complexity and Solomonoff induction being "ideals". Sure, you can't build a working perfect compressor in order to compute the Kolmogorov complexity of a binary string. The best you can do is to approximate it. Furthermore, the ways in which your compressor fails to achieve the perfect compression of Kolmogorov complexity are weaknesses of your compressor that a more powerful compressor could overcome... and so on and so on. It's only in the limit that you get a completely general compressor that... (read more)
Incidentally, it looks to me like you should be able to test macroscopic decoherence. Eventually. You just need nanotechnological precision, very low temperatures, and perhaps a clear area of interstellar (intergalactic?) space.
Short of that, building a scalable quantum computer would be another (possibly easier!) way to experiment with macroscopic coherence. The difference is that with quantum computing, you wouldn't even try to isolate a quantum system perfectly from its environment. Instead you'd use really clever error-correction to encode quantum information in nonlocal degrees of freedom, in such a way that it can survive the decoherence of (say) any 1% of the qubits.
Now you appeal to our pride, and our vanity.
If it bothers you to be accused of trying to start a cult, why do you persist in trying to start one?
we are talking about the idealized form of Science, not just the actual social process of science.
What is the point of this ideal if it is not actually implemented to a substantial degree? And of course the answer to the bottom question is that most us think we personally are too smart to need this ideal constraint, even if we think most others are not that smart. Of course most of us must be wrong to think ourselves so much smarter than the rest.
Libertarianism rarely exists as a dominant paradigm, except when certain religions, with Protestantism as an example, are dominant, and when religion is fading in strength, such that material concerns become greater than spiritual ones.
Wouldn't the implosion leave all the selfish agents worse off? If they were even rudimentarily rational, wouldn't they then act in a way to prevent that inward collapse?
Of course I think I'm smarter than that. Anyone who actually contributes does, or they wouldn't bother to contribute. And sometimes they are right, which is why our knowledge keeps moving forward. Of course, sometimes we're wrong, and the structure is what keeps everything from moving backwards.
The core argument for libertarianism is historically motivated distrust of lovely theories of "How much better society would be, if we just made a rule that said XYZ." If that sort of trick actually worked, then more regulations would correlate to higher economic growth as society moved from local to global optima.
Only if economic growth was the only indicator of "how good a society is."
But when some person or interest group gets enough power to start doing everything they think is a good idea, history says that what actually happens i... (read more)
Libertarianism secretly relies on most individuals being prosocial enough to tip at a restaurant they won't ever visit again. An economy of genuinely selfish human-level agents would implode.
In other words, libertarianism could only ever work with real people. It would never work with the fictional creatures that people both for and against libertarianism philosophize themselves into imagining.
Where are the witty critical posters? I'm surprised to be the first to observe that this post (favorably comparing Science with Libertarianism) reads kind of like a self-parody of the OvercomingBias blog. Is one libertarian if one holds up each claim of libertarianism and says "Well, that's an empirical question. Let's look at the data". Because that's the scientific, empirical approach, it seems to me. I think libertarianism starts to look sill when viewed in that light. To be fair, so do the claims of any political party that size or larger, of which I'm aware.
Caledonian - not sure if this is what was originally alluded to, but the Prisoner's Dilemma / Tragedy of the Commons scenario is one where agents acting in their best interest get screwed. Of course, that is why we have governments in the first place (i.e. to get around those problems).
M - How do you figure Somalia is libertarian? Libertarianism requires a stable government (i.e. a monopoly on force) which Somalia definitely does not have.
H.A. - I don't think the point was that Libertarians are more scientific than others, but that Libertarianism and Science are similar in the sense that they put more faith in processes than in people.
It doesn't get around those problems, DaveInNYC, it just changes the conditions under which the problems arise. Having one, really powerful actor that can dominate the Commons doesn't solve anything - if there aren't enough reasonable and enlightened people to maintain control of the government, it begins abusing the Commons itself, and anyone not completely controlled by the government lose any disincentives to act for their immediate short-term interests... (read more)
Added small-'l' to "libertarianism" to hopefully make it clear that I'm talking about pragmatic distrust of governmental solutions, not the American political party. Also added: "People who see Libertarianism as the perfect solution for perfect people, strike me as kinda missing the point of the "pragmatic distrust" thing."
"Libertarianism and Science are similar in the sense that they put more faith in processes than in people."
Science doesn't seem to me to need or benefit from a "libertarian" connection. It's more reputable than libertarianism, and for good reason, in my observation. If one wants to bring science into the public policy space, then one should scientifically determine what we want to do with public policy (maximize HA's persistence odds, of course), and scientifically determine the best way to accomplish that (an empirical question). Not s... (read more)
I am not smarter than that. But you might (just might) be. "Eliezer says so" is strong evidence for anything. I'm too stupid to use the full power of Bayes, and I should defer to Science, but Eliezer is one of the few best Bayesian wannabes - he may be mistaken, but he isn't crazily refusing to let go of his pet theory. Still not enough to make me accept MWI, but a major change in my estimate nonetheless.
As a side note, what actually happens in a true libertarian system is Europe during the Industrial Revolution.
As far as I can see the main problem with libertarianism (versus any variety of freebie-ism for any favored group, left or right) is the classic monkey trap problem. Freebie-ism delivers you a candy now. Libertarianism lets you work like stink and pass it on to the kids. It gives you industrial revolutions, which blacken the air - and result in modern communication, travel, medicine, computers, materials, and an upraised middle class to appreciate them. The trouble is that the "jam tomorrow" of libertarianism is quite obvious from an theorist's a... (read more)
I don't see libertarianism as being able to jump outside the (legal/social) system in quite the way described here. It is not an escape from "how much better society would be if we just made a rule...". It is, rather, a very specific implementation of that principle: how much better society would be if we just lived by libertarian ideals, private property, courts where we can sue for fraud and coercion, etc. And then, due to its failure to jump outside the limitations of systems composed of imperfect humans, it fails for the same reasons. People ... (read more)
Actually, I was kind of joking; sorry.
Regarding Somalia, it actually improved under anarchy.
HA, you may be interested in the "post-libertarianism" of Jeffrey Friedman.
I don't think this was yet encompassed by the discussion or post: Another similarity between Science and libertarianism is that they both follow Bayes "usually, but not always":
-Science rejects late-coming simpler theories that offer no new predictions. -libertarianism rejects certain government interventions proposed by a superintelligent FAI that follows Bayes and values what humans do.
Or am I off the rails here? ;-)
Science and Eliezer both agree that evidence is important, so let's collect some evidence on which one is more accurate.
Echoing Hal Finney...
It seems like you (Robin Hanson) are arguing that Libertarianism (small or big L) is some kind of alternative to rule making, or as I would say it 'believing in your theory'. But my impression -- not extravagantly well informed theoretically, but fairly informed by looking at actual, self styled libertarians -- is that Libertarianism is precisely an anti-theory theory. Terrified of the failures of other rules/models/belief systems, they create a new rule which says that all rules are wrong. The obvious tail chasing is well, what abo... (read more)
We can't use Solomonoff induction - because it is uncomputable.
We don't have any good quality computable approximations to it either. That is indeed because we are too stupid. That is more fact than assumption, though.
I've been reading LW sequences sine a few months, and I find them very interesting, but I think you made a mistake in mixing politics (libertarianism, french/american revolutions, ...) into this post.
I won't go into explaining why I think economical libertarianism is deeply flawed and not similar at all to the process of Science (for once, I don't think it degrades well at all), but above that, by calling into very complicated and very debated concepts, you're just making following your core reasoning harder to follow.
I also think you make some factual ... (read more)
You claim to be critiquing "economical libertarianism", but in fact you are critiquing microeconomics. For instance, you critique the familiar critique of price-fixing by presenting a purported counterexample. But the idea that price-fixing has certain predictable perverse consequences comes, not from libertarians, but from standard microeconomics, since it's a simple deduction from basic theory of supply and demand.
Libertarians do, to be sure, make heavy use of microeconomic theory, but this does not warrant calling microeconomics "economical libertarianism", any more than the use of a bicycle by Mao to commute to work would warrant calling bicycles "transportational communism".
So, to reinterpret your post, taking you to be attacking microeconomics, you are saying that the science of microeconomics is not in fact a science, since it is immune to empirical refutation, such as by the purported success of price-fixing.
The worst policy has good consequences, the best policy has bad ones.
The successes you cited would only be relevant if one understood Eliezer to be claiming that every consequence was bad or ephemeral from the French Revolution. While that is how politicians speak and how others speak much of the time, it's not charitable to interpret arguments as if they were from politicians.
In the French Revolution, they were really, really confident that things would be best if they could decide more or less ad hoc to kill tens of thousands for interfering with it. In the American Revolution, they didn't trust themselves so, they tolerated more anti-revolutionary behavior, and things turned out better. That's all.
Even if the French do make fantastic bread, the Reign of Terror was still not a good idea.
In general, what is in a written Constitution doesn't matter much if institutions and attitudes don't support what is there. A fair number of authoritarian countries have strong free speech and similar rights enshrined in their Constitutions, See for example the Syrian constitution. Classically authoritarian regimes either ignore such provisions or in the case of Syria use a combination of ignoring the provisions, a favorable judiciary, and using potential loopholes to minimize the actual impact of those rights. On the other hand, some countries with little to no formally documented rights are quite democratic and functional. There isn't a great correlation between what people say in their Constitutions and what they do or intend to do.
For some grimly comic reading, see the declaration of rights in the 1936 constitution of the U.S.S.R., especially the articles 124-128.
This constitution was ratified a few months before the climax of the Great Terror.
I hope someone shows up with knowledge of the actual history.
I'm assuming it wasn't a price floor-- that would make bread less affordable. I believe that subsidy to manufacturers + price controls leads to decline in quality because the incentives become doing just enough to meet the regulations and competing to get permissions and subsidies from the government.
It's possible that France exists to annoy libertarians. Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour (a book I've heard an interview about but not read) tells the story of Louis XIV making France into a world center of style. He picked winners, or created them. He promoted companies which continued to make high quality goods for centuries.
By libertarian standards, this should be just about impossible. Or maybe it's like winning the lottery-- you might succeed, but the odds are so low that it's a very bad strategy.... and, of course, the French aristocracy's spendthrift ways and insulation did lead to the French Revolution, and a utilitarian might say that any amount of delightful food and fashion just isn't worth it.
Still, picking winners on that scale is am... (read more)
With all due respect, your account of the French Revolution is just cartoonishly biased. The "progress of the French Revolution" included, among other things:
The introduction of total war fought with mass conscript armies, for which all the resources of the nation are requisitioned, in place of the 18th century limited and professional warfare regulated by strict codes and financed mostly from monarchs' private purses.
This invention leading to two decades of Europe-wide mass slaughter and destruction that left an unknown number of millions of people dead. It also left the recurring idea of spreading the national glory and ideology (as opposed to mere interests of rulers, which may be vicious but are at least limited and sane) by war and conquest.
Overall, the nationalist ideology born in the Revolution and the Revolutionary Wars, both in France and elsewhere as a reaction to it, had subsequent historical consequences for which "c
Digressing, this is PC history.
Science first came to be as Roger Bacon writing up the scientific method. His approach was to not trust anyone, but to trust Aristotle more than most. Unsurprisingly, he was put in solitary confinement on bread and water. The Church then issued a list of forbidden thoughts, with Aristotle prominently on the list. That science started with a revolt against Aristotle is a whitewash of the conflict between the theocratic state and Science. Science, science in the sense of the scientific method, not science in the sense of a state anointed priesthood ceremonially wearing labcoats as white robes, is inherently revolutionary, a defiance of authority, but it was not the authority of Aristotle that they were revolting against. Rather, all beliefs were subject to empirical scrutiny, including the beliefs of the authorities of Roger Bacon's day, which was revolt against present authority, not Aristotle.
We do not know what the charges were against Roger Bacon (most likely the nominal charges were irrelevant, and the real charge was having a bad attitude), but it was more likely he was imprisoned for respecting Aristotle, than disrespecting him.
I'm puzzled that you gave that specific example, given that it's obviously wrong. Most countries do not have a culture of tipping, and their economies don't implode. They just have less headaches at bill time. And in many cases (a long way from libertarianism) their wait staff get paid a living wage.
I'm also not sure what it means for libertarianism to rely on something, since libertarianism is not an actual functioning thing in e... (read more)