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Rationality Quotes January - March 2017

Disasters and miracles follow similar rules. Charles Babbage, in his Ninth Bridgewater Treatise of 1837, considered the nature of miracles (which, as a computer scientist, he viewed as pre-determined but rarely-called subroutines) and urged us "to look upon miracles not as deviations from the laws assigned by the Almighty for the government of matter and of mind; but as the exact fulfilment of much more extensive laws than those we suppose to exist." It's that question of characteristic scale.

George Dyson, comment on Taleb's "The Fourth Quadrant".

1[anonymous]5yIf I knew, I probably wouldn't post so much.
Rationality Quotes April 2016

But the thought is one thing, the deed is another, and another yet is the image of the deed. The wheel of causality does not roll between them.

Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra.

Rationality Quotes Thread March 2016

I feel like general stupidity does exist, in the same way that general intelligence does? Not sure what you like about this quote. The idea that biases are diverse, maybe?

7PhilGoetz5yGeneral stupidity exists, but effective stupidity occurs regularly in very intelligent people. It's easy and feels good to dismiss people who disagree with you, and are wrong, as stupid. This is sometimes true, but it closes off the possibility of uncovering biases and other problems and correcting them.
5gjm5yIntelligence and stupidity are both complex things with multiple causes. A "general factor" of intelligence or stupidity doesn't take away the fact that some people are particularly good or bad at particular things for particular reasons. Incidentally, it may be worth mentioning that the people whose work I A Richards is referring to here, who exhibited such "failure to grasp the meaning" of (in this case) some not especially obscure poetry, were undergraduate students of English at the University of Cambridge. So we're talking about relative stupidity here; these are people selected for intelligence and with at least some interest in (and apparent aptitude for) the material. Some of their errors really are pretty stupid, though. [EDITED to fix an inconsequential typo.]
Is Spirituality Irrational?

I think there's a joke to the effect that if you're bad in life then when you die God will send you to New Jersey, and I don't know anything about translations of earlier versions of the bible but I kind of hope that it's possible for us to interpret the Gehenna comparison as parallel to that.

0Jiro5yIf someone told me that when I die God would send me to New Jersey, I'd understand that he was joking and being symbolic. But I would not reason "well, people in New Jersey die, so obviously he is trying to tell me that people in Hell get destroyed after a while".
Rationality Quotes Thread March 2016

"Oh, but I only detest the mouth of the lion, where its fangs are kept; I do not detest the ear of the lion, nor its tail."

But the ear is how he found your brother, and when he leapt on your sister, the tail kept him straight.

Tycho of Penny Arcade, on the importance of systems thinking.

0PhilGoetz5yI should have written it in a less distracting way. I shouldn't have expected people to treat it as a non-political example.
Is altruistic deception really necessary? Social activism and the free market

A consequence of this observation is that we should expect Marxists, who believe the free market doesn't work, to lie much more often than capitalists, who think it does. Empirically, however, Democrats seem to lie much less than Republicans (see, e.g., a recent NY Times report on PolitiFact checking of the Presidential candidates), even though Republicans have much more faith in the free market.

This is an extremely terrible proxy for the question you're interested in.

1PhilGoetz5yDon't be distracted by the question of whether Democrats are Marxist. That's not the issue. My implication was that a survey would show much greater faith in the free market among Republicans than among Democrats. I expect that's true.
Rationality Quotes Thread February 2016

No, there are a lot more constraints, like material resources, or time, or even luck.

0[anonymous]5yA: "I can beat you in chess" B: "Incorrect! You can beat me in chess only if you have material resources, or time, or even luck" --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Rationality Quotes Thread February 2016

The truth comes as conqueror only because we have lost the art of receiving it as guest.

Rabindranath Tagore in The Fourfold Way of India (1924)

1SnowSage44444yShit, that's good. How do I upvote you?
3WalterL5yThat's a great quote!
Rationality Quotes Thread February 2016

I am somewhat uncertain about whether people who are kidnapped and tortured are in control of their happiness. I know there are at least a few people who've been in those situations or similar ones, like the Holocaust, who report that they retained some control over their own thoughts and perspective and this was a source of comfort and strength to them. I think it is possible that people who are tortured are in control of their own happiness, but they generally tend to make the choice to break.

One example that comes up in discussions on this is medical de... (read more)

Rationality Quotes Thread February 2016

The actual developments of society during this period were determined, not by a battle of conflicting ideals, but by the contrast between an existing state of affairs and that one ideal of a possible future society which the socialists alone held up before the public. Very few of the other programs which offered themselves provided genuine alternatives. Most of them were mere compromises or half-way houses between the more extreme types of socialism and the existing order. All that was needed to make almost any socialist proposal appear reasonable to thes

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3[anonymous]5yAttitudes to the past, present and future seem under-study in political science contrasted with personal anecdote. I'd be interested in teasing out these ideas further. To add to this perspective...to paraphrase what I heard on the radio, since I can't find the original quote: -Syrian in raqa advising activist on how to deal with execution of friend for not attending morning prayer.
The correct response to uncertainty is *not* half-speed

Either way, fullspeed was best. My mind had been naively averaging two courses of action -- the thought was something like: "maybe I should go forward, and maybe I should go backward. So, since I'm uncertain, I should go forward at half-speed!" But averages don't actually work that way.

Averages don't work that way because you did the math wrong: you should have stopped! I understand the point that you're trying to make with this post, but there are many cases in which uncertainty really does mean you should stop and think, or hedge your bet... (read more)

6AnnaSalamon6yIt seems to me that thinking through uncertainties and scenarios is often really really important, as is making specific safeguards that will help you if your model turns out to be wrong; but I claim that there is a different meaning of "hesitation" that is like "keeping most of my psyche in a state of roadblock while I kind-of hang out with my friend while also feeling anxious about my paper", or something, that is very different from actually concretely picturing the two scenarios, and figuring out how to create an outcome I'd like given both possibilities. I'm not expressing it well, but does the distinction I am trying to gesture at make sense?
5AnnaSalamon6yIf you take a weighted sum of (75% likely 60mph forward) + (25% likely 60 mph backward), you get (30 mph forward). Stopping briefly to choose a plan might've been sensible, if it was easier to think while holding still; stopping after that (I had no GPS or navigation ability) wouldn't've helped; I had to proceed in some direction to find out where the hotel was, and there was no point in doing that not at full speed. Often a person should hedge bets in some fashion, or should take some action under uncertainty that is different from the action one would take if one were certain of model 1 or of model 2. The point is that "hedging" or "acting under uncertainty" in this way is different in many particulars from the sort of "kind of working" that people often end up accidentally doing, from a naiver sort of average. Often it e.g. involves running info-gathering tests at full speed, one after another. Or e.g., betting "blue" each time in this experiment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/vo/lawful_uncertainty/], while also attempting to form better models.
Extending the stated objectives

It seems to me that we should be very liberal in this regard: biases which remain in the AIs model of SO+UO are likely to be minor biases (as major biases will have been stated by humans as things to avoid). These are biases so small that we're probably not aware of them. Compared with the possibility of losing something human-crucial we didn't think of explicitly stating, I'd say the case is strong to err on the size of increased complexity/more biases and preferences allowed. Essentially, we're unlikely to have missed some biases we'd really care about

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1Stuart_Armstrong6yI agree there's much more investigation to be made in that area.
LessWrong 2.0

I like rationality quotes, so whatever happens I hope that stays alive in some form. Maybe it could move to /r/slatestarcodex.

LessWrong 2.0

Same. I like my arguments modular. I say this despite liking EA a lot.

Rationality Quotes Thread December 2015

The key to avoiding rivalries is to introduce a new pole, which mediates your relationship to the antagonist. For me this pole is often Scripture. I renounce my claim to be thoroughly aligned with the pole of Scripture and refocus my attention on it, using it to mediate my relationship with the antagonistic party. Alternatively, I focus on a non-aggressive third party. You may notice that this same pattern is observed in the UK parliamentary system of the House of Commons, for instance. MPs don’t directly address each other: all of their interactions are

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1[anonymous]6yThis should be developed into a Discussion post (if it hasn't.)
2Ben Pace6yHaving recently watched a few of these discussions/debates in the commons (watched via youtube) it is noticeable how the speaker is able to temper the mood and add a little levity. There is one popular political youtube account called 'Incorrigible Delinquent' and he begins each of his uploads with the speaker quite humorously saying " You are an incorrigible delinquent! "
Non-communicable Evidence

There's a sequence about how the scientific method is less powerful than Bayesian reasoning that you should probably read.

0Luke_A_Somers6yI think the point is, how would we tell the difference between worlds in which programming does and does not require System 1?
Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015

Maybe hubris means not knowing the capabilities of one's tools.

Edit: I've just realized that in that sense, underestimating the capabilities of one's tools and refusing to try would also be a sin. If you believe that Fate itself is opposed to any attempt by men to fly, that's more arrogant a belief than thinking Fate is indifferent. I like this implication.

Is simplicity truth indicative?

After a couple months more thought, I still feel as though there should be some more general sense in which simplicity is better. Maybe because it's easier to find simple explanations that approximately match complex truths than to find complex explanations that approximately match simple truths, so even when you're dealing with a domain filled with complex phenomena it's better to use simplicity. On the other hand, perhaps the notion that approximations matter or can be meaningfully compared across domains of different complexity is begging the question somehow.

Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015

The simple view is that medicine exists to fight death and disease, and that is, of course, its most basic task. Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And in a war that you cannot win, you don't want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don't want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knows how to fight for territory that can be won and how to surrender it when it can't, someone who understands that the damage is greatest if all you do is battle to the bitter end.

Most often, these days, m

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4Artaxerxes6yThis is a great quote, but even moreso than Custers and Lees I feel like we need someone not so much on the front lines, but someone to win the whole war - maybe Lincoln, but my knowledge of the American Civil War is poor. Preventing death from most relevant causes (aging, infectious disease, etc.) seems within reach before the end of the century, as a conservative guess. Hastening winning that war means that society will no longer need so many generals, Lees, Custers or otherwise.
Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015

“I’ve never been certain whether the moral of the Icarus story should only be, as is generally accepted, ‘don’t try to fly too high,’ or whether it might also be thought of as ‘forget the wax and feathers, and do a better job on the wings.”

Stanley Kubrick

Similarly:

I've never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.

Randal Munroe

Rationality Quotes Thread November 2015

At root, our work suggests that creativity in science appears to be a nearly universal phenomenon of two extremes. At one extreme is conventionality and at the other is novelty. Curiously, notable advances in science appear most closely linked not with efforts along one boundary or the other but with efforts that reach toward both frontiers.

Mukherjee et. al, Atypical Combinations and Scientific Impact.

Recent updates to gwern.net (2014-2015)

I'm really really liking the everything correlates with everything observation.

Rationality Quotes Thread October 2015

Would you object to behavioral nudges a la Thaler?

1Lumifer6yWould that [http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2015/10/it-could-be-worse.html] count as "behavioral nudges a la Thaler"?
-1RichardKennaway6yOn the scale of evil, it does not rank with marching dissidents off to reeducation camps to be purified of their delusions through daily toil for the greater collective utility of the people. Does that answer your question?
Rationality Quotes Thread October 2015

I think this depends almost entirely on how often you expect the busybodies to be wrong when they override people's judgement.

I don't think classifying adult humans in the same category as infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals is always an unreasonable decision. I refer to myself with this sentiment as well.

1RichardKennaway6y"Always" is a good place to start.
Rationality Quotes Thread October 2015

The world of to-day attaches a large importance to mental independence, or thinking for oneself; yet the manner in which these things are cultivated is very partial. In some matters we are, perhaps too independent (for we need to think socially as well as to act socially); but in other matters we are not independent enough; we are hardly independent at all. For we always interpret mental independence as being independence of old things. But if the mind is to stand in a real loneliness and liberty, and judge mere time and mere circumstances, and all the wa

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Deliberate Grad School

Is there any way to do these things without paying a large pricetag? Could you just lurk around campus or something? Only half-joking here.

be sure to first consider the most useful version of grad that you could reliably make for yourself... and then decide whether or not to do it.

Planning fallacy is going to eat you alive if you use this technique.

1jsteinhardt6yI don't think lurking around campus is going to lead to the same results as being immersed in a research environment full-time (especially if you're not doing research yourself). I generally think that a large amount of useful knowledge is tacit and that it's hard to absorb without being pretty directly involved. Also as others have noted, a PhD is free / paid for so (economic) cost isn't that much of a consideration.
6Unnamed6yGrad school is free. At most good PhD programs in the US, if you get in then they will offer you funding which covers tuition and pays you a stipend on the order of $25K per year. In return, you may have to do some work as a TA or in a professor's lab. The real cost is the ~5 years of your life.
0nyralech6yMoving to europe, and (maybe) not exactly GB, should for the most part allow you to do that.
The Temptation to Bubble

I appreciate this comment for many reasons, but mostly because it throws into prominence the role of different values underlying comparisons like the top post's.

I wish I had the kind of serene acceptance of other people that you seem to have, but I do not. I am inclined to blame people for not making time to research economic, social, and political policy options, since these things are so important. You're right that it takes time to learn details about which policies are good and which are not, but there are many other factors besides knowledge that are ... (read more)

2gressettd6yHow much of these behaviors (lack of humility, intellectual laziness, etc) that repulse you are driven by evolutionary adaptations to living in a social group and maintaining your status and reputation in your tribe? Agreeing with the popular view in your tribe, and agreeing with tribal leaders to display loyalty, probably has some fitness advantages. Have no empirical data for that, but it's worth considering as an alternate view, especially if you "strongly wish you believed otherwise" ... humility and integrity may not get a chance to step up if higher priority instincts are kicking in to produce these effects.
Is simplicity truth indicative?

After giving myself some time to think about this, I think you are right and my argument was flawed. On the other hand, I still think there's a sense in which simplicity in explanations is superior to complexity, even though I can't produce any good arguments for that idea.

2Lumifer6yI would probably argue that the complexity of explanations should match the complexity of the phenomenon you're trying to describe.
Rationality Quotes Thread September 2015

I am suggesting that we move too quickly to the view that rationalism is always an assault on the romantic soul, that it is a symptom of anxiety about our own madly passionate natures, or that it is a flight from love. Instead, rationalism may have its adaptive side, one that seeks to reinforce the ego structures needed to experience the passionate intensity of human emotions. It is possible to see rationalism not as an escape from romanticism, not as a defensive maneuver to protect the self from the excesses of desire, but instead as an effort to master,

... (read more)
2gjm6yThis appears to me to be using "rationalism" to denote something much "weaker" than, e.g., LW-style rationalism. (Where by "weaker" I mean not "worse" but "having fewer claims and commitments".)
Rationality Quotes Thread September 2015

I believe in articulate discussion (in monologue or dialogue) of how one solves problems, of why one goofed that one, of what gaps or deformations exist in one's knowledge and of what could be done about it. I shall defend this belief against two quite distinct objections. One objection says: "it's impossible to verbalize; problems are solved by intuitive acts of insight and these cannot be articulated." The other objection says: "it's bad to verbalize; remember the centipede who was paralyzed when the toad asked which leg came after which.

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Why Don't Rationalists Win?

That is a limitation of looking at this community specifically, but the general sense of the question can also be approached by looking at communities for specific activities that have strong norms of rationality.

I think most of the time rationality is not helpful for applied goals because doing something well usually requires domain specific knowledge that's acquired through experience, and yet experience alone is almost always sufficient for success. In cases where the advice of rationality and experience conflict, oftentimes experience wins even if it ... (read more)

1[anonymous]6yWhat is "rationality" even supposed to be if not codified and generalized experience?
Rationality Quotes Thread September 2015

I have no idea which one you are talking about.

Words per person year and intellectual rigor

Literally all photos of Zizek look like this.

5RichardKennaway6yNot literally literally, but close [http://www.google.com/images?q=slavoj+zizek] . Truly, the face is the picture of the soul. I clicked on a rare cheerful picture and found an article [http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/jun/10/slavoj-zizek-humanity-ok-people-boring] headlined "Humanity is OK, but 99% of people are boring idiots."
Words per person year and intellectual rigor

People I expect to be acceptably rigorous:

Sam Harris (atheistic morality & philosophy): .58, 7 books in 12 years.

lol

Rationality Quotes Thread August 2015

Of course, this should probably be true for both people in the conversation.

Is simplicity truth indicative?

I was editing my comment at the time you replied, you presumably will want to replace this comment with a different one.

Is simplicity truth indicative?

Let me start over.

Randomness is maximally complex, in the sense that a true random output cannot easily be predicted or efficiently be described. Simplicity is minimally complex, in that a simple process is easy to describe and its output easy to predict. Sometimes, part of the complexity of a complex explanation will be the result of "exploited" randomness. Randomness cannot be exploited for long, however. After all, it's not randomness if it is predictable. Thus a neural net might overfit its data only to fail at out of sample predictions, or a... (read more)

1Lumifer6yI am not sure this is a useful way to look at things. Randomness can be very different. All random variables [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_variable] are random in some way, but calling all of them "maximally complex" isn't going to get you anywhere. Outside of quantum physics, I don't know what is "a true random output". Let's take a common example: stock prices. Are they truly random? According to which definition of true randomness? Are they random to a superhuman AI? Let's take a random variable ~N(0,1), that, normally distributed with the mean of zero and the standard deviation of 1. Is it predictable? Sure. Predictability is not binary, anyway. That's just Occam's Razor, isn't it? How do you know what is random before trying to model it? Usually simplicity doesn't minimize your vulnerability, it just accepts it. It is quite possible for the explanation to be too simple in which case you treat as noise (as so are vulnerable to it) things which you could have modeled by adding some complexity. I don't know about that. This is more a function of your modeling structure and the whole modeling process. To give a trivial example, specifying additional limits and boundary conditions adds complexity to a model, but reduces its flexibility and sensitivity to noise. That's a meaningless expression until you specify how simple. As I mentioned, it's clearly possible for explanations and models to be too simple.
Rationality Quotes Thread August 2015

His real attitudes weren't exactly modern, but some of the things he said are intended to be interpreted symbollically, interacting with the abstract idea of Woman rather than with all women as a group of human beings. In that sense, he might be interpreted as criticizing their culturally specific gender role more than their sex-imposed characteristics. He probably wasn't all that interested in distinguishing between those, because he views people who are controlled by their culture as contemptible anyway. I think that lack of interest in understanding or ... (read more)

2NancyLebovitz6yFor me, some of this is personal. I remember reading Nietzsche when I was a teenager or possibly early twenties. I got to "When you go to women, forget not your whip", and closing the book because I'd just read a recommendation that people like me should be physically attacked.
Is simplicity truth indicative?

I don't think we're talking in different frameworks really, I think my choice of words was just dumb/misinformed/sloppy/incorrect. If I had originally stated "randomness and simplicity are opposites" and then pointed out that randomness is a type of noise, (I think it is perhaps even the average of all possible noisy biases, because all biases should cancel?) would that have been a reasonable argument, judged in your paradigm?

0Lumifer6yWe still need to figure out the framework. In a modeling framework (and we started in the context of neural nets which are models) "noise" is generally interpreted as model residuals -- the part of data that you are unwilling or unable to model. In the same context "simplicity" usually means that the model has few parameters and an uncomplicated structure. As you can see, they are not opposites at all. In the information/entropy framework simplicity usually means low Kolmogorov complexity and I am not sure what would "noise" mean. When you say "randomness is a type of noise", can you define the terms you are using?
Rationality Quotes Thread August 2015

I agree with the sentiment that there are cases where people are lazy about problem solving, asserting essentially that the solution is that the problem ought to spontaneously solve itself. So this quote is a useful approximation. The following is just a nitpick.

Empirically, are there not cases of broad-based semi-spontaneous decentralized collective action that have solved problems? I think they're rare, but real, especially as you get closer to the microlevel. Even within the macrolevel, it's important, because good macro depends on micro. Thinking insti... (read more)

Is simplicity truth indicative?

You can't get to the outside. No matter what perspective you are indirectly looking from, you are still ultimately looking from your own perspective. (True objectivity is an illusion - it amounts to you imagining you have stepped outside of yourself.) This means that, for any given phenomenon you observe, you are going to have to encode that phenomenon into your own internal modeling language first to understand it, and you will therefore perceive some lower bound on complexity for the expression of that phenomenon. But that complexity, while it seems int

... (read more)
Is simplicity truth indicative?

Can you elaborate on why you think it's a boundary, not an opposite? I still feel like it's an opposite. My impression, from self-study, is that randomness in information means the best way to describe eg a sequence of coin flips is to copy the sequence exactly, there is no algorithm or heuristic that allows you to describe the random information more efficiently, like "all heads" or "heads, tails, heads, tails, etc." That sort of efficient description of information seems identical to simplicity to me. If randomness is defined as the a... (read more)

0Lumifer6yNoise is not randomness. What is "noise" depends on the context, but generally it means the part of the signal that we are not interested in and do not care about other than that we'd like to get rid of it. But we may be talking in different frameworks. If you define simplicity as the opposite (or inverse) of Kolmogorov complexity and if you define noise as something that increases the Kolmogorov complexity then yes, they are kinda opposite by definition.
Is simplicity truth indicative?

This is more along the lines of what I was thinking. Most instances of complexity that seem like they're good are in practice going to be versions of overfitting to noise. Or, perhaps stated more concisely and powerfully, noise and simplicity are opposites (information entropy), thus if we dislike noise we should like simplicity. Does this seem like a reasonable perspective?

1Lumifer6yNot quite. Noise and simplicity are not opposites. I would say that the amount of noise in the data (along with the amount of data) imposes a limit, an upper bound, on the complexity that you can credibly detect. Basically, if your data is noisy you are forced to consider only low-complexity models.
Is simplicity truth indicative?

You're speaking as though complexity is measuring the relationship between a language and the phenomena, or the map and a territory. But I'm pretty sure complexity is actually an objective and language-independent idea, represented in its pure form in Salmonoff Induction. Complexity is a property that's observed in the world via senses or data input mechanisms, not just something within the mind. The ease of expressing a certain statement might change depending on the language you're using, but the statement's absolute complexity remains the same no matter what. You don't have to measure everything within the terms of one particular language, you can go outside the particulars and generalize.

1hosford426yYou can't get to the outside. No matter what perspective you are indirectly looking from, you are still ultimately looking from your own perspective. (True objectivity is an illusion - it amounts to you imagining you have stepped outside of yourself.) This means that, for any given phenomenon you observe, you are going to have to encode that phenomenon into your own internal modeling language first to understand it, and you will therefore perceive some lower bound on complexity for the expression of that phenomenon. But that complexity, while it seems intrinsic to the phenomenon, is in fact intrinsic to your relationship to the phenomenon, and your ability to encode it into your own internal modeling language. It's a magic trick played on us by our own cognitive limitations. Senses and data input mechanisms are relationships. The observer and the object are related by the act of observation. You are looking at two systems, the observer and the object, and claiming that the observer's difficulty in building a map of the object is a consequence of something intrinsic to the object, but you forget that you are part of this system, too, and your own relationship to the object requires you, too, to build a map of it. You therefore can't use this as an argument to prove that this difficulty of mapping that object is intrinsic to the object, rather than to the relationship of observation. For any given phenomenon A, I can make up a language L1 where A corresponds to a primitive element in that language. Therefore, the minimum description length for A is 1 in L1. Now imagine another language, L2, for which A has a long description length in L2. The invariance theorem [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolmogorov_complexity#Invariance_theorem] for Kolmogorov complexity, which I believe is what you are basing your intuition on, can be misinterpreted as saying that there is some minimal encoding length for a given phenomenon regardless of language. This is not what that theore
Is simplicity truth indicative?

I think this is relevant: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertrand_paradox_(probability)

The approach of the final authors mentioned on the page seems especially interesting to me. I also am interested to note that their result agrees with Jaynes'. Universability seems to be important to all the most productive approaches there.

Or arguing that the complexity ordereing is the one that produces the "true" probailities is reframing of the question whether the simplicity formulation is truth-indicative.

If the approach that says simplicity is truth-i... (read more)

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