Decision Theory: Newcomb's Problem


I don't know the answer, but it would be fun to have a twitter comment with a zillion likes asking Sam Altman this question.  Maybe someone should make one?

I've bookedmarked this; thank you; I expect to get use from this list.

Resonating from some of the OP:

Sometimes people think I have a “utility function” that is small and is basically “inside me,” and that I also have a set of beliefs/predictions/anticipations that is large, richly informed by experience, and basically a pointer to stuff outside of me.

I don’t see a good justification for this asymmetry.

Having lived many years, I have accumulated a good many beliefs/predictions/anticipations about outside events: I believe I’m sitting at a desk, that Biden is president, that 2+3=5, and so on and so on.  These beliefs came about via colliding a (perhaps fairly simple, I’m not sure) neural processing pattern with a huge number of neurons and a huge amount of world.  (Via repeated conscious effort to make sense of things, partly.)

I also have a good deal of specific preference, stored in my ~perceptions of “good”: this chocolate is “better” than that one; this short story is “excellent” while that one is “meh”; such-and-such a friendship is “deeply enriching” to me; this theorem is “elegant, pivotal, very cool” and that code has good code-smell while this other theorem and that other code are merely meh; etc.

My guess is that my perceptions of which things are “good” encodes quite a lot pattern that really is in the outside world, much like my perceptions of which things are “true/real/good predictions.”

My guess is that it’s confused to say my perceptions of which things are “good” is mostly about my utility function, in much the same way that it’s confused to say that my predictions about the world is mostly about my neural processing pattern (instead of acknowledging that it’s a lot about the world I’ve been encountering, and that e.g. the cause of my belief that I’m currently sitting at a desk is mostly that I’m currently sitting at a desk).

And this requires what I've previously called "living from the inside," and "looking out of your own eyes," instead of only from above. In that mode, your soul is, indeed, its own first principle; what Thomas Nagel calls the "Last Word." Not the seen-through, but the seer (even if also: the seen).


I like this passage! It seems to me that sometimes I (perceive/reason/act) from within my own skin and perspective: "what do I want now? what's most relevant? what do I know, how do I know it, what does it feel like, why do I care? what even am I, this process that finds itself conscious right now?"  And then I'm more likely to be conscious, here, caring.  (I'm not sure what I mean by this, but I'm pretty sure I mean something, and that it's important.)

One thing that worries me a bit about contemporary life (school for 20 years, jobs where people work in heavily scripted ways using patterns acquired in school, relatively little practice playing in creeks or doing cooking or carpentry or whatever independently) is that it seems to me it conditions people to spend less of our mental cycles "living from the inside," as you put it, and more of them ~"generating sentences designed to seem good some external process", and I think this may make people conscious less often.

I wish I understood better what it is to "look out from your own eyes"/"live from the inside", vs only from above.

I love that book!  I like Robin's essays, too, but the book was much easier for me to understand.  I wish more people would read it, would review it on here, etc.

A related tweet by Qiaochu:

(I don't necessarily agree with QC's interpretation of what was going on as people talked about "agency" -- I empathize some, but empathize also with e.g. Kaj's comment in a reply that Kaj doesn't recognize this at from Kaj's 2018 CFAR mentorship training, did not find pressures there to coerce particular kinds of thinking).

My point in quoting this is more like: if people don't have much wanting of their own, and are immersed in an ambient culture that has opinions on what they should "want," experiences such as QC's seem sorta like the thing to expect.  Which is at least a bit corroborated by QC reporting it.

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