All of Bob3's Comments + Replies

Typicality and Asymmetrical Similarity


I'm suggesting that you ask yourself "does this really matter?" before you post. You've made contributions to past threads but now we get comments like "a tendency on the part of the authors to make incredibly sloppy, poorly-supported, and ..." that signal an attack dog mentality. Why is "incredibly" part of this sentence? Does it add anything except flame? Do you really find the "errors" you comment on incredible?

You may care more about the methods than the conclusions but, personally, I visit OB more for the questions than the answers.

Sorry to highjack the thread but I think that increased civility warrants attention.

Typicality and Asymmetrical Similarity


Your comments seem to me to increasingly be of the "gotcha" variety that focus on noncrucial details. There's value to keeping posters honest but you're on the slippery slope of irrelevancy. JMHO.

The "Intuitions" Behind "Utilitarianism"

Joseph et al, I appreciate your thoughts. I think, though, that your objections keep coming back to "it's more complicated." And in reality it would be. But the simple thought experiment suggests that any realistic derivative of the specks question would likely get answered wrong because our (OUR!) intuition is heavily biased toward large (in aggregate) distributed harm. It appears that we personalize individual harm but not group harm.

Ben, I assume that we would all vote that way, if only because the thought of having sentenced someone to to... (read more)

The "Intuitions" Behind "Utilitarianism"


The point of using 3^^^3 is to avoid the need to assign precise values, which I agree seems impossible to do with any confidence. Once you accept the premise that A is less than B (with both being finite and nonzero), you need to accept that there exists some number k where kA is greater than B. The objections have been that A=0, B is infinite, or the operation kA is not only nonlinear, but bounded. The first may be valid for specks but misses the point - just change it to "mild hangnail" or "banged funnybone." I cannot take ... (read more)

The "Intuitions" Behind "Utilitarianism"

Neel, I think you and I are looking at this as two different questions. I'm fine with bounded utility at the individual level, not so good with bounds on some aggregate utility measure across an unbounded population (but certainly willing to listen to a counter position), which is what we're talking about here. Now, what form an aggregate utility function should take is a legitimate question (although, as Salutator points out, unlikely to be a productive discussion), but I doubt that you would argue it should be bounded.

I have really enjoyed following th... (read more)

The "Intuitions" Behind "Utilitarianism"

I share El's despair. Look at the forest, folks. The point is that you have to recognize that harm aggregates (and not to an asymptote) or you are willing to do terrible things. The idea of torture is introduced precisely to make it hard to see. But it is important, particularly in light of how easily our brains fail to scale harm and benefit. Geez, I don't even have to look at the research El cites - the comments are enough.

Stop saying the specks are "zero harm." This is a thought experiment and they are defined as positive harm.

Stop sayin... (read more)

9TAG1yNot all harms aggregate, and in particular lots of nano-pains experienced by lots of sufferers aren't ontologically equivalent to a single agony experienced by a single subject. Utilitarianism isn't an objective fact about how the world works. There's an element of make-believe in treating all harms as aggregating. You can treat things that way if your intuitions tell you to, but the world doesn't force you to.
False Laughter

Steven wins:

"How many Overcoming Bias readers does it take to change a lightbulb?"

Actually it's 3^^^3 + 1 (the first 3^^^3 have something in their eye).

The Halo Effect

I am sympathetic to the counter-comments but need to point out that most of us (those who are not perfect 10s) want to believe that there is something else underlying the evidence that looks matter. Who wants to accept that their talents are dominated by appearance?

0pnrjulius10yOn the other hand, if you've done reasonably well for yourself, it probably means you are good-looking, which I guess is a good thing?
Leaky Generalizations

Doug S,

You have to use ex ante probabilities - just because the fat dude stops the trolley once in a million times doesn't make it a moral act that one time. In practice we almost never know the probabilities, which leads to the ends-means conclusion. What's interesting is how many folks are willing to, in the face of not knowing the probabilities, substitute intentions. Which has its own saying.

Truly Part Of You

Reminds me of the time that my daughter asked me how to solve a polynomial equation. Many moons removed from basic algebra I had to start from scratch and quickly ended up with the quadratic equation without realizing where I was going until the end. It was a satisfying experience although there's no way to tell how much the work was guided by faint memories.

2handoflixue11yHaving recently reverse-engineered the quadratic equation, it involves quite a few steps that would be pretty tricky to capture without a lot of time and patience, a very good intuition for algebra, or a decent guiding hand from past memories. Given how much of the structure I can recall from memory, the latter seems most likely, but it's provably doable without knowing it in the first place, so I won't dismiss that possibility :)
Torture vs. Dust Specks

I'm with Tomhs. The question has less value as a moral dilemma than as an opportunity to recognize how we think when we "know" the answer. I intentionally did not read the comments last night so I could examine my own thought process, and tried very hard to hold an open mind (my instinct was dust). It's been a useful and interesting experience. Much better than the brain teasers which I can generally get because I'm on hightened alert when reading El's posts. Here being on alert simply allowed me to try to avoid immediately giving in to my bias.

Bay Area Bayesians Unite!

At the risk of revealing my ignorance, at a meeting of Bayesians, who would do the talking? I would attend Eliezer's gathering just to observe and absorb.

Conjunction Controversy (Or, How They Nail It Down)

Interesting that Senthil brings up this book ( because Eliezer's recent posts have gotten me thinking whether there are any good rules for when to trust/doubt intuition. Much of the discussion about bias suggests we should question, and often reject, our instincts but at some point this hits diminishing returns and in others (e.g., the planning fallacy) could be a mistake. If Eliezer or any other contributors has thoughts about good rules of thumb for when it's reasonable (safe? better?) to use rules of thumb, I would be eager to hear them.

Fake Explanations

I would like to re-emphasize Eliezer's point that "I don't know" (not an uneducated guess) is the proper answer to any question where, in fact, a student (or person in general) does not know the right answer, with the addition of "but I will find out." On my exams a (fully) incorrect answer gets zero points while "I don't know but I will find out" gets one-half credit. You still fail if you don't know anything, but at least you are not in an idiot damned school system. Rewarding students for data dumps when they don't know an answer cannot be healthy. Or maybe I'm just biased because my approach makes exam grading significantly easier....

3gjayb11yOut of curiosity: do you mean that you give students credit for professing that they will find out? Or do you have them take the problems home sometime later, look things up, do the work, and then give them half the points back? Because I have seen the latter work very well, while I would see the former as once again asking students to put down what their teachers want to hear.