All of CCC's Comments + Replies

Crisis of Faith

Hmm, do we have cases where the boundaries of the Roman Empire don't match up well with linguistic boundaries? Probably not, simply because anywhere conquered by the Romans would probably have tended to learn to speak Latin, producing an artificial lowering of language barriers within the empire.

Hmmm. I don't know enough history to be able to name specific situations, but what about the other way round - countries that learned Latin without being conquered? (Perhaps for ease of trading?)

Though in the most famous recent case I can think of -- the Sovie

... (read more)
0entirelyuseless5yYou can convert to Judaism. [] However you are right that they are not actively interested in converting someone. There seems to be a certain historical arc here. The earliest religions did not try to convert anyone because they were simply part of the culture of an individual nation, and you don't convert people to a nationality. Judaism is part of this tradition but at the border of the next, namely the point where people realize that insofar as religions make claims about the world, it does not make sense for some people to accept them and some people to reject them. If a claim about the world is true, everyone should accept it. This leads religions to try to convert people. Now we are reaching a third stage: as even religious people come closer to realizing that those claims were not actually true in the first place, even the religious people are backing away again from converting people. An example would be Pope Francis condemning proselytism and saying that he is not interested in converting Evangelicals etc.
Crisis of Faith

Hmmmm. Depends how ingrained the memes are in the material. Oh, you'd certainly have awareness of the memes - but accepting them is a different story, and a certain skepticism in a student (or in a professor) can probably blunt that effect quite a bit.

Even if the memes are that thoroughly integrated, though, the only effect is to make the establishment of a parallel infrastructure that much more appropriate a solution.

Crisis of Faith

I think missionaries are usually sent to particular places by organizations, and when one leaves another goes.

It's not going to be perfect. Sometimes there will be more missionaries than established places to send them, and new missions can be opened - but sometimes a missionary will, through mischance or malice, die before he's expected to do so and there will be no replacement ready to send.

I don't actually know about specific incidences, but there should be enough data on what happens when a mission is abandoned to be able to tell how successful it c... (read more)

2gjm5yI remain doubtful, but perhaps you're right. Also a reasonable hypothesis. Hmm, do we have cases where the boundaries of the Roman Empire don't match up well with linguistic boundaries? Probably not, simply because anywhere conquered by the Romans would probably have tended to learn to speak Latin, producing an artificial lowering of language barriers within the empire. Yes. Though in the most famous recent case I can think of -- the Soviet Union -- it seems that they weren't very effective in suppressing Christianity; it came back pretty strongly once the communists lost power. Still, paying a lot of attention to the ruler(s) does seem like an effective strategy for those wanting to spread a religion to a new place. Going back to the higher-level question of how necessary conquest is to the spread of Christianity: there are apparently something like 100M Christians in China, and not because China was ever conquered by Christians. On the other hand, in the past there seem to have been multiple instances where Christian missions produced a fair number of converts but then the religion largely died out until the next wave of missionaries came in. My impression after all this is as follows. (1) It is certainly not impossible for Christianity to spread without conquest, and there are a few major instances where it has done so. (2) Most of the world's Christians, however, are part of Christian communities that got way way by conquest. (3) Attempts to spread Christianity by mere persuasion are sometimes very effective but often very ineffective. I would expect that all these things apply equally to any other major religion. #2 will of course be untrue for religions that have never gained official approval by any political power, but we should expect all such religions to be pretty small in numbers for that exact reason. Maybe Hinduism is a sort of exception, being found almost exclusively in India, but I am shockingly ignorant of Indian history and don't know whether
Crisis of Faith


Okay. In this particular real-life example, though, it is clear that the politicisation is in the infrastructure around the science, not in the science itself. That is to say, learning climate science is not memetically dangerous - it is simply difficult to get a paper published that does not agree with certain politics. And that is bad, but it is not the worst possibility - it means that someone merely studying climate science is safe in so doing.

So, in this particular case, the solution of studying climate science oneself, becoming an expert, and the... (read more)

0Lumifer5yIf you are an autodidact and study the climate science by yourself from first principles, yes, it's not dangerous. However if you study it in the usual way -- by going to a university, learning from professors and published papers, etc. -- you will absorb the memes.
Crisis of Faith

But "amateurs should defer to experts", in reference to Christianity, doesn't mean "amateurs should accept the experts' word about Christianity," it means "amateurs should accept the claims presented by Christianity". There's nothing comparable for Shakespeare. In this sense, neither experts nor schools teach Shakespeare at all.


Going back to the comment that started this all - over here - shows that the quote originally comes from this page, which is an essay written from the atheist perspective on how to go about arguin... (read more)

Crisis of Faith

Schools still teach Latin?

...mine didn't. (It did teach Shakespeare, though).

2g_pepper5yI live in a suburban school district in the Southeast US. The public middle and high schools here do teach Latin as one of the foreign language options, along with Mandarin, French, German and Spanish.
2TheAncientGeek5yIve no idea if they do now. I went to a old fashioned school, a long time ago, which did.
Crisis of Faith

If all experts are infected with meme plagues, and are able to prevent alternative views from being presented, then you have a problem. This implies that one of the following is true:

  • Studying the subject at all carries a strong risk of meme plague infection
  • Only those pre-infected with the meme plague have the interest and/or the ability to study the subject
  • You're wrong about something - either the presence of the meme plague or its spread or... something.

You could attempt to study the subject to expert level yourself, taking appropriate anti-meme-pla... (read more)

0waveman5yThere is another possibility: the selection process for experts eliminates diverse perspectives. Try getting tenure as a political scientist as a conservative republican, as an example. But there are more subtle problems. For example, the selection process for medical doctors actively screens out people with a high level of mathematical and statistical skill, knowledge and ability. It does this by very strongly selecting for other characteristics - ability to memorize vast arrays of words and facts, physical and mental stamina. Because if you strongly select for X, it will generally be at a cost to anything else that is not strongly correlated with X.
4Lumifer5yReal-life example []. A relevant quote:
Crisis of Faith

I don't think you need a careful effort to track their exact effectiveness. It would be fairly obvious in a couple of generations that peaceful missionaries would fall in one of two categories - either they have some success (as evidenced by some number of converts that they win over) or they have no success (as evidenced by every missionary outreach pretty much collapsing as soon as the missionary either leaves or dies).

A careful effort to track effectiveness could tell the difference between slight success and strong success, but I think that even with a... (read more)

0gjm5yI think missionaries are usually sent to particular places by organizations, and when one leaves another goes. So there isn't opportunity to identify where they aren't making progress. And the actual question isn't really "no success" versus "any success"; no one claimed or implied that converting people is literally impossible, only that generally when Christianity spreads successfully it does so along with military conquest. You're welcome to be (having had the facts pointed out to you) as surprised or unsurprised as you please; I remark that much the simplest explanation would seem to be that Christianity mostly spreads by military conquest. It's hard to tell how big a Christian community the missionaries there were able to produce. (Right now, as I understand it, Japan is one of the world's least religious countries, so I guess you are thinking of the 17th century.) So, I dunno: maybe? ... Oh, I thought of another way for Christianity to get into a new area that's consistent with the "converting people is really ineffective" narrative. Again, no one claims that converting people is 100% ineffective. So, what you do is to find a place whose rulers are very much in control of the population, and send your missionaries to the royal court or whatever. They probably won't convince the ruler, but if they do then bingo, you've got thousands or millions of new converts fairly immediately. I think this has happened once or twice. I bet it's been attempted a lot more.
Crisis of Faith

A brief Google points me at this fellow. He was a medieval Fransiscan missionary to China, and established what appears to have been a reasonably successful church there that stayed around for about forty years after his death (until the Ming Dynasty arose in 1369 and expelled them from the country).

Crisis of Faith

I'm pretty sure that the main modern transmission vector for Newtonian physics is schoolteacher-to-child (which is very similar to parent-to-child, except that the parent hires an intermediary). Mind you, I don't have any stats or data handy to back that up, it's just a general impression.

0Jiro5yBut again, that happens because it's piggybacking on the fact that people teach things that work. Since science works, it gets taught. If science didn't make factual claims with real-world implications, nobody would teach it. Religion is not bound by this; it gets taught even in the absence of such factual claims, because it has a bunch of commands that amount to "spread this religion regardless of the facts".
Crisis of Faith

No, it just has to get big enough that Christians have enough other Christians around that the social structure becomes self-sustaining. Social ostracism is used to get rid of spontaneously appearing non-Christian individuals, not large groups.

Fair enough. A neighbourhood or other small community can be self-sustaining, then.

But it still needs to be started.

So don't assume it's an exhaustive list.

As soon as I don't assume it's an exhaustive list, your point collapses. Yes, it does spread as a meme system, This is because it is a meme system.

Newtonia... (read more)

0Jiro5yIt isn't all or nothing. These methods of transmission exist for Newtonian physics, but they are much less fundamental to how Newtonian physics spreads. If it's medieval times, and I announce to the members of my village that I'm not a Christian and act accordingly. I may end up dead, lynched, expelled, tortured by the Inquisition, or sent to a ghetto. If i get up now and announce that I don't believe in Newtonian physics, not much is going to happen to me unless I have a job that depends on Newtonian physics. The social ostracization may not be completely missing (people can still laugh at me), but it's far weaker than for Christianity. And parents teach Christianity to their children because Christianity directly asserts that it is good to teach itself to your children, and implies that their children will be in terrible supernatural peril if they don't. There really isn't anything comparable for Newtonian physics that isn't related to the fact that Newtonian physics works--if parents don't teach their children not to walk off cliffs, the children won't grow up to refuse to teach Newtonian physics to their own children.
Crisis of Faith

We know how religion spreads.

I'm not sure that you do.

From your previous post:

The predominant ways in which Christianity has spread are conversion by the sword, parent to child transmission, and social ostracism for people who refuse to believe it.

If this were true - and if it were an exhaustive list of the predominant ways - then I would expect to see the following:

  • Parent-to-child transmission only works if the parents are Christian. Social ostracisation only works if a majority of a given person's possible social acquaintances are.
  • Thus, the onl
... (read more)
2gjm5yYou would expect (peaceful) missionaries to be abandoned (at least as a tool for spreading Christianity to places where there is no Christianity) if there were a careful effort to track their effectiveness. I do not believe there usually is. Is your impression different? If you look at the places where there are a lot of Christians, they do seem to match up pretty well with (1) where the Roman Empire was plus (2) places colonized by countries that used to be part of the Roman Empire. One obvious counterexample is Korea, which (I think) is evidence that missionaries can sometimes introduce Christianity to a new place with long-term success. But what others are there? (Incidentally, I think your analysis is incomplete. Another way to introduce Christianity to a new area would be immigration. I don't know to what extent this has actually happened.)
0hairyfigment5yWhen do you believe this happened, aside from cases where "Jesus" was translated as "Buddha"? Missionaries today typically harass other Christians.
2waveman5yThe book "The Rise of Christianity" is an excellent analysis, using the tools of modern sociology, of the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Key insights 1. It grew exponentially mostly via transmission from people you knew. As your social world became more than 50% Christian, you were more likely to convert. In recent times Mormanism has grown in a similar fashion. 2. It had many rules that encouraged having large families (no birth control, no abortion, no infanticide, no sex outside marriage which encouraged young marriage, bans on many sources of fun other than having sex with your spouse, bans of divorce which made marriage more secure in a sense). 3. The higher status of women in Christianity than in the Roman world encouraged women to convert. An example of this higher status was that a pagan man could order his wife to have an abortion. Many of the patriarchal statements in the new testament were latter additions when the church, which was originally very egalitarian, did become very patriarchal. 4. Christians were only allowed to marry pagans if the pagan converted, or at a minimum, agreed for the children to brought up as Christians. 5. (3) and (4) combined with the shortage of women due to infanticide of female children meant that men who wanted a wife often had little choice but to marry a Christian. The children would then be Christians. Once they achieved critical mass they seized control of the state and enacted coercive measures which ruthlessly crushed the other religions. As an example, even visiting pagan temples was banned, books were destroyed, priests killed, temples burned or converted to churches.
0Jiro5yNo, it just has to get big enough that Christians have enough other Christians around that the social structure becomes self-sustaining. Social ostracism is used to get rid of spontaneously appearing non-Christian individuals, not large groups. So don't assume it's an exhaustive list. It really doesn't matter for the purposes of my point that it also spreads through peaceful missionaries. You seem to think that I'm complaining that Christianity spreads violently, so you're bringing up non-violent missionaries. But that isn't my point. My point is that Christianity spreads as a meme system. Belief systems have traits which lead them to spread regardless of their truth. Some of those traits I listed above. Other traits include, of course, the belief system telling its members to send out missionaries to spread the belief system. Having missionaries is an adaptation which helps the belief system to spread, in the same way that coconuts being able to float so they can travel to distant islands helps coconuts to spread. Belief systems which spread efficiently will do better than belief systems that don't, and will soon cover as much area as they can right until they run into other well-adapted belief systems.
0entirelyuseless5yThis is a good argument, and one way of seeing that is by contrast with Islam, where the method described is historically much closer to being exhaustive -- and in general it was indeed introduced into new areas was by means of swords, and missionaries did take swords with them as standard equipment. (In the future Islam may continue to spread more in the fashion that Christianity did in the past, however.)
Crisis of Faith

Hmmm. Could work. Or perhaps the first thing he'd conclude is that you are infected by the meme plague, and the second thing he'd do is suspect that you are trying to infect him with the meme plague.

He could respond to this in two ways; either by ending the debate, in the hope of immunising himself; or by arguing against you, in the hopes of curing you.

...huh. Actually, thinking about this, a lot of bad debate habits (ignoring the other person's evidence, refusing to change your mind, etc.) actually make a lot of sense when seen as protective measures specifically to prevent infection by meme plagues.

Crisis of Faith

Then I may have misunderstood the intention of the phrase.

As an observation about the limits of the maxim, I agree with it. And no, I'm not going to argue that a memetic plague never happens.

I am, however, going to argue that a memetic plague is hard to identify, making this observation very difficult to actually apply with any reliability. It's just too easy - if I see a bunch of experts in the subject all saying something that I disagree with - for me to think "they're infected by a memetic plague". It's so much more comforting to think that th... (read more)

3Jiro5yWe know how religion spreads. We know it well enough that when it is obvious enough that the "experts" are basing their "expertise" on religion, we can ignore it without worrying that we are just dismissing the experts because doing so is comforting. It's not as if the way religion spreads is seriously in question.
Crisis of Faith

Also, distinguish between "anyone can claim X" and "anyone can correctly claim X". Creationists could claim that evolution spreads the same way--but they'd be wrong.

Assume a climate change denier or a creationist who (a) makes such an argument and (b) firmly believes it to be correct. How would he be best convinced that he is, in fact, wrong?

0Jiro5ySame way you convince him of anything else--by arguing specific facts. Just because two sides can produce arguments with similar forms doesn't mean they also have similar facts. "Anyone can claim X", divorced from the facts about X, is only about having similar forms.
Crisis of Faith

Interestingly, after looking over Wikipedia a bit, apparently there may have been a Paul Bon Jean on whom the earliest Paul Bunyan tales could have been based... a big lumberjack, but with "big" being more like six to seven foot and less like sixty to seventy foot.

Crisis of Faith

I think this fails in the case where the experts are infected by a meme plague.

Isn't this a Fully General Counterargument, though? Climate change deniers can claim that climate experts are 'infected by a meme plague'. Creationists can claim anyone who accepts evolution is 'infected by a meme plague'. So on and so forth.

0waveman5yWhat to do then, when experts sometimes are infected with meme plagues, have conflicts of interest, are able to prevent alternative views from being presented?
2Lumifer5yIt's not a counterargument, it's an observation about the limits of the maxim quoted. And while it can certainly be misapplied, are you going to argue that a memetic plague never happens?
2Jiro5yThe predominant ways in which Christianity has spread are conversion by the sword, parent to child transmission, and social ostracism for people who refuse to believe it. It spreads for reasons related to its fitness as a system of ideas but unrelated to its factual truth. This is not how evolution spreads. Also, distinguish between "anyone can claim X" and "anyone can correctly claim X". Creationists could claim that evolution spreads the same way--but they'd be wrong.
Crisis of Faith

Hmmm. To mess around with equations a bit... what can we say about P(Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) and P(!Bunyan | stories about Bunyan), given P(stories about Bunyan | Bunyan) > P(stories about Bunyan | !Bunyan)?

Let's genaralise it a bit (and reduce typing). What can we say about P(A|B) and P(!A|B) when P(B|A) > P(B|!A)?

Consider Bayes' Theorem: P(A|B) = [(P(B|A)*P(A)]/P(B). Thus, P(B) = [(P(B|A)*P(A)]/P(A|B)

Therefore, P(!A|B) = [(P(B|!A)*P(!A)]/P(B)

Now, P(!A) = 1-P(A). So:

P(!A|B) = [(P(B|!A)*{1-P(A)}]/P(B)

Solve for P(B):

P(B) = [(P(B|!A)*{1-P(A)}]/P... (read more)

Double Crux — A Strategy for Mutual Understanding

In a pure-logic kind of way, finding B where B is exactly equivalent to A means nothing, yes. However, in a human-communication kind of way, it's often useful to stop and rephrase your argument in different words. (You'll recognise when this is helpful if your debate partner says something along the lines of "Wait, is that what you meant? I had it all wrong!")

This has nothing to do with formal logic; it's merely a means of reducing the probability that your axioms have been misunderstood (which is a distressingly common problem).

Excluding the Supernatural

What I've yet to glean from your comments is how 'absolute truth' is any different than 'green sound'. They're both short phrases but neither seems to refer to anything.

It's kind of a side point, but there actually is such a thing as green noise (there's actually four different definitions...)

1Kenny5yDefinitely a side point, but thanks for the info anyways!
Double Crux — A Strategy for Mutual Understanding

"Uniforms are good because they'll reduce bullying." (A because B, B --> A) "Uniforms are bad, because along with all their costs they fail to reduce bullying." (~A because ~B, ~B --> ~A)

A: "Uniforms are good"

B: "Uniforms reduce bullying"

B->A: "If uniforms reduce bullying, then uniforms are good."

~B->~A : "If uniforms do not reduce bullying, then uniforms are not good."

"A is equivalent to B": "The statement 'uniforms are good' is exactly as true as the statement 'unif... (read more)

2Duncan_Sabien5yYep. Thanks. =) I was misunderstanding "equivalency" as "identical in all respects to," rather than seeing equivalency as "exactly as true as."
Double Crux — A Strategy for Mutual Understanding

I read that statement as implying that argument A is equivalent to argument B. (Not (1) and (2), which are statements about arguments A and B)

And, if A implies B and B implies A, then it seems to me that A and B have to be equivalent to each other.

Double Crux — A Strategy for Mutual Understanding

Let me rephrase: does the double crux method contains any improvement that is not already covered by tabooing terms? Or simply saying "why do you think this is the case?"

In this particular argument, no. (In fact, if both participants are willing to examine their own chain of reasoning and consider that they might be wrong, then asking "why do you think this is the case?" sounds like a perfect first step in the double crux method to me)

In cases where the disagreement is due to (say) Bob making a mathematical error, tabooing terms is u... (read more)

Double Crux — A Strategy for Mutual Understanding

If I'm understanding correctly, I think you've made a mistake in your formal logic above—you equated "If B, then A" with "If A, then B" which is not at all the same.

No, he only inferred "If A, then B" from "If not B, then not A" which is a valid inference.

0Duncan_Sabien5y... but then he went on to say "How can an equivalent argument have explanatory power?" which seemed, to me, to assume that "if B then A" and "if A then B" are equivalent (which they are not).
Double Crux — A Strategy for Mutual Understanding

That is true. In a disagreement where the root of the disagreement is applying different meanings to the word 'better', properly defining that term would identify the true disagreement straight away. The double crux method, by seeking equivalent statements for each position, brings that disagreement in terminology to light almost immediately (where a word-by-word process of definitions might well get mired down in the definition of 'steel' and whether or not it includes small amounts of chromium - which might be interesting and informative on its own, but ... (read more)

Double Crux — A Strategy for Mutual Understanding

"Aluminium is better than steel!" cries Alice.

"Steel is better than aluminium!" counters Bob. Both of them continue to stubbornly hold these opinions, even in the face of vehement denials from the other.

It is not at once clear how to resolve this issue. However, both Alice and Bob have recently read the above article, and attempt to apply it to their disagreement.

"Aluminium is better than steel because aluminium does not rust," says Alice. "The statement 'aluminium does not rust, but steel does' is an equivalent argument ... (read more)

0MrMind5yLet me rephrase: does the double crux method contains any improvement that is not already covered by tabooing terms? Or simply saying "why do you think this is the case?" "Steel is better than aluminum because aluminum is worse than steel" is also equivalent, adheres to the letter of the prescription but does not move the discussion forward. What I'm trying to prove wrong is that the logical prescriptions, given as explanation of what a crux is, do not really capture anything substantial.
9Lumifer5yFor this example you don't need any double cruxes. Alice and Bob should have just defined their terms, specifically the word "better" to which they attach different meanings.
Double Crux — A Strategy for Mutual Understanding

This set of strategies looks familiar. I've never called it double crux or anything like that, but I've used a similar line in internet arguments before.

Taking a statement that disagrees with me; assuming my opponent is sane and has reasons to insist that that statement is true; interrogating (politely) to try to find those reasons (and answering any similar interrogations if offered); trying to find common ground where possible, and work from there to the point of disagreement; eventually either come to agreement or find reasons why we do not agree that d... (read more)

Magical Categories

First get straight: good literally objectively does mean desirable.

It does not.

Wiktionary states that it means "Acting in the interest of good; ethical." (There are a few other definitions, but I'm pretty sure this is the right one here). Looking through the definitions of 'ethical', I find "Morally approvable, when referring to an action that affects others; good. " 'Morally' is defined as "In keeping of requirements of morality.", and 'morality' is "Recognition of the distinction between good and evil or between righ... (read more)

Magical Categories

Which individual? The might be some decision theory which promotes the interests of Joe Soap, against the interests of society, but there is no way i would call it morality.

Ah, I may have been unclear there.

To go into more detail, then; you appear to be suggesting that optimal morality can be approached as a society-wide optimisation problem; in the current situations, these moral strictures produce a more optimal society than those, and this optimisation problem can be solved with sufficient computational resources and information.

But now, let us consi... (read more)

Magical Categories

So... what you're suggesting, in short, is that a sufficiently intelligent AI can work out the set of morals which are most optimal in a given human society. (There's the question of whether it would converge on the most optimal set of morals for the long-term benefit of the society as a whole, or the most optimal set of morals for the long-term benefit of the individual).

But let's say the AI works out an optimal set of morals for its current society. What's to stop the AI from metaphorically shrugging and ignoring those morals in order to rather build more paperclips? Especially given that it does not share those values.

0TheAncientGeek5yWhich individual? The might be some decision theory which promotes the interests of Joe Soap, against the interests of society, but there is no way i would call it morality. Its motivational system. We're already assuming it's motivated to make the deduction, we need to assume it's motivated to implement. I am not bypassing the need for a goal driven AI to have appropriate goals, I am by passing the need for a detailed and accurate account of human ethics to be preprogrammed. I am not sayngn it necessarily does not. I am saying it does not necessarily.
Ethical Injunctions

Then again--there are Catholic moralists, including, I think, some Catholics I know personally, who firmly believe that (for example) stealing is wrong because stealing is wrong. Not for any other reason.

This sounds like deontological ethics. It's not by any means unique to Catholicism; it's just the general idea that being good involves following a (presumably carefully chosen) list of rules.

Not all Catholics are deontologists; not all deontologists are Catholic. And, I may be misreading here, but I think your worry is more about deontology than Cathol... (read more)

Politics is the Mind-Killer

Atheists don't hold that religions are mostly wrong. They hold that religious believers depend on untestable hypotheses and shield their beliefs from criticisms instead of engaging them.

I have come across atheists who hold - sometimes quite loudly - that all religions are completely wrong.

I have no doubt that some think as you describe, but most certainly not all.

Welcome to Less Wrong! (8th thread, July 2015)

Hi, Trent!

I'd love to be one of the first people on Mars. Not sure how realistic that goal is or what steps I should even take to make it happen beyond saving $500,000 for a supposed SpaceX ticket and mastering a useful skill (coding!), but it's something to shoot for!

Have you heard of the Mars One project?

2Secret_Tunnel5yI have! Wish I'd gotten in on the initial astronaut selection, haha. Still, my money is on SpaceX beating them to the punch.
The Tragedy of Group Selectionism

The way I see it is that evolution isn't selecting for the genes that produce the most children.

Evolution is selecting for the genes that produce the most grandchildren.

Open thread, October 2011

Hmmm. I had to go back and re-read the story.

...I notice that, while they were not ignorant that they were causing pain and emotional distress, they did honestly believe that they were doing the best thing and, indeed, even made a genuine attempt to persuade humanity, from first principles, that this was the right and good thing to do.

So they were doing, at all times, the action which they believed to by most moral, and were apparently willing to at least hear out contrary arguments. I still maintain, therefore, that their actions were immoral but they themselves were not; they made a genuine attempt to be moral to the best of their ability.

Open thread, October 2011

What they did was clearly wrong... but, at the same time, they did not know it, and that has relevance.

Consider; you are given a device with a single button. You push the button and a hamburger appears. This is repeatable; every time you push the button, a hamburger appears. To the best of your knowledge, this is the only effect of pushing the button. Pushing the button therefore does not make you an immoral person; pushing the button several times to produce enough hamburgers to feed the hungry would, in fact, be the action of a moral person.

The above par... (read more)

6hairyfigment5yClearly I should have asked about actions rather than people. But the Babyeaters were not ignorant that they were causing great pain and emotional distress. They may not have known how long it continued, but none of the human characters IIRC suggested this information might change their minds. Because those aliens had a genetic tendency towards non-human preferences, and the (working) society they built strongly reinforced this.
Open thread, October 2011

"Morals" and "goals" are very different things. I might make it a goal to (say) steal an apple from a shop; this would be an example of an immoral goal. Or I might make a goal to (say) give some money to charity; this would be a moral goal. Or I might make a goal to buy a book; this would (usually) be a goal with little if any moral weight one way or another.

Morality cannot be the same as terminal goals, because a terminal goal can also be immoral, and someone can pursue a terminal goal while knowing it's immoral.

AI morals are not a category error; if an AI deliberately kills someone, then that carries the same moral weight as if a person deliberately kills someone.

Say Not "Complexity"

Observe the contents of RAM as it's changing?

I'm not 100% sure of the mechanism of said observations, but I'm assuming a real AI would be able to do things on a computer that we can't - much as we can easily recognise an object in an image.

3wizzwizz42yYou're assuming the AI has terminal access. Just because our brains are implemented as neurons doesn't mean we can manipulate matter on a cellular scale.
Say Not "Complexity"

(Wow, this was from a while back)

I wasn't suggesting that the AI might try to calculate the reverse sequence of moves. I was suggesting that, if the cube-shuffling program is running on the same computer, then the AI might learn to cheat by, in effect, looking over the shoulder of the cube-shuffler and simply writing down all the moves in a list; then it can 'solve' the cube by simply running the list backwards.

0stack5yOh I see: for that specific instance of the task. I'd like to see someone make this AI, I want to know how it could be done.
Talking Snakes: A Cautionary Tale

(Apologies - accidentally double posted)

Conservation of Expected Evidence

At 10am tomorrow, I can legitimately express my confidence in the proposition "the cable guy will arrive after noon" is different to what it was today.

There are two cases to consider:

  • The cable guy arrived before 10am (occurs with 25% probability). In this case, I expect that he has a close on zero probability of arriving after noon.
  • The cable guy is known not to have arrived before 10am (occurs with 75% probability). At this point, I calculate that the odds of the cable guy turning up after noon are two in three.

But none of this takes anythin... (read more)

Talking Snakes: A Cautionary Tale

That text is actually quite misleading. It never says that it's the snake that should be thought of as figuratively, maybe it's the Tree or eating a certain fruit that is figurative.

True - any part of the described incident (more likely, all of it) could be figurative.

The devil is a being of "pure spirit" and the catholics believe that he was an angel that disobeyed god. Now, this fallen angel somehow tempts the first parents, who are in a garden (378). It could presumably only be done in one or two ways: Satan talks directly to Adam and Eve

... (read more)
Leave a Line of Retreat's possible. There are many differences between our proposed worlds, and it really depends on what you mean by "more extreme". Volairina's world is "more extreme" in the sense that there are no rules, no patterns to take advantage of. My world is "more extreme" in that the rules actively punish rationality.

My world requires that elementary physics somehow takes account of intent, and then actively subverts it. This means that it reacts in some way to something as nebulous as intent. This implies some level of understandin... (read more)

0JustinMElms5yFair point.
Talking Snakes: A Cautionary Tale

Fair enough. The way I see it, there are some themes that are paralleled in Gethsemene, and some themes that are paralleled in the forty days and nights in the desert. They're both parallels, but in different ways.

Talking Snakes: A Cautionary Tale

we're shown no tempter, whether human or animal or evil spirit.

There's one in Matthew 4 verse 1 to 11, in which Jesus spends forty days in the desert, fasting, and then is visited (and tempted) by the Devil.

5gjm6yTrue enough. I meant that there's no external tempter in the garden of Gethsemane. I'd already remarked that the temptation of Jesus (as found in Matthew 4) "seems very different in kind from that of Eve" and was proposing a better parallel.
Talking Snakes: A Cautionary Tale

We now know that talking requires a big fancy brain, such as humans have and snakes conspicuously don't (and don't have room for), and the right sort of vocal apparatus, ditto.

How big and fancy a brain does a parrot have?

3gjm6yI'd need to see a sample size bigger than 1 to be sure that Alex's (prima facie very impressive) achievements weren't exaggerated. And it's clear that he was a long, long way from the level of understanding shown by the snake in Genesis 3. But you and DanArmak are right to point out that birds' brains do seem to achieve more understanding per unit size than primate brains.
Talking Snakes: A Cautionary Tale

Never underestimate the utility of properly describing a problem. I've found that it's really amazing how often, by the time you've figured out what question you really want to ask to solve the problem, you're already most of the way to the answer...

0CynicalOptimist6yI think this is the basis of good Business Analysis. A field I'm intending to move into. It's the very essence of "Hold off on proposing solutions".
5gjm6yYes, I very much agree.
Welcome to Less Wrong! (8th thread, July 2015)

Elections aren't everything.

Yes, I know that I, personally, have had (and will have) absolutely zero effect on the American 2016 November elections. I am fully aware that I, personally, will have absolutely zero impact on Donald Trump's candidacy, and everything that goes into that. And I am perfectly fine with that, for a single, simple, and straightforward reason; I am not American, I live in a different country entirely. I have a (very tiny) impact on a completely different set of elections, dealing with a completely different set of politicians and pol... (read more)

Talking Snakes: A Cautionary Tale

Yep, that's what I had.

More generally: Sbe nal vagrtre a terngre guna gjb gvzrf k, cvpx gur onfr (a zvahf k) gb jevgr a fhpu gung vg raqf va gur qvtvg k.

Talking Snakes: A Cautionary Tale

Noted. Thanks, this tells me that to someone with some knowledge of mathematics it really is as obvious as it looked.

2gjm6yIn my case, at least, essentially all the time taken to solve the problem was "decoding" it -- working out what it was really saying. That is: fnlvat gung jura lbh jevgr n ahzore va onfr o vg raqf va n gjb vf rknpgyl gur fnzr guvat nf fnlvat gung gur ahzore rdhnyf gjb zbqhyb o, naq (vs lbh'er hfrq gb guvf fghss) gb fnl gung vf gb frr gur fbyhgvba.
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